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As we got to the back end of November, I was getting agitated; spring was well into summer and I was not making good use of the prime fishing season.

By Nick Pike

The river was beginning to clean up as a pushing tide started to push back the recent rainwater colour line. The wind had been westerly for a few days, the sea was warm and clean, and a good spring tide was rising to top out at sunset on a wind-still evening. I live five minutes away from East London's Gonubie River, so I loaded up my small canoe, grabbed my kit and raced for the river.

This was a Thursday evening after work and lighter-than-usual traffic meant that I had got home at a reasonable time. In recent years, nuisance home traffic has had some bad effects, but current roadworks should soon solve the problem. The river looked full of potential on a stable barometer, so I pumped some quick mud prawns and started drifting for spotted grunter. The afternoon shadows were long; the sky was soon to colour up when I saw the first leerie (garrick) chase up near the top of the Tidewaters picnic spot near where a creek enters the river. A beast of a fish chased a big mullet halfway across the river and ended, after long, boiling chaos, in the shallows on the Gonubie side bank. I was drifting the Kwelera-side bank and was pleased to consider the predators back in the river. When two gnarly fins passed me in the water about 15 minutes later, I thought there must be skipjack in the mix too.

I quickly took my sinker off my 5kg mono and rigged up with just a #3 swivel and a 92247 Mustad 1/0, with no leader, just 5kg all the way. I slid two medium-sized mud prawns up the line and put a third prawn on the hook, making a bait of about 9cm long. This is a successful trolling method I have used since about 1976, albeit with a slightly heavier trace because skippies are often known to snap you off. I paddled to keep my bait in about the top 30cm to 50cm of surface water. I then cast to the side of the canoe rather than behind, so that the bait travelled through water I had not yet paddled over or disturbed in any way. Similarly, if I see fish in an area, I usually paddle to the side of them rather than paddle over the shoal and spook them. I then vary course 90<GLYPH>° so that my bait passes through them on the diagonal.

I was pleased to see my FY86 composite graphite el cheapo 6/7-weight fly rod bend into a pick-up. I quickly picked up the rod and dropped the tip towards the bait, giving the fish that deadly bit of slack and time to take the bait properly. As the tension grew, I put in the strike. The river gave a boil and a heave about 45<GLYPH>° to my right and behind me as my fish took off, pushing a submarine wake as it went. Other fish scattered as the river seemed to turn into general mayhem. My soft rod buckled in and my Shimano 2500 Hyperloop drag began to sing a happy tune as the monster departed. The fish felt big from the word go and I waited for the trademark leap of a skipjack. My canoe pulled in circles and round and about as the fish seemed to gather more and more energy as the sun went down.

Finally, my monster turned to head for the river mouth about three to four kilometres downstream, towing me and my canoe as it went. Far too fast for a kob and no jump to be a skippy; I was sure I saw a leerie fin on one of the surface runs, but what kind of leerie eats mud prawn?

As time ticked on, the fish veered left and right, pulling me easily 750m downstream as it went. I use an improved clinch on all my knots. They are usually good knots, but I wondered how much time and tension they could take. Would my Mustad 1/0 wear a hole in the fish’s mouth and pop out on a roll? And how much abrasion could my 5kg mono take on that leerie sandpaper mouth before throwing in the towel? I use Okuma black/gold camo – I love the stuff, soft, light and no memory. The fish never see it coming but still, how much torture can good line take?

I was just so keen to get a picture of this fish but, as the fight drew on, I worried about my chances. I did not have a camera on me but if I got to the Tidewaters slipway, I knew somebody was bound to have a cellphone. Getting to the slipway, I thought my job was done, but the fish turned for yet another run with so much venom that I thought I was going to get spooled. I managed to ask my friend Martin Mc Gregor to fetch a camera before getting into my canoe to follow my fish again.

By the time I got back to the slipway, Martin was back with the camera and my fish still had plenty of fight. The sun was well down and darkness thoroughly set in. My landing net buckled and strained under the weight of my 90cm leerie, nicely hooked in the corner of the mouth. My landing net is quite adequate for the top end of my usual quarry, spotted grunter at about 3kg or 4kg. My leerie of more than 7kg had all my kit maxed out. Not a huge fish by sea standards, but a Goliath on light tackle. It was a special pleasure to get the picture, put the leerie back in and watch him swim away. Many of my spotted grunter do head for the frying pan, but this leerie was too special to keep. By all means, go and try to catch him if you wish – he is still out there somewhere. I suggest you use a live mullet or StrikePro, because a leerie on mud prawn is more than a little unusual. <ENDS>


If anybody has done this before, I would like to hear about it. Please mail me on nickpike@vodamail.co.za.<CLOSE BOX>