Red letter river days
WORDS & PICS: DEAN PRETORIUS
Over the past few years, I have taken to fishing the estuaries of the lower South Coast and upper Transkei more seriously, putting more effort and more time into this facet. This effort and time has certainly paid dividends, and my son Josh and I have been rewarded with a few ‘red letter days’ in this time.
Catching and releasing over 20 fish in a session will, I am sure, count as an awesome outing in any estuary angler’s book. In this article, I will recount three of these outings, with a few tips and tricks that will hopefully help you to experience the frenetic action that we have been privileged to be part of.
OCTOBER 2011: MZAMBA RIVER, UPPER TRANSKEI
This was our first visit to this river in some time; the mouth was still closed as it had not rained, it was early morning, the river was full and clean green, it was overcast and a small coastal low had just come through (pay attention to this as you will see a pattern develop).
We launched the arc inflatable half way up and proceeded to the mouth. On the way, Josh hooked and landed a bus sea pike of about 3.5kg on a small 3in dropshot, and as we proceeded down, I hooked a blacktop kingfish. We arrived at the mouth and proceeded to some rocky structure. Josh threw the dropshot and immediately went on; I threw a Purple Magic Owner jerkbait and got an awesome bite ending in a broken split ring. Josh landed his fish – a great river get of around 3kg. We fished a bit more in the area and landed a few small blacktip and big eye kingfish. As the sun came up, we decided to proceed to the top of the river. En route, I was trawling lipless crankbait; the rod was almost ripped off the boat, and in no time the line was almost all gone. Josh kept tension on the fish and I followed as fast as my sneakers would go. After a 15-minute struggle, he landed a GT in excess of 6kg. As I let the fish go, I realised that we were participating in one legendary day. Still proceeding upwards, we stopped at some rocky ledges, where I landed a decent GT of more than 2kg on a 5in dropshot. Josh, fishing his soon-to-become-famous 6.5cm gold and black Storm Chug Bug, managed to get a huge, wary perch of over the 2kg mark to commit. It was only 07h30 and, with the sun rising, we decided to get to the upper reaches. On the way, I landed a perch and Josh hooked a good rock salmon on the Chug Bug. Eventually, we arrived at a spot with some rapids and big deep pools with big rocks and boulders. Here too, the water was green and flowing, and what transpired next would turn out to be the best fishing I have ever experienced. I had changed to a small Owner Gobo Popper and Josh continued with his Chug Bug. Both of us had an instant smash on the poppers – mine was a huge roman that cut me off straight away, while Josh hooked a perch. Luckily my popper resurfaced and I reattached it, and we proceeded to land eight more perch, four river roman and a bigeye kingfish, and also took a number of good beatings. When things went quiet, we wove our way through the rocks as far as we could go, and I was rewarded with a good roman in the rapids.
It was 10h30 and we were hungry, so we decided to head back. At the vehicle, while packing the boat, Josh had a last cast and landed a blacktip kingfish. Not to be outdone, I had a few casts and landed a bus of a river roman of 2.5kg. By 11h00, we had fished for five-and-a-half hours and landed in excess of 30 fish – many of them personal bests for both of us.
OCTOBER 2012: UMTAMVUNA RIVER
Same time of year, one year down the line, river mouth fully closed before the summer rains, clean green water. In the early morning, with a small coastal low/cold front overhead, we headed down to our ‘local’ – the Umtamvuna River.
This river has fished progressively better over the past few years and is slowly realising its potential; with catch-and-release becoming the accepted norm nowadays, the angling should improve further.
We launched at the Pont and proceeded to some trees where we often catch perch; cormorants and hadedars nest here, which attracts bait when the birds defecate in the water. I fished a Halco Sorcerer and Josh the Chug Bug, and we managed to land a few perch between us. Moving up, I spotted some kingfish chasing mullet in a little bay. I had changed to a Rapala SubWalk and immediately landed a good GT, then a few smaller blacktip and bigeyes and another good perch. Heading further on, we landed a few more perch and small blacktips. We headed past Leopards Beach and wove through the rapids and shallow sections to a set of rapids from where one can go no further; we parked the boat and fished the rapids and deep pool at their base. I was immediately bitten off on the SubWalk and Josh, having no bite on the top water, changed to an Owner Purple Magic jerkbait. I tried on a Maria Duplex 6.5 cm, and we proceeded to catch four sea pike, a few GTs, blacktip and even a greenspot kingfish. Suddenly Josh went onto a better fish; it tussled deep and strong, running up and down the pool, but eventually he got it close. As I was walking to the water’s edge to land the fish, it jumped about 2m from us and threw the lure; it was the biggest oxeye tarpon I have ever seen – in excess of 4kg. I really felt for my boy as I saw the disappointment in his eyes. We fished some more and landed some perch in the rapids as well as a river roman. It was 09h45 and we had experienced nearly five hous of frenetic action – over 25 fish caught and released, with over seven species – a red letter day.
MARCH 2013: MTAGATYI RIVER
The best river system I have ever fished thus far. What I have found is that the bigger the system, the longer it takes to work out. The Alcock brothers seem to have broken this river’s code, so I spent hours on the slo mo and rewind, looking for the spots etc. This was my second visit to this fantastic Transkei river and Josh’s first. We arrived on the back end of some really heavy rains and, crossing the low-level bridge, I cringed at the red/brown water. The first two days were slow by the standards of these rivers, but we still managed five to seven fish per session. On the last day, a front had come through and it was overcast (the pattern again). The swimming prawns had been wild the previous days and we had surmised that this was why the fish had been reluctant to feed – I had decided on the last day to net a few live prawns and have a bait out while fishing the artificial. I netted a few tigers and gingers as well as a few small mullet and a glassy .We started off in the mouth area and landed a few good bigeye kingfish and a small kob on the bucktail. On the way upriver, we trawled small jerkbaits and landed a few good perch and small kingfish. We arrived at a bend about three-quarters of the way up, lined with overhanging trees and rick rock structure. We had seen lots of chases here the previous day and landed some small kingfish. To try and match the size of the fish being chased, I went with a tiny StrikePro sprat stick. Josh had pulled out the 11 cm Rapala MaxRap earlier, much againt my protests, but said he was going to persevere. His first throw into the structure was rewarded with a huge smash – he threw straight back into the same spot and the MaxRap got smoked. He was luckily fishing heavy with a 7ft medium heavy Dawa ProZ rod (my river roman tamer) and a Daiwa Sol 2500 loaded with 14lb FireLine and 38lb fluro leader.
After a good tussle, I finally managed to grab an awesome GT of around 4kg. The fish swam away strong and smart-guy Josh threw the next throw in exactly same spot, getting another jaw-dropping smash, and landing an impressive river roman. After that, the chases started in earnest; I had a number of on/offs in the dirty water on the sprat stick and then landed an awesome bigeye that really fought well. We landed a few more bigeyes on both sides of us before it went quiet. We lifted anchor and went bit further up – another little bay with small cliffs and good rock structure; the water was filthy but we threw anyway. Josh delivered on the MaxRap and I pitched a live tiger prawn on a float up against the cliff, and was immediately given a hiding of note. Shaking, I tackled up again and pitched another live prawn in the same spot – a huge swirl and the float was ripped under. I gave the fish big pressure and was lucky to land a big roman of 4kg.
We worked our way further up towards the bridge where the water was almost red, but still we landed perch and bigeye kingfish along the way – the Sorcerer in Gravy Train and Jelly Prawn colours really produced the goods. We just had to stop at the hot spots on the way back and were rewarded with five great bigeye kingfish and a springer that I landed on the Solitary Lives Glassy. Trawling back, we hooked another two great perch on the Sorcerer. Over 20 fish, with some really quality specimens – another red letter day in one of the many estuaries we have on our coastline – hope you are able to have your own.