I am not the most dedicated saltwater fly fisherman. I find saltwater fly fishing tough and intimidating and especially so in South African coastal waters. We have undoubtedly some of the best off-shore fishing in the world, but 25 mile boat trips aren’t cheap and rewarding conditions for fly anglers that wish to catch a tuna are also few and far between.
I take my hat off to the dedicated Western Cape lot, including Jimmy Eagleton, Conrad Botes, Peter Coetzee and Jannie Visser (amongst others) that spend hours casting flies in estuaries and the surf, targeting enigmatic fishes like kob and grunter instead of grabbing a 2 wt outfit and heading out to the streams for that guaranteed trout. These guys will happily pick up a 10 wt and drive to the beach for a 10 mile stroll with their salted feet, knowing that they may return home with nothing to show. Some of them even have a back-up phrase to cover up the regular blanks by replying: “Yes, we caught a few little ones…”, when friends and family question their day’s success on the fly.
Let’s take Jimmy as an example; the man memorises a number of tips from various bait and lure fisherman in an area to work out the most probable conditions and common tactics for a particular fish. He then spends many days checking out the spot during low and high tide without catching much to talk about, even if it means fishing till 2 am in the morning. But when he finally gets his fish, it hits the headlines – check out Jimmy’s geelbek on fly from shore. That separates these fly anglers from the rest. Simply put, they are ‘far out’.
Jimmy and I headed out to the Cape Peninsula in mid-winter to look for a smallish, resident shoal of yellowtail that feed around Buffels Bay throughout the cold months. The back-up plan was to look for reef fishes, like Hottentot and galjoen, if the predators weren’t around.
It was a balmy day out at sea with Jimmy’s 8 ft Rubberduck. We were one of the first two boats on the water, surprisingly even beating the commercial fisherman to the spots. The other boat was trolling plugs and had already boated a couple of yellowtail. This lifted my spirit. Jimmy on the other hand didn’t need any motivation, for him it was a standard fishing trip (or ‘mission’ in my terms).
We tried fishing deeper water first, dredging large Clousers under the boat with our backing loops in our hands. Jimmy hooked a fish fairly quickly, but the fish came to the surface too easily to be a yellowtail or a snoek (the West Coast snoek also enter Falls Bay this time of the year). Our faces said everything after he retrieved a full fly line to lift a lovely brown Hottentot from water that was probably a 100 yards deep. These common reef fishes were surprisingly suspended and probably feeding on shoals of shrimp. As Peter Coetzee put it later on in a text conversation about the day’s fishing, Jimmy’s catch was “badass”.
We got a few more hits from them before heading back to the shore to target the yellowtail that were now patrolling the drop-offs near Rooikrans where we saw the lure fisherman hauling fish out every now and again.
However, even though we spotted the shoal of yellowtail and most likely had a few takes from them, we fished our arms lame with no success. We ended the day inshore, close to the slipway, again trying for smaller reef species. I lifted into a big blenny, one of my biggest yet, and although regarded as a nonsense-fish by Cape anglers, I thanked my lucky stars for not blanking that day.