Tips and tricks for reef fish in KwaZulu-Natal
WORDS & PICS: DEAN PRETORIUS
I am often asked as to exactly what scratching is – I think it originates from competitive anglers who, when the going gets tough in competitions, scale down and fish for edibles, especially amongst the reefs.
Due to angling pressure, these scratching fish tend to be, in some areas, vulnerable to localised over-exploitation. It is imperative, then, to have all the tricks up your sleeve in order to get the bite. It is also important that anglers release a large number of these scratching fish, as most of them are really slow-growing. Correct handling and careful returning of the fish you intend releasing will also go a long way toward insuring sustainability.
RODS AND REELS
New Age grinders and braid are awesome for scratching, for light-tackle scratching in the gullies for stone bream and for bronze bream or galjoen. A 4500-size reel loaded with 20lb to 30lb braid and an ultra-light or light rod (2oz to 5oz/11ft to 12ft) is ideal – my personal choice is the Posiden HMG ultra-light spinning rod matched with a Daiwa Execeler Oceano 4500 loaded with 33lb Gator Braid 8 Weave; a short 30lb to 50lb fluorocarbon leader rounds off an outfit that can handle most scratching fish.
When scratching for bigger reef fish, or when I require a longer throw or heavier sinker, then I still stick to a grinder but up size a to 5500- or 6000-size reel loaded with 50lb braid and a 100lb braid leader. A light to medium-heavy (5oz to 7oz] rod is ample here – the lighter in weight one can go, the better as scratching is often done in the worst weather conditions.
My outfit of choice for heavier scratching would have to be the Daiwa Windcast 5500 with 48lb Gator Braid 8 Weave or Daiwa Tournament 48lb, matched with a Daiwa Saltiga 5500 spin rod (with slim grip).
TACKLE AND TRACES
Two-bait traces are great for scratching – as the angler is doubling his chances of getting a bite or – better still – getting a double-up when the shoal passes; it also allows the angler to multi-target different species with different offerings.
Recently, we have had great success using the so-called sweetiepie or helicopter rig, as used at the world games overseas. This trace really does increase bite rates, especially in a crowd – it seems to allow the bait far more free movement and doesn’t twist up in a strong wash.
Although this trace seems involved, it is quite simple to do. You will need:
1m of .50mm flurocarbon
2 No. 8 or No. 10 power swivels
4 small clear beads
20cm-piece of 0.40 flurocarbon, No. 6 Daiichi DH55 hook and a foam float for the top bait
25 cm-piece of 0.45 flurocarbon, No 8. Daiichi DH55 hook for the bottom bait
No. 5 power swivel for the trace
About 20 cm along the .50 fluro, make a 3-turn figure of eight, put on a bead, then a No. 8 swivel, another bead and then make another 3-turn figure of eight pulled up right against the top bead. Do the same for the bottom hook, about 65cm from the top hook. Attach the hook snood, hooks and foam float. At the bottom of the trace, add a piece of 20lb nylon with a figure-of-eight for the sinker. You can adjust the hook size and snood strength according to species or structure.
Another trick on this trace is to use a Korda trace splitter (a carp product); this increases the effectiveness of this trace.
SINGLE, BIGGER BAIT TRACES
For bigger reef species that require bigger bait and stronger traces, I still use a sweetiepie but beef up the main trace to 0.70 to 0.80, the power swivel to a No. 5 or No. 6 and the snood to 0.55 to 0.70. Hooks must be ultra-sharp and really strong – I use a 3/0 to 6/0 Gamakatsu Soi Ring.
Fishing this trace in conjunction with the dingle dangle or bait holder has really proved successful, especially for the rock cod and cave bass species.
MY FAVOURITE SCRATCHING SPECIES
Possibly the No. 1 scratching species in this area. The smaller double-hook trace is the best method to target this species – pink or red prawn, crayfish, rock crab, cracker shrimp and chokka blob baits are the best way to target this species. The small float really does increase the bite rate.
The bronze breeam is best targeted in late winter to spring; look out for working white water (little or no sand) and the presence of red or green weed on the rocks is a sure sign that bream may be in the vicinity.
Big warm seas are the best time to target these summer fish – an extremely finicky target species. Light traces, small hooks, light sinkers and neat small baits are the order of the day when targeting stone bream. Although prawn, sardine and other bait types will work, stone bream are best targeted with live cracker shrimp (sand prawn) – a single shrimp per hook with little or no cotton and the lightest possible sinker (1oz to 2oz). Fish close to shore in rough working water – these fish put up a good fight and can reach over 2.5kg in weight.
Rockcod (catface and yellowbelly)
Both these species are great scratching fish; fish in excess of 5kg of both species are taken from shore and are great sport, good points and good to eat.
The rockcod are not fussy feeders and will eat prawn, crayfish and chokka bait; personally, I have had more success on the flesh bait such as sardine, redeye and shad.
I have also had good success using the dingle dangle, especially with a big piece of floatation – I can only surmise that the foam lifts the bait off the reef and the free movement of the dingle dangle induces the bite. Remember to fish heavy abrasion-resistant snoods and a light sinker line, as these fish often dive for cover once hooked.
This is another reef dweller that is great to target especially after dark. As it name implies, this fish lives in the foulest of structure. Fish bait like redeye, mackerel and sardine work really well but best results seem to come from the chokka blob bait – fish it much bigger than for bronze bream. These fish are slow-growing, so remember to catch and release.
For those planning to scratch in Zululand or Mozambique, this is one species you need to target. Super-strong, this fish grows to a whopping 10kg; believe me, a fish of over 4kg takes some landing, especially in its rocky habitat. Broken reef and areas off the many ledges found in northern KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique are home to many of these fish that have responded well to the marine-protected areas. Although they will eat most bait types, the speckled snapper has a penchant for fishheads, especially a mackerel head, which is great for targeting the snapper, as it is relatively peckerproof. The bite from this fish can be quite something and, if not alert, you may be pulled off your feet. Strong hooks, a .080 snood (fluro, as the water is generally clean) and a good leader are essential if you wish to land one of these.
These are five of my favorite scratching species in KwaZulu-Natal; however, one of the joys of scratching in this area is that there are a multitude of species one can expect to catch.