As fishermen we constantly have to deal with disappointment and heartbreak. We’re disappointed when we sometimes plan for weeks on a fishing trip and then after literally counting the seconds, the day before we have to leave, the weather turns on its head. Worst is however when the conditions is perfect, the wind is blowing in the right direction, there is colour in the water, your bait is fresh and your hooks are sharp. Yet, not even a little critter seems to be interested. It is then that you start doubting your own ability to read conditions and you start contemplating maybe taking up ballroom dancing or even worse, carp fishing (grappie julle)!
Then, after standing, waiting for hours, all of a sudden you feel a tap. Usually, your first reaction is doubt: “Was that a bite or just another wave taking me for a fool?” But, then again, TAP, this time more aggressive and with more vigour. “Take it, take iiiiiiit…”, runs through your thoughts. Your mug turns into something that can only be described as, your “potty face”! Every striking muscle in your body is under tension. Your whole body goes into a spasm, your heart rate goes into overdrive, and you are ready for war!
However, nothing follows the first two taps and your shoulders drop with disappointment. With each little wave pulling on your line, more and more enthusiasm evaporates from your body. Then, out of nowhere and without warning your rod dips, you strike and it’s ON! You can feel by the head shakes its a fish. After a brief fight you see a flash of silver and you just know this is your personal best Galjoen. You get a little more nervous when the fish turns and goes on that last run, but you play him like a pro and gently turn him again. Then with the last wave rolling in you start the victorious walk backwards to pull him onto the beach. You know, after the whole day of blood sweat and tears, tonight you will be celebrating another battle won. Then, the fish gives one last shake of the head, and the hook pops out. As you stand in astonishment trying to make sense of what just happened he flaps his tail, almost in the shape of a middle finger, and he’s gone… That’s heartbreak!
Last weekend I had one of those gut wrenching, heartbreaking days. After enduring the sight of three steenbras being caught right next to me, the biggest, a lovely fish in the double digits, I had to come to grips with loosing a monster gallie right at my feet.
The gallies came on the bite at our spot on the Struisbaai Plaat about two hours before high tide. My mate said he wanted to catch a gallie and he changed his tackle to a 1’0 hook and some wonderworm and lo and behold five minutes later a nice 2 kg specimen was on the side. I was still trying for a steenbras, so I changed my bait to a fresher bloodworm and then my shorter 110H rod got loaded with wonder worm. I made a shortish cast, unbelievably, the fish was biting no more than 20 meters from the side. After a couple of minutes of nothing happening I put my rod into the pension pipe and wandered over to the bloodworm rod. As I looked back the gallie rod got a enormous inquiry that made even the reel scream. I ran over just to pick up an empty hook. I then rebaited and the same ritual followed. Nothing happened for a minute so I put the rod down and walked over to the steenie rod, this time in reverse. I reeled up some slacked line and then I heard my buddy shouting. My rod was almost horizontal! I ran over and again no fish was on the other side. I couldn’t believe it and in the words of one of the characters in a Schuster movie… I was “absolutely dumb struck”! Some really solid galjoen were having a smash and grab at my expense.
The guys started packing their stuff to make the long walk home, after all, the Boks were playing Japan at six and we were in for a try fest… Ja right! I decided to make one last cast. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes and with me encouraging them to start walking so long, my rod dipped! This fish was strong and had me shuffling towards the sea, since my ratchet wasn’t loose enough. I quickly adjusted and after a little tussle I saw the fish in the shallows. A very big fish was almost within touching distance, but then, of course, just to rub salt into my already gaping ego, the fish was gone! The day came to an abrupt end with a very loud word, straight off the deck of a West Coast fishing trawler!
I always say, it doesn’t matter if you don’t catch anything, as long as you walk away from the water, having learned something. What did I learn? Well, to, Seize The Moment! If you go for something and it isn’t working on the day, change tactics. When the galjoen came on the bite, I should have left everything and just concentrated on them. If I had the rod in my hand when the gallies were biting I would probably have caught a couple of vetties. But, I was so fixated on steenbras that I missed the opportunity right in front of my eyes. Lesson learned!
A weekend in Struis was followed with a long weekend in Witsand. Ja, I know, life is hard, especially if you can fish two successive weekends on both sides of De Hoop nature reserve. Witsand always gets the best out of me. You just know, if you stick to your guns and are prepared to put in the time next to the water, tight lines are inevitable.
The family, including my mom and dad, drove through on Thursday morning. After the standard stop at Buffeljags for a coffee and a “roosterkoek”, we were on our way, and arrived at the Sands at 12:00. After a hasty unpack we were next to the water. Getting mudprawns and livies was a breeze and the lines were in at about 13:00. Mid day is never a great time to fish, but we were kept busy by gorries and cape stumpnose. We even caught a couple of white stumpnose. The livie rods didn’t get any action for the whole day, but my hopes were high for sunset. The tide was going out and this forced the smaller fish from the bank into the channel, where the predators lie in anticipation. Nothing however happened and the livies was later all returned without having a swim.
As the sun disappeared we started getting the strangest bites. You would feel taps, and a tap would be followed by short successions of tap-tap-tap. Sometimes the fish would even grab the prawn and swim away. But, after you striked, and missed, the bait would come out unharmed. This seemed strange, but then we changed to 2’0 Adrenalin circle hooks and the fun started. The elusive critters was juvenile kob! We caught and returned a couple of these babies. My dad got stuck briefly into something bigger but the fish came off unfortunately. A fun day ended with a braai and a couple of cold ones.
On Friday we decided that we would be targeting grunter. It has been a while since I caught a nice one and after pumping some mud prawns we set off to a nice spot upriver. The smaller fish were biting like crazy. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the juvenile kobbies was a pest. We caught ten small kobbies, and in between a few stumpnose and gorries. No grunter had a chance to get to your bait. It is wonderful to see so much small fish in the river though, I have never experienced it like that. What contributed to the abundance of small kob, I don’t know, but I am very exited for what the future on the Breede might hold!
Luckily, in between the small ones something bigger fought his way open to my hook and the Stradic 2500, loaded with 6lb braid, started singing that beautiful one note song, zzz zzz zzz! This fish was feisty, and I had a pretty good idea with the way it took off what it was. The fish came a little and then abruptly turned and another zz melody followed. This was repeated more than a couple of times and after a little while I saw the spotted gold flash of a grunter. They just never give up and on light tackle can rival any fish for fighting ability. For once, the fish stayed on my line and I beached a lovely 60cm spotted grunter! Yes please!
Later, my dad got stuck into something, that, by the bend in his rod looked like something really big. Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived as the hook pulled and we can only imagine what it was… On the Friday night a little bird told me that the sea conditions improved and the bellman was on the bite. We took the decision to fish the sea the next day.
We woke to wonderful windless Saterday morning. The sky was clouded and there seemed to be more colour in the water. On our way to park at “die bloke” I saw that there was loads of cars already. For a brief moment I thought that my little bird was more like a “korhaan”, but then I realised it was the Witsand Skinns. I had completely forgot about the competition.
With hundreds of fishermen already on the beach, finding a nice spot was going to be difficult. We started walking towards “Tom se hut” in the hope that somewhere in between the rods there would be some space left. About 2 km down, we got to a spot with some reef close by and a sand bank at the back. The water was still low but I thought with the tide pushing within a couple of hours there should be enough water on the bank to hold some fish.
The Poseidon Light and Fathom 15 was loaded with bloodworm and after a good cast my fishing pole went into the rod stand. My other rod, the 110H, also with a Fathom15, was loaded with wonderworm wrapped in freshly pumped sand prawns. I had a pickup on the bloodworm, but after a couple seconds the fish was off. This didn’t bother me too much since it felt dead, ala banjo style.
The tide pushed nicely and with my bloodworm rod set up with fresh bait, I took the 110H and added one more prawn to the untouched bait. I threw just behind the reef, hoping for a gallie, kolhol or maybe the elusive wilde perd. To our left a nice bellman came out and further to our right a bigger fish that looked like a Steenbras was also landed. I hoped that something would be able to swim passed all the offerings in the water and have a nibble on my bait. I got a couple of bites but every time only the prawn was taken off and the wonderworm remained. I rebaited with only two prawns.
My dad decided to take a snooze. Funny how the roles changed over the years. When I was a little boy he was the one always making the bait, setting up gear and cleaning fish. I was the one, always wanting to go with, but after an hour of nothing happening, would lose interest and fall asleep next to the water. My dad then used to throw a freshly caught fish on top of me and I would wake up with a slap of kob tail in the face!
Tap, tap, bang… The fish was on and after a quick fight I landed nice 42cm bellman. I just couldn’t resist to return the favour and the bellman was thrown on top of my dad. Nothing motivates you more than a fresh slap of fish tail in the face! He was up and ready to go again, in no time.
The secret was fresh sand prawn. I baited up again and had a pull but missed the fish. Then again, a propper tap this time that was followed by a straight pull down. I hit and the fight was on! Over the years I haven’t caught a lot of bellman, and I have never specifically targeted them. They are always some by catch when targeting other fish. But today I came for them and somehow I had the mojo flowing.
This fish had some propper head shakes and I knew it was bigger by the weight and the aggression of the fight. Then I got stuck on the reef, not once, not twice, but three times. This was my day though, and every time the fish pulled himself loose. My suspicion was bellman but I couldn’t confirm until he was on the beach. A lovely 55cm belman! My personal best and although still a teenager (they can grow up to 86cm and 10kg+), I was really happy. After that, the fish went off the bite and that was all she wrote!
On our long walk back I couldn’t help to have a bit of a bounce in my step. I had learned from the previous weekend and had seized the moment when the bellman came on the bite. My dad didn’t catch anything and had lost his “big” one the previous day. But, that’s fishing and that’s life! As long as you walk away from your experiences with something to arm you for future obstacles, and remember to… Seize The Moment when it presents itself!