WORDS & PICS: GERHARD GUSE
As anglers, we are always up for a new challenge. The improvement in the quality of tackle, as well as the introduction of braid-backing and the non-return slide, has given anglers an realistic chance of landing some exceptional fish, such as huge black-rays, 200kg bronzies of more than 200kg, etc. However, when using such tackle targeting species such as raggies in the surf, the outcome is usually more a formality than a challenge.
This past summer we had an excellent shark season and the raggies were gale! We decided to see what you could actually land using various baits on our ‘drop-shot’ outfits, in the surf and sheltered bays in an around Jeffrey’s Bay. We were very surprised at the results – we landed kob and leeries up to 10kg, smoothhounds up to 17kg, daimonds up to 45kg, raggies up to 80kg and many smaller species such as bluerays, greys etc. We lost four raggies of well over a 100kg, after prolonged fights, and I’m positive that landing a raggie of 120kg or so is a realistic target.
Landing a decent-sized shark or ray on ultra-light gear is very satisfying as the whole process is a challenge, from setting up your gear and getting a decent bait into the feeding zone to playing and landing it.
There are a few bays and gulleyies among the reef areas of Jeffrey’s Bay and Paradise Beach, where raggies and bluerays feed only a few metres from the side, which makes getting your bait into the zone a lot easier. Kids as young as six years old can safely fish in areas such as these, and will have a realistic chance of hooking and landing a shark or ray all on their own. When using this method in the surf, however, you really need to read water very accurately as it is essential to find spots where sharks and rays can be found very close to the shore.
Let’s look at a few factors that can influence the success of this challenge.
1. Fishing with 12ft rods and grinders with 400m of 50lb braid defeats the object of this challenge. The tackle we use is the same as what you would use to cast soft plastics and buck-tail jigs, 9ft or 10ft heavy or extra-heavy dropshot rods, 4000 to 6000 size grinders and 10lb to 20lb braid (300yds). The terminal tackle is a 3m braided leader of 80lb. The trace consists of two strong chemically sharpened 6/0 hooks attached to 600mm of 75lb steel. The steel is tied to .80mm nylon with a double figure-of-eight knot. Put a bead onto the nylon, followed by a running swivel. Now tie a small power swivel to the nylon. The over-all length of the trace is determined by the length of the drop you use when casting. Add a 2oz wire sinker to the running swivel – make sure it is slightly longer than your hook trace so that you can clip your bait when casting.
2. Picking the correct sea conditions is very important as there are obvious constraints as to the distance you can lob the bait, and also the extent to which you can keep your bait in the spot you have identified (keeping in mind the size of your sinker). The ideal conditions are flat, chilly water, with loads of colour. You will be amazed to see how close to the shore large sharks and rays will come to search for food. A 100kg raggie will have no problem with swimming in 4ft of water when the conditions are ideal. The area we have had the most success at, is the corner of Kabeljous Surf (the first 800m or so from the rocks). Ideally, you need a couple of days of moderate east winds, followed by a fresh to strong westerly. Two or three days of east wind will start cooling the water from the Gamtoos River side and eventually this traps the last pocket of warmer water in the corner against the rocks. If the east wind blows too strongly, however, the water will develop a strong pull from left to right that will make it unfishable with ultra-light tackle. The west wind only needs to blow for an hour or two and the sea will go flat and brown. If this coincides with a low tide, the conditions are ideal. Try to find a spot where you can walk right to the edge of the lip to cast. At the low tide there is much less water movement on the lip, so keeping your bait in the zone becomes a lot easier. The west wind will also assist your cast as it is at your back. Along the Paradise Beach stretch there is quite a number of protected little bays amongst the reefs that are ideal for this style of angling. Under the same conditions, you will often find some hectic action, but if you are targeting a fish of more than 50kg, the surf would be a much better option. I am sure that there are many areas along the South African coastline where you could give this a go under similar conditions.
3. Bait-wise, I would suggest using a fresh mullet head. Firstly, it is quite tough (pecker proof), and releases its smell slowly, so it will be fishing effectively for a long time. Barbel and lessers do not take it as readily as many other bait types. It is also fairly easy to cast on this tackle. An added bonus is that just about any big fish will take a small mullet head.
4. Make sure to set your drag after your cast. I like to set my drag fairly tight as I only have about 270m of 14lb braid on my reel. When you detect a bite, wait for the fish to start swimming away from you. Point your rod towards the fish and walk or jog backwards for a few paces (striking in the traditional way won’t set the hook as the rod is much too soft to set a 6/0 or 7/0 hook into a shark’s mouth). Now the fun starts. No two fights are the same as the fish all behave differently, depending on the formation, sea state, water temperature etc. Strangely enough, most fish are landed in about the same amount of time as you would expect with normal tackle. I think that once the short rod has bent to its maximum, the force you put on the fish is quite significant, and this is aided further by the directness of the braid. Getting the fish over a shallow lip is the most difficult part, and you need to be patient as the tackle is very unforgiving.<END NUMBERED LIST>
It is extremely satisfying landing a decent shark or ray on such an ultra-light setup and it proves that the tackle we use on the surf to target fish like diamonds and raggies is a huge over-kill in most cases. It is also ideal for young kids, as they can land a decent-sized shark all on their own as the light tackle is balanced enough for them to handle, whereas using standard shark tackle, a kid will need to be much older to land a sizable fish unaided.
It is a very challenging way to target large fish but I can guarantee you that it is very addictive and great fun. Go give it a go!
Contact Fishfightas for an unforgettable angling experience to some of the top angling destinations in southern Africa. Whether you want to test yourself against huge sharks and rays or various species of edible fish on lures and bait, we will try our utmost to help you reach your goals.
For more information, contact Gerhard on 078087281, Rudolf on 0827990121