Flyfishing report: Saltwater - Garden Route

Date of Report: Thursday, 18th April 2024
Name: Niel Malan
Email: nmalan8@gmail.com
Phone: 064 517 3811

General:

In a very short time, we have seen the Garden Route Fly Fishers Whatsapp Group grow from zero to hero (228 members and increasing daily) and the GRFF Facebook Group jump to an amazing 3200+ members. Great for sustainable fishing, tourism and I would imagine that the estate agents are all smiling. And as Chris Wood said at the last GRFF Meeting, what is especially encouraging, is the number of youngsters getting into flyfishing, even though it is putting tremendous pressure on the older guys and girls to up their game.

The last month’s fishing started off rather well with good catches being reported, but recently the good rains, especially in the larger catchments, temporarily put a halt to that. The Breede, Gouritz and Kleinbrak systems turned into muddy torrents over-night while dark-stained water flooded down some of the other systems. These systems will take a few weeks to recalibrate, but in the long term the deeper scoured mouths will allow good recruitment of fish. That said, where the water is only discolored, like in the Grootbrak and Keurbooms estuaries, the fish are still around. Benno Klinck reported from Grootbrak: “After the recent rains and flooding the mouth was opened. Water clarity has dropped considerably. Luckily there is still tailing fish on the sand flats at high tides. Lots of smaller Leeries in the system being caught as a by-catch while targeting Grunter on surface flies”. “In die dieper kanale was daar vanoggend bitter groot vis, nie baie van hulle nie maar mens kon aan hulle sterte sien dit is massive. Weerlig het my sessie kort geknip ongelukkig, gaan dalk weer later uit gaan”. I have also noticed lots more large mullets and grunter in the estuary near the Keurbooms River mouth than over the last few months and this could possibly be as a result of the fresh water pushing the fish closer to the saltier water.

Lastly, a few milestones achieved during the reporting period, that I am aware of (and I am sure that there are many more). Please see the individual stories in the sections below, some are hilarious, but all inspiring:

First saltwater fish on fly:

  • Darryl Colenbrander; Garrick, Keurbooms estuary; and
  • Andre Bredell; Garrick, Swartvlei.

First Spotted Grunter on fly:

  • Michael Hainebach; Swartvlei; and
  • Ruan Jacobs, Breede River

Entry into “The 100 Grunter Club”:

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Niel Malan.

 BELOW IS SOME FEEDBACK PROVIDED BY MEMBERS RELATED TO THE INDIVIDUAL SYSTEMS:

As always, thanks to all the members that have kindly offered information and stories. Without you this report would have been very short and feeble.

Breede River Estuary:

It takes a bit of time to figure out the Breede estuary, but boy-oh-boy can it produce super fish.

Mike Dohlhoff now stays at Witsand and it’s always good to get some inside information: “This whole season has been generally poor with far fewer fish coming out on fly than previous years ....however with persistence I did manage a few half decent fish. Generally, the grunter was more cooperative in the windy rainy conditions, and I was fortunate to get a few in late March. Unfortunately just when things were starting to pick up a cut- off low dumped a significant amount of rain in the catchment resulting in extremely brown and fresh water for the last 10 days.....these conditions look to persist for the foreseeable future unfortunately.....here are a few pics from just before the flood.” Modest as always.

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Mike Dholoff with beautiful grunters of 60 & 69

Mike Dohlhoff: [The] 69cm [grunter] ....a real tank and the biggest for a long while. And lastly, again,Mike Dohlhoff: “My last fish just before the storm and maybe the last of the season......one has to cherish every single one as they are such special fish💪👌” A tank indeed Mike, must have given you a proper rev!  Congratulations Mike. Mike is a very accomplished flyfisher and we look forward to his next installment.

From the old-hand to the up-and-coming…… Ruan Jacobs sent me this little insert about his first fly-caught Spotted Grunter: “On my third trip trying to catch a grunter on fly at the Breede River I finally managed to hook this fish on the last day of the trip.(Which was rather depressing with only a couple of black tail and small leeries to show) The top-water eat was insane, I thought it was going to be similar to a dry fly eat but I was very surprised when the take was much more violent, more like what you would expect from a cob. The first run also had me in my backing in seconds which was really fun. Some nerve wrecking head shakes later I managed to land this fish which measured a full length of 56cm.” What a stunning fish and beautiful picture – certainly well worth kneeling down for to say a little silent “Thank You”. Bliksemse mooi vis Ruan!

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Ruan Jacobs with his first Spotted Grunter. A whopping 56cm!

Henkie Altena, who runs Karooolskraal, commented as follows:  “Was maar swak. Mike het 'n paar groot grunter gekry. Een was 69cm dink ek. Kabeljou was skaars 2 van 50cm gekry.” “Ek dink ons het nog so klein kansie, as die Breede net weer kalmeer het.” So, there you have it – die baas het gepraat and both Henkie and Mike thinks that when the estuary clears up we should be good for another few sessions before the winter settles in. But, if you won’t spread the word, I can tell you that I have been reliably informed that there are people that fish the Breede throughout the winter (between the flooding events).

Gourits River and Kleinbrak River Estuaries:                                                                    

According to Robin Fick: “Neil, you have seen the photos [of the rivers coming down in flood] so fishing out for a while on my estuaries. Bonnies were still around the Point at Mossel Bay being caught from the side and from boats and kayaks. Dirty water from local rivers will move them away as they are sight feeders.”

Grootbrak River Estuary:

 Benno Klinck kindly provided feedback on the situation at Grootbrak: “After the recent rains and flooding the mouth was opened. Water clarity has dropped considerably. Luckily there are still tailing fish on the sandflats at high tides. Lots of smaller Leeries in the system being caught as a by-catch while targeting Grunter on surface flies.” News just in: “In die dieper kanale was daar vanoggend bitter groot vis, nie baie van hulle nie maar mens kon aan hulle sterte sien dit is ‘massive’. Weerlig het my sessie kort geknip ongelukkig, gaan dalk weer later uit gaan.” Stywe lyne Benno.

I wonder why he is so keen to go fishing again? Perhaps this little story explains why: “Fly fishing has been a hobby of mine for a long time now, but like most people I was sticking mostly to freshwater species. When I moved to Grootbrak saltwater fly fishing became an option, and as someone who likes a challenge, the elusive Spotted Grunter became my target species.

Dedicated to succeeding I spent the next 5 months exclusively targeting Grunters, mostly fishing the sand flats at Grootbrak river mouth. More than 30 blank sessions equating to almost 80 hours spent on the water, with no luck - only an accidental Leerie that snuck up on the fly after three decent Grunters abandoned the follow.

By this point I had tried many different flies and techniques, but none had been successful. However, after a session with Niel Malan where he hooked a Grunter after only a few casts, my luck would change. He had shown me a different retrieving technique, which resulted in noticeably more follows. A few weeks later during a mid-morning session one fish finally committed to the Spookvlieg. The tension in the line was something I had waited so long for, but I had not been prepared for the fight! The adrenaline and relief of finally having that first Grunter out of the water is unexplainable. Looking forward to many more.” Lekka Benno!

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Benno Klinck with his first Spotted Grunte.r

Rens Techman added: “Tiny grunter came out at Groot Brak after your motivational report. Going to explore some random river tomorrow somewhere behind the mountains.” Moenie wegspoel nie Rens!

Touwsrivier Estuary:

There were rumours of large grunters in this system just before the floods, but “moeilik om agter die kap van die byl te kom”, maar waar daar ‘n rookie is is daar ‘n vuurtjie. “Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie” News just in from Rens Techman: “Leeries (nothing to write home about in size) were biting in the Touw River”.

Swartvlei River Estuary:

This large system has ample opportunities to fish for good quality fish and has made many flyfishers day, new and old salty buggers alike. For example, this report just in from Michael Hainebach warmed my heart: “As I arrived on a sandbank, I was greeted with a field of tails and dorsals. I think it was a mixture of striped mullet and Grunter feeding on something in the shallows. After a few casts a bow wave built behind my Spookvlieg and my line went tight. The fish headed off to the horizon and I was soon into my backing. The 55cm Grunt was quickly retrieved and released. No photo, but no problem. Happy within, knowing I was on the board.” Yeah, and personally happy Die Spookvlieg landed another one! Awesome Michael – a fantastic first and decent size for a first grunt! Pity you didn’t have a camera, but I hear Kyle Owens is good with Photo shopping 😇.

Swartvlei lake:

According to Michael HainebachStill lots of weeds and algae in the lake. SANParks think this is a natural cycle, but locals suspect it's due to fertilizer from the Avo plantations on the SW bank. The weed banks extend to 2m depth and make access to clean sandbanks challenging for fishers and Grunter. Recent Grunter caught seem not fighting as hard as usual and seem off form. That said, there's a lot of visible life e.g. birds and young fish. Hearteningly, there has been good recruitment of young Steenbras (for the first time in a while) and Leerie.

The recent rains (approx 14% of annual rainfall in 24 hours) were massive. The water level rose as much as 10cm per hour for a bit (despite the mouth being open). That's a LOT of fresh water! (10cm change = approx 1.1Mil cubic m before one adds what is leaving through the mouth)”

The cooler temperature and fresh water are likely to unsettle the fish for a bit.”

We will keep an eye on the above, but fortunately SANParks does have a scientific section that monitors all the lakes, so we will undoubtedly hear more from them in the future.

I asked Andre Bredell to tell us about his first saltwater fish caught on fly: “It was a grey chilly morning on 1 April when my brother-in-law (Swaer) and I met Johann Rademeyer for an early start to our guided session at Swartvlei. After a quick coffee and rusk, we set off in search of Grunters. After a quiet start, the tide turned and we started seeing tailing fish. First up for a shot at sight-fishing was my Swaer - he’s done a good few trips to Seychelles, so I assumed he’d entice a grunter to the shrimp fly quite easily. No luck, and after an hour of trying, we swapped rods with me trading the clouser for the shrimp fly. Being a novice in saltwater was challenging and I spooked the first few grunter I tried to cast at. Eventually I got it right and had a follow. My next cast looked perfect, and I let the shrimp sink down a fair bit. The grunter turned towards the fly and went down towards it… a few seconds later we realized it had lost interest, so I started reeling in to move to another spot. Just then my line tightened, and I reeled in a small Leerie. Hooray, my first saltwater fish on fly!

“The rest of the morning was spent spotting (pun intended) MANY more big grunters - but unfortunately not catching any. I did, however, pick up two more slightly larger leeries… and my Swaer blanked- poor chap! It made me realise that fishing these estuaries is unique and challenging”.

“Reflecting back, it was really wonderful to see such a healthy system with big fish in large numbers. We are truly blessed with some amazing fishing waters in the Garden Route.”

“Thanks to Johann for a great outing- hopefully next time I manage to land a few of those grunters!”

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Andre Bredell “Caught this chap on a shrimp pattern while sight fishing for grunter”

Rens Techman added: “Sedgefield leeries love the Spookvlieg”

Goukamma River Estuary:

Nobody specifically reported back on the Goukamma Estuary, but I recall a number of comments about spotted grunter being present, but not very cooperative. In other words, normal behaviour.

Knysna River Estuary:

This comment just received from Craig Smith, who recently clocked up 100 grunters in the Knysna estuary: “Sitting looking out over Ashmead towards Loerie Park and the grunter are going nuts on the outgoing tide”. That said, balance that with his comment a few days earlier: “I went out 5 times with friends to look for grunter and only made one cast!” Just shows you, go out whenever you can and sooner or later you will find those grunts in large numbers, and hopefully they are going to eat. Yeah, the best time to fish is when you can.

Niel Malan managed to get his Spotted Grunter no 100 at the Knysna estuary. We also know that the undercover flyfishers have added a few more fish to their tallies during this period.

Keurbooms and Bitou Estuaries:

These estuaries are normally very clear and can be a bit tricky to fish …. until you start unravelling it. Darrel Colenbrander, from Cape Town, has just embarked on that journey: Over to Darryl: “My journey with fishing started circa 2015. The sport was introduced to me by my wife’s father, who is an avid fly fisherman. Finding the art of casting therapeutic in tandem with spending time in river and estuarine systems, the bug had well and truly bitten. Whilst the interest was there, the skill certainly was not! It was only in 2018 that I caught a smallmouth bass in the Cederberg. Whilst more freshwater fish followed, catching a saltwater fish on fly remained elusive”.

“Fast forward to April 2024, my luck finally changed! Having the privilege of getting some much-needed pointers from Dr Niel Malan, I managed to catch a juvenile Garrick in the Keurbooms estuary. The moment felt like it took place in slow motion and was not without some humour. I could see the juvenile Garrick trailing my fly, to which I thought I was stripping fast enough. Niel, standing some 30m away, was yelling ‘faster faster’ to which I obliged, and, to my amazement, I caught it! I had clearly been underestimating the speed at which a hunting Garrick could move. The lesson learnt here, and wisely pointed out by Neil was ‘when in doubt, strip faster!’”. Thanks Darryl, but don’t forget that during that single retrieve I had to shout 3 times “Faster Darryl, faster” and it was lekker to see that leerie pounce on the fly. A case of third time lucky. Not the biggest specimen, but hell can it move! Ice broken Darrel. To many more.

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Darrel Colenbrander with his first saltwater fish on fly.

We also welcome Deon Wilken and family to Plett. Deon has recently started flyfishing in the Keurbooms system and after struggling to find his first Garden Route saltwater fish, a garrick, yesterday sent me this message: “Got 5 leeries on the dropping tide this morning next to that white boat moored near my place. Thanks for the coaching!” “Yes Spookvlieg”. Wow, that’s a steep learning curve. Hardly coaching, just pointed out those bow waves behind the fly are garrick chasing, so strip faster. Well done Deon and may there be many more. Now for that elusive spotted grunter.

Niel Malan managed to catch quite a few juvenile garrick, a 41cm Spotted Grunter, a Southern Mullet and a nice 41 cm Striped Mullet.

The water is clearing up nicely near the mouth and I have been fishing it since the floods. Lots of large mullet around to – normally 30m from you and retreating at one hell of a pace. That said, I had a few plucks this morning. Unfortunately, just nipping the back of the fly. Next time.

Last, but not least. “A groom and four friends walk into an estuary” …….  and apparently nearly did not make it to the wedding…… A pre-wedding session was so lekker, catching 16 leeries between 4 friends, that they had to toss a coin to decide what to do. Or this is what Matt Zambetti wanted me to believe. Eish, cannot take Matt anywhere. Sure, they will greet him with a “strafdop” next time they meet.

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A visitor to the Garden Route, Ryno Germishuys, racks up species number 30 on fly with his first Leervis in the Plettenberg Bay Lagoon.

Kromme River Estuary:

Marius Rousseau reports from Cape St Francis:  “Net daai vis bo om regtig oor te praat , het 2 kleiner vis op sand gekry en daar was paar blank sessies met paar jong Leeries tussenin. My vriend het die Cape Gurnard gevang miskien kan jy die foto ook plaas .Weer was baie sleg laaste tyd, Was gister 6 uur op water het nie een vis sien tail nie, yskoud . So eks dalk verkeede ou om te vra wat op rivier aangaan😃👍Ja, ek dink dit behoort te verbeter voor dit heel stil raak”.

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Yet another grunter and a beautiful river gurnard from the Kromme estuary..

Rock and Surf:

I haven’t received much info of people flyfishing off the beach and rocks with most people preferring the calmer estuarine waters.

Off-shore:

Matt Zambetti, Niel Malan and Matt’s friend went bonnie hunting off Plett, but there was sadly only space for spinning rods. Nevertheless, it was awesome fun and the bonnies were there. Next time.

Rivers:

No reports of flyfishing in rivers were received for this period.

Still waters:

No reports of flyfishing in stillwaters were received for this period.