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Chad Alcock perfects the art of catching grunter on lures

The craze of catching grunter on artificial all started some 25 years ago. My dad, being one of the pioneers of lure fishing, would always try to come up with new techniques, and tweak old ones to suit his local conditions.

I remember those days; there were only a handful of keen lure fishermen, and most of the bait anglers would laugh at us spinning with lures. But lure fishermen sure proved them wrong! I can still remember the first time grunter came out consistently on fly – the grunts were all between 3.5kg and 4kg, and were caught between the Swannell brothers and my dad at Modderspruit at the Swartkops. When the photos were seen, it created a buzz second to none, and the era of catching grunter on artificial had begun.

We actually went out to target grunter on fly, and our success was incredible. And while fishing for grunter one day, Doug Swannell hooked and landed a 77lb kob on a 7-weight Composite Development fly rod. I don’t think this catch will ever be bettered from the bank, and this fish was also caught in Modderspruit on a Mud Charlie.

By now, grunter mania was in full swing, and we tried all sorts of new techniques. I remember the day my dad, Lando and I went to the brickfields to target grunter, on a high outgoing tide, with Mirror Lure with a dropper fly behind it. Now this is a surface lure, so we weren’t certain we would get any strikes on it, and that’s why we had the dropper fly, just to make sure.

When a grunter tails, it blows into the prawn hole for prawns. Often a prawn will come to the surface, lie still, then do two or three flicks with its tail, then lie still again, hoping the grunter won’t see it escaping. There was doubt in our minds whether our plan would work, so that’s why we experimented with a surface lure, to mimic the prawn.

This was my dad’s idea; he always tried something new. And on his third cast, he hooked and landed a small grunter on his dropper fly. We couldn’t believe it – we could now catch grunter on spinning gear.

Soon I was into a nice grunter of about 2kg myself, which I landed, also on the dropper fly. We had all landed another few fish when Lando thought he was getting grunter swirls on his red head Mirror Lure. Nobody had ever seen a grunter eat a lure from the surface.

Lando then took his fly off so that the Mirror Lure would lie flat in the water and more easily mimic a prawn bobbing on the surface. A couple of casts later and there was a swirl; Lando let it lie and tweaked it twice. A smash at the Mirror Lure, and there was a lovely grunter. We were beside ourselves. Grunter on surface lure – fantastic! We took our flies off and landed another couple before going home.

The next day, Lando went alone to the brickfields and, believe it or not, landed 24 grunter that day.

Now, enough of the past and into the present, with some tales of grunter on surface lure. Again we are at the Swartkops River – at Skulpies, opposite Modderspruit. It’s perfect conditions – a bit overcast, a light easterly breeze for a little chop, outgoing tide and a steady barometer: all of the elements needed for good topwater grunter fishing. Our friend Pancho, Lando and I look for telltale grunter signs; I see some good fish tailing to our left and we move towards them.

There are tailing and blowing fish all over. A blowing fish is just one that is in deeper water and the tail doesn’t come out of the water, so it makes a big mud patch where it blows. When you see this, it’s probably the easiest way to target grunter. I throw towards a blowing grunter, let my Mirror Lure lie, then tweak, lie, tweak – and a grunter smashes my lure. I miss him, cast towards a tailing fish, and another grunter smashes my lure.

I’m very consistent at getting the fish to rise, but no solid hook-ups. I call Lando, who throws in exactly the same spot, using the same lure, and in no time he’s hooked a nice grunter. Then Pancho is there as well.

I’m now breaking records for the most chases and no solid hook-ups. Lando, fishing next to me, is having no problems at all – very frustrating, but at least I’m taking nice photos! I then change my Mirror Lure to our new lure, the Grunter Hunter. It has an orange head with a white body, so you can see it very easily. I’m hoping the grunter can too.

My first throw is for a tailing grunter; I land the lure about 10m over the top of the fish so I won’t spook him. I tweak the lure closer to him and really expect just a chase, as that is how my afternoon has been going. Lo and behold, I get another swirl, so I let it lie still again, and tweak it very softly this time. Unbelievably, my lure gets sucked under and I’m in. The grunter pulls hard and I land a nice little one of just over 1kg.

I feel much better now, as I have one under my belt (the others have plenty). The tide is just about perfect now and, with the overcast conditions, we know we’re really going to find the fish. So we all move downriver a little to a new school of tailing fish. Lando and Pancho cast to two blow holes and are immediately rewarded with a small grunter each. I throw into the deeper water and get smashed by a huge grunter, but miss it again.

I tell Lando to throw about 40m in front of me. He’s been on fire all day, so I’m hoping he’ll hook this one. He throws and tweaks, lets his lure lie, tweaks and lets his lure lie – but very slowly bringing it out of the deeper water into the shallower water. The water appears smooth underneath the lure (a telltale sign of a fish).

A huge grunter smashes into his lure and – hooked! It has a run off about 20m and fights doggedly from left to right. He gets the fish near to the shallows and, after a couple of minutes of fighting, we see the spots. What a beautiful sight to see a massive spotty with a surface lure in it’s mouth.

He plays it gingerly for another minute or two, then slides it onto the mud bank. It’s a beautiful fish of 84cm. We are all ecstatic, because this is a huge grunter off surface lure and we’ve seen many other big fish tailing in the area. After a quick photo, we release it and start fishing again.

On Pancho’s second cast he gets a massive hit – these big grunter hit like an aggressive skippie off the surface, so it’s very exciting fishing. The trick to this is: don’t strike if the fish has not pulled you down! Pancho lets his lure lie and, on his first tweak, the grunter latches on and he’s into another beautiful fish. After a lovely fight, he lands a fish of about 4kg. This is turning out to be a great fishing afternoon.

I see a fish tailing in the shallows and cast towards it. I retrieve the Grunter Hunter to where the tailing fish was, and the fish immediately latches onto the lure. Finally, my day is improving, as I land my second fish of about 2kg. I have another throw at a blowing fish and as soon as I’m in the strike zone, I land another little grunter of about 500g. Pancho, Lando and I are in spotty heaven, and for the next hour-and-a-half, it’s just like the old days, except the fish seem thicker. We pack up and decide to have a braai that night, to talk about the fishing delights of the day.

If you’d like to catch a grunter off surface lure, the best way to do this is to fish on an overcast day, with a light breeze blowing. We find the outgoing tide the best on a medium to strong spring tide, and, most importantly, the lure must have a rattle and it must float horizontally on the surface of the water, so as to mimic a prawn perfectly. The retrieve is ultra-slow; this is where most people are going wrong. We find fishing in 0.5m to 1.5m of water best, and we always try to look for tailing fish, or, in the deeper water where we can see the mud being blown up by the grunter.

Many think it’s just the Swartkops that is so good for grunter, but, in fact, you’re able to catch grunter on surface lure in almost all of the Eastern Cape rivers. Getting your first grunter on surface lure is incredibly rewarding, and it becomes addictive.