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Our family loves fishing for grunter and we have three fantastic rivers in the Port Elizabeth area on which to hone our skills.

My father, who taught us to catch this amazing fish, always said that the best hook for grunter was a No.1 bait keeper hook that holds the mud or sand prawn perfectly. We have caught thousands of grunter on this type of hook. But herein lies the problem – we fish with an open bail arm drifting for the grunter and when the fish picks the bait up, you freespool him to make him swallow
your bait.

This is fine when catching big fish, which you want to keep to eat, but often you get small fish that are undersized and you want to let those go. Most times they will have swallowed the hook and you end up biting off the line as close to the grunter’s mouth as possible in order to release the fish – not ideal, but this is the only alternative to killing the fish.

This is where the circle hook comes in. Ninety-five percent of the time you hook the grunter in the corner of the mouth – well, Lando and I were really surprised when, many years ago, my father said he was going to try a new, funny-shaped hook for grunter. My father was taught by his father to fish for grunter with Mustad baitkeeper hooks, so this would be a huge change for him. Well, after his usual Tuesday night grunter fishing, his hook choice changed forever, and who said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. All he could talk about the next morning, at the tackle shop, was how well the circle hook worked – and so entered the era
of the circle hook.

Let me tell you about our latest grunter fishing expedition, especially how to use this hook and how to be successful when targeting grunter. Lando and I decided to target the mud and sand flats for grunter, which most rivers in the Eastern Cape have. I pumped prawns as usual and Lando picked them up – at least he was doing some exercise!

Once we had enough mud prawns, we went to pump some sand prawns – we use the mud prawns on the low tide in the shallower, discoloured water, then change tactics to the sand prawns in the higher, clearer water; sometimes this makes a huge difference. When wading in the flats, we like a relatively windless day, preferably a spring tide.

We choose a bank that is about 200m wide with deeper channels where the fish can feed onto the bank when the tide comes in. We start fishing at the edge of the channel on the mudbank side, and put the prawn on the hooks by pushing the circle hook from the bottom of the prawn through the top, coming out at the last segment. In this way, the prawn is still alive and the bait is presented in the most natural way.

What Lando and I like to do is to throw to tailing fish - remember, we have no sinkers on, so the fish need to be close. Having chosen our spot, we saw a couple of tailing fish. Lando had the perfect cast and his bait was drifting with the pushing tide towards the tailing fish. The tail went down; we were now dead still because the spotty was looking for the prawns he had blown out and would be very aggressive at this time.

With a circle hook, you fish rod-tip up and let the fish pull you down, then don’t strike, just pick the rod tip up and let the fish run away from you. Lando did this and – vas, into a smallish grunter that did its best to free itself, but Lando slid him into our net. Good start! After another couple of casts, he landed another two fish of the same size – what a great hook the circle hook is, as these fish were all hooked in the corner of the mouth and were released with little damage.

The tide was pushing hard now, so you could spot these fish by a circular mud cloud coming to the surface. Lando saw this, and so we both cast, landed perfectly, and got a pick-up simultaneously. I bowed my rod and the fish slowly ran away from me – and vas! Lando was also vas and these were good fish, both taking plenty of 4kg line – wow, what good fighters grunter are. The conditions were perfect and the fish were just short of gale; I landed another one of about 2kg and Lando’s was still giving a few short runs and holding in the spring tide rip. This tiger was giving Lando stick, and no wonder – when I slipped the net under the fish it definitely went over the 4kg mark.

We baited up quickly and waited for another mud puff. I saw one and cast to another hunting grunter – he picked me up, but I missed him – too hasty. In the meantime, Lando cast to another blowing grunter and got picked up almost immediately – now this was fishing!

But I can tell you – if you pick your fishing spots properly, you can have the same experiences; just watch DVD 4 of Fish Africa on how to catch grunter on circle hooks.

Back to fishing: Lando landed another nice grunter; he was having a great day. We love fishing together because we just love fishing and catching fish and we don’t care who catches the most – every fisherman has his day and this was Lando’s. The tide had by then come in, forcing us onto the bank. So we decided to fish the sandbank behind us (not before I hooked and landed a lovely 2.5kg steenie). We moved across to the sandbank, looking for a small drop-off
so that we could place our bait where the tigers would be.

We then changed to sand prawns; this turned out to be a good move because, on the first cast, I lobbed out my massive sand prawn onto the edge of the sandbank, with the prawn hardly hitting the bottom before I got a pick-up. I bowed my rod and lifted slowly, and the grunter peeled off line – what a run! Up and down he ran and every time I got him to the edge of the sandbank, he ran another couple of metres.

Lando finally netted a beautiful grunter of about 4.5kg. I took the circle hook out of the corner of the fish’s mouth and released him to fight another day. Lando had already baited up and cast to the bank; before I cast, I let his line drift a bit and then threw to his left.

Our bait drifted side by side and I got a bite from a flattie. Lando got a proper bite and he was vas in seconds. His fish just headed straight into deeper water – another good fish. Wow, non-stop action for hours – this doesn’t happen every day. I slipped the net under yet another lovely grunter.

The tide was now pushing very strongly and we knew we could have caught many more grunter, but we had had our fun for
the day.  

Handy hints

If you want to be successful in your quest for catching grunter, whether drifting from a boat or stalking your prey on the flats, the following advice will come in handy:

First and foremost, don’t just fish blind – find out where the good grunter spots are. 

This point is probably the most vital out of all that will follow and applies to all fishing.

Second, always use the right bait, i.e. when fishing the flats, either a mud prawn or a sand prawn.

Third, spring tides in general for hunting grunter on the flats are vital as the fast-flowing water makes the grunter more aggressive, because as he blows out his prawn, it gets swept away very quickly and he has to chase after it. This ultimately makes it easier to hook him because, as every fisherman knows, grunter can be very temperamental.

It is important to have good equipment:

Lando and I recommend a Ryobi 3000 reel with my father’s custom-designed 6’6 or 7’ ultra-sensitive graphite rod designed specifically for river fishing (Dave Alcock Signature Series).

Nylon is definitely better than braid. A thin, strong 9lb to 12lb nylon is more than ample. White line in the flats is best. 

Circle hook size – either a 2/0 or 3/0 thin-gauged Mustad hook is best.

 

That wraps up the tackle requirements, and you can see how little tackle you need to target grunter. Remember that this is a great eating fish, so just take what you need and not your limit.