Extreme Fishing

South African Giants on the Eastern Cape

David Barton December 11, 2009

Standing thigh deep in the suds of Kabeljous Beach, which lies about a mile east of where the Gamtoos River enters the Indian Ocean, I looked up and saw a 12-foot wall of water headed my way. Holding the 12-foot long surf rod loaned to me by South African fishing guide, Chad Alcock, I tried to remember his words of wisdom. “Get out into the surf and cast as far as you can between the swells. When a wave comes barrelling down at you, hang on tight. You might find it a touch extreme.”

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Authoritative sand tigers patrol the beaches of South Africa where they make worthy opponents.

The wave hit me like a Mike Tyson punch. I was clobbered on the head and lifted from my feet in an instant. Miraculously, after what seemed like an eternity, I popped my head out of the surf and took a magnificent breath. I was alive. Man, it felt great. Then I realized I was in waters patrolled by raggedtooth sharks (sand tigers), Zambezi sharks (bulls), and the granddaddy of them all, the great white.

…since the ban on killing these magnificent predators…their recovery has rebounded to the point that some swimming beaches can get a bit hairy.

I got back to my feet and took a minute to catch my breath. After surveying the ocean I could see the swells were coming in distinct sets and there was going to be a lull for a few moments. I quickly launched a frisky mullet before the next watery freight train ran me down. The high-modulus graphite rod was rigged with a Daiwa Saltist conventional reel, which was spooled with 50lb. braid and a 200lb. monofilament leader. A three-way swivel led to an oval sinker with rod-like protrusions that planted it firmly in the sandy bottom. At the business end was a wire leader with a monster mullet pinned to a razor sharp 6/0 J-hook.

I catapulted the rig as far as I could and it landed with a smack in the trough just behind the next incoming wave. I could see a long line of frantic mullet, clearly nervous and extremely wary of what was behind them. The sinker settled into the sand and I envisioned how tasty that giant mullet would look to a famished shark. I didn’t have to wait long before my offering garnished some well-deserved attention. The mullet started pulling against the sinker and I could feel the vibrating buzz through the braided line. All of a sudden there was a tremendous collision and the line started screaming off the Saltist at an alarming rate. The drag was set modestly and the shark didn’t even know it was hooked. At this rate, I would’ve been spooled in a matter of seconds, so I tightened down the drag and put the heat on the powerful predator. After about 25-minutes I could see a dorsal fin in the surf. Chad, who was now by my side, said, “Good job, man. That’s a lovely raggie! Nice size, too…Looks about 50kg. (110-pounds).”

After another 15-minutes we brought the nearly 5-foot long mini-behemoth onto the beach. It had a beautiful grey-brown hue on top and a dirty white undercarriage. When the raggedtooth grinned, there was an incredible array of choppers that only a mother could love. We revived her for a few minutes and she immediately took off in search of another mullet meal. The waves were picking up a little thanks to a stiffening east wind and the surf was alive with large prehistoric predators. Along with the toothy adversaries, my buddies and I caught a slew of silver kob and leeries. We fished light gear loaded with 20lb. braid and tossed poppers and spoons until our arms had enough. The kob weighed up to 25kg. (55-pounds) and put up a serious fight on light-tackle. One of my fishing mates pulled in a red steenbras that appeared to weigh more than he did. While there were no great whites in the cards for us this day, Chad noted that since the ban on killing these magnificent predators was introduced in 1991, their recovery has rebounded to the point that some swimming beaches can get a bit hairy. Incidental catches are up, as are the adrenaline levels of the local surf-casters lucky, or unlucky enough to connect.

Beef on the Reef
After our rendezvous in the surf, we were to spend a couple of days fishing the inshore reefs and natural structures of Algoa Bay, a wide inlet along the Eastern Cape adjacent to Port Elizabeth. I hooked up with 3 Way Ocean Charters, a Port Elizabeth based operation that specializes in both inshore and offshore fishing adventures. With the help of Captain Kevin Clark, we plotted a trip that would take us reef fishing in far eastern Algoa Bay and then a night visit to Cape Recife at the southern entrance of the Indian Ocean.

We got an early start heading out to a reef the locals called Third Bush. We were aboard 3 Way Ocean Charter’s 35-foot sportfisher, Sea Bear, powered nicely by twin 364 HP Iveco marine diesels. The craft was steady and smooth even through the persistent swells. Algoa Bay lived up to its reputation as being one of the windiest places on earth and we got blasted along our route.

Once we arrived at Third Bush, the wind changed direction, the clouds moved out and we were greeted by a bright sun that warmed us from our cold and cloudy trip to the reef. We were situated about a mile from shore where the lightly vegetated sand dunes shimmered in the sunlight. We anchored at a promising spot in about 60-feet of water, hoping to excite big fish of any species.

There were six anglers on this trip, half armed with graphite rods and conventional reels and half toting hand line rigs crafted from hardwood boards. My rig consisted of a Shimano Torium loaded with 25lb. monofilament and matched to a 30lb. boat rod. A three-way swivel kept me hooked up with a 60-pound fluorocarbon leader, 5/0 J-hook and an 8oz. sinker more than enough to seal the deal. Squid strips and freshly caught green mackerel fillets did a great job at enticing the unique predators. Within seconds of the first baits hitting bottom, pandemonium set in and everyone on the Sea Bear was hooked up. We hit the reef jackpot, the proverbial motherload of inshore fishing, with a constant slew of fish coming over the gunwales. I needed an icthyologist to keep track of the myriad of species that made their way into our boat. Over a period of about 40-minutes, I caught a reef super slam, which included a dageraad, soldier fish, red roman, and yellow-bellied rock cod.

As in all South African adventures, paying attention to safety is key—especially when bringing unknown species into the boat. First mate Brett Potgeiter warned me that I should be extremely careful around a few species in particular and thankfully Brett came to my aid in the releasing department. We ended up mooring on various spots throughout the day and when the central fish box was filled to the brim with the tasty reef fare, we kept on fishing in catch-and-release mode.

My final fishing jaunt on this visit to South Africa was also aboard Sea Bear. This time skippered by Brett Potgeiter, we were on an evening hunt for monster kob and geelbeck in the vicinity of Cape Recife. Unfortunately we caught some pretty strong winds on the way to the cape, which produced 10 to 15-foot swells, forcing us to turn around and head for the more sheltered waters of Dynamite Pier just north of Port Elizabeth. So named for its role in WWII as a distribution point for ammunition, the pier was demolished in peacetime and makes an excellent hiding spot for hungry game fish. While the quantity was not the same as we encountered at Third Bush, the quality more than made up for the slower pace. After catching a number of snapper and a few small reef sharks, we found ourselves in a pack of bloodthirsty elf (the same species as Atlantic bluefish). There were more than a few lines severed by their wickedly sharp teeth, but the ones that made it to the boat were worth the hassle of an occasional parted line. While every adventure must come to an end, I knew I’d be back to experience more of the amazing angling action encountered along South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

Travel Info

Port Elizabeth has a modern regional airport that is served by connecting flights through Cape Town and Johannesburg. Flying from the states offers traveling anglers numerous options, although no matter how you choose to get to South Africa it will undoubtedly take you quite some time. Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) receives direct U.S. flights from New York, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., while Cape Town International Airport (CPT) receives direct U.S. flights from Atlanta. With an approximate 17-hour flight from the East Coast to Johannesburg, this trip deserves at the very least a week’s stay. While airfares can be expensive, don’t fret. There are ways to save. We chose to fly Virgin Atlantic from Chicago to London, then on to Cape Town where we connected to Port Elizabeth via South African Airways.

Notes of Interest About Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is the fifth largest city in South Africa with a population of approximately 1.5 million. Located on the Indian Ocean, approximately half way between Cape Town and Durban, many of Port Elizabeth’s locals are fully fledged fishing fanatics. Along with the fabulous fishing opportunities provided by 3 Way Ocean Charters, the Eastern Cape of South Africa is also home to a treasure trove of eco-friendly adventures. Within a short drive from Port Elizabeth visitors can experience the world’s highest bungee jump, wonderful beaches for surfing and windsurfing, historical museums and botanical gardens, as well as numerous wild game reserves for unique photo safaris. For more info visit www.portelizabeth.co.za

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