You know you have trouble when you get home after a long day of fishing (or should I say trying to fish), and your three year old greets you with: “Het pappa alweer niks gevang nie… (Did you catch nothing again )!”
I had the worst blanking streak in a very long time, eight straight blanks! The last couple of years I’ve been blessed and lucky enough to catch some really nice fish. But lately my luck seemed to have run out. I just couldn’t buy a bite from anything proper. It wasn’t as if I fished the worst spots either, given the West Coast is very unpredictable and I almost always blank there, but in places like Arniston and Struisbaai one should get something decent. Even antie Betty hasn’t been kind to me lately and she usually gives easily. All you have to do is dress up nicely and make sure you have a rod in the water. The odd Gallie would eventually come by and gobble up a piece of mussel or wonder worm, but even with them it’s been a struggle.
Just for the record, in my book blanking is when you don’t catch what you target in a decent size (well, that’s how it used to be, nowadays it is just something over the legal size). Therefor when you target Steenbras and you only catch a undersized baby, you have blanked. Now, you can be saved from a blank by catching something else, like a decent size Kob for example. Banjo’s and Barbell doesn’t count, neither does Klipvis even if you “target” them!
We left for Witsand early Wednesday morning for a long, long weekend. I was on a quest to see if I could shed this blanking pong that was hanging all over my demeanor. The girls were more interested in sun, sea and shells. We made all the usual stops, Dassies Fontein for a breackie, Riviersonderent for a whiz, Buffeljags for a “roosterkoek” and Hooikraal for some braai protein. Finally, after a quick stop at “die huis winkel” in town for some dry wood and an update on the river we could go and set up our home for the next few days.
In front of “us” was five full days of fishing and I couldn’t be happier. The plan was to fish close to home for the first two days to accommodate the ladies and do some recreational activities with them (of course while there is a rod in the water).
After unpacking the gear was assembled and we went down to the river. Pumping prawns was a mission, they seem to have completely disappeared from the lower parts of the river, but eventually I got a few muddies, cracker shrimp and sand prawns. Livies was easy enough to get and they went in immediately. The water was surprisingly warm and I was certain that a predator would come along soon enough.
The usual peckers was around and I caught plenty of Gorries and Cape Stumpnose until I was surprised with a real unfamiliar beauty. The week before our trip I read there was some unusual fish in the river and was really chuffed to ad to my species count with a stunning little Santer.
All of a sudden my Stradic started screaming and when I picked up the rod I could feel I hooked into something decent. The fish even took some line and I could swear I felt head shakes. I was very surprised and frustrated when a Sand Shark appeared from the brownish river water. WTF! After that it all went quiet for the rest of the afternoon. Blank nr 9!
As the sun went down the Breede and Witsand turned into a spectacular Picasso of pinks and purples.
I was up early Thursday morning and after a cup of coffee and a rusk I went down to the sea for a quick throw before the girls woke up. The swell was up and there was a big drag in the water which wasn’t ideal. The big rods came out however and after a few casts in front of the restaurant I decided to move about 400 meters to the right. There was bank at the back that could hold some Steenbras and I was hopeful for a pull on my bloodworm and prawn combo. Unfortunately nothing thought my bait was attractive enough and I had to settle for blank nr 10! At least I had a good view…
By ten I was home and ready for breakfast. After a bit of feet in the air we were off to the river again. I decided to spend the rest of the day with the ladies and only packed two light sticks rigged with small hooks. The mission was to get my three year old stuck into a fish, any fish.
I put a piece of bait on a no 8 hook and made a short cast. When I passed the rod to my little one she struggled to hold it up right. I took the rod from her and would only hook up and then she could reel in. Soon enough a smallish fish was on, so I called her over to come and “catch her fish”. We held onto the rod while she just reeled like crazy. After about 30 seconds a little Cape Stump Nose was flapping on the side. Her reaction was priceless! She jumped and with a clenched fist shouted YES, then followed the celebration with a “Whooohooo”! I don’t know who was more exited though, me or she. We ran to mommy to present our first fish, a little “Stompneus”, or as she calls it, a “vis stomp”.
We caught one more, but then the focus shifted more towards building sand castles.
With the shadows getting longer the temperature seemed to drop all of a sudden and we decided to go light a fire and have a couple of cold ones. Blank nr… Technically I caught what I targeted. Or so I thought until I was reminded by my three year old that SHE caught two “vis stompe”, with my wife adding, “ja en pappa niks” (and dad nothing)! So ja, I suppose then Blank nr 11, technically!
Day three: Friday
The day started with a predicted storm blessing us with some much needed rain. Not the perfect fishing weather, but I knew that it should clear a bit by the afternoon and that we might get a chance to get stuck into something since the barometer would start climbing after the storm.
Deon joined us early Friday morning for the rest of the weekend. After about ten coffees and contemplating whether we shouldn’t stay home and rather have a couple of dirty cokes, we decided to go and brave the weather.
Funny enough when we arrived at the river the rain seemed to stop. There was the odd light drizzle but nothing serious. The wind was blowing, but it was not cold at all.
For the first couple of hours nothing happened. After about an hour I checked my baits and the one was bit in half and the other one was dead. I rebaited and made a cast onto the drop off. Another couple of hours went by of no inquiries and my mind started going down a negative spiral.
I had to keep reminding myself to stay positive and that something has to happen eventually. It was getting to late afternoon, the tide was pushing and the barometer was climbing at a rate of knots. Something just had to happen and then all of a sudden… more nothing!
We kept ourselves busy with pumping prawns and trying to catch Grunter. They were completely off the bite but at least we were kept busy with Stumpnose, Blacktail and even a good size Moonie munching on our hard pumped muddies.
Then a reel screamed, I couldn’t believe it. I had almost given up hope. It was Deon’s rod and after a brief fight he landed a smallish Kob. He hooked another livie, made the cast and before he could put his rod down, on again! This fish was bigger and gave him some stick before he landed an really healthy looking 65cm Kob.
We decided that this fish would be kept for the braai. He rebaited and made another cast. It wasn’t one minute later when his reel screamed again. Another smallish Kob. Three to Deon and “blou fokol” (nil) to me. I noticed he made his cast a bit further than usual. Normally we would cast no more than 5-10 meters from the side because the channel runs right at your feet. I took out my livies changed to new ones and boom, I was in.
My first fish was also one of the smaller ones and he was promptly returned. My second fish was a better looking 70cm specimen and a fantastic way to break the blanking streak, eventually. After I took him out I noticed that he was tagged so after a quick snap we returned him as well. Not that you have to return a tagged fish, but I’m not taking chances. The story of a tagged fish and his travel arrangements combined with his growth rate is worth much more to me than a fresh fried fillet.
I was on fire and the comeback kid was at it again. My third fish was a really good fish, he took me for a 30 meter walk upriver and I could feel there was some weight to him. But, unfortunately the 5’0 circle hook pulled somehow. FFS! It was 4-2 just after I lost my fish, this gave Deon some breathing space.
It’s difficult to explain how crazy it was. You would literally throw your bait and before you could put your rod down something would be bumping your livie. Then 4-2 turned into 4-3 and then into 5-3, somehow Deon managed to stay in front every time I thought I would catch up. These wasn’t big fish, most in the 50-60cm range, but they were all feisty fighters and gave a good account of them selves.
It went a bit quiet and this gave us some much needed time to catch more livies. Deon was trowing the net with me playing ground crew by picking up mullets and filling the live well.
The rod on my left started giving some serious shivers and I could see the mullet was really nervous, so I stood a little closer. Next moment my rod dipped and my Stradic started screaming. I grabbed the rod and uttered my own little “whoohoo” as the fish swam to my right with aggressive speed, making my reel zinggggg with pleasure. Then my other rod dipped as well and another screaming Stradic had me in a real predicament. Which fish do I devote my full attention to? I had to do a little weaving as the lines were all over each other and shouted for Deon to come and help. After we untangled the lines I decided to play the first fish as it felt heavier than the second one. I told Deon to hold onto the second rod but not to reel, it’s my fish!
The fish swam up river and I had to do some rock hopping to try and avoid being cut off on the bricks. The fish fought like a champ and after a few minutes he seemed to be done. I looked left and Deon shouted that the other fish dropped the bait and he put the rod down. Right at my feet Mr Kobbie decided its time for a bit more fun and went on another little run, taking me another couple of meters up stream.
Then I heard Deon shouting and screaming and as I looked left I saw my other rod in a serious bend. I had to concentrate on the fish at hand first but forced him a bit more. While I was landing a stunning 79cm Kob I saw Deon was almost halfway towards me already as the fish swam upriver as well. I picked up the fish and ran towards my other rod.
Deon said that this thing almost pulled my rod into the water as he took off. When I took the rod from him I could feel that this wasn’t anything like the babies we’ve been playing with. He came to the surface about 100m to my right and I could see that he had run off a lot of line. I gained some line by running and reeling as I moved up river. The fish just kept on going and going, but luckily swam at a steady pace and not to far from the side. I eventually caught up with him.
He wasn’t more than 20 meters from the side when I saw him swirl for the first time, displacing a big wave of water. This made me even more nervous because I could see that this was no ordinary fish. I couldn’t help but think of the monster I lost earlier in the year and remembered that the longer he stays out, the more could go wrong. I tightened the drag a little and started pumping the rod slightly more.
Then about 15 meters away… (I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it again) he turned on his head and started flapping his tail at me. There was a huge plash every time his tail hit the water. I almost had a little heart attack when all of a sudden my line went slack. But luckily this was only because he decided to come left and towards me.
I screaming at Deon to come and help. He came running over and said I should just calm down. “Wees rustig” came the calming, inspiring words. This made be back off a bit and I left the fish to tire itself.
We worked him into a small bay and as Deon was about to grab him he went off again. Brilliant and nerve wrecking at the same time! Deon helped with “vat dit stadig”. When he turned sideways I knew we had him. Deon grabbed him and gently laid him down on the side. We immediately decided that he has to be returned and Deon set off on a mad dash to get the tagging kit and camera. I just stood in awe as I looked at this purple beauty lying on the side with a backdrop of orange skies reflecting on the river. I was a bit mesmerized for a second. It doesn’t get better than this, I thought!
The tranquil silence was broken with a croak from the Croaker on the side. Deon came running and we quickly measured and tagged the Kobbie. He measured 106cm. Not a giant by all means compared to what lurks in the deep of the Breede but for a 5000 Stradic and a 9ft rod I reckoned it wasn’t too bad at all. This fish helped to ease the pain of my heartbreak late last year. He wasn’t the BIG one I’m looking for, but at least it was a new personal best.
I took the fish and gently slid him back into the water. Holding him by the tail, I moved him back and forth to get some water and much needed oxygen through his gills. First nothing happened and I was getting a little worried. But then he gave a loud croak, as if to say “see ya later”! He kicked his tail and he was off. I sighed with a loud “YES” and punched the air with excitement. What a fish, what a day!
We were all tied up at 5 all and decided to make one more cast although it was already pretty dark. The action seemed to have dropped completely and we decided to call it a day. Just then Deon’s reel went off again and after a quick pull nr 6 was on the side. That was it and Deon “won” the day 6-5!
When we got home my little one asked, “Het pappa alweer niks gevang nie?” I said, “Pappa het iets gevang” (I did catch something). To which she replied, “Moenie jok nie!” (Don’t lie)! Hows that for a vote of confidence…
Day Four: Saturday
We were at the river dark and early. Keen to empty the river! Unbelievably nothing happened the whole morning accept for Deon catching a small Leerie.
On Saturday late afternoon we were back at the river just to catch some nice scenery.
Day 5: Sunday
On Sunday a mate of mine joined us and we decided to give the sea another try. The swell dropped to under 2 meters and the water had a good looking green tinge to it. It was a lovely windless day and even with the fishing being slow we had a fantastic time on the beach. I even picked up a perfect Paper Nautilus. How lucky can one guy be? In the end we each caught a smallish Kobbie, mine being the biggest one, measuring 62cm.
The evening was spent telling big fish stories and peeking deep into the bottle.
Day 6: Monday
On Monday we had to pack our things and take on the long road home. Not that it is a long road at all, its just that somehow, whenever I have to leave this Whitesands place a piece of me stays behind. I love the place!
What a week of Good fishing and Great company!!!