A Guided Tour of South Africa’s Fishing Opportunities

Date:  Wed, 21-Nov-2007
Section: African Sporting Gazette
By Craig Thomassen

South Africa is a country of great diversity in almost every aspect - and fishing is no exception. Almost every conceivable form of fishing can be done in the RSA, both in fresh and salt water. Flyfishing, lure fishing and bait fishing are all well-practised options.

The offshore waters of the Indian and Atlantic oceans are rich in fish life off South Africa, and provide much pleasure and entertainment to anglers. Fresh water impoundments and rivers in the country teem with some important indigenous angling species; a number of popular introduced species have also done very well in this environment.

The cold waters off the Cape coast are rich in plankton, which in turn support an enormous biomass of bait species such as anchovies and pilchards. The sport fishing potential in this area revolves mostly around fishing for yellowfin tuna, longfin tuna (albacore) and Cape yellowtail (amberjack). During the period October to April, the yellowfin tuna fishery off the Western Cape coast is world-class, with fish of over 200 lbs being caught regularly.

Moving up to the Eastern Cape coast, things change quite a lot. Water temperatures are substantially warmer and the composition of species changes markedly. The Eastern Cape is particularly popular for surf anglers and estuary fishermen. There are some excellent tidal rivers that offer wonderful light tackle and flyfishing. Species such as spotted grunter, kob (drum), shad (bluefish), skipjack (ladyfish), river snapper (mangrove red snapper) and garrick (leerfish) are plentiful in and around these estuaries. Rock and surf fishing in the Eastern Cape is some of the finest in the country, probably due to the healthy estuaries and to the rich marine life in the tidal zone in this area. Species targeted in the region are musselcracker, bronze bream, pignose grunter, kob, shad and garrick.

The Cape Province has some fine trout fishing in the mountainous areas, notably around Rhodes in the Eastern Cape, and in the small streams of the Klein Drakenstein mountains between Paarl and Worcester in the Western Cape. Smallmouth bass are plentiful in the Clanwilliam area, and some big fish are taken there each year. #OOPS#her north in the Eastern Cape, largemouth bass are caught in dams not far from the coast. They seem to do well in this mild climate, and Groenvlei outside Sedgefield is one of the country’s most popular bass dams.

The Orange River, which has its origins in the Orange Free State and ends in the Atlantic Ocean on South Africa’s north-western border, is the best place to try for large catfish. This river is known to hold the biggest specimens of these hard fighting freshwater fish in the region. The Orange River is also home to some very good specimens of both large-mouth and small-mouth yellowfish, which have recently gained enormous popularity as a fishing species.

The Orange Free State and Transvaal are landlocked provinces but possibly have more fishermen living in them than the coastal provinces. The reason for this is that carp fishing is very good in these areas and is by far the most popular form of fishing in the country. South Africa has some of the finest carp fishing available in the world, and a small tourism industry is starting to grow around this, with fishermen mainly from the UK and Europe coming out to experience the large numbers of big fish available here.
Both these provinces have towns in the highlands that thrive on the trout fishing market. Most areas have many small lodges and guesthouses with private dams that are stocked with trout on a regular basis.

The Kwazulu-Natal coast is where temperate waters begin to give way to a sub-tropical environment. This is probably the part of the South African coast that offers the best offshore game fishing, with species such as striped and black marlin, sailfish, wahoo, dorado, king mackerel, giant trevally, yellowfin tuna and barracuda being present in good numbers. Fishing charters along this part of the coast tend to specialize more in fishing for game fish than their counterparts lower down the coast who target bottom fish.

Surf fishing along the Kwazulu-Natal coast is varied, with a mix between the temperate surf zone species mentioned for the Eastern Cape region and some of the more tropical species such as stumpnose, kingfish (trevally) and pompano (permit). Surf fishing is very popular on the Kwazulu-Natal coast, especially during the annual sardine run, which is a natural phenomenon of epic proportions. Every winter a large variety of sharks and game fish migrate into these waters along with the sardines. At this time, there are more fishermen along the Kwazulu-Natal coast than at any other place in the country at any other time.

Kwazulu-Natal historically had many productive estuaries, but bad farming practices have caused many of these to become silted up and virtually fishless. A few exceptions would be St. Lucia and Kosi Bay that have been more protected and still offer some excellent estuary fishing.

Kwazulu-Natal, with its sub-tropical climate, also has some of the country’s best-known bass dams, such as Albert Falls, Inanda and Goedetrouw. The higher regions in and around the Drakensberg mountains offer some really good small stream flyfishing for trout and the indigenous Natal scaly. Pongolapoort dam and the Pongola river in northern Kwazulu-Natal have tiger fish in them and are the only places within the country where tiger fish can be caught, other than the Crocodile/Olifants river system in the Eastern Transvaal.

The fishing in South Africa that is most important from a foreign tourism perspective would be tuna fishing offshore in the western Cape and deep sea game fishing off the Kwazulu-Natal coast. During the mid to late 1990s, an important sport fishery for broadbill swordfish was discovered off the Western Cape, attracting fishermen from all over the world. Sadly it was mismanaged, and commercial long liners got into the area and completely decimated the fishery in less than three years. Implementation of conservation regulations is critical to ensure the future well-being of fishing resources in and around South Africa.

Craig grew up along South Africa’s south coast and started fishing as soon as he could walk. After studying nature conservation and working for the Natal Parks Board, he guided wildlife safaris in both Zululand and Botswana. Craig organizes fishing trips all over Africa, has published numerous articles about fishing, and presented the TV show African Angling Safaris.

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