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Memories made, lessons learned

After enviously reading countless articles and reports of people returning from Mazeppa, I knew some serious planning and organising was ahead. The accommodation was booked and some anglers gathered, even though the trip was nine months away. By Dirk Hertzog

FINALLY, AFTER WHAT FELT like the longest year in history, November had arrived. There were still a lot of details to
be finalised, but the excitement was already far above normal.

We hit the road on the morning of the 22nd and arrived just after 2pm that afternoon, along with the team from Gauteng. The road was good – except for the last 47km. It took us about two hours to get through with all the potholes and Transkei robots (donkeys, cows and chickens) that had to be avoided.

When we got there, the eight of us began unpacking and exploring the surroundings. (The three members from Mossel Bay only managed to join us on Sunday.)

We tried to wet a line that afternoon in what we knew was actually an unfishable wind. But you know what happens when you get to the water after being stuck inland for a few months.

The next morning, Wessel Wessels realised that he had some type of a stomach virus that had drained all his energy. Little did he know that the virus would keep him in bed for three days – not a nice surprise to have come 800km just to stay in bed.

The rest of the group met up with our guide at 5am. Zola Zwelindoa is the best guide that money can buy – he knows the place better than anyone else and fishes better than any pro you know.

The left-hand side of the island was our first target and needless to say, it was not long before everyone had a line in the water. Half an hour passed and then, just as we decided to move to Shark Point to get out of the wind, something picked up Curt Dusse's chokka. Hopes and spirits flew high for the days ahead after we tagged and released a decent 19kg hammer. We moved to Shark Point to be greeted by the calmest, flattest seas you can ever imagine for a windy day.

All the lines went in again and, once more, 30 minutes had barely passed when we heard, ‘Vas’. This time the call came from Dewald van der Merwe. With it being only his second saltwater fishing trip, neither he nor any of the other guys could believe his luck.

After a good fight, the swells lifted Dewald’s male raggie onto the rocks in front of Shark Point. Ecstatic about his catch, Dewald went and sat behind the fish while the measurements, photos, and tagging were done – but Mother Nature had other plans. From a sea that had looked like a pond a few moments before, a big wave came and took Dewald and the raggie into the gully on the left-hand side. By this time, everyone was in a shock and had no idea what to do. We wanted to help, but could think of absolutely nothing to do. We saw the waves push him under for extended periods of time and panic began to set in.

As luck would have it, as a professional diver, he knew what to do in such a situation. He quickly got rid of his rock boots, bucket and everything else in his pockets (including his cellphone and keys), so that he could swim out to sea. Meanwhile, some of us landed his fish again, this time in the gully where it would be safer. Bruised and exhausted, Dewald swam back to the rocks where Zola pulled him out to safety. We were all relieved to see him out of danger, but we had to beg him to come and sit for a picture with his first non-edible ever – a male raggie of 118kg. Shortly after that, we retreated for brunch and some rest.

Unfortunately, Saturday afternoon produced no fish, but on Sunday morning we woke up at 3am to try for a kob on paddletail. One guy next to us got a 3kg kob, so we persisted. My paddletail got stuck just as the first light began to break. I broke off and switched to a 3oz plug for garrick, but as it was still a bit early, I took a little break. A few minutes later, Zola suggested that I should start working the plug. On my fifth cast, I felt a bump. It was still too dark to follow the plug with my eyes, so I thought it was just the plug hitting a wave, but then I felt it again – I was on. I could hardly believe it; after spinning my arms off on a few trips, I finally managed to hook my first leerie on artificial. The fight took a good 10 to 15 minutes on my 11’ Aerocast, 4000 Laguna and 20lb Performance braid; I wouldn’t swop that fight for anything in the world. Zola helped me land the 86cm beauty and, needless to say, my head was in the clouds and my trip was already made.

We later moved to the tip of the island to fish for sharks, but the current there was unfishable, so we retreated. Some members of the group spent the morning at Shark Point, but nothing came out as the crabs completely destroyed any bait within 15 minutes.

The rest of the team joined us on Sunday afternoon just as the wind picked up again. We got our first sight of the Boiling Pots and I must say, this must be one of the best shark-fishing spots in the whole of South Africa. We only managed a few small kob, but the decision for the next morning was clear: Boiling Pots it would be.

Monday morning came and the wind was perfect for Boiling Pots, so we got there just after 5am. The first lines were out in just a few minutes. At one stage, I counted 13 rods in the water, so it was just a formality before something happened. My father (Pierre Hertzog’s) rod was first, but the fish dropped the bait and we got back a bonnie head full of bite marks, so  the next head went in. My brother got me live bait in the gully on the right, so I slid it out immediately with a couta clip as I had seen some garrick chases earlier.
Fifteen minutes had barely passed before I felt my rod go flat in my hands. The fish broke surface immediately and I knew that it was a leerie. I was disappointed to see that it was another hammer. We quickly landed, tagged, photographed and released him – a male hammer of 17kg. That was just the beginning of the day.

It wasn’t too soon after releasing my fish back in the water that Stuart Atkinson’s reel began singing like a canary. The fish quickly took him into his backing and swam toward the right. We started walking towards the beach. Thirty minutes later, Stuart had landed a lovely hammer of 36kg. We got back to the rocks to hear of another two hammers that were lost in an attempt to land them in the gully.

Next, it was my father’s line that went slack. Zola picked up the rod, tightened the line and put it back in the stand, thinking that the sinker had just come in a bit. My father got there and the line started peeling off slowly, so the 20/0 Eagle Claw was set. The fish came to the rocks very quickly, but my father gave him slack line, so he took off towards the deep again. Then the fish decided to just hang in the current for a while. A few minutes later, it eventually decided to swim right and we took the walk to the beach again.

Forty-five minutes into the fight, the fish came in fairly easily but took off like a steam train when it got a sniff of the crashing waves in the surf. Three hours later, I took the tail of a huge raggie but I was no match for it and it took off as if its life depended on it. It emptied the spool of the Sl50 to a point where the bottom of the spool could be seen. So the fight started all over again.

Eventually, after four hours and 54 minutes, we took the tail together – all six of us, this time making sure not to give it another chance to escape. This was an extremely long fight for a raggie, but Zola instructed us to keep it from the rocks on the right of the beach at all costs. Thus the fish had the advantage of his enormous body in the waves, as the fight was kept parallel to the beach – not the best way to land a shark. The first thing we noticed was the deep bite marks on the shark’s body. Thinking about it later, we came to the conclusion that a shark had followed it into the shallows and got hold of it there, causing it to take such a hard run after I touched it. When you see bite marks on a shark of more than 200kg, it makes you think. In the one fin we also found a tooth of what seemed to be a big grey. The raggy had previously been tagged, but it looked as if the other sharks had bitten the tag off, so we quickly retagged her, took our pictures and let her go. What a fish, weighing 214.24kg, according to FishWeights.

When we got back to the rocks, we heard that they had also landed a 55kg bronzie while we were on the beach. What an awesome session. That evening, only four of us decided to return and see if we couldn’t get another toothie or two. We quickly got our first two pickups, but we missed. Stuart then picked up another nice hammer that gave him a good walk in the park. We landed him in the gully, quickly tagged, photographed and released him – another nice fish to add to the day, weighing in just over 26kg. It was truly the best Monday any of us have ever had or probably will have for some time.

The next morning there was some rain, cold and wind. A few people went to the Gungu Channel, some to Shark Point and some to the Pots, but none of us had any success. Zola told us that that evening the garrick would be wild at Shark Point, so we went there, no questions asked. I started plugging and some time passed. Eventually, I was on with a decent Garrick, but I lost it.

When I looked around me, there were five other guys plugging as if it was the new in thing. We quickly had another few takes, but no fish came out. Hubart Jansen van Rensburg was plugging next to me and got his first hit on the plug, but it came off. Then on his next throw, he hooked and landed his very first garrick and best fish to date. The group was in high spirits, but none of the takes that followed could be converted to landed fish. Stuart, being the die-hard shark fisherman he is, landed a small hammer to end the quiet day.

Wednesday was our last day so, although being greeted with rain, we set out for Shark Point again as it would be a bit protected from the rain and light breeze. We went on plugging, hoping for one last fish for the trip. The whole morning only produced two takes, of which Dewald landed one. He must be one of the luckiest beginners I have ever met. We tried our luck one last time at the Pots that afternoon, but the rain quickly gathered us again at base camp.

It was definitely an unforgettable trip, with one or two very memorable catches. Mazeppa truly deserves its reputation of being the best angling destination in the country.