ONSHORE: Pertaining to, in the direction toward, or located on the shore. Also known as shoreside.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright - 2003.
South Africa has one of the most exciting coastlines for anyone who is interested in the sea and especially for an aspirant salt-water fly angler. Extending around the southern tip of Africa for approximately 3100 kilometres, this coastline is bathed by two different currents on its east and west coasts.
From a fly-fishing perspective, the Indian Ocean bordering the east coast is of particular interest because of the huge variety of fishes that inhabit the warm, clear waters of the mighty Agulhas Current that sweeps down from the tropics. To add to the angling options, this section of coastline is endowed with 117 sub-tropical estuaries and 123 warm-temperate estuaries that provide numerous fish species (particularly juveniles) with abundant food and shelter.
By the same token, the close proximity of the fast-flowing Agulhas Current to the coastline, combined with the strong seasonal prevailing winds, gives rise to surf and weather conditions that are, at times, among the most challenging in the world. On occasion, powerful wave action, strong winds and currents will test the finely honed skills of even the most competent fly angler. It is, however, the challenge and satisfaction of landing one or more of the many feisty species found along this coast that fly-fishing dreams are made of.
Golf is a sport that has a huge following worldwide and is played by participants of all shapes and sizes. To its credit, golf has a wonderful feature known as the handicap system. The beauty of this is that it enables a very mediocre player to compete on a par with a very good golfer, thus making for an entertaining and competitive challenge.
In the case of fly fishing, however, there is no handicap and you the angler are left entirely to your own guile and skills to deal with the challenge of catching fish. When fly fishing in the salt this challenge is even greater for, not only are you confronted with a vast expanse of water, but often you are exposed to the most inhospitable elements. It is my considered opinion that the handicap system is the main reason for so many erstwhile saltwater anglers turning their backs on the sport and rather heading for the greens and fairways.
The cast defines fly fishing and yet this very crucial skill is often the most neglected of all. In the salt there is a direct correlation between your ability to cast well and catching fish. When I say cast well, I mean being able to cast with good form (tight loops) and power (line speed). This enables you to cope with winds from any direction and to cast far enough to where the fish are. The best equipment in the world does not compensate for the inability to cast well and the results will always be sub-par. The first rule then is, learn to cast well. Read books, watch fly-fishing DVDs, go to a reputable clinic and then practise, practise, and practise. Once you are a proficient caster, the game gets much easier and you will catch fish and become a dedicated, if not fanatical, fly angler.
We often hear the term 'being at the right place at the right time' as the reason for a successful fishing outing, and quite rightly so. Having got your casting up to scratch, and armed with all the right gear, the next step is to find the fish and get them to accept your flies. There are many factors to consider, but as you spend more time on the water, and start taking note of things, you begin to develop your own theories as to when, where and how to fish. In short, you start thinking like the fish and become an intuitive angler. Local knowledge is critical as each locality will have its own biorhythm which means that at a very specific moon phase, tide and time of day or night, certain fish will be on the hunt - being there at the right moment will almost certainly yield results. These windows of opportunity may last for only 35 to 40 minutes, and they may not always deliver, but chances of success are optimal when timing your fishing around these periods.
Fly fishing is akin to hunting and you constantly need to be looking for tell-tale signs that indicate the presence of fish. A good place to start is to look for a school of baitfish and then watch them like a hawk. The purpose is to observe their behaviour and resist the temptation to cast flies into their midst, unless your intention is to catch only baitfish! If the fish are swimming below the surface in a spread-out and relaxed fashion, rest assured that there are no predatory fish in the immediate vicinity. Once the school becomes a tightly packed, dark mass of fish milling around close to the surface, be ready, because chances are that an assault is imminent. The ensuing chases are quite often spectacular but of short duration, with baitfish continually erupting into the air and half-submerged gamefish running them down. To be successful, a good sense of anticipation and a quick, accurate cast is essential. Monitoring the behaviour of baitfish in a particular locality will also help you to establish the feeding habits of your quarry in those places and under those conditions. Take note of any chases you see, the time, the state of the tide, and so on, and develop your own hypothesis as to why your target fish are present and feeding in that particular spot. On the next occasion, let your deductions guide you, evaluate the results, and modify them if they don't pan out.
Rocky promontories, cuts in a reef, drop-offs, sandspits, sandbanks, channels, gullies and deep holes are all important structural features to look for when deciding where to fish. It is around these features that currents and eddies develop, thus creating feeding opportunities for both baitfish and predatory fish. Most of the bays along our eastern seaboard are in the lee of rocky points that strike approximately north-east. Strong rip currents develop around these points near or at the spring tides, especially during the prevailing southeasters or southwesters. Under these conditions, this is where you should be because baitfish are swept from the shallows into the deeper water where the predators lurk. Always be aware that a freak wave or surging water could easily sweep you into the raging currents and so, you are advised to keep a keen eye on the surf and to always wear a personal flotation device. The same procedures are followed when you fish sandy points and deep holes next to sandbanks: here, too, strong currents develop around these structures, causing baitfish to be disoriented and sucked into deeper water. Whichever of these places you may be fishing, keep moving and fishing different seams, currents and eddies until you locate fish - too many anglers are content to find a spot and to remain there even if they don't catch anything.
A good way to familiarise yourself with the topography of any fishing spot is to visit it at low tide and look for features like reefs, cuts, drop-offs, sandbanks and holes, and then indicate their position with markers placed high up on the beach. These markers will enable you to relocate the specific structures when the tide is high or at night.
You need to master two essential skills to catch fish in the surf: the first is casting, mentioned previously, and the second is stripping, also referred to as retrieving. The latter is a very important and yet often-overlooked aspect, as the speed and depth at which a fly is retrieved and the movement that is imparted to it are just as important as the fly itself. Anglers commonly change their fly several times before even thinking about varying their retrieve. There is also the widespread belief that you must strip as fast as possible to be successful in the surf. While this may well be the case under certain conditions, it certainly is not the rule, and I would rather advocate that you vary your retrieve before changing your fly.
There are two basic ways of stripping: first, the single-handed retrieve and second, the double-handed retrieve, where the rod is (preferably) tucked under the casting arm. Personally, I prefer the double-handed method as it provides more options to vary the speed and type of retrieve. The added advantage of this method is that your hook-up rate is much better because one of your hands is always in contact with the fly line.
Seasonally, the summer months, from October until the end of March, are best for most of the popular fly-rod fishes. In KwaZulu-Natal, certain species such as shad and garrick will be more prevalent during the winter months when they arrive there to spawn.
Diurnally, most piscivores are active during first and last light and often feed well into the night as this reduces the risk of being seen by predators or prey. It is important when fishing at night that you are as unobtrusive to the fish as possible. This means that shining torches or headlamps on the water is a no-no. Use lights only when absolutely necessary and try to direct the beam well away from the water you are fishing. Remember that the darkness is just as important to you as it is to the fish you are trying to catch.
Tidal flow generates currents that concentrate and transport prey, and the fish are quick to home in on these mobile pantries. The occurrence, locality and strength of these currents, therefore, become critical when making your decision as to where and when to fish. During the full- and new-moon phases, the tidal variations are at their highest and will result in strong rip currents in bays and off rocky points or sandspits. Strong prevailing winds often occur around these spring tides and add further strength to the currents. Baitfish seek refuge in the shallows at high tide, and up against rocky ledges during low tide - they gather in large shoals in these places and rely on the principle of safety in numbers. As the tide changes and the rip currents develop, these hapless fish are swept from their sanctuaries and are easily ambushed by waiting predators.
Area tide charts and, even better, daily tide-flow charts, are essential sources of information when planning a trip. I am very reluctant to generalize about the best tides and moon phase, as each locality will be different depending on the structure and the fish species you are targeting. As a rule, the period from 3 days before to 3 days after spring tides is best along the east coast. Within this time frame, the ideal window is from 2 hours after low tide to 2 hours before high tide, as well as the 2 hours after high tide until 2 hours before low tide. Ideally you want to be fishing when these times and tides coincide with low-light conditions. Along the South African coast, spring high tides generally occur between 03:00 and 04:00 and again between 15:00 and 16:00. Spring low tides are between 09:00 and 10:00 and recur between 21:00 and 22:00. The tidal lag is approximately 40 minutes each subsequent day. Using this information you can easily calculate when maximum water movement coincides with low-light or dark conditions, and so choose the most favourable fishing times.
Water temperature generally determines which species are present so, for more on this, see the notes on individual fish species. It is important to know that along our coast, southwesters induce upwelling, which brings in clean, warm water. Northeasterly winds have the opposite effect.
I have never been one to plan a fishing outing according to the barometer but what I have found to be true is that fish often come on the bite when there is a sharp drop in pressure. Several days of a strong northeaster, followed initially by a day of absolute calm and then a howling southwester, invariably result in fantastic fishing. Why this happens depends on which theory you subscribe to but, for the purposes of this article, take it as a general rule.
Water clarity will influence the length of your leader, the colour and choice of fly and the speed of your retrieve. As a rule of thumb: the clearer the water, the longer the leader, the lighter the fly colour, and the faster the retrieve. The opposite will apply in dirtier water.
The tackle required in the surf zone is determined by three major factors: physical factors, effective catch-and-release practices and lastly, the fish species being targeted.
In the surf, the ability to cast well is vital, as you often have to make long casts with large, wind-resistant flies while having to cope with the ever-present wind, waves and varying underfoot conditions. Fast- to medium-fast-action 9- to 12-weight rods are essential, depending on the fish being targeted.
The choice of rod is also important if you intend releasing fish. Catch and release has become an integral part of fly fishing in order to conserve our rapidly dwindling fish stocks. (See page 122.) In the eat-or-be-eaten surf environment, the proper release of fish is even more important because, if the released fish is not strong enough to outswim a predator, it will be hunted down in no time. To minimise injury or stress-related mortality, the choice of tackle and techniques is extremely important - you have to get the fish to hand as quickly as possible and spend time reviving it prior to release. For this, you need a rod with enough backbone to pressure the fish; first, to stop its initial run, and, second, to turn and land it. A fast- to medium-fast-action rod with plenty of butt strength is necessary.
The angle at which you hold your rod also influences the duration of the fight - the lower the angle, the more pressure you can bring to bear. A combination of low and sideways rod pressure is an acknowledged technique to turn and tire a fish. It stands to reason that your leader and tippet should also be strong enough to apply the necessary pressure.
Many fish die from injuries sustained when they are hooked, and scientific studies are increasingly demonstrating that the use of circle hooks reduces the risk of deep hooking in most species. This confirms my personal experience in the last 3 years where I have had a 100-percent hook-up rate using de-barbed circle hooks, without a single fish being deeply hooked.
Having given my reasons, I would recommend the tackle below for use in the surf. Where necessary, additional information on tackle for specific fishes is provided in the section detailing the various species.
FLY RODS If you only have one rod, then a 9- or 10-weight is your best choice; if you can afford two, a 9-weight and a 12-weight will enable you to cope with 99 percent of your fly fishing in the surf.
Buy the best you can afford and look for those that have a proven track record in this harsh environment. Rather than being persuaded by advertising hype, get advice from guides or anglers who spend a lot of time fishing the surf. The reel must be sturdy and durable with a smooth drag and an exposed palming spool. Large-arbor reels have become very popular due to their high pick-up rate.
My personal choice is dacron. I use 14-kilogram test for the 9- or 10-weight outfit and 23-kilogram test for the 12-weight. If reel capacity is a concern, you should consider one of the newer braids.
A fly line that shoots well and does not bunch makes the difference between having a great day on the water and one that is fraught with frustration and punctuated with expletives. Buy the best that you can afford and do your homework well before you spend your money. Saltwater weight-forward tapers are the norm with other options being distance- and wind cutter-lines, depending on your needs.
I have never used floating lines in the surf along our coast simply because they do not perform well in the wind, and fishing is restricted to the surface or just below.
If you are going to fish poppers or other surface flies, a good quality intermediate line with a sink rate of 5 to 8 centimetres per second (cm/s) will be ideal, provided you start your retrieve as soon as the fly lands in the water. Intermediate lines are far more versatile as they allow you to fish either surface or subsurface flies, and you can also cast them into moderately strong winds.
These lines have a floating running line and an intermediate sink tip of approximately 9 metres that sinks at a rate of 5 to 8 cm/s. This is perfect for fishing surface or subsurface flies in very shallow water over sand or reefs. They load the rod quickly and enable you to make long casts.
Those with a sink rate of 13 to 15 cm/s are best for fishing subsurface flies in the surf. They sink at just the right rate to fish rip currents effectively, without hooking up on the rocks, and are ideal when fishing over a sandy bottom.
If you intend releasing your fish I recommend that you construct the strongest possible leader and use a tippet to suit the prevailing fishing conditions. This will allow you to land the fish in the shortest possible time and minimise stress-related mortalities. A very important consideration in setting up your backing-to-fly tackle is to ensure the weakest point is the knot at your fly or very close to it. If the fish does break you up, it is not left swimming away with your fly line and backing trailing behind it. The results are inevitably a slow death for the fish and an unhappy and out-of-pocket fly angler. One or more of the following factors will influence the construction of your leader and tippet: catch and release, targeted fish species, water clarity, water depth, fly line type, and wind. Details of leaders for particular fishes are provided in the relevant section on fish species.
If you intend releasing fish, I strongly recommend that you use circle hooks, where possible, and that you de-barb all your regular hooks. There is some resistance to both of these practices but I can assure you that the hook-up rate is very high and, provided pressure is maintained during the fight, you should not lose any fish. In reality, it is the unnecessary handling of fish, and the physical damage caused when removing barbed hooks that result in fatalities. Bear in mind that although a fish swims off after being released, this does not mean it will survive. Studies in the Bahamas have shown that up to 40 percent of bonefish that were caught and released were taken by sharks within 24 hours of being let loose.
This is an essential item in the surf. Do not, and I repeat, do not buy one of those fold-up versions you see advertised. The first big wave that hits you will collapse it and spark off a very frustrating time on the water. Get hold of a strong shopping basket and modify it to suit your needs.
For several reasons, locating and angling for fish in estuaries is considerably easier than in the surf. First, the area that you are covering is substantially smaller, and all the water is accessible by watercraft. Second, you are protected from breaking surf and sheltered, to a greater or lesser degree, from strong prevailing winds.
Estuaries are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. Unfortunately, inappropriate human developments and activities have caused irreparable harm to many of the estuaries worldwide and it is imperative that the few functioning estuaries still remaining be treated with a great deal of care and consideration. For these reasons, I urge you to desist from using powerboats to access fishing spots in an estuary if possible - a boat with an electric motor, a paddle ski or a canoe is, environmentally, a far friendlier option. The advantages are that you can get much closer to fish whilst minimizing noise, fuel emission and disturbance of the water surface.
It is particularly important to note that estuaries serve as nurseries for numerous fish species and invertebrates. Almost all marine species that spend the juvenile stage of their life cycle in estuaries, spawn at sea. At a later stage their young return to the estuary and remain there until they reach maturity. Larger predators prey on the abundant small fish and crustaceans resident in this productive habitat and, consequently, there is a considerable movement of fish in and out of estuaries with each tide.
Each estuary tends to have its own biorythm. At certain times of the year, there is a particular combination of events such as moon phase, tidal state and so on, that have a bearing on fish behaviour and feeding habits. For example, if you intend catching river snapper in the estuarine lakes of Kosi Bay in summer, you need to be at the drop-off near the southern entrance to the second lake from 18:30 to 20:30 during the neap-tide phase. Fish a dark fly very slowly on an intermediate line, and beware of the hippos! Local knowledge goes a long way in determining the tactics and how you locate fish in a particular estuary.
Most estuaries consist of a mouth (permanently or intermittently open), a lower reach (the area immediately inland of the mouth), a middle reach and finally, the upper reach that extends to the head of tide (the farthest point upstream affected by tidal fluctuations). Reading the water and how you go about locating fish will depend largely on where you are, relative to any one of these areas.
The mouth and lower reaches of estuaries are dynamic areas that change constantly in response to weather and surf conditions. The size and position of sandbanks change continuously, thereby altering the flow of water in and out of the estuary. It is, therefore, important to take careful note of these features and fish them accordingly. There will invariably be a distinct drop-off in this section - fish it at the first push of the tide, taking care to stand well back from the actual edge of the drop-off. Do not stay anchored to one spot, but rather keep moving and fish the ever-changing currents, seams and eddies. The most productive time is generally during the initial push of the tide, after which you should move on.
At this point the estuary generally is at its widest and usually fairly deep. As a rule, the banks are lined with mangrove trees and/or other marine vegetation, depending on the climate. There are no visible currents and the bank is mostly made up of mud and rock. It is here that variables such as water temperature, salinity, clarity, tides and the type of vegetation growing on the bottom and banks of the estuary will determine the tactics that you employ. For example, if the water is turbid and visibility limited to under a metre, you should resort to a darker fly that pushes a lot of water and is retrieved slowly. Similarly, if fishing over mudbanks, you may decide to use a prawn imitation retrieved with short, erratic movements. The first step in calm water is to look for any signs that betray the presence of fish.
Here the estuary becomes narrow and shallow with occasional deep pools. The mudbanks give way to cliffs and loose boulders line the bottom. Typically, shallow rocky sections drop off into deep pools and currents develop during the rise and fall of the tide.
The techniques used in estuaries have a lot in common with those used in the surf with one notable exception - the majority of anglers fishing local estuaries use a boat or other craft because of the increased mobility and ease of access that it offers. This means that shorter accurate casts to structure or to a sighted fish often replace distance casting. Your retrieve will be influenced by factors such as water clarity, temperature and depth, as well as the composition and structure of the estuary bed. This environment is a lot quieter and less turbulent than the surf, so approach prospective areas stealthily by reducing boat noise and/or water displacement to a minimum. Finally, always be acutely aware of any signs that indicate the presence of fish.
The tackle required to fish an estuary is much simpler than that needed in the surf - an 8-weight rod and matching reel backed with 150 metres of 14-kilogram dacron is generally adequate. In the larger estuarine bays or lake systems you can up that to a 9- or 10-weight outfit. Floating lines are the norm when fishing surface flies or poppers in shallow water, but intermediate lines are indispensable when fishing currents and deeper water. Sinking lines only have a place in some of the deep estuaries. You can use the same leaders, hooks and stripping basket as you did in the surf.
The species recorded below represent a selection of the most common fishes that can be taken by fly anglers fishing the surf, flats or estuaries around the southern African coastline and many of the Indian Ocean islands. They are listed by family in the sequence followed most widely by fish taxonomists. THE EDITOR
LADYFISH (WORLDWIDE), SKIPJACK OR SKIPPIE (EC), SPRINGER (KZN)
Elops machnata is an Indo-Pacific species that has been found as far south as the Breede River on the east coast of South Africa. It is primarily an estuary and harbour fly-fishing species as few are caught in the surf on fly. It feeds mainly at dusk and at night on small shoaling baitfish such as roundherring and juvenile mullet as well as swimming prawn. In the winter, large shoals assemble off Mozambique to spawn. Juveniles use estuaries as nurseries and are able to tolerate a wide range of salinity and turbidity. The body is elongated, covered in small scales and has a centrally located, single dorsal fin. The teeth are very fine and present on both jaws. The skipjack is a great fighting fish, renowned for its speed, acrobatic aerial displays and never-say-die attitude.
Water temperature is a factor, as they prefer warm water. Try estuary mouths at night on a pushing tide, especially 2 to 4 days after neap tide. Further up the estuary, look for sporadic chases as springer have the habit of following a shoal of baitfish and attacking them intermittently. In very shallow water over mudbanks, you often see them swimming slowly with dorsal fins protruding above the water surface. Vary your retrieve from medium to very slow as it gets darker. Make sure that your hooks are very sharp as they have hard, cartilaginous mouths and will often throw a hook on the first jump.
An 8-weight outfit with floating and intermediate lines and a 10-kilogram tippet is adequate. Your top flies are #2 to 1/0 Clousers, Salty Buggers, Sea-Ducers, Whistlers and Red Knights in white, chartreuse, orange/yellow, and red/black. Small poppers and flippers are also effective at sunrise and sunset.
The South African Deep Sea Angling Association (SADSAA) all tackle record is 12 kilograms.
Bonefish inhabit warm, tropical waters worldwide but the destinations that fly fishers prize above all others are those where the fish can enter large, shallow, tidal flats to feed. Their popularity with anglers can be attributed to their speed and fighting ability, their stealth and most importantly, the experience of sight fishing for them. The coral islands and atolls of the Seychelles and the St Brandon islands of Mauritius provide, without doubt, the best bonefishing in the world. Vast flats on many of these atolls and archipelagos provide the fish with an endless supply of crustaceans, worms and molluscs on which to feed.
Bonefish commonly enter the shallow flats to feed on an incoming tide and return to deep water as the tide ebbs. Typically, they travel in schools, small groups or as individuals. In this exposed environment they are extremely wary and will dart off at the slightest hint of danger, so seeing and stalking the fish are central to success. Correct presentation, also, is of paramount importance: lead the fish or school, and let the fly settle before twitching it to get the fish's attention. Once the fish has seen the fly, a few short twitches will generally result in a take. Most importantly, do not lift the rod to set the hook - keep the tip low and line-strip briskly - only then lift the rod. If you have several refusals, change flies.
An 8- to 9-weight rod, a top-quality reel with 200 metres of backing, a floating fly line and a 6- to 10-kilogram fluorocarbon tippet are the basic tools required to do the job. Build your fly selection around #4 to 8 Gotchas, Puffs, Bitters, Crazy Charlies and crab imitations.
GIANT KINGFISH, GIANT TREVALLY, GT
The largest member of the Carangidae family, C. ignoblis, is found in tropical, sub-tropical and warm-temperate waters of the Indo-central Pacific and Red Sea, from Oman to Algoa Bay.
Giant kingfish frequent coral and offshore reefs, lagoons, pinnacles and surf areas along rocky and sandy shores. They spawn at sea but juveniles are often found in estuaries. The best catches are in summer.
They feed mainly on fish (mullet, three-spot pompano) as well as squid, prawns and turtle hatchlings. They usually hunt in packs of six to 20 fish, but large individuals are territorial and operate on their own. A favourite ploy is to herd baitfish into the shallows or up against a reef and then chase them into such shallow water that the kingfish beach themselves in the process. They also readily enter permanently open estuaries in their quest for food.
Caranx ignoblis reaches sexual maturity at a fork length (FL) of 65 centimetres (3 years) and attains 160 centimetres and a mass of 80 kilograms.
Adult giant kingfish are, in my book, the Holy Grail of rock-and-surf fly fishing. They have the attitude of a muscle-bound nightclub bouncer and fight like an intoxicated soccer hooligan. Aside from their strength and dirty tactics, what fascinates me about these fish is their versatility as predators. For a fly angler standing in the surf, the prospect of connecting with one of these big fish, let alone landing it, is a challenge to savour and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
A good place to start is a strong rip current, either off sandy beaches, rocky points or gaps in reefs. When you have located such a current, you must concentrate on fishing the turbulent, white-water areas within it. In bright conditions, always be visually alert and ready to make a quick cast, and look before you approach any likely spot. Seeing the fish before it sees you is invariably the answer to a successful hook-up. Try to find a shoal of mullet and monitor the movement of the fish without disturbing them - when you see big mullet scudding along the surface, it is generally a sure sign that they are being chased by kingfish. Use a two-handed retrieve to impart an erratic movement to the fly, vary the speed from fast to slow and always keep the rod tip low and pointing at the fly. Flies with a lot of movement, such as Sempers, are more effective when retrieved slowly at night or in strong currents.
The best time to catch giant kingfish is from October to April with the hottest action in February. Low-light conditions at first light, at dusk, or at night are best, particularly when they coincide with strong tidal movement. I have had the most success in very rough surf caused by a strong wind.
The saying, 'don't take a knife to a gun fight' holds very true when targeting these fish in the surf. They are the dirtiest fighters in the sea and will break you up on the nearest reef before you have had time to recover from the shock of the initial take. Your tackle should not only be able to handle such powerful fish but also do so under the most testing conditions. My personal choice, based on long experience, is:
Rod: 12-weight. Reel: See discussion in earlier section Rock and Surf Tactics and Tackle. Backing: At least 200 metres of 25-kilogram breaking-strain (BS) dacron or braid. Fly line: Intermediate (5 to 6 cm/s) or sinking (13 to 15 cm/s), 20-kilogram BS. Leader: One metre 18-kilogram hard monofilament with at least 60 centimetres of 50-kilogram bite tippet. Flies: Size 6/0 to 10/0 large baitfish imitations with deep profiles and movement such as Sin Profiles and Sempers are a must. Also carry a selection of poppers and gurglers to suit changing conditions. The best colours are grey, olive, purple/black, orange/yellow and chartreuse. Stripping basket: Essential.
For details see under Bigeye Trevally and Brassy Kingfish below.
Sight fishing is imperative when targeting giant kingfish on the flats or in the surf on the numerous tropical atolls in the Indian Ocean. Quick, accurate casts to sighted fish while wading and stalking the flats or the surf replace random blind casting. Most anglers prefer the long and very fast single-handed retrieve with no stripping basket and, consequently, line management is a critical skill.
The tackle is the same as for the rock-and-surf zone except that floating lines or floating lines with an intermediate sink tip (6 cm/s) are preferable and the leader is a single piece of 50-kilogram mono. It is essential to have a pair of good polarised sunglasses, sun-protective clothing and sturdy wading boots.
The IGFA all-tackle record for C. ignoblis is 66 kilograms.
Like most carangids, C. sexfasciatus is an Indo-Pacific species and during summer, it travels as far south as the Wild Coast. They commonly patrol inshore coral and rocky reefs, the surf along sandy beaches, and estuaries, and favour much the same diet and habitat as the brassy kingfish. They feed mainly at night or in very low-light conditions. In estuaries, they will invariably start feeding once the sun has gone down and continue well into the night. They hunt in packs, attacking prey in mid-water or herding baitfish into rocky and sandy shallows. Their bodies are more compressed than most kingfishes and have two distinguishing features: a dark spot on the upper edge of the operculum (gill plate) and a white tip to the dorsal and anal fins. Juveniles have five to six dark bars running vertically down their bodies. They become sexually mature at 45- to 50-centimetre FL and attain 1.2 metres FL.
In the surf, your approach is much the same as for brassy kingfish, and it is best to fish in the prime times of early morning and late evening. During the day I have had a lot of success using small Salty Bugger flies tied on #2 hooks. In estuaries, they feed at first light and from dusk well into the night. When feeding on baitfish they will track the shoal, attacking it intermittently with a distinctive short splash as they breach the surface. For best results, follow the feeding fish on a ski, canoe or kick boat but stay well clear of the school and cast only to its outer edge. At night, you may have to rely mainly on sound to locate the fish.
Use the same tackle as for brassy kingfish but emphasise dark flies and include a few Red Knights and Whistlers.
The IGFA all-tackle record is 14.3 kilograms (Seychelles).
BRASSY KINGFISH, GREENSPOT KINGFISH
Brassy kingfish are the most common of the kingfishes caught by fly anglers in the surf zone and estuaries of South Africa. They have an Indo-central Pacific distribution and range from Kenya to Port Alfred in Eastern Cape. Offshore, they favour coral and rocky reefs but their primary habitat is the surf along rocky and sandy shorelines. Juveniles commonly inhabit the estuaries of northern KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape. Caranx papuensis has a typical kingfish shape: adults are brassy to light green on top with small black spots scattered on head and body above the lateral line. Distinguishing features are a white spot just behind the upper edge of the operculum and the tail fin that has a dark upper lobe. The lower lobe is light yellow with a white inner margin. Juveniles have yellow fins with indistinct spots on their backs.
Brassy kingfish feed on baitfish (silversides, mullet, flagtails, estuarine roundherrings), prawns, crabs and squid. Like the giant kingfish, they tend to hunt in packs, herding prey onto shallow reefs and sandy beaches. They take flies readily and are very strong fighters, hence their popularity with fly anglers. The shoals are always present and are most numerous between October and March. Caranx papuensis matures sexually at 45-centimetres FL and attains 80-centimetres FL.
Look for brassies in fast rips off rocky points and sandy drop-offs. In estuaries, fish the mouth and drop-offs in the lower reaches at the start of the flood tide Smaller fish will often be found in the upper reaches of the estuary, so change to smaller flies and lighter tippets when you fish these areas.
A fast, erratic, double-handed retrieve usually scores but do not forget to vary your retrieve. When fishing fast rips and drop-offs, it is imperative to get the fly down to where fish are feeding and a sinking line is essential. Cast your fly upcurrent and let it swing into the strike zone before you commence your retrieve. Fish the seams of the rips and the drop-offs but keep moving until you locate fish.
The best time to target C. papuensis is from 3 days before to 3 days after spring tide. In the surf, you should be on the water as soon as the rips start developing around rocky and sandy points. In estuaries, the beginning of the flood tide usually triggers feeding activity.
The tackle used in estuaries also suffices for the surf - an 8- or 9-weight rod, matching reel with 100 metres of 14-kilogram dacron backing and an intermediate or sinking line. Your leader should be short: 1 metre of 10- to 12.5-kilogram mono. You can't go wrong with Clouser Minnows. Ideally, they should be tied on #1/0 and 2/0 hooks - preferably de-barbed J or circle hooks - using orange/yellow (my favourite), grey/white and chartreuse/white synthetic materials. Poppers and gurglers are indispensable when brassies are mauling baitfish at the surface.
The IGFA all-tackle record for C. papuensis is 4.4 kilograms.
This Indo-Pacific fish has been reported as far south as Aliwal Shoal on the KwaZulu-Natal coast but adults are rarely found south of Richards Bay. It favours clear, warm water off coral reefs and rocky shorelines where it feeds largely on fish and crustaceans. The body is greenish yellow on top with iridescent blue blotches and scattered dark spots and is slightly compressed. Juveniles are pale with yellow pectoral fins and iridescent blue along their dorsal and anal fins. They feed mainly during the day and will hunt in groups chasing down shoals of baitfish.
Bluefin trevally are particularly abundant in the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean atolls where they shoal in their hundreds just behind the surf line. With the rising tide they move onto the flats and shallow reefs in search of food. Pairs or solitary adult fish will often ambush prey from cuts or holes in the reefs. Along the Maputaland coast and northwards, seek them in broken and turbulent water around rocky points. Juveniles seldom enter estuaries.
Caranx melampygus matures at 40-centimetres FL and attains 1.2-metres FL.
A very fast, two-handed retrieve often proves irresistible to bluefin kingfish. If you are getting follows but no takes, change to a smaller fly.
You can use the same tackle as for brassy kingfish but for fish over 60 centimetres, a 12-weight rod is more effective. Clouser Minnows tied with translucent, synthetic materials on #1/0 to 2/0 hooks work best for fish up to 60 centimetres. Fish over 60 centimetres are fond of deep-profile flies so be sure to carry a few Sempers tied on #6/0 hooks.
The SA angling record is 8.8 kilograms and the IGFA all-tackle record is 12 kilograms.
GARRICK, LEERVIS, LEERFISH
Garrick (leerfish) range from the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic to South Africa and along the coast to Maputo. Adults are found close inshore off rocky and sandy shorelines often swimming just behind the backline. They frequently enter the surf to hunt down elf, mullet and karanteen. The juveniles are estuary dependent and are common inhabitants in Eastern Cape and Western Cape estuaries. They mature at 75- to 85-centimetre FL and then head out to sea to begin their annual migration northward to their spawning grounds off the KwaZulu-Natal coast. This migration, like the one undertaken by elf, is timed to coincide with the arrival of the sardines in June. Garrick feed on sardines to build up energy reserves for the spawn from September to November. After spawning, they return to the cooler waters of the Cape for the summer. Their bodies are relatively compressed with a dark lateral line curving over the pectoral fin and then running down the length of the body. They have fine, rasp-like, villiform teeth.
Lichia amia attains 2.0-metre FL and a mass of 50 kilograms.
The clean-fighting garrick is a speedy and redoubtable adversary. Seek it along the KwaZulu-Natal coast from June to November, especially during early morning and late afternoon. Select a rocky point on a low, pushing tide and use a fast, two handed retrieve. If shad are in the vicinity, chances are good that garrick will also be present.
Nine- to 12-weight tackle with an intermediate line is an appropriate choice. Garrick are partial to #2/0 to 6/0 deep-profile flies, as well as Clousers and Sempers tied in grey, white, light olive and shrimp colours. Poppers and gurglers can be irresistible when they are smacking baitfish on the surface.
Focus on areas where baitfish normally congregate such as drop-offs near the mouth on a pushing tide, where the mouth of an inlet drains into the main stem on a dropping tide, and at shallow narrows in the upper reaches. Also, look for signs of baitfish or swimming prawn being chased. Poppers and flippers can be extremely effective - I have had by far the most success with small-faced flippers (10 mm wide x 6 mm thick) that do not cause too much disturbance on a slow to medium-fast retrieve.
Depending on the size of the fish, 6- to 8-weight intermediate and floating lines are all you'll need for garrick in estuaries. You can't go wrong with Clousers, Salty Buggers, Crazy Charlies and Gotchas in translucent grey, shrimp, orange/yellow, and olive colours in #2 to 1/0 - and don't forget the pencil poppers and small-faced flippers.
The SA angling record for L. amia is 32.2 kilograms.
NEEDLESCALE QUEENFISH, SALADFISH
Needlescale queenfish are distributed throughout the Indian Ocean from KwaZulu-Natal northwards and eastwards to Japan, Australia and the Fiji islands. They are found in the surf off rocky and coral reefs as well as in open estuaries from late spring to early autumn. They feed mainly on small fish and hunt in packs that herd the prey up against structure or into bait balls. The silver body is elongated, with five to eight black blotches on or above the lateral line. The top half of the dorsal fin is typically black. The anal spines are venomous and can cause a painful sting.
Scomberoides tol attains 60-centimetre FL.
These fish invariably feed near the surface where they can be seen chasing baitfish, in which case a very fast two-handed retrieve is indicated.
An 8-weight outfit with an intermediate or slow-sinking line and an 8- to 10-kilogram tippet will fit the bill nicely. Clousers tied on #1 to 1/0 hooks in translucent grey, light olive and shrimp colours are perennial favourites.
LARGESPOTTED POMPANO, WAVE GARRICK, THREESPOT POMPANO
This species frequents shallow water in the surf along sandy beaches and is the ideal target for anyone new to saltwater fly fishing. The deep, oval, silver body has one to five dark oval spots along the lateral line, the dorsal and anal fins are very long and the tail deeply forked. Adults invariably have a large parasitic isopod attached to their tongue. They feed mainly on mole crabs, small bivalves and worms. During the day they are commonly seen riding the swells close to the shore and are more abundant during the low and rising tide.
Trachinotus botla attains 75-centimetre FL.
Sight fishing for wave garrick can be great fun - you often see them in the swells just behind the broken water. Likely places to probe are shallow sandbars that have currents dumping white water into adjacent holes or troughs. Cast onto the sandbank and allow your imitation to be swept into the deeper water. Bring in the fly with a slow two-handed retrieve but don't lose contact while it is drifting in the wash, and twitch it regularly. Smaller fish can be caught virtually at your feet in very shallow water.
A 6- to 8- weight rod, sinking line and 5-kilogram tippet are all you'll need. Pompano are partial to MOE flies in pearl, Salty Buggers and small Crazy Charlies in tan, pink, chartreuse, white and orange.
The SA angling record is 2.6 kilograms.
RIVER SNAPPER, RIVER ROMAN (SA, AUS), MANGROVE JACK (AUS)
River snappers inhabit the tropical Indo-central Pacific, the Red Sea, and extend as far south as Jeffreys Bay on the South African coast. Although they frequent offshore and inshore reefs, they are most commonly caught in estuaries. They feed mainly on fish and although they also hunt in packs, it is customary for solitary individuals to ambush prey from structure. Spawning takes place offshore in the spring and summer. Their light-russet bodies are robust with a typical snapper shape and the edges of their scales are silver. They have very pronounced canine teeth that should be avoided. They are very strong fighters and, once hooked, they will dash for the nearest cover to break you up. Their runs are powerful and fast and they may stop briefly before setting off again. In southern Africa they are considered an estuarine species as very few have been caught in the surf on fly. Having said that, the two finest fly-caught specimens I have seen, were taken at night at the mouth in Kosi Bay.
Lutjanus argentimaculatus matures at 45- to 60-centimetre TL and attains 1.2 metres.
In estuaries, the middle to upper reaches are the most likely areas where you will find the typical structure that is inhabited by these fish. Look for mangroves, cliffs, reed beds, man-made structures and rocky substrates. They feed actively at night and ambush prey at opportune points along the current line. Your best chance of success is to fish these ambush points from sunset into dark during a pushing or receding tide. The retrieve should be slow with the occasional pronounced twitch. Once this fish is hooked, the challenge is to keep it from cutting you off. Apply maximum pressure with the rod tip well down and do not think you have won the battle when you stop him after that first run.
For these powerful adversaries you should use an 8- to 10-weight outfit, an intermediate fly line and a 12.5- to 15-kilogram tippet. Red Knights, Sempers, Whistlers, Clousers and poppers are consistent producers, and for night fishing red, black, purple and olive colours are best.
NATAL, ROUND OR SILVER MOONY
CAPE OR OVAL MOONY
Monodactylus argenteus is an Indo-West Pacific species that extends into the Red Sea and as far south as the southern Cape coast, whereas M. falciformis occurs from Tanzania to the Breede River. Both species are small fish with deeply compressed, oval bodies. Adult Natal moonies have a silvery body and the juveniles have two curved, dark stripes across the head. The adult Cape moony is also silver but the juveniles are dusky silver with 11 to 12 vertical bars on the body. They frequent rocky shorelines and estuaries where they feed mainly on zooplankton and small crustaceans.
They mature at 15-centimetre TL and attain 25-centimetre TL.
You fish for them in the same way and with the same tackle as for blacktail: see the section on Diplodus sargus capensis below.
BASTARD MULLET, STRIPED THREADFIN
Their distribution is Indo-Pacific - along the African coast bastard mullet are found from Kenya to Knysna. They favour the shallow surf along sandy beaches where they feed on mole crabs and small crustaceans. The body is elongated, the mouth underslung and the nose pointed and translucent. The upper part of the pectoral fins is normal, but the lower part consists of three to eight free, elongated rays.
Polydactylus plebeius attains 55-centimetre FL.
Fishing tactics and tackle are the same as for largespotted pompano.
The SA angling record for P. plebeius is 2.4 kilograms.
ELF, SHAD, BLUEFISH (USA), TAILOR (AUSTRALIA)
This popular angling fish is widely distributed in temperate and subtropical seas: it occurs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, in the Mediterranean, around Oman, Australia and the Malay Peninsula. Elf are found in only a few places along the West Coast but they are common from False Bay to Mozambique. They generally remain close inshore along rocky and sandy coastlines and also enter estuaries in search of prey.
Elf are aggressive fish that feed mainly on other fish, squid and shrimp. The oblong body is slightly compressed, greenish blue on top and silver below. The lower jaw projects slightly with a row of extremely sharp teeth on both jaws.
Huge schools of these fast-growing migratory fish arrive in KwaZulu-Natal waters in May to spawn, and to conserve the stock, the fishing season is closed during the spawning season from September through November. In December, they turn around and head south to the cooler waters of the Cape. Elf often hunt close inshore in large schools and can be caught from rocky points, gullies, sandy beaches and estuary mouths.
Pomatomus saltatrix matures at 25-centimetre FL and attains 1.2 metres.
This is the most common fish to be caught by anglers along the South African coast. Look for them in aerated water around rocky points and in gullies, especially early morning and late afternoon on a low, pushing tide. Elf are the favoured prey of garrick and seek refuge in the shallows of sandy beaches and rocky gullies whenever these predators are in the vicinity. On such occasions it is a familiar sight to see the fast-swimming garrick pursuing them in the shallows. Elf readily fall victim to a fly that is retrieved at a fairly fast but varied pace.
An 8-weight rod and saltwater reel with intermediate and slow-sink lines is eminently suitable for this aggressive fish. An 8- to 10-kilogram tippet is the norm, but by using de-barbed circle hooks, you can do away with the optional short wire tippet. Elf avidly take Clouser Minnows, small streamers, squid patterns and poppers in white, chartreuse, orange and grey. Size 1 to 2/0 flies should cover most situations - those tied with synthetic materials are more durable.
DUSKY KOB, KOB, KABELJOU, DAGA SALMON, MULLOWAY (AUS), JAPANESE MEAGRE
Like the elf, the kob is a widespread species: in southern Africa it occurs in Namibia and from False Bay to southern Mozambique. Farther afield in the Indian Ocean, it is found around Oman, Pakistan, India and along the southern Australian seaboard. In the north Pacific Far East, it reaches from Hong Kong to Korea and Japan. Kob favour the surf zone, turbid estuaries and also deep reefs. Juveniles are estuary-dependent for the first 2 years and are found mostly in the upper reaches feeding on small crustaceans. Sub-adults and adults frequent estuary mouths and the adjacent surf zone. They feed on fish, shrimp and squid. The local population spawns on offshore reefs near Durban and the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Juveniles have silver bodies but, in adults, the upper body becomes coppery brown. The lateral line in both has conspicuous silver dots and the caudal fin is slightly longer in the middle.
Males mature at 92-centimetre TL (5 years) and females at 1.2-metres TL (6 years). They attain 1.85 metres.
Very few kob are caught on fly in the surf zone in contrast to their response in estuaries. Most of my fish over 1 metre have come at night from deep holes and drop-offs in the mouths and lower reaches of estuaries. The most favourable period is 2 to 3 days after neaps on a pushing tide. Big, dark flies that push water have been the most productive when retrieved very slowly. Fish below 60 centimetres are more common in the middle and upper reaches of the estuary and the best times to catch them are at sunset and early evening.
An effective rig for kob is an 8- to 9-weight rod, saltwater reel, and an intermediate or slow sinking line and an 8- to12-kilogram BS leader. Kob come readily to #1/0 to 6/0 Red Knights, Sempers, Whistlers and Clousers.
The SA angling record for A. japonicus is 73.5 kilograms.
RIVER BREAM, RIVER PERCH
The river bream is an Indo-West Pacific-Red Sea species and extends as far south as Port Elizabeth. Scientific opinion is divided on whether it comprises two look-alike species or whether it is a single species. Current thinking in South Africa favours two species of which A. vagus is the most common. Because of the difficulty in differentiating the two fishes, anglers may not be able to identify which one they have caught. The river bream is found mainly in estuaries and in brackish water, occasionally entering the lower stretches of freshwater rivers. The body has a compact bream shape, the front of the snout is slightly concave and the anal fin is yellowish. They are generally silver, but adults from brackish water are dark to almost black. The centres of the scales are typically dark. They spawn from April to June in the lower reaches of estuaries or in the sea close to estuary mouths. River bream feed on fish, crustaceans, molluscs, worms and plants. They mature at 20-centimetre FL.
River bream are caught almost exclusively in estuaries where they frequent mudbanks, overhanging vegetation, and against cliffs and big boulders in the middle and upper reaches. The best time to fish for them is on a rising tide in late afternoon. If you see swimming prawns being chased in shallow water it's a sure sign that river bream are on the feed. A delicate presentation is essential to hoodwink these wily adversaries and you should let the fly sink before starting a slow, single-handed, twitching retrieve. Watch out, for takes often occur on the drop.
You can take these light-tackle opponents on a 6- to 8-weight outfit with floating or intermediate fly lines and a 5-kilogram fluorocarbon tippet. River bream prefer # 4 to 1/0 flies, so carry a range of Crazy Charlies, Clousers and imitations of crabs and shrimps in brown, olive, grey and tan.
This ubiquitous and popular small angling fish is found mainly in rocky areas close to shore in broken water and in gullies from Angola to Mozambique. The typical bream body is deep oval, usually silvery, although adults are often black. Behind the dorsal fin there is a distinctive black blotch. Blacktail feed on copepods, bi-valves and sponges; they mature at 22-centimetre FL and attain 45-centimetre FL.
Look for blacktail in rocky gullies and over flat ledges were there is a lot of white water. Allow your fly to drift in the surging water and maintain contact by pointing the rod tip at it. Twitch the fly occasionally.
The outfit recommended for river perch is ideal for blacktail - use the floating line when fishing shallow rocky flats. White, olive, red, tan and orange Salty Buggers and Crazy Charlies on #8 to 4 hooks are the perfect choice for blacktail.
TITAN TRIGGERFISH, DOTTY TRIGGERFISH
A lot has been written about catching bonefish, giant trevally and the elusive permit on many of the islands in the Indian Ocean but very little about the rather comical triggerfish. Initially, this may not be every fly angler's Holy Grail but, in time, you will discover that to catch them regularly requires all the vital skills associated with flats fishing. These skills are patience, good eyesight, stealth, accurate casting and, naturally, the right tackle.
The titan triggerfish inhabits the Indo-West Pacific and Red Sea and is found south to Delagoa Bay on the African coast. The name is derived from the feature that the first dorsal spine is locked erect by the second spine in much the same way as a trigger. They are found mainly on the lagoon and seaward side of coral reefs from where they venture onto the flats with the rising tide.
They feed on sea urchins, coral, crabs, other crustaceans and tubeworms. It is a common sight to see them on shallow flats with their tails flapping in the air as they search for food amongst the coral and turtlegrass. The body is plump and ovate and it is much darker than that of the yellowmargin triggerfish (P. flavimarginatus). Titan tails are round and dark brown as opposed to the lighter sickle-shaped tail of the yellowmargin. They have a distinctive, dark-blue line above the upper jaw resembling a moustache.
Both species of triggerfish often feed in pairs or in small groups. When they are feeding in shallow water on the flats, they are extremely wary and will dart off at the slightest hint of danger. Seeing them is one thing, but getting to within casting distance is another. You can spend many frustrating hours stalking fish without making a single cast. Your best tactic is to wait until a fish is feeding in its head-down position, and then to approach quietly to within casting distance. Triggers customarily forage into the current so, if possible, position yourself upcurrent of the fish; you will have better line control from here once the fly has landed. You now have to anticipate in which direction the fish may be heading in order to place your fly ahead of it and at just the right distance. Too close and off it goes, too far and it ignores the fly. When the fly lands, let it sink to the bottom, keep your rod tip low and gently take in any slack, taking care not to disturb the fly. As soon as the fish moves forward, twitch the fly and let it settle again. If the fish sees this action, expect it to dart forward and mouth the fly. Do not strike immediately but wait until you feel resistance and then tighten up the line briskly with the rod tip still pointing at the fish. The moment the hook is set, lift the rod high and keep a tight line, as all hell is about to break loose (a high rod tip prevents the line from snagging on the coral).
You can use the same tackle for triggerfish as you would for bonefish and, for flies, the emphasis is on crab patterns in tan, orange and olive.
The Maldives comprise 26 atolls aligned in a north-south direction over a distance of almost 900 kilometres between latitude 07- 06' 30" north and 00- 42' 30" south. These coral-reef islands offer exciting fly fishing from flats to blue water. The atolls are large and unique in that there are atolls within atolls. It is this unusual physiography that produces some of the most picture-perfect scenery one could imagine - vast, brilliant-white sand and coral flats that stretch as far as the eye can see, are bisected by deep, blue channels and gaps that provide direct access to the open ocean and deep lagoons.
The only feasible way to fish these remote islands is to charter a live-aboard boat (dhoni) that sails from one destination to the next. Once you are on any of the numerous uninhabited islands the productive areas to target are the flats, deep channels and the surf zone. Currently there is only one hosted, live-aboard fly-fishing charter available.
The main varieties taken on the flats are triggers, snapper, bluefin, yellowspot, and giant trevally with the occasional barracuda, bonefish and permit. The surf has produced a multitude of snapper and rockcod species, as well as bluefin trevally and giant trevally up to 30 kilograms.
The deeper channels and gaps are excellent for giant trevally, barracuda, snapper and dogtooth tuna, whereas the deep atoll lagoons with their easy access to the open ocean, host a huge variety of fish and even marlin and wahoo have been caught on the inside.
The fishing season in the Maldives is from October to April.
The Seychelles Archipelago is located in the west-central Indian Ocean and comprises 115 islands in the shape of an inverted Z that extends from about latitude 4- south to 10- south. The popular tourist destinations are the 40 or so granite islands in the north-east that include Mahe', the principal island and site of the capital, Victoria. It is the outlying coral islands to the south and south-west however, that are home to some of the world's best saltwater fly-fishing destinations. It must be said that most of these islands are small and remote and the only way to get to them is by chartered flights and/or by boat. Very few of the best fly-fishing islands have land-based accommodation and the most convenient way of accessing them is to make use of live-aboard charters provided by several operators.
For the fly fisher there are four groups of islands that are of particular interest and I will discuss the most popular islands/atolls of each of the groups.
The primary destination here is St. Joseph Atoll, some 250 kilometres west-south-west of Mahe'. This uninhabited atoll measures 7 by 4 kilometres and has a large shallow lagoon that is surrounded by vast sand and turtlegrass flats. The flats themselves are dotted with several small uninhabited islands. This atoll is known primarily as a hot spot for bonefish and Indo-Pacific permit. There are two options to fish St. Jo, as it is known colloquially: first, there are live-aboard charters that depart from Mahe', a 10-hour voyage away. The second option is to access it daily by speedboat from the resort island of Desroches, some 35 kilometres distant.
ALPHONSE GROUP OF ISLANDS
These three islands, Alphonse in the north, the picturesque Bijoutier in the middle and St Fran-ois in the south, lie at latitude 7- south and 500 kilometres south-west of Mahe'. They extend for 16 kilometres from north to south. Alphonse is currently the only island that provides land-based accommodation as well as guided fly fishing in the Seychelles. It must rate as one of the best bonefishing destinations in the world. Thousands upon thousands of bonefish invade the vast sand and turtlegrass flats with every rising tide.
St Fran-ois is known for the numerous milkfish (Chanos chanos) that have been caught there on fly. Besides bonefish and milkfish, other popular target species include three species of triggerfish, giant trevally, great barracuda, permit and a host of snapper species. Blue-water fly fishing is also productive with sailfish and tuna species present in abundance.
The fly-fishing season is from October to the end of April.
FARQUHAR GROUP OF ISLANDS
This island group, some 700 kilometres southwest of Mahe', is made up of two atolls: Providence in the north and Farquhar some 70 kilometres farther south.
Farquhar is beautiful and unlike many of the other Seychelles atolls, has a deep lagoon, which is easily accessed for a calm and safe anchorage. Over the last few seasons Farquhar has quickly gained a reputation as a superb flats fishery for both bonefish and giant trevally as well as for other flats species such as milkfish, bumphead parrotfish, triggerfish and Indo-Pacific permit. The blue-water fishing is also outstanding and features excellent seasonal runs of sailfish and yellowfin tuna.
Neither atoll has any land-based accommodation at present and the only way to fish them is from live-aboard, chartered yachts. Farquhar has its own landing strip, which makes for quick and easy transfers to the yacht anchored in the lagoon. Most of the fishing is either inside the lagoon, wading the flats, or fishing from the beaches. However, weather permitting, there are several outside anchorages that can be used, and blue-water options are then available. At present, the flight from Mahe' to Farquhar is in a chartered Beechcraft 1900D and takes approximately 1 hour 40 minutes.
Providence Atoll comprises two islands - Providence North and Cerf Island. It is relatively untouched by man and as a result is regarded as a true fly-fishing paradise providing some of the most exciting and diverse fly fishing on the planet. Fly anglers have the opportunity of wading and sight fishing some 46 kilometres of sand and turtlegrass flats, a huge lagoon and the numerous channels and cuts that link with the ocean.
The main target species on the flats are giant trevally, bonefish, triggerfish, Indo-Pacific permit, milkfish and bumphead parrotfish. Blue-water fly anglers can expect to catch sailfish, dogtooth and yellowfin tuna, giant trevally, barracuda and wahoo. The fly fishing season is from November to mid December and from mid February to mid April.
ALDABRA GROUP OF ISLANDS
Cosmoledo Atoll, about 900 km south-west of Mahe', is part of the remote Aldabra Island group which includes the atolls of Aldabra (a world heritage site), Astove and Assumption.
Big by Seychelles standards, Cosmoledo Atoll, measures 17 kilometres along its east-west axis and 13 kilometres along its north-south axis, from outside reef to outside reef. Although dotted with numerous islets, there are only three large islands on the atoll rim, namely Menai in the west, South Island to the south and Wizard Island on the eastern edge of the rim. This vast atoll is famous for the many huge giant trevally that have been caught on fly whilst fishing the numerous flats and cuts and channels. It is also home to 'double-digit' bonefish, triggerfish, milkfish and Indo-Pacific permit that roam the white flats.
Astove, approximately 40 kilometres south-east of Cosmoledo, is unusual in that it only has one channel linking the sea to the lagoon. A beautiful but much smaller atoll, it is known for the giant trevally, triggerfish, bonefish and many other species that roam its flats.
Assumption Island to the west is better known for the magnificent blue-water fishing to be had close to the island. It is also the site of the only landing strip that provides fly anglers access to these remote atolls. Once again, the only means of fishing these waters is by way of live-aboard, guided fishing charters. The fishing season is the same as for Farquhar: from November to mid December and from mid February to mid April.
St Brandon's is situated about 400 kilometres north-east of Mauritius and comprises a group of over 50 small islands, islets, coral ridges and vast sand flats on an elongated reef in the Indian Ocean. The reef which measures more than 50 kilometres from north to south is 5 kilometres wide and is cut by two major passes. This area is particularly rich in flora and fauna.
St Brandon's is a saltwater fly-fishing wonderland with numerous scattered islands that are connected by vast sandbanks and flats. It provides what many regard as the most spectacular bonefishing in the world. The bonefish that invade the flats come as enormous individuals (fish of 7 kilos are regularly caught), loose-knit groups of two or more fish, and vast schools. Indo-Pacific permit, giant, bluefin, golden, brassy and yellowspot kingfish are plentiful. To the northern and eastern side of the atoll, sailfish, dogtooth tuna and numerous pelagic species provide ample opportunity for the blue-water fly angler.
St Brandon's is situated in the cyclonic belt and it is prudent not to visit it during the cyclone season from the end of December until late in March. For that reason the optimal fly-fishing season is spread over two periods - the first from early October until mid-December and the second from early April until the end of May.
Live-aboard guided charters that depart from Mauritius are still the only means of accessing St Brandon's.
Maputoland To reach any of the following four beaches overland will require a 4x4 vehicle but Santa Maria is also accessible by ferry from Maputo.
S 26- 04' 58"; E 32- 57' 38"
Inhaca Island is located in Maputo Bay about 40 kilometres east of the capital Maputo. The 250-metre wide Santa Maria channel separates the island from a mainland promontory on which the village of Santa Maria is located.
During spring tides, the volume of water that rushes in and out of this narrow channel is quite staggering. The channel connects to the nutrient-rich Maputo Bay and countless organisms use it to travel back and forth between the bay and the open ocean.
A very good area to fish is the lee of the rocky point where the channel enters the sea. There is a deep drop-off and, on a pushing or dropping tide, good rips and eddies develop around the point. Kingfish species such as giant, bluefin, brassy and blacktip are regularly caught here as well as springer. I suggest that you fish this area only during the neap and post-neap phase; during spring tides the flow of water is so strong that very few fish can hold in the channel. On the seaward side and to the south, the rocky surf is an area not to be overlooked if you wish to target really big GTs. The broken rock outcrops and the deep cuts are a favourite hunting ground for these predators on a late-afternoon pushing tide. You can either drive to Santa Maria in a 4x4 or take the ferry from Maputo. There are several lodges and camping facilities in the area.
S 26- 27' 10"; E 32- 55' 46"
This rocky point is situated within the elephant reserve about 45 kilometres south of Santa Maria and 30 kilometres north of Ponta Mamoli. It can be very productive, and even when it is sanded up, there is always a drop-off on the lee side of the point. The best time to fish Ponta Milibangalala is in summer with the wind from the south-west. You can expect giant, brassy and bigeye kingfish, needlescale queenfish and wave garrick.A rustic campsite is the only form of accommodation and you can only access it in a 4x4 vehicle.
S 26- 31' 06"; 32- 55' 06"
Situated some 10 kilometres south of Milibangalala and at the mouth of the Futi River, this magnificent point is a prime area for giant, brassy, bigeye, bluefin and blacktip kingfish. Other likely species are springer, needlescale queenfish and wave garrick. Anglers who have ventured up the Futi River by boat have caught oxeye tarpon, springer, brassy and bigeye kingfish. If you also intend doing so, be aware of the hippos and crocodiles.
Currently there is no accommodation and a 4x4 vehicle is a must.
S 26- 42' 35"; E 32- 54' 15"
This very picturesque point is situated 25 kilometres south of Ponta Dobela and 27 kilometres north of the Mozambique-South Africa border. It has many kilometres of white sandy beaches and is a very good place to target brassy and bigeye kingfish, especially the point just south of the lodge. You can also expect giant kingfish, needlescale queenfish, malabar rockcod and wave garrick. The best time to fish the point is very early and late in the afternoon on a dropping or pushing tide, from 3 days after neaps to a day after spring tide. Look for wave garrick, striped threadfin and brassy kingfish in the surf north of the point. Accommodation is available at a very comfortable lodge that promotes and enforces a very eco-friendly ethos. You need a 4x4 vehicle to get to Ponta Mamoli, but the lodge provides transfers to and from the border post at a fee.
The following places have a dependable record of producing quality saltwater fly fishing. Provided you take proper precautions and act sensibly, the rocky and sandy beaches from which you will be fishing are not unsafe. Most are accessible by car.
This RAMSAR world heritage site is situated at the northern end of KwaZulu-Natal (Map 10, inset). The unique and complex estuarine lake system and adjacent surf zone can provide some of the best fly fishing the South African coastline has to offer. The name is a misnomer in that it is not a bay - it generally refers to an extensive area that comprises a coastline of some 14 kilometres, a coastal dune that separates the sea from a series of inland lakes and the adjacent coastal forest. There are many places to fly fish within this extensive area but I will only highlight what I believe to be the most productive. I must also stress that local knowledge of this complex system is a great advantage and success is often the product of many hours of hardcore, saltwater fly fishing.
To gain access to the mouth of the estuarine lake system you must be in possession of a day permit issued by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the park authority, and only 4x4 vehicles are allowed entry.
In the surf zone you are only permitted to fish within 200 metres on either side of the actual mouth. To the south, the shoreline is made up of a series of rocky reefs that veer out to sea and end more or less alongside the mouth. At very low tides, this reef is exposed and is easily accessible. Fishing from the north-eastern point of the reef on a rising tide is the most likely place along our coastline to hook up with a giant trevally in excess of 100-centimetres FL (equivalent to a mass of 20 kilograms or more). To date, only eight such fish have been landed on fly from the surf in South Africa - and all were caught at Kosi Mouth. The surf at the mouth and on either side of it is also likely to produce similar fish on a higher pushing or dropping tide. During spring tides, you'll find lots of brassy kingfish in the outgoing currents until 3 hours after the turn of the tide, as water will still be flowing out of the lakes.
The estuarine lake system comprises the mouth that leads into a broad shallow tidal basin which curves inland and to the south to a string of four interconnecting lakes, and eventually to the Sihadla River. The lakes are aligned from north to south parallel to the coast and separated from it by a high coastal dune. The salinity decreases away from the sea and the water in the fourth lake is completely fresh.
The names of the lakes, with the colloquial names and approximate surface areas in brackets, are from the north: Lake Makhawulani (Lake One; 1 square kilometre [km-]), Lake kuMpungwini (Lake Two; 3 km-), Lake Nhlange (Lake Three; 30 km-), and Lake aManzamnyama (Lake Four; 1.5 km-).
The most productive spots in the lakes are those where rips develop during a pushing or a dropping tide. Four days after the neap tide in Lake One, on the western side of the lake where the main channel from the sea enters the lake, a rip will develop some 2 hours after the change of tide. Fish the rip itself, either side of it, and the western drop-off that points north. An hour later, another current will develop where the main channel enters Lake Two in the north. Once again fish the rip, the seams and the drop-off to the east where a lesser channel from Lake One enters Lake Two.
At the southern end of Lake Two, at the mouth of the Mtando channel that connects Lakes Two and Three, there is a shallow sandbank that, initially, drops off gradually and then steeply into deep water. This has been by far the most productive fishing spot in the lake system. During low-rainfall periods and around neap tides, the water will flow seawards. Early morning and late afternoon sessions that should extend well into the night are the best times to target kingfishes, springer, pickhandle barracuda (Sphyraena jello) and, especially, river snapper. If you fish into the night, be very wary of the herd of hippos that invariably congregates here before heading onto land to forage.
BHANGA NEK (BOTELER POINT)
This point and nearby shoreline can provide some very exciting rock and surf fly fishing. Situated some 13 kilometres south of Kosi mouth and adjacent to the park authority's turtle research station, this rocky point is best fished around the spring-tide phase. An early morning stint, standing on the point with the spring tide receding and a strong southeaster blowing, has all the ingredients necessary to hook a trophy giant kingfish. Please do not attempt this without wearing a personal flotation device - the swells breaking onto the reef are powerful and, on several occasions, have swept anglers into the raging currents.
On a higher pushing or dropping spring tide, with the wind ideally from the south, fishing the powerful rip that develops at the point from the beach can be just as rewarding. Giant, brassy, bluefin and bigeye kingfish are the most common catches.
In the lee of the point, slightly to the north, a large shoal of baitfish will invariably be present on a high tide during the spring-tide phase. Every now and then, giant and brassy kingfish launch spectacular forays into this shoal. Patience and quick-reflex casts are essential for a hook-up.
This rocky point with a protected bay behind it is roughly 25 kilometres south of Banga Nek and produces some extremely good fly fishing at times. The 1 kilometre of rocky shoreline, from the car park to the point in the south, is the place to target, giant, brassy and bluefin kingfish on an early morning incoming spring tide. The point also produces well on a pushing and/or dropping spring tide during a strong southwester. The reef structure at the point is of such a nature that landing a very big fish here will require a lot of good luck.
SODWANA BAY (JESSER POINT)
Situated some 60 kilometres south of Kosi Bay, this prominent point and its adjacent shoreline is best visited out of high season, as it is a very popular dive- and ski-boat launch site. The rocky point has a number of good structural features that provide ideal habitat for several kingfish species at different stages of the tide. The 4 kilometres of coastline south of the point is best fished on a rising tide, preferably during a moderate southwester. There are several rocky ledges, gullies and cuts that yield bigeye, brassy and the odd giant kingfish.
This popular fishing spot is 35 kilometres north of St Lucia and has many places that enable the novice saltwater fly angler to target a significant cross section of inshore species.
At the point, a long narrow reef that extends into the sea in a north-easterly direction can be fished along its length on a low and rising tide. Shad, brassy and bigeye kingfish are regularly taken here. From 2 to 6 kilometres north of the point, a series of rocky ledges always provide action with wave garrick, stone bream, striped threadfin, brassy and bigeye kingfish. These ledges are best fished during a low, rising tide. Between 1 and 2 kilometres south of the point there is another stretch of rock ledges that provides similar opportunities to those in the north.
KELSO (HAPPY WANDERERS)
There are many places to fish along the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal (Map 15) but there is one spot that I would recommend as it has consistently produced some very fine fish. Locally referred to as Pinky Rock, this small rock promontory just south of the Happy Wanderers Camp and Caravan site, is the place to be fishing early in the morning on a dropping spring tide.
At high tide, the rock farthest out to sea is surrounded by water and looks like a small island. To get onto it requires a big dose of courage, good judgement and athleticism and this can only be achieved some 2 hours after a high spring tide. Once safely on the rock you will be confronted by a strong rip current heading out to sea from south to north. Giant, brassy, bigeye and blacktip kingfish - as well as springer, shad, wave garrick, moonies, blacktail and stonebream - can be caught here.
This breathtakingly beautiful stretch of coastline that extends from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Kei River in the south (Map 11) provides the intrepid angler with many superlative surf and estuarine fly-fishing venues. Due to the region's political status during the apartheid era, very little development took place along the coast and to this day it is economically depressed. The result is that many of the pristine estuaries and beaches do not provide safe and suitable public accommodation facilities. The only way to visit some of these remote places is to have access to one of the privately owned, legal beach cottages. Another alternative is to camp at a site with the consent of the local community. Under the circumstances, I only list those hot spots that meet the following criteria - it had to provide suitable accommodation, it had to be fairly easily accessible, and it had to have a consistent and productive fly-fishing history. Wild Coast estuaries offer anglers a variety of fly-eating species such as brassy, giant and bigeye kingfish; river snapper, springer, river perch, garrick, sand gurnard, shad, moonies and kob. The most effective way to fish for them is from a boat (preferably electric- powered), paddle ski or canoe.
PORT ST JOHNS
The Mzimvubu River has a very large catchment and for much of the year it carries a high sediment load. Not surprisingly, the mouth that once was accessible to coasters is now largely sanded up and the river is often discoloured. Nonetheless, it provides excellent fishing for leerfish, grunter, elf and large kob that enter the river to feed on the abundant mullet schools and prawns. The IGFA world record leerfish on fly, a specimen of 10.6 kilograms was taken from Skivington Rocks in the river mouth. The best time of the year to fish the Mzimvubu is from May to October when the river can be expected to run clear. The best time of the day is generally during the morning and evening, especially if these times coincide with a pushing tide. Although you can fish from the shore, it is much more effective and convenient to do so from a boat. Conditions will determine whether you want to anchor or drift with the current.
There are several lodges on the river that cater for fisherman; some of them also rent boats.
MNGAZI AND MNGAZANA RIVERS
The Mngazi Estuary, 11 kilometres south of Port St. Johns, can only be reached via the property of Umngazi River Bungalows and is, therefore, only open to guests. It is easiest to fish the river from a boat and local guides are at hand to show you where.
The Mngazana River mouth is situated 4 kilometres south of the Mngazi River. This beautiful estuary, with its large mangrove forest is best fished out of season when the periodic inhabitants of the many illegal cottages are absent. The mouth, its lower reaches, and the creek inlet a few hundred metres from the mouth, are the best areas for kingfish, springer and kob.
QORA RIVER MOUTH
Situated much further south along the coast, this river mouth is often referred to by the name of the very popular family hotel, Kob Inn. The estuary is open permanently, is navigable for some 5 kilometres and provides excellent fly fishing for giant, bigeye and brassy kingfish, springer, garrick, kob, pickhandle barracuda and river perch.
NXAXO RIVER (WAVECREST)
The Wavecrest Hotel is situated at the confluence of the Nxaxo and Nqusi Rivers about 18 kilometres north of the Kei River. The surf at the mouth of the estuary has produced some excellent specimens of garrick and shad on fly. Both rivers are relatively pristine and provide a variety of fly-fishing opportunities.
OTHER WILDCOAST FLY-FISHING
You can also expect excellent estuarine fly fishing at any of the places listed below but the nearest accommodation may be some distance away. From north to south along the coastline, they are:
The Knysna Lagoon is one of the gems of the Garden Route, and is situated on the N2, almost midway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. (Map12) The picturesque Knysna Heads stand guard at the mouth of the lagoon, their rocky cliffs plunging into the deep, clear and turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean. Inland, the lagoon spreads into a maze of channels, islands and sandbanks, eventually extending to its origin far back in the Tsitsikamma Mountains.
Fly fishers who understand their quarry and know the waters of the lagoon, can expect to take leerfish (garrick), springer, grunter and shad. On a lagoon this size, there are many places where you can fish from the banks but it is much more convenient and effectual to use a boat.
Leerfish, up to 15 kilos, enter the mouth on the incoming tide and you can fish for them from a drifting boat with poppers or streamers on an intermediate line. As the tide continues to rise, the fish follow the channels deeper into the lagoon where they ambush shoals of mullet on the edges of sandbanks. At high tide, it can be productive to fish above the rail bridge near the oyster farm and also higher up in the channels between Belvidere Point and Crab Creek. The Ashmead Channel, near the golf course, is a good place just after low tide, and it is also accessible from the bank.
Springer favour the area around Belvidere Point and up towards the N2 highway bridge and Crab Creek. You can also fish this area from the bank. The mudflats at high tide, and where sandbanks or weedbeds drop off into channels, are the best places to find springer. They are partial to small baitfish imitations and Crazy Charlies.
Grunter like foraging for mudprawns on sandbanks and mudflats and will enter these areas as soon as the rising tide provides a sufficient depth of water. You often see them rooting for prawns with their tails in the air. Whether you approach from the bank or from a boat, you have to stalk them in the same manner as you would any wary fish in shallow clear water. Do not feel disheartened if you are not successful, for grunter are very hard to stir on a fly. Needless to say, you should use a long, tapered leader and small prawn imitations like the Crazy Charlie.
Elf are mostly caught in the deep channels, especially those near Thesen's Island and The Heads. At the latter spot you can stand on the rocks and cast straight in to deep water - and don't be surprised if you pick up a leerfish or kob.
The Breede River has the largest and longest estuary in South Africa. (Map 13) It is 1.2 kilometres wide but narrows to a 200-metre channel complex at the mouth; the head of tide is about 64 kilometres upstream. The sandbar at the mouth is a maze of treacherous currents and before venturing onto it you should call the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) at Witsand (082 990 5957) for the latest information.
The Breede's waters shelter kob, spotted grunter, leerfish, elf, sharks and skates, among others, but it is the size of the kob that are caught here that draws anglers from far and wide: no other river has yielded as many kob over 45 kilos. The Breede also has excellent grunter fishing but they are notoriously difficult to catch on fly. Sharks often take hooked fish but have never attacked humans in this popular holiday resort. The world-record Zambezi shark, 4 metres long and weighing an estimated 560 kilograms, was caught, tagged and released 15 kilometres upriver in early 2009.
The Breede offers consistent fly fishing for young leerfish for most of the season but larger fish typically provide the best action in February and March. The best time is when the rising tide starts flooding the sandbanks, especially if this coincides with low-light periods. The sandbank that extends from the mouth all the way up to the Breede River Lodge and towards the south bank of the river is the most productive stretch. Fishing along the north bank is also good but not as easy. A 7- or 8-weight outfit with a floating or intermediate line is adequate. White and chartreuse Clousers, Lefty's Deceivers and sprat imitations in #2/0 to 3/0 will take most of the fish, but be sure to carry some poppers and flippers for those times when the leeries are chasing baitfish in the shallows.
Ski-boat anglers who fish St Sebastian Bay expect to land kob, leerfish, yellowtail and the usual bottom feeders but fly anglers, as yet, do not target the latter species.
The Breede is in a winter rainfall area and normally it is in flood from June to as late as October. During this period the water is cold, and discoloured. The fishing season is regarded as being from November through March, but the best fishing normally commences in December, when water clarity and temperature reach summer levels. St Sebastian Bay is one of the breeding grounds of the southern right whale from about July into December. There is no shortage of accommodation in Witsand, Port Beaufort or Cape Infanta.
I wish to thank Bruce Birkett for his contributions on Port St Johns and Knysna Lagoon, and Bill Mincher for the piece on Breede River.