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  • Africa

    Diversity and the joys of light tackle
    Part 2 of 2

    By: Rob Scott –

    One of the biggest dilemmas anglers face when fishing BD is the sheer diversity of fishing to be had. Normally it would be hard not to return to the same spot where the day before we had such tremendous fishing. But it was time to explore the mangroves, and target the cuberra snapper of Southern Africa, the rock salmon. Live bait mullet proved most deadly, but fishing with bucktail jigs, and surface lures was an incredible experience. Baitfish take shelter along the mangrove banks, and as the water recedes, these fish are flushed out to where the predatory fish wait. Casting virtually into the mangroves and retrieving the lures over the mud bank drop-offs achieved great results. Watching rock salmon of 3 to 5 kilo’s, smashing the surface lures, and then the subsequent panic of trying to keep them in open water with only 12 lbs of turning power was astonishing. Of course some of the larger fish were lost, due to the inability to turn these dirty fighters in their first strong runs.

    After 2 days of sublime light tackle fishing it is hard to conceive that some of the best fishing was still to be had. Changing tactics and moving towards fishing with bait as apposed to artificial lures, proved to be an exciting move. A simple trace, running sinker, barrel swivel and 2/0 hook was all that was required. With a bait box of prawns, sea lice and ghost crabs we set off to fish the numerous channels and drop-offs around BD and BD Island. The sheer numbers of quality fish as well as the overwhelming variety of species was mind blowing. Kingfish, pompano, pickhandle barracuda, stumpnose, rock salmon, scavengers, rays, juvenile bridle bass, grunter, and even ox eyed tarpon were landed.

    Being spoilt with great angling in the estuary and surrounds it was with an uncharacteristic sensation of slight trepidation we decided to head off shore for the day. Although there are a couple of reefs fairly close to the estuary mouth, to get into any remotely deep water one has to travel a fair distance. A good spread off reef, approximately 26 km’s out, was to be our destination for the day. Fishing 20 – 30 pound rigs, drifting dead and live bait’s we were rewarded with a good number of couta, the occasional prodigal son, and the unexpected bonus of a juvenile black marlin. Superb fishing by any standards.

    Sitting around the campfire on the last evening it was fantastic to hear the banter and spirit the variety of fishing was causing amongst the anglers. Everyone commenting on what an enjoyable time it had been. Sometimes I think we as fisherman have to stop and remind ourselves why we love this beautiful sport so dearly. Bigger is not always better. There is no doubt that if we had been fishing with heavier tackle, or spent more time off shore, there would have been photos of much bigger fish. The excellent strike rates, combined with the assortment of fish species caught using light tackle in the estuary was however far more enticing. Sitting around that campfire listening to the colossal battles being reencountered, watching the smiles and laughter, it reminded me of a young boy I used to know. He had a passion for exploring the Pondoland coast and chasing his beloved blacktail.

  • #2
    Diversity and the joys of light tackle
    Part 1 of 2

    By: Rob Scott –

    My earliest and what will always remain some of my fondest memories were exploring the gullies of the Pondoland coast. I would set out with an arsenal of 2 dogs, minimal tackle and my trusty bass rod. My quarry was always the same, the “ignobilis of my childhood”, the mighty blacktail. It was along these forgotten stretches of the Transkie coast where the stage was set for titanic battles of boy versus fish.

    Countless blacktail were hooked, but I must admit that more fish were probably lost than landed. Fish that snapped the line only got me more intrigued with the awesome power of my chosen prey. Returning to the family cottage late in the evening, I would recount the day’s adventures, vowing to return to the same gullies at first light due to unfinished business with the monster blacktail. The smiles from those carefree days are forever etched in my memory.

    As I grew older I progressed from the gullies that once seemed so big. My trusty bass rod was swapped for a 6-ounce surf stick. The time usually spent outwitting blacktail was depleted chasing kob, musselcracker, garrick, shad and sharks. Throughout the endless pursuit of bigger fish, there was however always time to get out the light tackle and do battle with the giants of my youth.

    Packing the gear for a recent sport fishing safari to Bartholomew Diaz on the Mozambique coast, I could feel the small boy inside me grinning. Bartholomew Diaz or merely BD, is best described as a sport fishing Mecca. With an estuary that can only be fully appreciated by those who have visited this remote destination. The mouth is approximately 3 kilometres wide. Hectares upon hectares of unexplored mangrove labyrinth await the adventurous. Rock and surf potential is huge, both off BD point and BD Island, where couta and big kingies can be targeted confidently from the shore. With all the fishing available in such close proximity, some visitors don’t even get the chance to visit the offshore reefs. Knowledge of the quality fish that inhabit the waters around Bartholomew Diaz, combined with the fact that clients had requested a trip where emphasis was on targeting a large number of species on light tackle, evoked a feeling similar to that of the night before Christmas for a young child.

    The first morning began early, arriving at BD point as the sun climbed over the horizon. With 14 lb bait casting rigs, artificial lures where used to work the drop-off on BD point. This drop-off starts 2 meters from the shore and drops almost vertically down to 8 meters. The mornings outgoing tide bought with it a rich array of food washed down from the mangroves, including shoals of baitfish and prawns. Both of which could be seen erupting out the water in desperate attempts to avoid their pursuers. Bucktail jigs, small spoons and surface plugs were quickly put to work. Everyone working a different lure or colour to try “match the hatch”. Two minutes later and there were two rods bent double, 2 screaming reels, and two euphoric anglers. Although the fish were not huge by any standards, the battles that ensued on light tackle were nerve racking. Both fish making numerous hard, fast runs before succumbing. George and Nick, both avid freshwater anglers, were delighted with their giant Kingfish. Each fish tipping the scales at 3,5 kilos before being released.

    Not more than three cast later, and George’s chartreuse bucktail was hammered on the retrieve. A small bluefin Kingie, around 300grams, was soon brought up to the beach. As the kingfish was about to be pulled in with a small wave, there was a swirl and a flash of silver. George’s rod bent to the real seat, the Abu Garcia baitcaster screaming like a mosque on a Friday afternoon. Within seconds George was running along the shore, trying to keep up with the silver bullet. By the way he was looking at his reel it was very obvious that his line was disappearing at an alarming pace. In a final attempt to slow the blistering velocity of the first run, he tightened his drag. Still the fish ran. Seconds felt like minutes as the spool appeared through the line, the fish slowed and turned. Five meters were gained, ten were lost. Slowly 10 meters were put back on the reel, and the fish stole 15. The battle was won after15 minutes. The “defeated” , a 9kg pickhandle barracuda. Another quick photo and the fish was revived and released, followed by high fives all around like we were an under 13 rugby side having just scored a try. Fishing resumed shortly thereafter, at times 3 or 4 anglers into fish simultaneously. Bluefin, giant, and yellowfin kingies, more pickhandle and even the occasional shoal couta were deceived by the elated anglers. All taken on light baitcasting tackle and fly, often hitting the artificials literally at our feet.

    Rob specialises in African sport fishing safaris and can be contacted at [email protected] or on his website


    • #3
      Techniques to consider when targeting couta

      Couta Code –Techniques to consider when targeting couta (King Mackerel) off fishing skis
      By Rob Scott and Keith Clover –

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      Its 5 am, just aft backline, you have your first batch of ‘livies’ in the live well securely tied to the ski. The African sun is beginning to creep over the horizon. The live bait on the end of our line is sending a pulse down your line, not dissimilar your own heart beat. There is no wind to speak of, yet. In an instant the tranquillity is shattered as a tormented couta comes boiling out of the depths, sending shafts of sunrise reflecting off its gleaming body. A savage strike, hammering heart, fish on! The “couta code” has been cracked….. for today that is!

      The couta is the cause of many a fishing ski anglers’ elation, as well as being at the root of much disappointment, when they refuse to bite. By knowing your quarry and trying various techniques one can become more successful at targeting this species - Scomberomorous commersonm, the silver prince of the fishing ski community.

      The couta prefers warmer waters and congregates in shoals off the Zululand and Mozambique coasts in winter, migrating south when the warm water moves off the Coast of Kwa Zulu Natal. The couta can reach a fork length of 200cm with a weight of 40kgs; these larger specimens tend to hunt singularly or in loosely formed shoals of only a few individuals.

      Couta are hard fighting game fish, making many hard and fast runs before lending them selves to being boated. This fighting attitude, combined with the light tackle used by many ski anglers, makes landing couta from a ski a fantastic experience. A personal highlight whenever fighting couta is to look for shimmering silver flashes in the ink blue depths, as in the death of the fight couta often attempt to use the large surface areas of their flanks to resist coming to the boat. Another highlight of targeting couta is that when they are on the bite, there is not much time for anything else besides playing fish and baiting up.

      On setting out to target couta, possibly the most important aspects to consider is water colour and water temperature. Ideal conditions are when the water is an ink blue colour and the water is warm, with a temperature of above 24oC. When the water is cold and a milky green colour the couta will become sluggish and averse to feeding. This being said even in perfect water the fish can cause much frustration by remaining “off” the bite. One can increase ones of chances of targeting couta successfully, rather dramatically, by fishing at the right times. Taking into account the crepuscular nature of couta, the old saying “the early bird catches the worm” has never been truer. Experience indicates clearly that the majority of couta being caught on Tourette Fishing Ski Safaris takes place during the hours of sunrise and sunset. The half an hour before sunset often resulting in larger, yet fewer fish.

      The secret to consistently boating couta is to try different techniques until something is changed that entices the fish into taking the bait. Features to consider altering when tempting the fish to bite are: bait type and rigging, trolling speed, trolling depth, duster/skirt colour, and trace type.

      Bait choice is varied and a very important consideration. Many anglers choose to fish with a particular bait such as mackerel, trip after trip. It is imperative to find what the fish are feeding on at your chosen destination and fish this bait as much as possible. On a recent fishing ski safari, fishing was disappointingly slow with only one couta being boated in the first two days. On gutting the fish it was discovered that the fish had gorged itself on small maasbankers. The following morning’s session began with fishing for live “mossies”. That day, fishing with small live maasbankers, between the 4 clients, over 30 couta where landed, of which 24 where released.

      Live baits will almost always produce better results than dead baits or artificial lures. Live baits are however a commodity not always available to the fishing ski angler. It is always recommended that, when fishing a new location, fishing ski anglers try and source some information concerning the whereabouts of likely spots to target live bait when out on the water. If, however, an area is fished frequently enough one will soon learn where the bait fish will congregate. Species that work well as live bait are: mackerel, maasbankers, shad and my personal favourite small bonito.

      One of the most widely used methods to target couta is with dead baits. These can be rigged on a drift trace such as a duster or skirt trace, or a weighted bait swimmer trace. The bait should be rigged so the bait does not spin when pulled through the water. A spinning bait will significantly reduce strikes and result in a twisted line. Baits that are not weighted with bait-o-matics or bait swimmers can sometimes be difficult to stop spinning, particularly longer baits such has Wolf hearings and half beaks (preferred baits in Mozambique). The trebles must be adjusted until the spinning stops. A simple technique to stop these baits from spinning is to use a wood skewer pushed from the baits tail up into its head. This keeps the bait stiff and prevents a twisted line and a frustrated angler. Smaller baits such as red eyes are also prone to swim straighter. The dorsal fin of the bait can also be held up using a broken tooth pick. This acts as a small rudder and reduces the baits chances of spinning. When fishing with an un-weighted trace the best way to ensure the bait swims straight is slow down trawling speed, or simply drift.

      If a fast trolling speed is being used it is best to rig the bait on a weighed trace, such as a trace with a bait swimmer. This enables the bait to be trawled at a higher velocity, without spinning - this will often produce better results by exciting the couta into an aggressive strike. On all fishing ski excursions, before each fishing session, clients are briefed on the route plan and preferred tactics for the morning/afternoon. What works well is to rig weighted baits and artificial lures (halco’s, feathers, coners etc) and paddle fast against the current or the direction of the prevailing wind (this often results in some fine live baits, such as bonito!) until the reef, pinnacle or drop off is reached. Fish the area until the wind picks up and then rigging un-weighted drift baits for the relaxed slow trip home.

      Along with trolling speed, trolling depth should also always be considered. On most occasion’s one surface bait as well as a down rigged bait is used. A typical “fishing ski” down rigger consists of a teardrop sinker and a rubber band. The rubber band is looped onto the sinker and is used to attach the sinker to the main line. This sinker must be attached onto the line far in front of the bait, as this sinker can easily scare a skittish couta. Ten meters in front of the bait is generally safe. Depending on trolling speed and desired depth the sinker weight can be altered to change the trolling depth.

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      Duster and skirt colour must also be considered and are easily changed. Favourite colours that consistently produce fish are pink, chartreuse and pearl. It is however important to remember that on any one day the colour working can be something completely different.

      Typical couta traces are normally tied on no.5 piano wire. The leading trace wire should be roughly the same length of the bait you will be using. Attached to this will be a tuna hook – size 3/0 or 4/0 depending on bait selection. For longer baits, half-beaks as an example, two trebles should be placed, one on each flank of the bait, the first midway down the bait and the second towards the tail. These trebles are attached to the eye of the leading hook with piano wire trace. Smaller baits, such as red eyes, require only one trailing treble hook. Once again all trebles should be arranged so as to ensure the bait swims straight. If fishing proves slow it is often a good idea to change to a thinner trace wire, or remove the leading trace wire and replace with fluorocarbon. A fluorocarbon leader of roughly 3 metres is used to attach traces to 20lb class nylon. The increased abrasion resistance that fluorocarbon offers is a great benefit when couta make long and hard runs potentially weakening/breaking conventional leader material with their slashing tail. Reels should hold at least 350 metres of 20lb line.

      It is always good practice to fish in pairs, or threes when fishing off ski’s. Other than the obvious safety advantages, fishing in numbers allows a wider variety of tactics to be employed until the “couta code” is cracked.

      By fishing any location over a prolonged time, one develops a fairly intimate knowledge of what will work, and what wont over a wide variation of conditions. This is a definite asset as potentially fruitful fishing time will not be used up with frustrating hit or miss tactics. Once again, there is no better tutor than time on the water. Go on, get out there, and get creative!

      The authors specialise in African sport fishing safaris and can be contacted at [email protected] or on his website