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The uMzimkhulu – The Last Significant Free-flowing River in KZN

The uMzimkhulu – The Last Significant free-flowing river in South Africa

The uMzimkhulu – The Last Significant Free-flowing River in KZN

by Dr Anthony Turton

“Man oh man do we have a star guest writer on the website now! Introducing Professor Turton!” – Professor at University of the Freestate, Environmental Advisor, Speaker, Author. Nick Steele Memorial Award (South African Environmentalist of the Year) 2010 Green Globe Award (Environmental Activist of the Year) 2012 WESSA Award (Lifetime Conservation Achiever) 2016” – Xona (click this link to visit and follow Professor Turton on FB).

Enjoy the trip with Professor Turton as he talks us all the way from the Indian Ocean to the Lesotho Highlands.

The uMzimkhulu – Last Significant Free-flowing River in KZN, South Africa. Join Prof. Turton with his keynote address as delivered to the International Congress of Zoology (ICZ)


The 20th Century was one of rapid industrialization on a global scale. This has seen the large-scale destruction of habitat on almost all continents. One of the key elements of that habitat loss has been the alteration of streamflow by damming rivers. If the 20th Century can be considered the era of industrialization, then the 21st Century might be regarded as the era of industrial consequences, including the loss of biodiversity and unabated climate change. Free-flowing rivers are now a rare occurrence, whereas a century ago, they were a dominant feature linking the terrestrial habitat with the oceans. This paper will examine the implications of the loss of free-flowing rivers in the context of biodiversity, by presenting the case of the uMzimkhulu River in the KwaZulu Natal Province of South Africa.

The 20th Century of Dams

The Industrial Revolution began in England, where the value of energy as an economic enabler was refined to the point of sophistication where it literally changed the face of the planet. The co-evolution of hominids and energy dates to the control of fire, which enabled intelligent life to flourish in otherwise inhospitable environments. This evolutionary trajectory was merely accelerated when the energy of water and wind was harnessed to power machinery. Water wheels and windmills became a distinct feature of the early industrialization phase, which saw the proliferation of factories along rivers. This merely consolidated the existing reality that most cities were located on a river, a factor that predates the Industrial Revolution.

It is not a coincidence that the natural streamflow in areas that hosted early industrialization was generally reliable and reasonably predictable. We, therefore, saw the emergence of factories, typically powered by flowing water, along rivers in temperate climates. When engineers began to explore the possibility of flashing water to steam, by burning coal, the trajectory of industrialization changed dramatically, because this meant that manufacturing centres could be built away from the immediate vicinity of the river. This saw the growth of industrial cities, a factor first enabled by the Romans when they engineered aqueducts to enable the permanent settlement of urban areas.

It can be argued that the Roman discovery of concrete, created a fundamental building block of modernity because this technology-enabled water to be diverted from rivers. This saw the first dense settlement of people, which in turn enabled the stratification of society into specialized cohorts. This specialization became the foundation of commerce and trade, which in turn enabled taxes to be levied to fund the development of infrastructure and the provision of the security needed for trade to flourish.

During the Great Depression, America had not yet fully industrialized, but they had developed the capacity to produce high-quality steel. It was this steel that revolutionised the application of concrete because it enabled both compressive and tensile forces to be withstood by a man-made structure. For the first time, Man could now realistically think of taming the wildest rivers on the planet and harnessing the energy inherent to that wildness. The Great Depression created the incentive for ambitious projects to be launched as social upliftment interventions. While the Chinese had been diverting rivers for centuries, it was the Americans who decided to tame the wildest of them all – the Colorado – in a massive public works initiative that was designed to end the misery of unemployment by creating a modern industrial platform at a continental scale.

The Hoover Dam was built, with a wall over 200 metres tall, creating the largest man-made lake known to humankind. It was regarded as a modern wonder, of a scale similar to the pyramids of ancient Egypt, that propelled America out of poverty and despair. It also produced masses of electricity. The energy of the wild flowing river was now converted into the energy needed to power a modern economy.

It can be argued that the Hoover Dam played a significant role in the Battle of Britain because energy from the turbines was used to produce high-quality aluminium at very low cost. Therefore, if the calculus of power was about the ability to put aluminium up into the sky, and replace it rapidly when it was shot down, then the Hoover Dam tilted the equation in favour of the Allied forces.

So powerful was this lesson that the Tennessee Valley Authority drove a new wave of industrialization that transformed a local economy in which horsepower actually came from horses, and water was fetched from the nearest stream in buckets, into a diversified powerhouse of heavy industry in one generation.

So powerful was the message that linked dams to economic transformation, that every country wanted them. During the post-WWII era, America was transformed into a global power, and it exported the notion of dams and development as part of its newfound diplomacy in the World Bank and through the International Monetary Fund. Every developing country wanted one, and so we saw the accelerated rollout of large dams on all the major rivers of the as yet unindustrialised world.

We think of Kariba, Aswan and structures of that nature, all built in the mid-20th Century, and all part of a politicised vision of future economic prosperity. It is from these roots that the academic discipline of hydropolitics grew.

Taming the Flood Pulse

The Chinese have a symbol for a river. It is free-flowing and elegant, giving the sense of the constant flow of movement but overall connectedness inherent to natural things. They have a separate symbol for a dyke on a river. It is square and hard, clearly unnatural, and obviously designed to be strong, but with two little projections representing the levees that control the flow. When combined, these two symbols become a new concept, meaning political order. This is a powerful image that reflects the Chinese cultural experience with massive rivers that caused havoc when they burst their banks and disrupted human life. From ancient times the Chinese sought ways to tame the natural flood-pulse of a river. This still drives their developmental aspirations as they build the Three Gorges Dam on a scale unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Any river has a unique hydrological profile. This is almost like a fingerprint that can be used to distinguish one from another. The flow of any river is derived from a combination of fundamental drivers. These can be simplified by distinguishing base-flow from flood-pulse. Base-flow is the reasonably constant movement of water when a river is not in flood. It is typically driven by groundwater which comes in various shapes and sizes, often in the upper reaches of a river basin. In some cases, a series of natural springs become the source of water for individual tributaries, but in other cases large wetlands found in the lower lying portions of wide valleys in the cooler highlands capture mist and rain, becoming what are known as seeps.

Springs are typically from deeper geological structures, known as aquifers, some of which can be vast in geographic extent. One need look no further than the Ogalala in America, the Gurani in South America and the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer in North Africa to get a sense of the size of these structures. Typically springs provide a large portion of the baseflow to a river, whereas seeps contribute an ecologically diversified but smaller volumetric portion. Each provides a unique geochemical signature, because as the water flows across, through and over geological structures, there are chemical reactions which occur. This gives each of the sources of baseflow a precise geochemical fingerprint. It is this signal that is used by migratory species of fish to return to their spawning grounds, so it is highly significant from an ecological and biodiversity perspective.

The flood-pulse differs fundamentally from base-flow for a variety of reasons. Think of the flood-pulse as being a superimposition of and erratic flow onto the relatively stable base-flow of any river system. The flood-pulse is typically driven by seasonal variability, and in many of the larger river basins of the world, starts as snowmelt in the highlands. Snowmelt often has finely ground particulate matter in it, particularly where glacial water is a significant component. This gives a specific quality to the start of the seasonal flood-pulse, often visible as water of a distinctly blue colour. Alpine waters are often like this, a reflection of the sunlight off the suspended particulate matter created by ice grinding over bedrock in glacial valleys. It also gives a unique temperature to the seasonal flood-pulse, and given that the oxygen saturation of a water column is temperature dependent, it also triggers a precise set of ecological signals associated with the prevailing redox conditions.

Redox refers to the propensity of metals in a water body to be either an electron donor or recipient, also known as oxidization or reduction. In any event, the redox conditions are not constant in any river, and the larger and more complex the tributary structure, the more unique is the set of properties arsing from the flood-pulse. One need think of the merging of the water from two sub-basins, into the mainstem of any large river, which is often accompanied by two distinct colours, and two distinct qualities of water. Dramatic examples can be seen at Khartoum where the Blue and White Niles meet, or in South America where the dark tannin waters of the Negro meet the lighter coloured waters of the Amazon.

Each of these water columns has unique chemical and physical properties, which keeps them separate for a considerable distance, whereupon the turbulence of the flow over submerged obstacles and around meanders causes an eventual mixing. Given that the flood-pulse is generally a seasonal process, this also has a distinct volumetric element to it. The early release of snowmelt indicates the arrival of spring in the rivers of Alaska, but the falling of rainfall in the highlands of other large rivers like the Ganges, Mekong, Mississippi and Zambezi, all produce spectacular flooding events. The more tributaries in a large river basin, the more complex becomes the flood-pulse, because of the wider geographic distribution of the origins of the flow.

Dams capture the flood-pulse, transforming a river from an aquatic ecosystem driven by seasonally distinct pulses, often with a longer background signal, to a steady-state flow similar to the base flow of an untamed river. The more dams there are in a river basin, the greater is the attenuation of the flood-pulse, and therefore the greater the impact on ecological processes. To mitigate this, there is a global movement towards recognizing the value of environmental flows, which are now mimicked in some dams, by controlled releases timed to resemble scouring floods that shift sediment and reset a range of reproductive processes.

The South African Case

South Africa generally has an arid climate. This means that more water is lost to evaporation and transpiration, than exists in the rivers as streamflow. The overall conversion of mean annual precipitation (MAP) to mean annual runoff (MAR) at continental level is 20%. This means that on average, across the African continent, of 100 units of precipitation, only 20 units end up in the river. In South Africa this conversion ratio is more extreme, with only 8% conversion of MAP to MAR. In the two largest river basins in South Africa – the Orange and Limpopo – this conversion is a paltry 3%.

If we consider the Orange to be the most economically significant river in South Africa, sustaining about 60% of the economic output of the country, and supporting about 40% of the population, and we consider that 3% of the precipitation to be 100% of the stream-flow, then we find that we have built storage capacity in the system equal to 2.7 times that of the annual average flow. The Orange River is now a cascade of dams, all of which attenuate flood-pulse, but also create large areas from which water is evaporated. The ecological processes have been fundamentally altered, but so too has the chemistry of the system. The Orange River is becoming more saline, and no longer has a flood-pulse of any significance.

The flood-pulse in South African rivers has been lost to large dams (Source PJ Ashton, 2007). The uMzimkhulu is visible on the south-eastern coast as the only undammed river.

This factor has been repeated across all the economically significant rivers in the country. South Africa is listed among the top 20 countries of the world in terms of the number of large dams it has built. More importantly, rivers have been connected by means of major engineering interventions, known as inter-basin transfers. In effect then, the unique flood pulse of each river, has been reduced to a feeble flow of chemically altered water. This is most evident along the eastern seaboard, where almost every river, with a few exceptions, no longer flows into the ocean. In most cases, these east-flowing rivers now end in a lagoon, the flood pulse being too feeble to break through the sand banks on its own. Those lagoons are now the distil ends of a linear system, in which toxins and other pollutants have accumulated.

Ashton Rivers Dammed in Africa. The uMzimkhulu – The Last Significant Free-flowing River in South Africa
(c) Ashton Rivers Dammed in Africa. The pink dots are dams. The uMzimkhulu River currently has none. Making it the last fully functioning and free-flowing river in South Africa.

The uMzimkhulu River

The uMzimkhulu River is the last of the free-flowing rivers in South Africa of any economic significance. It can be placed on an ecological status similar to the Okavango for several key reasons. Both the Okavango and the uMzimkhulu Rivers are:

  • devoid of hard infrastructure;
  • retain a natural flood-pulse;
  • sustain a large biodiversity downstream;
  • examples of the intrinsic value of free-flowing rivers in terms of the livelihoods they sustain in ecotourism-related social activities;
  • absolutely unique in the sense that their distil ends terminate in ecosystems that are fundamentally different from their hydrological sources.

In the case of the Okavango, the main biodiversity is found in the Delta, surrounded by desert, whereas in the uMzimkhulu River, the main biodiversity is found in the marine protected area centred on the Protea Banks. Both are unique in terms of the linkage they provide, across fundamentally different aquatic ecosystems. The Okavango starts in the well-watered Bie Plateau of Angola and terminates in a terrestrial desert ecosystem in which water is scarce. It consequently flows from an area of relative water abundance, to one of absolute scarcity. The uMzimkhulu starts in a relatively water scarce area (precipitation of around 700 mm/yr??) and flows into an area of relative water abundance (precipitation of around 900-1000 mm/yr??), but it terminates in a marine ecosystem where the nutrient flows provided by the natural flood-pulse play a unique ecological role driven by the pulsing of the saline wedge in the estuary.

Therefore, each are unique from an ecological perspective, and consequently deserving of a higher level of protection than “normal” rivers. This case becomes more compelling when considering the socioeconomic circumstances of the areas in which they are embedded, because both are characterised by the absence of industrial development and high levels of poverty. In both cases, the livelihoods arising from the rivers, when translated into ecotourism, is one of the biggest job creators in the local economy. The Okavango Delta is recognised as a world class ecotourism destination, whereas the Protea Banks Marine Protected Area is locally recognised, but with international significance, yet to be revealed to a global market. One of the unique features is the large population of breeding whales and gamefish, as well as the sardine run, which is a mass migration event on a scale similar to the wildebeest of the Serengeti as they cross the Masai-Mara.

There is certainly a convincing case to be made for the protection of the uMzimkhulu as the last of the free-flowing rivers in South Africa.

The uMzimkhulu estuary is an ecologically significant interface between the nutrient-rich freshwater flood-pulse of the river, and the saline water of the Indian Ocean.

Unlawful Development on the uMzimkhulu River

The future of the uMzimkhulu River is dependent on the unlawful activities that are threatening the ecological integrity of the system. It must be noted that the National Water Act of 1998 is the legal foundation for the management of rivers in South Africa. It is generally regarded by river management professionals as one of the best pieces of legislation in the world, ahead of its time in the way it gives the right of the aquatic ecosystem to its own water. This is known in legal jargon as “The Reserve”, of which there are two distinct components. The Basic Human Needs Reserve is the minimum flow that has to be left in the river to sustain human livelihoods, where no piped water is available to local communities. The Ecological Reserve is the water that needs to be left in the system to sustain the ecological activities that prevent the river from becoming an open sewer.

The Ecological Reserve is a complex value to calculate because it consists of the flood pulse – a volumetric value that is time-dependent – and a set of quality values such as temperature, pH, redox conditions and a host of elements that cover a large spectrum of the periodic table. A critical sub-set of the Ecological Reserve is the Estuarine Flow Requirement that is needed to sustain healthy ecological processes that only occur at the interface between fresh and saltwater. It is at this interface that many complex processes occur, because the seasonally-dependent flood-pulse, collides with the daily tidal pulse, in the estuary.

In the case of the uMzimkhulu River, this process has been disturbed by the dredging of sand from the river for purposes of concrete production. Section 21 of the National Water Act deals with any activity that alters the bed, bank or flow of a river in its area of jurisdiction. In all cases where alterations to the bed, bank or flow of a river occurs, regulatory intervention is mandatory. For some reason, this regulatory intervention has been successfully bypassed in the uMzimkhulu River, because industrial-scale sand mining has fundamentally altered the bed, bank and flow of the river. This has changed the complex interaction that occurs when the seasonal flood-pulse collides with the daily tidal-pulse.

The effect of this has been to drive a saline wedge up the estuary, for almost ten kilometres, where it has now placed at risk, the water supply to the entire population of the Ugu District Municipality. Authorities in the municipality, advised by consultants, are now considering a permanent concrete structure across the river at the Helens Rock Pump Station. Ironically, a major beneficiary of the concrete weir will be the very same sand mining operators that have created the need for the weir in the first place. Given the level of corruption that is known to exist in South Africa – no longer disputed since the Zondo Commission of Enquiry has laid the facts bare – there is a growing trust deficit between citizen and state. This is now mobilizing a concerted initiative by civil society to protect the last of the free-flowing rivers of South Africa, from the clutches of allegedly corrupt officials.

Industrial-scale sand mining, in contravention of Section 21 of the National Water Act, has placed the water supply of the Ugu District Municipality at risk, and triggered an attempt to build a permanent structure on the last of the free-flowing rivers in South Africa.

An exacerbating factor, in this case, has been the proliferation of unlawful abstraction upstream of the Helens Rock Pump Station, also in contravention of the National Water Act. The effect of this over-abstraction, in excess of authorised volumes, is most acutely felt at the end of the winter months when the first rains have not yet fallen, but market conditions dictate a premium for crops started early in the season. This means that the proposed weir is not necessary, provided that all activities altering the bed, bank or flow of the uMzimkhulu River, are regulated in accordance with the National Water Act.

Lessons from Melbourne Australia

An interesting lesson has been learned from Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia. A strategic decision was taken by the executive authorities of Vic Water, the utility mandated to provide water security for the city, to decouple the water supply from the natural hydrological system. The decision was informed, somewhat progressively, by the science underpinning climate change. The technical consensus informing the decision was that climate change will increasingly place the water supply of the city at risk. This was articulated with the political leadership, and against all odds, buy-in was obtained. This enabled Vic Water to invest into seawater desalination at utility scale. This has created water security for the city, but with many benefits that were not initially anticipated. Among those benefits has been the inflow of capital, as investors feel confident about a local economy that is no longer subject to the unpredictable results of climate change, whether human-induced or not. For this reason, the city of Melbourne is awash with capital, and an economic windfall has resulted in high levels of employment and a lifestyle now considered to be one of the best in the world. But the greatest benefit has been to terrestrial aquatic ecosystems, because natural streamflow has been restored to many of the rivers that were heavily abstracted before the era of desalination. It is ironic that water can now be left in terrestrial ecosystems, as a direct result of the convergence of capital, technology and political will, simply by decoupling the local economy from the increasingly unpredictable vagaries of nature.

The Future of the uMzimkhulu River

Based on the assumption that Rule of Law can be restored in South Africa, and the requirements of the National Water Act will be implemented without fear or favour, we can conceivably expect the uMzimkhulu River to become the crucible of the transition from a linear to a circular economy. This requires political buy-in, but is certainly achievable, and has many benefits. The town of Port Shepstone, located at the estuary, is experiencing a rapid growth in demand for freshwater. Under present circumstances, water security can only be obtained from the uMzimkhulu River by fundamentally altering the flood-pulse of the last free-flowing river in South Africa. An off-channel storage dam is being planned, which will capture the flood-pulse, and supposedly make it available for human consumption. The consequence of this will be the loss of biodiversity in the Marine Protected Area that includes the Protea Banks. The opportunity cost of this altered flood-pulse will be the permanent loss of the job creation potential of a professionally articulated ecotourism sector in perpetuity. The current planning for the off-channel storage does not even consider this opportunity cost as being relevant. This is being countered by civil society, who believe that technological trends already demonstrated in South Africa, have clearly shown the viability of desalination at utility scale.

A recently completed technology demonstration, based in the city of Durban, has shown that blending treated sewage effluent into the incoming seawater, alters the salinity of the feedstock. This changes the economics of seawater desalination in a fundamental way, because the lifetime of a plant is in excess of thirty years, and the energy consumption over that period is significantly reduced by altering the osmotic pressure of the feedstock. This also changes the brine production, because less saline water logically produces less brine to be disposed of. This is known as the Remix Model, and it has demonstrated that the cost of desalinated seawater per unit over time, equals that of the surface water supply from conventional resources. Given that conventional surface water supply is under severe pressure, the cost of water from those sources will logically increase over time. This implies that desalination of seawater, at utility-scale, is both technically and economically viable.

This would be a great time to watch this video…

This viability is being improved as new technologies emerge. The Remix technology is but one of many. Another suite of technologies is driving the cost of energy down, as renewables are brought onstream. The problem with renewable energy – wind and solar – is that its peak availability is not naturally synchronised with peak demand. This is rapidly changing as hydrogen cells are being developed. This technology separates hydrogen from oxygen in water, by passing electricity through it. This enables peak energy from wind and solar, to now be stored in hydrogen. This can either be sold as a product of its own, with the revenues used to cross-subsidise the production of potable water; or it can be used to power the desalination process during peak demand. Desalination plant generally prefers to be operated as a steady state process, with few changes to the flow rate over time. This is now possible with the hybridization of desalination with the production of hydrogen. It is therefore feasible that the future water needs of Port Shepstone, estimated to be 108 megalitres per day, can easily be met from utility scale desalination, with the added benefit that the hydrogen economy can be pioneered in an area that is otherwise doomed to a future of economic stagnation. In this regard it can become truly transformative, just as the Melbourne case has demonstrated.


From a biodiversity perspective, the preservation of the natural flood-pulse in our rivers is of vital importance at the global level. In South Africa, the protection of our last free-flowing river is of great ecological importance, but it is equally of socioeconomic significance. The deeply impoverished area covered by the Ugu District Municipality, can be transformed by visionary leadership, because of the convergence of technologies that enable local economies to be decoupled from the hydrological circumstances in which they are otherwise trapped. The city of Melbourne is now the preferred destination of capital, even though its is as hydrologically insecure as Cape Town, both located in similar climatic conditions. The town of Port Shepstone is blessed with the presence of the last free-flowing river in South Africa of any economic significance, with a Marine Protected Area of international significance at its disposal for an ecotourism-based future. With visionary leadership, it can also become a pioneer in the transition from a carbon to a hydrogen economy. The technology to do this is readily available, and the capital needed is only waiting for bankable projects to be proposed, and a regulatory environment to be enforced. The upside of this is significant, not only in terms of biodiversity at the planetary scale but also in terms of the blueprint for a viable but sustainable socio-economic development trajectory.

“Thank you Professor Turton for taking the time to pen up this magnificent introduction to the complexities we face here on the mighty uMzimkhulu River and in South Africa as a whole as the ruling party turns the entire country into a toilet.” – Xona

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KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips

KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips

KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips

KZN South Coast Fishing Tips: A big welcome to Zach Norton, a guest writer here at The Sardine News. Zach is the first of a slew of new contributors, who will be featuring regularly on this website.

Thank you Zach!

Photo by Go2dim on Shutterstock

Anglers who visit South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal region are spoiled for choice as the area is flooded with top-notch fishing spots. Choose a prime location on one of the blue-flag status beaches or charter a boat and scope out Durban Harbour.

For serious anglers visiting the region, offshore fishing is essential, especially during the annual Sardine Run phenomenon.  

Here are our top recommendations for enjoying offshore fishing along the KZN south coast.

Gain Experience

KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips

Photo by Itxu on Shutterstock

If you have never held a fishing rod, it’s not the best idea to aim for that Pulitzer Prize-worthy shot with a blue marlin. Fortunately, the KZN south coast spans roughly 100 miles between Durban and Port Edward and offers many outstanding nearshore fishing locations for recreational anglers.

These include:

  • Amanzimtoti
  • Rocky Bay, Park Rynie
  • Stiebel Rocks, Hibberdene
  • Margate Fishing Pier
  • Palmer’s Rock, Glenmore Beach

The bulk of the catch will comprise shad, kob (colloquial: kabeljou), and garrick (a.k.a. leerfish), an iconic gamefish up to five feet long. Anglers can also reel in smaller panfish such as blacktail, stone bream, and karanteen (strepie) among the rocks.

Occasionally, a lesser sand shark, skate, pompano, or cobia (a.k.a. Prodigal Son) will tighten the line. The latter is a fusiform fish praised by restaurant-goers that can grow up to two meters.

If you want to try reeling in such leviathans but you’re like many of us who abandoned our gym memberships over the past couple years, it might be good to get back on the arm machines and extend your stamina!

Durban Harbour

KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips by Zach Norton for The Sardine News

Photo by Ava Peattie on Shutterstock

You’ll do well to start the offshore fishing experience from Durban Harbour, Africa’s second-largest port. It is home to a huge variety of species including snapper salmon, grunter, sole, rock cod, and perch.

Using small spoons or lures, you may even get hold of a pickhandle barracuda, springer (a.k.a. skipjack), torpedo scad, or the unusually pinstripe-like walla-walla. 

Even rarer are the chrome-finish queenfish and musselcracker (poenskop or beenbek), an explosive fighter that can live 80 meters down.

Deep Sea Fishing Areas

KZN South Coast Offshore Fishing Tips featuring billfishing by Zach Norton

Photo by kelldallfall on Shutterstock

As the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the KZN coast is teeming with marine life. Also, temperatures are moderately summer-like year-round, making it perfect for deep sea angling. 

The most popular sites for saltwater fishing are:

  • Umkomaas
  • Rocky Bay
  • Shelly Beach
  • Pennington
  • Port Edward

Here you will catch trophies like billfish, dorado, amberjack, Cape salmon (geelbek), and yellowfin tuna. When you have one on the line, it’s a good idea to let it fight for a while instead of pulling it out of the water straight away.

One reason for doing this is to wear the fish out so it’s calmer once in your hands. The other reason is so it can gather other shoal members. By keeping the lures going, the chances of success improve exponentially. Plus, the hustle and bustle will attract bigger fish.

See the Reefs

Protea Reef on the KZN South Coast is full of sharks!
Protea Reef on the KZN South Coast is full of sharks!

Photo by Stefan Pircher on Shutterstock

Most of South Africa’s coral reefs are situated along the north coast toward Mozambique, but the south coast has one too. Protea Banks starts just 5 miles (8 km) out of Port Shepstone and is home to seven species of shark:

  • Hammerheads
  • Sand sharks (a.k.a. raggedtooth sharks, raggies)
  • Giant guitarfish
  • Dusky sharks
  • Bull sharks (Zambezi)
  • Tiger sharks
  • Blacktip sharks

As it’s one of the richest tuna grounds in the world, you will find many other predators such as giant barracudas, potato bass, and sea pike. A-listers such as wahoo, mahi-mahi, billfish, and Malabar groupers have been spotted as well.

Sardine Run

Sardine Run 2022 is about to kick off!
Sardine Run 2022 is about to kick off!

Photo by Andrea Izzotti on Shutterstock

The annual Sardine Run is the icing on the cake for any fishing enthusiast. In the winter months of June and July, shoals stretch for several miles, speeding along the Agulhas Current in search of better grounds.

The subject of many a wildlife show, the Sardine Run attracts dolphins, copper sharks, and Bryde’s and humpback whales for their yearly all-you-can-eat buffet.


Photo by Jason Richeux on Shutterstock

Most offshore anglers swear by live bait, but artificial lures can work just as well, provided that you’re using the right kind to match the right species. It’s a good idea to research your fish well to emulate its favorite prey.

For example, copias love crabs and other shellfish and amberjacks are especially attracted to pinfish, while shrimp work for fish of all sizes.

Make sure to clean your hands before touching lures, as contaminants like grease, soap, sunscreen, and insect repellent can be massive turnoffs for fish with a sophisticated sense of smell.

Trolling with lures works best for sailfish and marlin, while spooning will entice dorados. Bait strips work particularly well for catching Queen mackerel during winter. Also consider trying the fun new hands-on way of fishing with lighter tackle known as flick sticking.


Photo by paul prescott on Shutterstock

It’s a good idea to use a 7-9 foot (2.1-2.7m) rod with an ocean baitcaster reel and braided line, which is far superior to monofilament line.

A line capacity anywhere between 20-50lbs (9-22.6kg) combined with a circle hook between 4/0 and 7/0 is perfect for most people, but for larger species you will definitely want to go higher.

Make sure to stop by one or two local bait-and-tackle stores for on-point advice before you mount the boat ladders.


Photo by wildestanimal on Shutterstock

It’s good practice to keep learning about fish behavior — either from books or observation.

Ask yourself: How deep do they swim? How active are they at different times of the day and in different types of weather? And what is the tidal influence?

For example, it’s best to start around 7am as fish tend to go deeper when the water is cooler. Also, dolphins can be an indication of nearby shoaling yellowfin tuna.

What to Pack

Photo by Evgenius1985 on Shutterstock

Here’s a checklist for basic items you’ll need besides fishing gear:

  • Change of clothing and slip-resistant shoes with closed toes
  • Polarized sunglasses with neck strap
  • A good camera
  • Full-brim hat or cap
  • Sunscreen and lip balm
  • Hand towel and sanitizer
  • Gunny sack to keep fish cool in case you want to keep them
  • Ice chest in your vehicle
  • Seasickness pills and other prescriptions
  • Windbreakers for unexpected downpours and sea spray
  • Cash for fish cleaning or gratuities
  • Dry bags for storing valuables
  • Drinking water and granola bars
  • Gloves for handling barracuda, sea pike, sharks, rock cods, and mackerel
  • Band-aids
  • Measuring tape
  • Pliers and knife
  • Fishing license


Photo by David Herraez Calzada on Shutterstock

Before heading out on open waters, check the legislation relevant to your trip. Anglers over the age of 12 need a saltwater fishing license. These can be purchased from any Post Office in South Africa.

In case of commercial or culinary intent, always check the minimum size and catch limit for your fish species. There are more and more ethical anglers who fish purely for sportsmanship and practice catch-and-release with artificial lures instead of live bait.

Some examples of restrictions : the bag limit for garrick is two per person per day. A closed season applies to red steenbras and many other species. Shad are four per person. And so on.

Respecting these rules and following the tips as outlined will guarantee a surefire way toward that epic deep sea fishing trip you have been looking forward to!

About the Author

Ralph Zoontjens is a product designer with a master’s degree in Industrial Design from Eindhoven University of Technology and a love of the outdoors. Currently based out of Tilburg, the Netherlands, he specializes in 3D printing and works as a content writer with topics that revolve around design, technology, and outdoor adventure.

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“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh”

Solar panel on the TSLA Turtle for powering the electric outboard

“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh”

“Working on Sunshine – Whoa-aoh” – time to feel good! Feeling defiantly efficient today as load shedding did NOT stop me in my tracks this time around. I hauled a big battery off my solar-powered boat and plugged it in via a neat little 800 Watt inverter. That I normally use for inflating boats and tyres and things.

Never even squeaked as I plugged my whole office in, via multi-plug. Lighting up my computer, big monitor, phone and a camera. What’s more, it really is FREE. Because since my little portable power station double functions with real work on the boats, the capital layout was made already. All it took really was carrying that damn 105 amp hour battery up the stairs!

And plugging it all in.

Working on sunshine

I have been fortunate enough to have lived on solar power for a long time. And have built up experience in all kinds of installations. Boats, lodges, research stations – all running on solar because there is NO grid out there on the edge.

But working on sunshine really is simple. Solar panel(s) to charge controller to battery(s). Batteries to inverter and the lights come on.

  • Solar panel(s)

The solar panel that lives on my boat, must have generated an acre’s worth of charged batteries since I had it. For about two years now it has been pumping FREE power into my batteries day after day, relentlessly. I can go 18kms with just two batteries. Taking 12 people or more. The economics are staggeringly good. All that petrol and oil saved from my pocket and the environment.

Panels pump out differently according to the power of the sun. So you cannot attach one straight to your battery or it might explode due to over-voltage charging. Or suffer damage from under-charging.

This is why you need a charge controller…

  • Charge controller

The brains of the operation. Starting out at a few hundred rand, the very basic ones are just fine for little camping or office operations. They have input ports for the panels. And outputs to the batteries. And output to your main power *loom.

*This is not a necessary step and can become quite complicated as the output of charge controllers is limited according to price. The more you pay, the more the system can output.

All we want this to charge a battery really. So we can ignore that output port for now. Plus the *inverter has enough technology built into it, to prevent battery damage during use.

  • Batteries

You are gonna need some heavy battery power (and inverter) if you want to power a big chest freezer or hot water geyser. But just a small fridge, a computer, charging station, and some lights – too easy with one 100 or so amp-hour camping battery. This is all I am using to stay productive today as we endure yet another load shedding session here in South Africa.

You can use a car battery just fine. But it’s not purpose-designed like a camping battery. Also known as non-starting batteries, these are the ones you want. Deep-cyle. As in slow charge in, and slow charge out.

You can NOT ever allow any battery to drop below 10.8v. That ruins everything inside the battery. And renders your guarantee useless. Battery manufacturers have a tell-tale inside the battery that tells if the charge level dropped below 10.8v – rendering the battery and the guarantee defunct.

You have been warned! You really need to know your batteries and their charge levels at all times. And then build it into your schedule to harvest as much sunlight as you can whenever you can. Or using the mains.

  • Inverter

This used to be the expensive piece of kit we all need. But now it’s cheap. I paid R850 for the inverter under my desk humming away merrily right now.

At a rated 800w, it runs my air pump (300w) with aplomb. My smoothie maker runs slightly slower but it churns out fruit juices too without any complaint (350w).

The inverters all come with a failsafe to protect the batteries you are using. When the voltage drops below about 11.8v, the inverter turns itself off. Sounding a rather annoying alarm btw. This is time to simply swap out a battery, and put another one back on charge.

High-end equipment often is available as integrated units with the inverter and charge controller all in one box.

Powering your household?

Just buy more and more. It’s that simple. Except for your inverter, the rest of it is all scaleable infinitely. More batteries. More solar panels. Until you have enough power to plug in a fridge. And then eventually a geyser.

  • Fridge/Freezer 400w
  • Mini fridge 100w
  • Fan 50w
  • Kettle 800w
  • Fryer 1000w
  • TV 100w
  • Vacuum 800w
  • X-Box 100w
  • Geyser 3000w

These are all rough averages and you can get more power-hungry kettles and things. You need to start becoming aware of the power required to run your machines, and what it is you are trying to achieve, and adapt.

Remember that most charge controllers and inverters these days have onboard USB charging ports. Often 5A or more. So if you power your laptop, phone, tablet and even lights, with USB, you are really beating the duck curve.

Powering your office or factory?

It really is not a challenge anymore. Buy big inverter sizes right from the start. And grow the rest of your operation into its capacity. Then you can buy another inverter and so on.

Using battery-powered tools eases the transition to solar too. Since you only have to recharge batteries, as opposed to supplying direct power to the juice hungry grinder or drill you need to be running. Battery management is now gonna be your thing.

However, if you do want to plug straight in, the following list tells you what requirements you might have. If you operate two of these machines at the same time, add the two up to get your final requirement.

  • Belt sander 1000w
  • Grinder 1200w
  • Small grinder 650w
  • Drill 800w+
  • Welder 250 to 8000w
  • Lathe 100w +
  • Projector 250w
  • Computer 300w
  • Coffee maker 1000w
  • Aircon 2600w
  • Printer 800w

All of the above figures are averages. You can get very powerful computers, and normal ones, that use half the energy. You need to check your desired energy output, and then match it up with your inverter and battery bank.

A word of caution – inverters always over-rate themselves. So my 800w inverter, will most likely only handle 600w or less. And if you turn two appliances or machines on at the same time, that initial surge needed to get the magnets or whatever spinning – overloads the system and it will kick out with an alarm.

You can order your very own Solar Starter Kit from us right here at The Sardine News website.

Working on sunshine!

More fun apps and websites:

Umzimkulu Adrenalin – we will get you right out there

Spillers House – BnB and Backpackers

Umzimkulu Marina – self-catering in Port Shepstone

Port Captain – Egyptian themed and flavoured

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Ocean Safari with Chelsea Dog and the B2 Humpback Whales

On Ocean Safari with Umzimkulu Adrenalin and Chelsea Dog

Ocean Safari with Chelsea Dog and the B2 Humpback Whales

Ocean Safari with Chelsea Dog and the B2 Humpback Whales: Dr. Oz Goffman (Head dolphin project of Haifa University -IMMRAC – The Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies/School of Marine Sciences) spends his life stalking and saving cetaceans of all kinds and in all places. But specifically these guys. The B2 population. And the C1 guys. These are the ever-entertaining humpback whale communities that visit us, and Mozambique, this time each year. (see graphic by Dr. Oz and colleagues below…secret intel for undercover whale spotters like the Umimkulu Adrenalin operation).

Ocean Safari intel: The Indian Ocean gets bombarded every winter here, by a healthy population of humpback whales. These marine mammals may seem plentiful at times but are still not back to the numbers they should be. Image courtesy of Dr. Oz Goffman and colleagues.
Ocean Safari intel: The Indian Ocean gets bombarded every winter here, by a healthy population of humpback whales. These marine mammals may seem plentiful at times but are still not back to the numbers they should be. Image courtesy of Dr. Oz Goffman (Head dolphin project of Haifa University -IMMRAC – The Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies/School of Marine Sciences) and colleagues.
Dr. Oz Goffman

When I worked with Dr. Oz in the deep blue waters out off Bazaruto Island in Mozambique for a few years, we were covertly recording mother to calf humpback whale conversations. We spent literally months and months stalking these guys. So when I say Dr. Oz knows these guys by name, I do not mean literally (see the album slide in the video).

He knows them by name.

The B2 Bombers

Down here on the lower south coast of Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, we are perfectly poised to encounter the B2 bombers, travelling south to Cape Town, at this time of the year. This is their highway to Slaapstad, on their way to stopping off a while at Hermanus for a traditional jol.

And so it was really cool that we got another Ocean Safari booking this week. And this time we were far more camera-ready. Although we missed the ever-eventful launch (and this time was no different, it was wild!), the rest of the camera work went down a treat and the featured video almost made it out there yesterday!

Yep! Dr. Oz knows these guys by name. He has dedicated his life to looking after these enthralling ocean-going mammals, and other cetaceans of all kinds, all over the world.
Yep! Dr. Oz knows these guys by name. He has dedicated his life to looking after these enthralling ocean-going mammals, and other cetaceans of all kinds, all over the world.

On this trip, we actually only saw this one whale. But man did he perform. Launching right out clear into the air at times. We managed to get a few clips but our guests got the gold.

Umzimkulu Adrenalin

The Umzimkulu Adrenalin operation has fired up on the south bank of the Umzimkulu River. At the picturesque and bustling Spiller’s Wharf riverside shopping and business complex in Port Shepstone. This place is really quaint and historical with lots to absorb and learn about the history of the Umzimkulu River all over the place. It’s a very interesting building. There is even a 100-year-old boat parked in the driveway!

‘To all our previous clients, who have sent us their whale videos last week, we are busy compiling all the bits and pieces and will have yours out soon I promise!’


Ocean safaris, deep-sea fishing, river cruises, thrill rides, day fishing are all on offer at Umzimkulu Adrenalin. Come and see us, we are right at the back of the centre (Mr. Spiller’s old house).


Call Sean on +27 79 326 9671 or email

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Egg Sucking Leech?

Egg Sucking Leech by-Jason-Heyne

Egg Sucking Leech?

By Jason Heyne. Who I thought was a spearfisherman?!

Walkersons Private Estate image Nov 2011 from Estate Map site.png

Egg Sucking Leech?

When I first heard about this fly I was how could you say, hmmm, not impressed as the original use of this fly is to floss salmon (flossing is drifting a gaudy looking fly with a bright orange bead downstream in places like Alaska for Salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The idea is to cover water in the run on a 90 degree swing to downstream of the cast using the current pull to get the leader or tippet to virtually line the salmons mouth there by “flossing” the fish and hooking it as most breeding salmon are not on the feed and most hook-ups are outside the mouth) but through a trip and coincidence I found out how deadly this fly can be if used correctly in our local waters specifically Highveld and Berg impoundments and dams in late winter when the trout are in spawning mode and the Cold fronts pull through with some serious wind and cold temperatures and most fly fishers are cuddled around a warm fire!

It was late winter when I went fly-fishing for trout with a my mate Kenneth Muller for the weekend at a time share development place in Dullstroom Mpumalanga . It was a great get together weekend with kids and family present as well and as usual the promised well stocked dams were not exactly up to scratch for us die hard fly-fishermen. I did have fun in the closet dam (read pond) fooling the stockies into taking foam beetles with mixed results and wanted an egg pattern as a dropper but did not have the pom pom style eggs for tying. So I used a glass bead in the correct colour and simply glued it onto the bend of a circle hook so as not to gut hook the little stockies. It worked so well that indeed if I did not pay constant attention for a take they would be gut hooked! 

On the day of departure Ken sidled up to me and said “I am booking the self catering unit at Walkersons down the road would you like to join and head back to Jhb tomorrow afternoon?” . I had heard a lot about Walkersons through Ken but quite frankly the cost of fishing their made the mind boggle! I was running my own IT consultancy and had a cellphone (I know they are the bane of modern day fishing but do help when bunking a day off work!) to answer client calls and book them for the following day so it took all of 5 minutes to accept the offer! When everyone left we headed to Walkersons in the late afternoon with maybe an hour or two of daylight left to book in and maybe quickly wet a line before full dark.  Walkersons  was a magnificent Estate and Hotel for the well to do people from Gauteng and JHB, helipad fine dining the works (Jacket and tie for dinner like and its own trout hatchery) and Ken soon had us booked in and we quickly unpacked at the unit and headed down to the closest fishing which was a weir damn below the unit with awesome views over the valley below (see picture).  When fishing a new water or pressed for time I will forgo my usual dry and dropper (or drifting with strike indicator) and opt for a searching pattern fly the main go to fly being a cone head bunny leech pattern in olive or black (most people would use a woolly bugger) and I tied one on in the dying light and proceeded to cover some water with alternating fast strips and pauses. First two casts produced bulging follows behind the fly! So third cast I stripped faster and bang fish on! A lovely Rainbow hen of about 5lb and a game fight! We lost the light and decided to head back and hit the main dam in front of the Hotel early the next morning.

After dinner and sitting in front of the big stone fireplace to keep warm I decided to tie up a few more strip bunnies for the morning and Ken asked if he could order one or two with his choice of colours etc for the next day his choice being black with purple collar and a purple glass bead instead of the cone. I decided when in Rome follow the trend and tied olive bunnies with red collars and the same glass beads I had used for the egg patterns instead of the brass cone head. Egg sucking leeches!  Oh the blasphemy! 

The following morning after a quick breakfast and packing the cars (10am rule for the self catering unit) so we would not have to return and pack and interrupt the fishing we headed up to the main dam and waited while Ken checked that it would be okay if we fished after booking out of the unit. A head down chap with rod in hand walked past me outside the reception and upon asking told me he had fished the entire weekend without a nibble and was headed back to JHB skunked. Not great news!  By this time the wind was getting some speed up but parts of the dam where still glassed and I opted for nymphing in the weeded areas with my ¾ weight and light tippet carrying my 7 weight as a spare with the bunny leech as backup and Ken headed straight for the main deep bank with his new Xmas tree fly attached. 

The lighter tippet was to be my downfall for the 1st hour or so with screams of glee coming from Ken across the dam! I got bitten off twice (yes bitten off, no knot failure or weed bank to blame!) in that 1st hour on the light 3lb and 5lb tippet using nymphs. I saw the one fish and it made my knees wobble at easy 8lb plus! I decided to head around to Ken and see what all the fuss was about and to reconsider my strategy seeing as the wind was now starting to affect casting on the lighter rig and a scaling up of tippet was required! 

Upon reaching Ken I had to sheepishly ask what fly, although I already knew the answer! He had already hooked and landed two decent Rainbow cock trout between 6lb and 8lb! He also remarked that one beast had followed his Xmas tree fly into the shallows of easy double figures estimated at 14/15lb. Hahaha pull the other leg Ken!  No I swear he said. So I moved down the main bank about 20m away from him and rigged up with a size 10 glass bead bloodworm with 8lb fluorocarbon and a  size 12 GRHE point fly with 6lb fluorocarbon  with a stick on strike indicator. Wind at my back I proceeded to cast diagonally to the bank to my left and let the fly line drift the flies out deeper with the wind. Halfway through the drift the indicator stopped drifting and I walked backwards and lifted into a steam train! Bang 7lb Rainbow hen trout on! 10 minutes later I had her at the net. My ex Tammi was with us and she had the egg sucking leech on and she followed suit with some decent  Rainbow trout cockfish as well. This went on for many hours and plenty fish later we finally decided to call it quits and head for home. Ken landed his PB Rainbow trout at around 12lb during that session. I did not hook a single Rainbow cockfish and only landed the strong Rainbow hens up to 11lb and nothing smaller than 6lb! An amazing session with lessons to be learned. By the time we left the wind was blowing easily at 20knots and gusting to 25- 30knots not ideal trout fishing conditions at all! The cock fish all had that bright pink spawn flank colour and the hens were deep in the body and strong fighters full of roe.

Lessons to be learned 

Never toss aside what is deemed to be unsavoury fly-fishing practice in your or another’s part of the fly-fishing world! Always be open to trying new flies and techniques, you might just be surprised!

We all come from different walks of life and different backgrounds but all share the same passion for fly-fishing. What the story demonstrates is the attractor pattern and the solid nymphing technique both worked just as well on the day, and while attractor or stimulator patterns might not be for the purist they can and will catch trout and are excellent for covering water to find the fish!

The Bunny leech Zonker with the egg bead instead of the cone head worked well on the day due to the fact that it is 1st and foremost a streamer pattern and large hungry trout have been known to predate heavily on minnows and frogs which is what the bunny leech imitates (I have caught Carp, Yellowfish, Bass, Bream, Trout brown and rainbow, Sharptooth catfish and even Shad in the sea on this pattern). 2nd adding the collar puts contrast into the fly and simulates the gill area of a minnow and acts as a stimulator or attractor (check Rapala lures 70 percent at least have a red collar and they wack fish!). 3rd Spawning Rainbow trout cockfish become very aggressive towards one another and adding the glass bead represents a trout egg plus the fish like movement of the steamer fly gets them to attack it for food or for spawning reasons. 4th The hens are still there and feeding hard to sustain body weight and the roe they are producing but sit slightly further out in the holding pattern and will feed consistently all day as long as food is being brought to them ie: the wind busting was bringing a steady flow of nymphs and bloodworms to their feeding lanes out deeper and letting the wind dictate the retrieve (dead drift technique) was putting my nymphs at a natural drift and depth. 5th look for sunny late winter days with cold front approaching or passing with late winter busting wind which creates the conveyor belt of food for the trout. 6th the dam wall or deeper section will hold the fish as everyone knows but look for the bank cruisers to indicate spawning activity.  7th just because someone else got skunked does not mean you are going to be and always ask departing anglers how their session went and what was their method or flies that were used…quite often you will hear “woolly buggers only” which do work but need to fished in the correct way to produce (late winter sinking lines and depths of the dam wall!) which personally is not my cup of tea!

As always Tight Loops

TomSutcliffe - The Spirit of Fly Fishing
Fabulous image by Tom Sutcliffe – The Spirit of Fly-Fishing

Rainbow trout Cock fish in spawning colours image from Tom Sutcliffe – The Spirit of Flyfishing

Conehead bunny Zonker tying Recipe and image from

Well ok Jason I never had any idea you were not more than a spearo and I am so thankful that you are definitely not! And thank you for the article. Cheque is in the email! Reminds me of when I used to receive Mr. Jack Blackmans fly-fishing news column and pics for The Sardine News in the eighties and nineties. Fly-fishing is the game, undisputable. And it comes through very clearly in the writings of fly-fishers. Every word distinctly brimming with spirit. Keep it coming pal! – Xona

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