The Blue Shad

If I think of catching elf my memory goes way back to when we lived in George. My dad used to target them at a place called “Skuins klip” between Victoria bay and “Leentjies klip”. We used to park in the Victoria bay parking area and then we walked on the railway line until we got to the fishing spot. Bait was pilchard with a 1 meter hook snoot, a long shank hook and a tennis ball as float. I was only about 8 at the time and I remember on one occasion the elf was biting like mad, my dad was on “gooi vir gooi”. It was crazy, guys throwing over each other and shouting and screaming. The one guy got stuck into a hammer head shark that tangled a couple guy’s lines together, it was total chaos! I gave up trying out of frustration when some old ballie cut my line.

All I could do was watch and play ground crew for my dad by cutting up baits, cleaning fish and filling the “streepsak”. This can of course only keep an 8 year old busy for so long and I was very inquisitive asking questions all the time. “How big does an elf get? How much can we keep? Do they only eat pilchards? When are we going home?” I think my father got a bit tired of all the questions and out of frustration he tried to shut me up by offering me R1 (this was a lot of money in the early 80’s) if I could keep quiet for 5 minutes. I never earned it…

On another occasion we were a group of guys at Swartvlei fishing towards Gericke’s punt and the shad was thick during the day. But as soon as the light started fading towards evening the fish went off the bite. This seemed strange since we always used to catch them at night. Between myself and my dad we caught about 18 fish and the other guys also seemed to be in, all the time. As we were about to leave, Fauna and Flora came along and asked if they could search our bags. To this day, I can still see my dad’s face, pale and literally “wit geskrik”! He must have thought we were going to be locked up and he will have to sit in a cell somewhere, with me asking him question all night long.

The inspector started counting… one, two, three… thirty four, thirty five. He looked up and counted our group of guys… one, two, three… six, seven.  Then, he asked “what’s thirty five divided by seven?” This made my dads glum mug turn into a big relaxed happy face as he answered, “FIVE!” before the question was even finished. He then gave a little jump of joy, clicking his heals together… The inspector walked away mumbling something about us either being very law conscious, or very lucky (you were allowed 5 shad per person per day then, today its 4). Of course it was the latter, and a big lesson was learned. From that day onward we never even considered going over our bag limit again.

All my experiences with Elf in my early fishing years, was with fish we called “mal elfies” (a name we gave to the smaller fish because of their ferocious feeding habits). On one occasion I overheard the old ballies talk about a “blou elf”. When I asked about this, I was told that it was a very BIG elf. They said that you don’t catch them often because they are usually loners, but if you do, you will know that you had a fight! I thought that one day I would like to catch one of these blue shad and feel for myself how they fight and what they look like…

The first Iron Ore Comp in Saldanha I fished was this past December 2014. It’s a fantastic initiative and a very well organised event. For the December competition the biggest White Stumpnose, Kob and Blacktail will make you a little richer. I didn’t care about the money though, I was there for one thing and one thing only, catching a big Garrick. My dad went with and he did bait fishing with prawns for Stumpnose, while I proceeded trying to catch a Garrick with a chisel nose plug.

First cast, I started reeling in and this “thing” started following my plug, displacing some serious water as it made a big splash, turning away right at my feet. Second cast the same thing happened, and this continued for the first couple of casts. I was shaking and my “O” ring almost failed me a couple of times! I changed to paddle tails, but they didn’t get any attention, so back to top water lures. Again, big fish followed but just didn’t commit. I told my dad, that this should be Leeries but they don’t look like Leeries. I didn’t even consider that it could be “other” big fish following the lures.

A while later a elderly looking guy rocked up with live mullet… 1’st cast, 5kg Elf, 2’nd cast 6kg Leerie and 3rd cast 3kg Elf (can’t remember the exact sizes but it was big fish). By this time my Shimano Stradic was smoking from my fierce reeling but the fish wanted nothing artificial. I have to admit that I was a very green with envy.

Then, all of a sudden it was all over. The fish seemed to be on a feeding frenzy from just before sunrise until just after sunrise, the golden hour. I spend the rest of the day trying everything, but I couldn’t buy a bite. By the end of the day I was very tired and a bit bleak. Luckily I knew that on 7 Feb 2015 there would be another competition and I would have another opportunity to make good…

So, eventually, after an eternity 7 February arrived! I was ready, I had livies! I had 6‘o circles hooks rigged with 10cm of 50lb AFW bleeding wire! The Shimano 110H and Torium 14 loaded with 20lb fireline was assembled the night before. There were loads of fishermen at the competition targeting white stump, but I only had one fish in mind, “BLOU ELF”!

I rushed to the fishing spot and as soon as I arrived I saw the first guy going on… Now, catching a live mullet in a 20 liter bucket is one thing, but try doing it while shaking is another story. Eventually I got one, then I dropped it and it almost fell in the water, then I almost toppled over and then I couldn’t seem to hook the bloody thing. I was suffering with a serious case of “viskoors”! In the meantime my fellow angler lost his fish because the hook pulled.

I made my cast and as soon as the bait hit the water there was a huge splash… ON! Line was peeling of my reel, the fish ran so fast to my left that my line got tangled with another guys. Luckily he was kind enough to bite his line off to set my fish free. I still didn’t know what it was, but I had a good idea that his was my blue fish dream. He then turned sharply to the right and took another couple of meters. I reeled in a bit of line and then he was off again, this time swimming left. My, o my, fishing with braid is just exhilarating, you feel every little movement! Then he decided to show himself and made the most beautiful jump, almost doing a full 360, shaking his head like a tarpon. I knew this is usually when they throw the hooks, but I didn’t care and luckily this bugger was hooked on a circle. He came a bit closer and then attempted another jump but could only managed to stick his head out the water and then I knew that the fight was almost over. Two minutes later this big green (not quite blue but close enough) slab of a fish was lying on the side. Wow, another dream realised! What a beautiful fish, he measured 72cm from tip to fork!

I’m sure other guys catch fish like these all the time, but for me it was a first and I was ecstatic! I tried to take the hook out, but he had a serious case of lockjaw… so I tried to force his mouth open with my finger, not a great idea, since they have very sharp teeth. The wound bled for an hour! I know, I know, serious blond moment, but you weren’t there, at that stage I would probably have given a finger to catch another one!

Behind me the action continued and I rigged the next mullet and in he went. Bang, on again, and what I thought was a smaller elf, tuned out to be a yellow belly rock cod. My first, and that in the cold west coast water, crazy! After I took the hook out and snapped a pic he was returned unharmed. With my next cast I got reefed, something took my livie and swam straight down with it and it got stuck in a hole somewhere deep. Not to waste time, I pulled as hard as I could to break off and make another throw. I thought that it must have been a bigger yellow belly.

My Stradic and 9ft Exceler was also rigged and ready, so, in went another livie. I got picked up immediately and after about a 10 meter run the fish dropped the bait. I reeled in to see only half of my livie left. This happened 2 more times and before I could think of taking some time and adding another hook to the livie’s tail, it was all over. As suddenly as it all started, it ended! It’s unbelievable how quickly they can come and go. The rest of the day was quiet. Some of the other guys caught a few stumps, but this didn’t matter to me. I came, I conquered and I got the bite marks of a “Blou Elf” on my finger!

Saturday night I braaied the fish for the family and we had a great time telling elf stories of yesteryear. Of course, I told my story at least 5 times, adding about 10cm with each attempt…

(I have since learned that guys used to catch elf of up to and over 15kg in the Langebaan lagoon, just imagine that fight!)

My PB Shad
Thanks for coming!
One more pic please… The cameraman was getting a bit gatvol!
Yes… a Shad attacks from the back!
My first Yellow Belley
Delicious, one of my favourite fish to braai.
This elf was caught in 1983 in Langebaan and weighed 10,4kg
This elf was caught in 1983 in Langebaan and weighed 10,4kg

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