Fishing at Barkly..

We recently had to go to Barkly East to pick up a canopy for our vehicle. As we do not have lots of time off during the fishing season, we thought of combining the trip there with a spot of fishing. After chatting to young Robbie Millar and local guru Andrew Clarke, the wheels were set in motion.

On our way there we were met with torrential downpours for the last 200km. The rain is a blessing for the local farmers but we knew that it would not be great for our fishing. Never the less we still kept our spirits up!

First stop was visiting Andrew to hear what’s been happening. He just pointed at the sky and shook his head! He suggested we try an area called the weir that afternoon. We rushed off to get our canopy (poor farmer thought we are weird, we refused coffee and rusks and I working like a crazy person to fit the canopy!) Got it half on and rushed back to town. After checking in at our stunning accommodation, we dumped our stuff, grabbed our waterproofs and headed down to the weir. Our worst fears were true – fast flowing, chocolate water fit for catching ragged tooth sharks. We still had a ball throwing a few flies and got put off mushrooms after seeing them grow out of cow poop!

Andrew called again saying that he managed to pull a few strings for us to go fish a dam that has been closed due to the drought and subsequently low levels – a hard concept to grasp when its bucketing down around you. That night we braaied in the rain, like all normal people do. Early the next morning we set off, not used to 8deg temperature, not really boardshort weather. After a very slippery ride we got to the dam. It was very low and full of weed. We walked and looked for any sort of opening in the weeds without luck. As a last attempt we walked out on a shallow point and it looked doable. Unfortunately, for Chenelle, the clearing was just out of reach. I managed a few fish only on a full fly line cast and then only had 10 strips to get a bite.

We really had to manhandle the fish to get them over the weeds, which was not ideal. If it was not for the finest quality hooks, that Robbie ties his flies with, it would all have been a tragic story. What an amazing, world class fishery right on our doorstep. The really is no excuse not to travel locally.

The town

The town is relatively small and has a few basic shops to get odds and ends. If you plan on visiting the area, especially for a longer period of time, we would suggest taking along majority of your groceries etc.

The route

One of our favourite parts of any trip is the driving – we actually really love taking in the scenery and appreciating as many of the local views as we can. As a rule of thumb, we always try to travel there and back via different routes. We made our way from PE early on Friday morning, travelled towards Barkly East passing through Cradock, Hofmeyr, Steynsburg and Aliwal north. Sunday morning we decided to return via Elliot, Queenstown, Whittlesea (a quick stop at Oxkraal dam to have a look-see), Grahamstown and then back home.

The accommodation

We stayed at the lovely Stonehouse B&B. Situated on a Merino Ram farm at the foot of scenic green mountains, approximately 15km out of town. We were hosted by Dassie and her wonderful family, who go out of their way to ensure that you are able to make the most of your stay! Just a warning that signal is non-existant (a great way to force a detox from technology) and the B&B is a typical farm house – rustic and simple but absolutely beautiful and perfect!

If it isn’t already – we would highly recommend adding Barkly East onto your list of local spots to visit! The people are all super friendly and helpful, the scenery stunning and the quality of the fish, even in terrible conditions, was amazing. We cannot wait to get back to see what all those lovely streams have to offer. A special THANK YOU to all that made our trip awesome!

The circle of trust…

One of our favourite fish to target are kob (also known as kabeljou, mulloway, jewfish). In my opinion, very few fish hit a lure as hard as a kob. While targeting any of the kob species you always stand a chance of catching that 100b fish you have been waiting for, as it is not uncommon for large fish to come out in-between a shoal of juveniles.

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The one problem that makes targeting kob species on lure a challenge is their love for structure, as we all know that structure equates to snags. Attempting to catch these fish on lures often ends up being a pricey exercise. But there is a simple way to reduce our risks of turning that kob into a rockfish – circle hooks!

Spoons rigged with circle hooks take some getting used to as one often finds themselves falling into the trap of striking when you feel that bite. It is important to note that in order to increase your chances of a perfect hook set a slow, steady retrieve is required. Once you have felt that distinctive tap at the end of your line, maintain your constant, steady winding until the fish is on – it really is that easy! Another thing to take into account is the type and size of the circle hook you choose to use. I personally prefer the Eagle Claw Billfish L2004ELG-7/0 as to date they have resulted in the best hookup rates (they are also not so heavy on the pocket) – a smaller hook is better than a larger hook. Furthermore, we have found that by replacing your traditional split-ring with a homemade piano wire ring, one allows the circle hook free movement to do its thing – your hook is therefore more likely to be in the right position when the time is right.

circle-spoons

Once you have mastered the technique you are bound to reap the benefits. Advantages of fishing with spoons rigged with circles include:
1) Your chances of getting stuck between the bricks is significantly reduced, allowing you to fish your spoon at a slower speed with more confidence.
2) You are not only limited to kob. Since using this technique we have landed a variety of “by-catch” using spoons rigged with circles, including leeries, shad, yellowbellies as well as a 50kg dusky shark.
3) Circle hooks are easier on the fish than J-hooks. Your chances of a successful release are therefore significantly increased when using this technique. Fish around the globe are under increasing threat – remember by letting them go, you let them grow.

So, next time you tempted to target a kob, take a leap into the circle of trust and give this method a try.

Breakaway at the Breede

Breede River Lodge

In March, after applying for our visas, we had a few days to spare. It had been a long summer season at the lodge and we were desperately in need of a break! So, we went fishing!! Our destination, the Breede river – a first for myself and Chenelle. Rotten with flu, I missed most of the drive there, lying with the rentals seat as flat as it could go.

After booking into the Breede River Lodge (an awesome spot, with super helpful and friendly staff, which we would recommend to anyone) we made ourselves a comfortable bed infront of the fireplace and the TV and settled down to watch some T20.

The following day we had allocated to late lie in’s and lazing around. After a hearty brunch we headed down to the marina to book ourselves a boat for the next day. Your’s truly had no copy of his skippers ticket so we were limited to a 3m dingy and a 15hp. After a day of R&R and an afternoon prepping our tackle, we headed over for a braai and catch up with one of Nelle’s friends, Sarah Halse. Sarah is currently based at the Lower Breede River Conservancy (breede-river.org or on Facebook). After a great supper, lots of chit chat and too much wine, we were off to bed.

At 5am the next day we got up and got ourselves sorted. Before 7am we were on the river on our ship (which later earned itself a name) – The Electric Ray. We started by drifting downstream off the NSRI between the kayaks which were partaking in a comp on the river that day. After a few casts we noticed some surface action closer to the lodge. We moved up as fast as we could, which was only slightly faster than a determined kayaker. On arrival we witnessed some leeries hitting small baitfish, which had now decided to seek refuge below our vessel. In situations like this you are extremely grateful for Costa’s.

After not a single follow on a surface lure we decided to change over to my “go-to” lure – a bucktail jig! First cast, three tweaks and ON! This carried on for about 2 hours – all that was needed was to locate the baitfish and the leeries were there. We never managed to land anything big but a leerie is a leerie, and on 8lb braid and a light rod, it’s always fun! We must have landed in excess of 20 fish between the two of us whilst surrounded by kayaks which seemed to be oblivious to the happenings on the Electric Ray. In between all the action we spotted a pair of humpback dolphins, we didn’t think too much of it as they are spotted regularly at Flamingo, however we later learnt that this was not a common occurrence.

Leerie reflections

As the tide began to push we decided to go have a look up river – what an amazing body of water! The guys which get to fish this river often are definitely nothing less than spoilt! Nelle managed to the leerie of the day after spotting some nervous mullet. By now the south easter was blowing a steady 20knots. Over the course of the day I had occasionally experienced the odd tingle from the tiller arm but took little notice. Heading back, into the chop, the motor got drenched. Needless to say the little tingle turned into a heart-stopping jolt which sent Nelle into hysterics everytime it gave a kick! We managed to work out a plan with a Shimano Terez and a cooler box, which allowed for minimum contact.

By now the wind was howling and spotting fish was impossible. We handed the boat back and decided it would be best to report the shock! After an office full of laughter it was revealed that they were aware of the problem and had forgotten to warn us – a good laugh was had by all!

Thank you to the Breede locals – Keith Tait, Paul Anderson and Mike Dolhoff who all steered us in the right direction allowing us to get the most out of our limited time on the river. It was also great catching up with my old friend, Arno Dames, who was spending some time on the river with his family.

Breede

A lot of upset was caused with the implementation of new rules on the river (i.e. no night fishing and no trolling of lures) but I honestly have to say well done to the people that made this possible. The Breede is a truly special place and should be looked after.

Our estuaries in South Africa are under severe fishing pressure and it is up to all of us to try and educate our fellow anglers of the importance of catch and release.We all need to play our role in ensuring healthy stocks for the next generation – each and everyone of us makes a difference.

Romantic getaway…

From my experience of dating a fisherman, there is no “romantic” getaway, only a masked fishing excursion. On our fishing holiday in Mozambique, Carlos suggested that we take two days off from marlin fishing to go spend some quality time together, just the two of us…well, and Antonio, our very friendly skipper.

A boat ride across clear waters to set up camp on the secluded peninsula of San Sebastian -I was sold!

At 5am, whilst I was still lazing in a comfortable bed (because it was my day), Carlos was making a hell of a racket! Upon stumbling out to see what all the commotion was about, Carlos was standing surrounded by fishing tackle – all packed and ready for “romance”. Jigging rods, popping rods, surf spinning rods, light spinning rods, bait rods – you name it, it was there! Being a (soon to be) fishwife, I thought it was a bit excessive but as I had never fished on that side of the continent before I was keen to get a few species under my belt!

We loaded the boat, climbed aboard and set off for a night of solitude. But first we had to stock up on some fresh carapao which meant a quick stop at all the local fishing boats. We then had to drop off Antonio’s cousin on Paradise island. A slower start than expected but the clear water,thousands of garfish, dolphins, turtles, birds and the isolation that one can experience out at sea, made it all worth it!

Upon arrival at San Sebastian, we grabbed our spinning rods and headed across to the seaside of the peninsula. We managed a few wave garrick and black fin kingies but the GT’s eluded us. After setting up camp, we put out a few baits which saw us land a sandshark and black tip reef shark. We called it a night, lit our fire, drank some wine (out of stainless steel mugs) and had a lovely beach-spiced braai. Whilst enjoying my sandy steak, I noticed a rather peculiar amount of (what I classify as rather large) crabs surrounding us and notified Carlos about it. But not a problem, Carlos assured me that the tent was crab-proof!

Mozambique

After too much wine we made our way to the tent.. only to discover that the zips were non-existant. Even though after previous use (which was 4 years before) “everything was perfect”!  We climbed into our tent, propped up the entrance with bottles and attempted to sleep – Carlos was out within seconds whilst I lay awake listening to what seemed like millions of pincers grabbing at our tent in the few seconds of silence, between snores. However, the fresh air and excitement from the day eventually got the best and me and I drifted into a solid two hours of sleep only to be woken by a crustacean attempting to make its way into my sleeping bag. Needless to say, I could have set records for the potato sack race with that sleeping bag. After having the intruder removed from the premises I was interrogated as to why I had so much fear of something so small and harmless… not something a woman wants to be lectured about at 2am in the morning, after very little sleep, whilst under constant crab attack. After a few minutes of heated debate, and after securing all entrances to my sleeping bag, we drifted in and out of sleep between crab removals.

Sunrise, (at 4:30am) and the instant heat that came with it, saw us pack up our campsite – after a lovely nights rest, and head back to the boat. We both attempted to be enthusiastic about the day that lay ahead of us – targetting the reefs for a few decent pulls. But the lack of sleep, coupled with a grand total of zero fish for the morning, saw the last of the enthusiasm disappear rapidly. We secured the tackle, zoomed “home”, showered and had the most amazing sleep on the most comfortable bed in the world!

Whilst our romantic getaway was not exactly what I had envisioned, I would not change a single thing… Life is too short for uneventful holidays and a few spanners in the works. The few new species on the catch list also had its role to play in preventing our getaway from turning into a nightmare.

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PS. We said good riddance to the tent upon packing up to return back to South Africa. Antonio, I hope you will grow to have fonder memories of that tent than me.

 

Lobito…

Everybody has a “place”, for me it has to be Lobito, in Angola. There is just something magical about the place. I don’t know if its the name, the scenery or perhaps it is because it is without a doubt the best billfishing destination in Africa!! For the past 10 years Lobito has hosted its now famous Lobito Big Game Tournament. I have been fortunate enough to have taken part in some of these tournaments, with mixed results.

In 2009, we hooked 8 blue marlin, one of which was a grander, and never scored a point.

In 2011, a tiny impeller cost us the tournament and saw us arrive late for the weigh-in with a total of 5 sailfish, tagged and released, which was the most fish in a single day in any tournament in Angola (at that time we were the first team to practice bait and switch in Angola). We came back strong and managed to place second.

2012, I had fishing clients and was unable to compete and my team won – maybe I am the Jonah? Up until 2012 I had the honour of fishing with the greatest teachers, gentlemen and all round nice guys- Dr Iain Nicholson and his brother Cam, on the Marlinheiros team.

2014 was my debut as a Captain in the tournament. By now the other Angolan teams had fished the World Champs in Costa Rica and Mexico and had improved their methods and adapted to suit them to their local waters. Amongst the fleet we had the FIPs-M World Champions, the IGFA World Champions and five of the top ten anglers in the world!!! Quite a line up. We arrived with our tiny 28ft Butt Cat with high expectations but knowing that we were fishing amongst the best. Practice days saw us attempt to establish our rhythm and master our techniques- as we had never fished as a team and were trying something entirely new- swimming baits for sailfish as the days of bait and switch were over. The first day of the comp, everything came together and we ended up with 11 sailfish caught. We lost some points at the jury due to videos and ended up tied first. Second day was disaster for us and from there on it was all downhill. I wanted a top ten finish, we managed seventh so I was sort of happy with it but I know we could have done a lot better. We ended up with 28 sailfish for the competition, with a total of 480 billfish caught amongst 40 boats in 4 days fishing.

2015 saw me fish with a new team. Due to charters we only had one practice day. Fishing was slow for us but we managed to find a small pocket of fish as we were about to up lines which gave us confidence for the first day. After the binimy start majority of the boats headed north, we however (along with a few others) decided to make our way south. We just set out our full spread and in come a sailfish – 1 from 1. in these competitions full points are rewarded for fish which are tagged and released. As we tagged the first fish, the tag stick broke, so no tag = half points! With the spread out we immediately raised 2 and hooked 2. Now we had to make a plan to tag! A bit of improvisation with a leatherman and a piece of wire saw us tagging those two fish but our adapted tag stick cost us valuable time as we had to bill each fish. A quick call over the radio to Iain resulted in a new tag stick. The day carried on in a blur, making baits, tagging, releasing, shouting, high-fifing, more shouting, more high-fives and so it went on until lines up. The last half an hour saw us fighting hard to land just one more fish, which unfortunately did not join the cause. We ended the day with 19 from 26, setting a new daily Angolan record. By far my most special offshore tournament day.

Lobito 19

The rest of the competition did not go so well for us and we managed to place fifth, however day 1 made it all worth our while. A staggering 993 billfish were caught over a period of 4 days by 40 boats. All fish were tagged and released, besides the 6 which died during fighting or for world record purposes.

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Due to a busy charter schedule we were unfortunately not able to fish Lobito in 2016 but you never know what the future or the deep blue holds! Lobito will forever remain one of my favourites.

Lady luck?

The morning of the 11th of April 2015 began just like any other morning, waking up to the sound of the ocean lapping the shore and the cat meowing for food. Carlos and I were in a bittersweet mood- happy to be heading back to South Africa, for a week or two, to see family and friends but sad to leave our home and our kitten. It was about lunch time, whilst packing our bags, when we heard Rod Haestier shouting frantically for assistance. Carlos poked his head out our door to see what all the commotion was about… only to find Rod with a buckling rod and near empty reel attempting to get his camera out of his room. Carlos then began bellowing. I ran out only to get shouted at and sent back to get my rod. A massive, shimmering bait ball had gathered on our doorstep and was getting smashed by a shoal of leeries.

I raced down to the beach, and started trembling with excitement. My first cast was nothing other than a total disaster, it was as if I had two left hands! I managed to land my plug nowhere near the bait ball that was stretched out for at least 50m in front of me. A little story on the side, whilst learning to cast properly the only way I got my rhythm was by singing to myself (Lana del Rey was the hit!). I knew I had to get my nerves in check so I reeled like crazy, took a deep break and started singing. From here on, everything happened in slow motion… my plug flew perfectly landing just behind the bait ball. Few quick winds and my ‘Flamingo Special’ plug was skipping along happily. The next moment a massive bow wave started coming from behind, then the biggest explosion I had ever seen. This repeated itself over and over as the leerie was so aggressive he couldn’t get the plug in his mouth (or I had stopped singing, lost focus and was winding like a crazy person!!). Just as I thought I was running out of water my plug disappeared into a massive mouth, not even 15m from my feet. My rod jerked, my Stella started screaming and just like that I was on!

Meanwhile, Carlos had managed to land Rod’s fish. After a few quick photos, the leerie of about 20kg was returned to the sea. Now all of a sudden I had a lot of ‘expert advice’. The fight lasted for about 20min. The flat, clear waters and my new set of Costas made it possible for me to see the fish for the entire fight- something thats etched into my brain forever! After a few tense moments, Carlos managed to tail the fish. Only when he picked it up and passed it into my trembling arms did I realise what a beauty I had just landed. Once the moment had been captured, I waded waist deep into the water, held her until she was ready to kick off. Feeling the fish kick out of my hands and seeing her swim off strongly was even more satisfying than catching her!

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As our fisheries are under immense pressure all over the globe (even in a remote area like Angola) it is very important that we all do our part. Every fish released helps the cause, especially those big breeding females.

Quick tip: always have a camera ready before you land your fish as it wastes valuable time fetching it once the fish has hit the beach. Fighting a big fish takes a lot out of it and every second spent out of the water reduces the chance of a successful release!  

Fond memories…

Every so often the fishing gods look down upon us! Two seasons ago we had the pleasure of having an oil rig 40miles off Kwanza Lodge. We could not have placed it better ourselves- it was in a horseshoe canyon on a 1000m drop off- which means only one thing… BLUE MARLIN COUNTRY!

Fishing at the SSV Catarina was just out of this world. Hundreds of wahoo’s, thousands of dorado’s and millions of tuna greeted us every morning when we arrived. You could troll, spin, pop, jig, spearfish, flyfish, live-bait fish, whatever your heart desired, and in the end you were always rewarded with an amazing experience.

There is one day, amongst many, which stands out the most for both of us. It was Chenelle’s first offshore trip.

On this day we had father and son, Rico and Vincent Sakko, on the boat with the two of us. Chenelle came with to pull the by-catch of tuna, wahoo and dorado – a terrible job but someone had to do it! We arrived at Catarina at 7h30am and slowed down to trolling speed one mile from the rig. We put out a four rod spread (no outriggers needed!), two 50lb and two 80lb outfits, with conas. As we got alongside Catarina the left rigger popped and not even second later short corner started screaming off. A double header of blue marlin within 5 minutes of trolling!! Chenelle and I cleared the remaining rods, got Rico and Vincent harnessed up and proceeded to fight the fish. After some tricky boat manoeuvring and over-unders we had a problem, both wind-ons arrived at the boat at the same time as Rico’s fish decided to spoil our plans and swim in. We wired Vincent’s fish, gave the leader to Chenelle to hold and proceeded to wire Rico’s fish. Father and son double up 400lb blue marlin in the first hour of the day, at that point we thought our day was made. After all the celebratory high-fives and photos we put the rods out and began trolling towards Catarina as the marlin had taken us about 1.5nm off it.

We were all still shaking our heads in disbelief when left rigger went off again, after a total of 5min of trolling!! Everyone looked around in shock as if to say “who the hell is going to pull this one??”. Rico said “Chenelle your turn”. How lucky can someone be, having spent a total of 10min, in her whole life, trolling for marlin and here she was strapped into a 500lb fish. After some spectacular jumps and grey hounding the fish went deep. Chenelle did an amazing job for her first time pulling from a black magic and after a 40min fight we had the fish alongside. Some quick photos, a little bit of reviving and off she went.

chenelle marlin

My previous best at the rig was three marlin in one day. It was now 9h30am and we hadn’t even hit the top of the tide! This fish took us a bit further off. As we got to the rig low and behold, left flat buckled over. While clearing the other lines another marlin followed right long. But we decided to focus on one of them for Vincent. He did a splendid job on the rod but after 30min into the fight you could see the effects of the previous fish taking its toll (he was only eleven at the time). As Rico got a wrap on the leader, the hook fell. Vincent was gutted but for us all it was a caught fish and he did an amazing job! Two blue marlin in one day for an eleven year old takes a lot to beat! By now everyone was sore and Rico suggested that I take the next one. Right there and then it was decided that if I was going to get one, it was going to be on a live bait.

We raced to the rig, dropped a jig, two winds later and we were on with a 4lb yellowfin tuna. We bridled it onto a big circle hook, Rico dropped it into the water and I went to put the motors into gear. Rico went berserk, the wind-on was barely out the rod tip and there was a perfectly lit up 450lb marlin. I ran to the back and proceeded to feed it, slowly started to push up the drag and went tight. We spent a total amount of 1min live-baiting! After an uneventful fight we released the marlin. It was 11h00am.

We still had the awful task of catching fish for the restaurant so we packed away the big stuff and put out our 20 and 30lb outfits. After having sufficient fish for supper, we decided to call it a day.

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SSV Catarina in all her glory (PS. note the cookie cutter shark bite on the dorado, next to the bad gaff mark!)

The ride back to the lodge was one of my most memorable. Oily-calm-blue seas, flying fish, spinner dolphins and a boat full of smiles!                                                                        What made it even more special was sharing it all with my then-girlfriend, now fiancé, close friend Rico and my little protege Vincent.