Another great Umzimkulu fishing story by Kiran Ramjiawan
Friday, 21st October, was the day we took the short journey with plenty of food, beer and a variety of bait. We booked in with our fantastic hosts Brian and Geraldine Lange, and met our friend Elvis, the always smiling river’and qualified barge skipper.
We quickly tackled up and headed down to the river, only to find that we had to wade through the water to get to the dock. The recent rainfall and the closed river mouth had risen the water to what seemed like two meters higher! We rigged up our light rods and threw Mydo Luck Shot Minis in all directions, creating chaos like only we can. We also had some fresh baits out adjacent to the reeds – sadly no takers.
By the afternoon, Ravie, a new recruit to our Umzimkulu Team, had arrived. With the river mouth closed we grabbed Elvis and his boat and headed down, docking near the third bay of the bridge. With a short wade through knee height water we were on the beach. Seaweed everywhere! I must have teared a little, but rigged up with 6/0 hooks anyway, and we sent Chokka/Red Eye Sardine belly combos flying into the ocean. After a while I reeled out the untouched bait, along with plenty seaweed, renewed and attempted to send it back in, but this time I casted an overwind on the Torium. I was furious with myself, but that’s the fishing life.
Before long Ravie was on with a decent fish. He made short work of it and out came a beautiful 5kg Kob. It swallowed the hooks so we kept him for a good meal. With a renewed bait back in the water and a few minutes of waiting, line started peeling off the Diawa Saltist BG50 at the rate of knots. This was war with a shark, but homeland won this time with the main line sheering under the extreme pressure against seaweed. We were lucky to have even hooked a shark without a cable trace anyway.
It was dark and deserted so we decided to get back to ‘headquarters’ but Elvis probably wanted us to get some exercise – the boat was stuck in sand and he instructed us to jump in the water and push it free. It took the wind out of us!
The next morning, we borrowed Sean’s cast net and threw for mullets right on the flooded river banks – we got four Salmon-bait-size ones. We kept them alive by a make-shift live bait well which we tied to the banks, keeping them for the perfect afternoon tide. After breakfast we were aboard the boat, armed with live Cracker Prawns from the Durban Harbour. It was slow and we got nothing except a tiny Kob (maybe the excessive rain water had something to do with it?). Lush released his baby Kob full of life, and Brian took us on a cruise. I could not miss the opportunity to trawl lures, so Lush and I rigged up and we took off.
I had the first strong bump on the Assassin Amia near Spillers. The Kob smashed my Luck Shot Mini but released himself a few seconds later. It was not to be my greatest fishing weekend! We caught a glimpse of gushing water flowing out of the now dredged river mouth, rapidly decreasing the water levels back to normal. On the return trip Lush’s SS spoon got smashed by a shoal sized Kob, and it was almost on the boat when it shook the hook free. What was going on this weekend???
We returned to the Marina, only to find just one of our captured live baits still alive. The water levels decreased so fast that we didn’t get back in time and the live bait well was out of the water! I ask again, what was going on with us this weekend??? At least the next best thing to live bait is a super-fresh dead mullet.
A quick dash to Lucky’s tackle in town for some shopping and back on the boat again, it was just a few of us on a boat trip. Spady, one of the resident fishing dogs, was with us standing at front waiting for mullet to jump into the boat, when all-of-a-sardine, a mullet jumped right in front of his nose and he leaped forward to catch it, falling into the water and under the boat. By the time we realised what had happened and switched the engines off, he was already about 30 meters behind us. He just took a cool swim back to the boat as if nothing major happened. The heart attacks we all had though! Fishing remained slow all afternoon through.
Sunday was our last shot at it. Ravie and I were the only ones awake so the two of us drove to Umtetweni beach for some light tackle rock fishing. We had immense fun with catch-and-release feisty blacktails in the rainy weather. We started to head back for breakfast when one the locals had a good take on the surf. He battled the Garrick left and right, and we saw this pretty nice specimen come out of the water wow! Oh wait, that was actually a bus Shad!!! I have never seen a shad that big in my life.
After breakfast the rest of the boys joined us on a trip to Oslo beach, where the water was brilliant. We were sure of fish here. Don rigged up his light tackle with Cracker Prawns and out came a baby Lesser Shark. Second throw and on with a Toby! Ravie slid a 35cm frozen mullet on cable for a shark and I sent out a fresh chokka for a Kob. We reeled out our baits intact after a while.
As luck would have it, while packing up to go back home we see chases and splashes all over in the river – the game fish had returned. We left them to get strong enough to fight us on our next trip to the beautiful and serene Umzimkulu River Marina.
In fact it was 5.7 a few weeks before Praveen Ghordan was almost lynched by the mob.
And it ain’t gonna change anytime soon, except for the metical worsening as our two governments vie for the title of worst performing currencies on the entire modern world, against the ever climbing US dollar.
Firstly, Praveen is back in, so the Rand looks to stabilise.
Secondly, and most importantly, the subterfuge deals thrown together by the Russians and the French for Mozambique, er Frelimo, to squander (read steal) BILLIONS, will never really be undone. There will always be a dark shadow over the metical thrown by these giants who slay small vulnerable countries like Mozambique, for breakfast.
So a bleak outlook for a bunch of innocent people here in Mozambique. Whilst Gubueza, the architect of the mess he left conveniently in time for Nyuse to wallow in, heads up corporates now, without batting en eyelid in recognition of what he has done to the people of Mozambique.
Prices have started to rise – but how can the people afford them? Electricity was hiked 20% lately. But for now, prices are staying the same. A 2M still costs 60 Mets in the market, even 50 in some shops. That’s uh, R10!
The two countries, the two beautiful and once prosperous countries, have gone to the dogs. Well, the ruling parties, at least. Who have pissed on every lamp post.
But without wondering if it was our fault for giving it all away to the multitudes – led once by the leader of all time, our Mandela, but now by errant puppies – just go on holiday and milk the situation for while it lasts.
Or before the Metical is replaced by the Yen, and the Rand by the Dollar.
Our current weather scenario prompted a rewrite of an old favourite yarn. It was first published in 1992.
“It had been a long day, way back in 1992, and we had not caught too much. Stubbornly we anchored off Boboyi, in the 26 metre area, to see if we could find a daga salmon or a geelbek. And we had to wait a bit longer for some water to come into the bay. On board were the three of us Langes, Dad, Marc and myself. And guest that day, and many other days those days, was Brian Davey – the inventor of the MYDO. Having been fishing hard all day, I was over it. But I also sensed something else going on around us. The atmosphere was electric. The sky around us was brown. The sea unruly. Looking to the south I could see no problem. Weather from the south is what normally catches us out. I went up and over to the bow, ready to pull the anchor, when it was time. I was calling it, suggesting more than once we go. Marc is a bottomfishing loon like my Dad, and Brian Davey has also been known to raid the odd reef. Not I. So the three of them upped and downed until finally the tide gave reprieve and my Dad called “lines up”. Weighing our anchor on the big old Niteshift wasn’t always smooth sailing, but this day we managed to drag it free with only one circle. I was pulling and Marc was packing the rope fast as we could go. I looked up. And I saw it. A plume of spray and water was being blasted right out of the Umzimkulu River mouth and a kilometre out to sea in front of us. Windsurfers, umbrellas and deck chairs cartwheeled through the sky. Towels and things were flying past. It was as if a giant fire hose was sticking out into the ocean. Instantly the skies went black. A raging wind blew from every direction. Lightning struck the water all around us. The thunder and the wind combined in a crescendo above which we could not talk – only scream. Rain drops stung at every part of us. My Dad put my diving goggles on. We flattened all out graphite composite rods on the deck. And Brian Davey. And everything else. Anything else was thrown into the cabin or it blew away. We could only move along at about 4 or 5 knots, and we could not see anything at all. It was like being caught in a dark forest, we never knew which way was land – even the compass was spinning wildly. We hammered on hoping for northwards, the sea was not big but it was violent. Hard to hold on. We radioed Pan Pan warnings over and over – to warn the other guys who operate south, from out of Shelley Beach. And then it was gone. In an instant, this monster just upped and left. But headed straight to Shelley Beach where boats were still on Protea and many waiting on the backline to get in. It hit them full force with winds at Force 7. Mowed them down. And then kept going. Building momentum and now officially a “cut off low”, the storm raged through the Transkei, seriously damaging and/or sinking 6 ships, some on anchor, on it’s way to into Cape Town, where it turned the corner and traveled north, terrorising as far up as Lamberts Bay, until it petred out.”
And yes, the storm lambasting Cape Town now and the rest of the coast since it’s inception on Sunday/Monday, is a type 1A Cut Off Low storm. Rare in that they are somehow tied to the el Nino phenomenon, and appear every 5 to 7 years. On the south coast I have endured three of these absolutely crazy storms. Fortunately I missed a few. Including this one – I am in Tofinho, Mozambique today. Where the weather is a bit untoward, the wind swinging slowly from north east to southerly onshore. We shall keep you posted as to what the effects have been up this side, of our awesome July 2016 cut off low.
Gallery and video by Jay Steenkamp
Cut off low conditions over Port Shepstone
Yip, thats foam coming right over the carpark area at The Block
Now that the bite has slowed down here on the lower south coast of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa – could this be the final word on this years huge king mackerel run?
Well this fish could be. The fish of the season so far too…taken off Umkomaas on a ski! Weighed in between 45 and a possible 55kg’s.
This King Mackerel first weighed 50.2kg’s, but on a subsequent weighing, only came in at 45 or so. Goes to show. With fish shedding as much as 10% of their weight lying in the boat, this fish could have been actually safely over 50kg’s.
It was also one of the very last fish recorded so far. At the Port Edward deep-sea competition, not even one couta was weighed in. The competition was won with a 30kg yellowfin tuna. Bonito and bait was everywhere – but unbelievably, not even one king mackerel.
As the season nears the end – about late July-ish, the chances of more of these amazing class of fish being caught bigger than the one featured, are very slim. They have disappeared from down here.
But, as we have been taught as of late, that anything can happen?! Who would have guessed in a million years that these huge fish would come and hang out here off Port Shepstone and Port Edward, season after season like this. I mean, yes, we have caught 30kg+ fish before, but only after 30 years of trying!
It took me 30 years of fishing to finally catch a fish like this…off Hibberdene quite a few years back.
Many theories are being offered up.
One is by the resourceful and acclaimed scientist Pat Garrat, whom I saw in the early 1990’s, release his paper on “The end of a species”. He was citing research and contemporary situations at that time, pertaining to the slinger and the red steenbras. The two species had been studied by Pat and his associates, and observation with major impact were being made.
Polla Fourie, a commercial fisher at the same symposium, had been lobbying to have the restriction on red steenbras lifted or eased, as he was catching such good fish. Pat Garrat was opposing this claim and request, with research done with isolated slinger populations, on the north coast. As a population was depleted, the mean size increased.
Pat was citing lions and elephants and all manners of animals under threat. The last lion is the biggest and most wily. The last elephant. The last shark. As the less experienced and perhaps slower shoal sized fish are removed, the bigger ones get bigger. Survival of the fittest. And the biggest.
The other theory I have heard lately, is that perhaps these big fish have decided to just live in this area, what with all the bait and up coming sardine run to keep them interested. Some of these fish were taken in August, way down into the Transkei.
Craig Pretorious down in Port Edward, was chatting to some ORI staff who speculate that maybe these big fish come here to be put out to pasture? Like a couta old age home?
The photo does not do the fish of this size any justice at all. Although it does look like angler Roger Davidson could stick his entire head into that fish’s mouth! This fish went 47kg’s gutted! Last year, on a jet ski, off Hibberdene.
These fish were survivors through all the nets, lines and traps set for them over the last twenty to thirty years, as they traverse the Indian Ocean, growing at about 2kgs per year. They must have all hatched together, perhaps on the south coast (couta spawn way up in the tropics and their fry is brought on down to us. Then it heads it’s way back into the tropics. Couta are very seldom found in water below 23 degrees. Although they are recorded as in the past being prevalent in False Bay, Cape Town, where they were known as Katonkel. Mossell Bay officially recorded couta catches back in the days – it makes sense that as the overall population shrinks, the outer perimeters of it’s roaming waters are shrivelling).
But King Mackerel, in order to spawn, aggregate in specific areas to facilitate this. And so perhaps, the south coast over the last few years, has been a great place for spawning for these mature fish. The water hasn’t been that polluted or brown around here for quite some time through the drought of the last few years, almost a decade now. Loads of baitfish including sardines.
Fish behavior after spawning is dictated to by the energy spent during the spawn. Couta have to chow down and fast. And this is is when and where those chance encounters between recreational anglers and spawning sessions happen.
Fish are known to choose their spawning time over seasons to coincide with lunar movement and activity. So much so, that in Belize, when the snapper proffer their clouds of caviar, the whale sharks know exactly when to be there to take their(lions) share of the hopeful offspring.
So it’s that moon after all!
Starting with some etymology, we have some latin humour. Scomberomorus comes roundabouts from the Latin word, scomber = mackerel + Greek, moros = silly, stupid (Ref. 45335).
So, the silly mackeral then?!
In South Africa: king mackerel, couta, cuda, but throughout their distribution…
India: konem in Telugu, vanjaram in Tamil, anjal in Tulu
Iran: shir mahi
Indonesia: ikan tenggiri
Sri Lanka: Thora
Thailand: pl? xinthr?
So it is well established that king mackerel grow at about 2kgs per year. Maturing sexually in 3 years or so. Although a 14-year-old fish can weigh up to 35kg’s – there seem to be many variables affecting these statistics, including different populations of the same species. Interestingly, during tagging to establish this integer, researchers got hold of a live 178cm fish (Northern Oz)!
Research in Queensland Oz, reveals that their fish seldom travel more than 100 kilometres, but fish on the other side of the sub-continent, travel 1000’s of kilometres. We know our fish disappear entirely from August through November. It was always a great achievement down on the coast, to get the first couta of the season. I remember getting one off Umtentweni on the 16th November one year in the early nineties. But since then it has become gradually more and more rare to even get a couta in December.
So we know our fish head back up into the tropics – but where? My last ten years up in Mozambique never saw a fish over 20kg’s. The only crocodile couta I know of being caught anywhere, is on the KZN Coast and into the Transkei. So how far up do they travel? These fish are 15 to 20 years old or more. How have they avoided all the traps set for them? Maybe they head up to Mozambique and across the channel to Madagascar? Or to the attolls and deep underwater mountains? These fish have to eat a lot to keep going. They need steady supplies of ribbonfish, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, bonito etc…maybe they just go up towards Sodwana and Kosi area and hang out there. That area is also known to have produced some really big couta before. (And lately)
As we move northwards, along the African coastline, the couta are mercilessly targeted for their great eating and protein producing flesh. Known as Sierra in Mozambique, endless flotillas of two man row boats and one man kayaks, target sierra all day every day. Right up and down the coastline. These subsistence fishermen have become great anglers, often bringing back marlin and sailfish with them, but very rarely, big couta.
Turning left into the Red Sea, a favourite haunt for juvenile couta, where again they are targeted commercially, some managed to find their way through the Suez Canal, and into the Meditaranean.
They colonized the eastern Med where they found endless supplied of cutlass fish (our walla walla), and very few if any predators.
Check this video of the size fish they catch in the ideal nursery conditions of Hurghada in the Red Sea off Eastern Egypt.
Lucky Egyptians also catch couta on the northen Egyptian coastline, as do the Israeli sportfishing contingent. Unfortunately, many, many fish catching and processing and exporting business’ operate in this area. Taking boatloads of fish out every year. But the couta seem to have adapted well and have been breeding and growing very successfully.
David Kosta and his mates have been successfully bringing home trophy sized king mackerel…in the Med.
Scomberomerous Commersoni – ‘couta, king mackeral, tanguiguie, spanish, narrow barred…but this one was caught in the Med!
Click here for the full story of David Kosta and his successes using deep swimming MYDO Baitswimmers for huge Amberjack and Couta.
So this population seems to be alive and well and sort of cut off to the rest by the Suez Canal. Interesting situation. Hope these colonists can hold onto power! But at what expense to the residents of the Med. Having a huge aggressive predatory fish come along into a peaceful neighbourhood can have disastrous results. Check out what the Nile Perch did to clean old Lake Victoria. They ate all the chiclids and other nice fishies, leaving plankton like creatures to bloom and discolour the waters as they have.
Ok, but moving on and passing by India, the couta is again an important source of protein and therefore valuable enough to be chase to the horizons by dozens of commercial operations. South East Asia is about the mid point of the couta’s distribution around the Indian Ocean coastlines. They are hammered here too. It’s only when the fish get past Indonesia and trickle on down both east and western coasltlines of Australia, do they find any real respite or protection.
They are also found swimming as far north as China and Japan. Highly sought after table fish.
The waters couta patrol are from near the edge of continental shelf to shallower waters. 5 To 25 metres. Drop-offs, shallow or gently sloping reef and lagoon waters are the right places to hunt for them. Solitary hunters they swim in shallow water along coastal reefs, bays, and around headlands. They undertake lengthy migrations up and down certain coastlines, but permanent resident populations also exist. Up until they are about 5 to 8kgs, they swim and migrate in shoals.
Couta feed primarily on small fishes like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, bonito and squids.
Eggs and larvae are pelagic. Couta spawn around reefs, in ideal warm water conditions. Eggs have an oil droplet that keeps them at the surface. The oxygen and abundant plankton nourish them. The larvae develop and move towards estuarine and calmer waters. You can see baby couta circling Paradise Island in the Bazaruto Archipelego and are caught in the nets deployed off Inhassoro and Vilancoulos, daily and throughout the year.
Female Couta become sexually mature at about two and a half years of age or around 80 cm.
“Depending on temperature regime, the spawning season may be more or less extended. In Australian waters, each female spawns several times over the season, about 2 to 6 days apart (Ref. 30196), depending on the locality. Spanish mackerel spawn off the reef slopes and edges, and they form spawning aggregations in specific areas.” – From http://www.fish.wa.gov.au/Species/Spanish-Mackerel/Pages/default.aspx
Scomberomerous Coomersoni growth rate…
Now imagine the weight of a 178cm fish!
Ok, so what isit that brings this run of huge king mackerel about?
It could have been a spawning aggregation of fish that survived all these years together. 15 to 20 Years! And given that they spawn over 6 days or so, and then go on a feeding frenzy to replenish stores of energy, they come on the bite like crazy, every week or so, when they are about.
It’s that moon to blame again then, or is it?
According to Tides4Fishing.com, the time when Marc Lange and Koos Viviers caught these fish – nine in one day – high activity was forecast – albeit an hour or two after Marc and Koos got into the fish. It was the 19th May 2016.
Marc Lange and Koos Viviers fish together a lot and have had an amazing run the past few years. Here is Marc with another crocodile couta, this one 32kgs at the scale.
Marc again, another 30kg fish caught on a MYDO Livebaitswimmer Couta Trace
Koos Viviers has had long relationship with big couta on the KZN South Coast
Koos Viviers on fire! Live baitswimmer trace #2
2016: a Huge couta by Marc Lange – 35kg’s, one of three over 30kg’s Marc got this super fishing day
The Almanac type predictions were similar all week that week, they all predicted higher than average fish activity, early to mid morning. The day before however, Marc and Brian Lange, had spent the afternoon and into the evening, til midnight, fishing the exact same spot for couta, with livebait, and caught nothing. Not a strike. Then Marc relaunched in the morning – keen bugger he is, and got into these 9 fish. At the end of the day, just as the tide was dictating for them to get back into the Umzimkulu mouth, a huge couta came screaming in at Marc’s last live shad. His instinct, after loading nine fish, was to pull the shad out of harms way. They packed up and went home. It took 3 hours to hook and load all the fish. They never lost one – nine strikes, nine fish.
A few days later…Mark Snyman, William Robertson and Lance Dunn came in with this catch…on the 28 May 2016. One week later. 10 Nautical miles due south of Marc and Koos’s catch.
Food for thought…
Two at a time!
King Mackerel – 8 of, plus a hefty GT
The Tides4Fishing Almaniacal prediction was for very high fishing activity but very early that morning. So far so good, two out of two predictions were bang on.
If those fish spawned just before the good fishing that was experienced, – then we can learn when to fish for these crocodile couta. When the moon is directly overhead, or underfoot – those are meant to be the right times.
Where do they simply disappear to? Where do they come from?
These outsized King Mackerel were caught on the 4 May 2014. Way down south and even beyond Port Edward.
Louis Posthumous, his son Shawn and Neil Allchin caught these fish when the Almanac said fishing would be good early that morning.
And in a final twist, and a possible clue – Ettienne Thiebauts paddling off Cape Vidal, hauled in a confirmed 46 kg king mackerel, on Friday 17 June 2016.
46kg king mackerel at Cape Vidal by Etienne Thiebauts
The fishing was forecast good for around 10 am in the morning, kak through the day, and one more hit of chance at 3pm in the afternoon.
One thing is for sure, we will be eagerly awaiting this run again next year.
Now, let’s see who will be the first to tag and release one of these majestic fish?!
References and acknowledgements:
McPherson, G.R., 1992. Age and growth of the narrow-barred Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus commerson Lacepède, 1800) in north-eastern Queensland waters. Aust. J. Mar. Freshwat. Res. 43(5):1269-1282.
The Sardine is coming to you this week, right from the epi-centre of Johannesburg. Hillbrow to be exact! I am here with my mate Jonny, who thought I might like the experience. He and his talented team are building and installing gym sets, for the community here. The gym sets are really cool. Robust. Neat. Mounted on a cool multi-colored carpet made from recycled tyres. Makes me want to exercise just looking at the outfit. But here’s the thing. There are more satellite dishes in Hillbrow, than on the whole of the south coast?! Every flat around us, has a dish. And some roofs are completely covered with the white mushrooms producing silver screen action. “Jonny. How you gonna get these peeps off the couch man?” Right off the park where we are stationed for the morning, is a long queue of soup kitchen hopefuls. They have been waiting – the queue growing longer, for two hours now. Patiently enough. They were interested enough. Across the street is the corner. That corner. Strange acting fellows dressed to the nines and full of mannerisms straight out of 2-Pac’s biography. Not too much business for them yet – it is 11am only. But it is a Friday – and somebody got to pay for them DSTV channels! But they too, were having a gander. Semi-interest. “Hmmm, I seen that on TV”. Then there are some even stranger ones cruising the street – arguing with fairies – as Jonny puts it. He says to me, “Just wait ’til the sun comes over, that’s when things really hot up! Yesterday the cops were here twice.” Ok, they not gonna be takers. The sun has now come out… A 30 something white lady, someone you could easily meet at the supermarket, has come out into the sun, and is injecting a clear liquid from a plastic container. Broad daylight. Her friends are all of color, she is the only other beige person here besides me and Jonny – normal to me. Three 2-Pac types are eagerly smoking a white pipe of sorts now. They have taken crazy lady’s spot right in front of me. I am in a car behind a modern fence luckily. The cops have made a few drive-bys. More chatty and friendly with the neighbourhood, than police. A security guard, guarding what, I can’t see, ambled over and asked for something?! A sweet? He accepted so I opened him up to see what is inside. R1800 salary. 12 hour shifts. I asked about his boss. He smiles and says, “Beeeg money”. I try to explain that he is the victim of corruption. He smiles and says “Nooooo.” Shaking his head. I closed the conversation. There is a lot more traffic. I am trying to type with the laptop on the floor in the footwell ha ha. But gangy looking types are assembling from all over. Hillbrow. This don’t look the place for kids, and there were none. But the gyms are going to be rolled out in more and more places, all over the country. So we did our work, I wrote this story, and we loaded up and rolled out. Onlookers all over. We turned down towards the highway system, and as we took a corner the reality all set in. An obviously foreign kid, a refugee, was sitting in his makeshift bed just off the pavement, and was simply, crying. Egoli.