The KZN Natal summer gamefish season is almost upon us. And after a reasonable sardine season, and plenty baitfish about right now, we’re looking forward to the annual visit of wahoo, king mackerel, dorado and billfish. And other suspects.
Early adopters of the warm summer conditions are the dorado and billfish. It is actually smack bang in the middle of the big black marlin season right now. Although sailfish and blue marlin will also be popping up all over, it’s mainly about the big blacks. The big mommas. 1000 pounds is the magical mark. Every attempt is made to release these fish by true conservation minded sport anglers. Even though the commercial fleet is catching and NOT releasing, we need the information gathered from the tagging programs urgently. The magnificent and angry striped marlin usually come only in February or later. These exciting billfish swim together hunting in shoals?! Beware the double or triple header!
As soon as the rains hit Natal, and hard enough to bring the ever-important brown water down the rivers and into the ocean, where it’s alkalinity helps balance the acidity of the sea, the dorado arrive. It’s like clockwork, as soon as that clear line between the brown and the deep blue forms, it’s on. Especially after or during a stiff southwester. The same conditions that bring the sailfish and marlin. It’s quite a spectacle from up high on the cabin roof, looking down as shoals of dorado swim past and into the spread, annihilating everything in their path.
Still later into summer, and actually almost into winter, come the ‘couta. We used to get the first fish in November. Now they have moved their visit way to after New Year. Sometimes they only pitch as late as April. Their spawning season here, bringing the huge crocodile couta that the KZN coast is famous for. Some of over 50kg’s have been taken over the recent years. This is most certainly the breeding stock of these prized fish, and the amount of ‘sport’ fishing events through the season targeting these fish, is really worrying. All these events should be, could be, run in the name of conservation and sport, rather than killing fish for prize money.
The baitfish like shad and mackerel can be found marauding around the inshore reefs all up and down this fish rich coastline. They move around all the time so as long as you are in the right area, they will find you. Chuck one of these precious items on a decent live bait trace, set the drag to about 2kg’s, and wait for that sound!
Bass fishing with Divan: Seasonal changes and effects
To help the reader better understand Bass and Bass fishing in general, we need to look at the basic fundamentals. Finding them first. I enjoy analogies! Let’s start with one; most of you reading this have probably hunted an animal of sorts, so when you went to shoot the animal, did you start firing random shots Into the Bush hoping that you might hit something? I don’t think so, so why do we apply the concept to fishing then? Back to business! We could categorize the basic understanding into two divisions namely: location and presentation. First, we’ll discuss location and in a later issue, we’ll cover presentation. Location in itself can be broken down into two subdivisions; small ponds or farm dams and larger reservoirs. The obvious difference between the two is their size. Due to the different dynamics of each, they can’t, and shouldn’t be seen as one and the same. This was abundantly clear when I first made the transition from farm ponds to larger impoundments. If I have to be honest, it took me a full season to truly understand the whole concept of fish movement and positioning. Even if someone had taken the time to try and explain the whole business to me, I still doubt that I would have understood the concept without actually being faced with it. The only way for me to learn and retain that information was the hard way, trial and error so to speak. Let’s do small waters first; This is where everyone starts off… a pond on the family farm, commercial venues or whatever. These waters vary in size from tiny mud holes to impressive irrigation reservoirs the size of 2 or 3 Rugby fields. On these types of waters, I place heavy emphasis on cover, to a lesser extent structure and bottom composition. Cover is the presiding factor that will determine where, and how bass position themselves. Obviously certain criteria comes into play here; the 3 C’s – cover, comfort and chow. Ask yourself: is there cover?, is the water a comfortable temperature at the target depth? Are baitfish relating to that area? If you can tick all those boxes, great! You’re on the money! Bass will relate to the entire depth column in ponds for the majority of the year. Winter bass fishing is tricky, bass need stable water to retreat to during Winter, deep water offers stability, most farm ponds aren’t that deep… do you see where the old adage “ bass don’t bite in Winter “ comes from? Without sufficient depth to retreat to, bass will effectively become dormant, unresponsive and unwilling to waste any energy until optimum conditions presents itself. Bass have a preferred temperature band that they like to operate in relative to the area. Northern and coastal waters will differ from highland reservoirs due to the average daily temperature difference. So in essence, bass don’t migrate to the full extent of the word in small waters. Decent holding areas are limited on small waters and a fish might become resident in an area or on a specific piece of cover and, will be reluctant to give it up unless conditions force it to do so. How it’s positioned on or in said piece of cover depends on many factors: light penetration, depth, water clarity, fishing pressure, water temperature etc. Daily movement is something to consider, but this happens on a smaller scale and won’t have a profound effect on success. It may come down to a morning or afternoon bite depending on conditions, they seldom move far, but they definitely switch on and off (feeding vs feeling sorry for themselves). This is the case with the Florida strain especially. Thankfully we have the Northern strain to fall back on. The majority of farm ponds are small enough to cover in a few hours. If you’re having difficulty getting a fish, take it on the chin and change what you were doing. There’s always one that’s willing to eat somewhere. Often in the past, I would throw baits that I enjoyed fishing with, instead of baits that I know would be better suited for the scenario, but took more effort to present. Don’t get stuck in your ways, be flexible! Larger bodies of water have a different dynamic. The annual cycle obviously has four seasons. Three of these seasons have blurred lines with the exception of winter. What I’m saying is: you can be in 1ft or 30ft on the same body of water and still catch them through all three seasons. Let’s get more specific… were currently in Winter so that’s where we’ll start. Winter starts with fish migrating to deep stable main-lake areas. Old river beds, main-lake points, defining landscape features if you will. When I say fish I’m referring to the majority of the population, not rogue fish or lost pockets. They will remain deep until the days start to grow longer. When conditions allow, male bass will start moving shallow and can be caught in great numbers. The bigger females remain slightly deeper whilst waiting for the males to start construction on bedding sites. Under precise conditions, the female moves onto the nest, they conduct their business and the female moves off whilst the male stays behind to guard the nest. The female doesn’t go far, she needs to recover and start feeding so she’s not just heading straight back to deep water, she’ll stick around for a couple of days. We’ll cover the spawn in more detail in a later issue. Now the blurred lines… when the majority of fish are done spawning, they return to business as usual. This entails the obvious: cover, comfort and chow. With this being said, know that you might still find fish in all three stages of the spawn, ex: pre spawn staging fish, bedding fish and post-spawn recovering fish. The staging and recovering fish use the same lines or areas to operate in, condensing them and making them easier to find. These areas are normally the first dramatic depth change or definitive cover break. These areas don’t pertain to the spawn specifically, and Bass use these throughout the year if conditions are favourable. When summer arrives in full fury, fish tend to avoid super shallow water in the absence of cover. Cover, in turn, offers comfort and chow. Remember I’m referring to the majority of the population, and depth counts as cover! For example, on Loskop: fish avoid the shallows in high summer and early winter due to lack of cover, but Rust de winter has enough shallow cover to keep them from shifting off to the real deep parts. One has to have perspective here! Deep on Loskop is 50ft, deep on Rusties is 15ft. So, in reality, one can fish the same zones from early spring to early winter and still be presenting to the bulk of the population. Deep winter is the only time that fish will make a noticeable shift in location. If you want to be successful, you have to follow them deeper or suffer the embarrassment of an empty sack come weigh-in. If you find them stacked up, the bite can be more prolific than the best early season days. I hope this has given the reader a better insight into bass fishing and fish movement. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Put a bait where they live and the rest will take care of itself. See you on the water!
Johan Wessels of the Fishing Pro Shop in Pretoria East, got himself as far-flung as possible last week, in his quest to catch that tarpon. All 150lbs of the beast fish!
But it wasn’t ALL about the flash tarpon fish that Johan and crew were after. The jungle waters of Nicaragua teem with the most pretty of species.
Over to Johan’s running commentary…
[21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Been out fishing the jungle and throwing small spinnerbaits and rapalas at the submerges trees… Here are some pictures [21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Rainbow bass on small spinner bait [21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Bluegill sunfish on small rapala [21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Also managed this snook [21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Here is a short video of the jungle [21:42, 17/10/2019] Johan: Lots of small fish, amazing fishing in all that flooded structure and easy to see why it holds so many fish
After the team took a well needed break they started preparing for another day in the wild jungle. Fishing Nicaragua style!
[14:05, 19/10/2019] Johan: So the fishing is done and we start heading back this morning. Yesterday’s jungle fishing was a bit of a dud fishing wise, but the jungle is indescribable… we would be travelling on a small creek, hardly big enough for a small johnboat to travel through and then it opens up into a lake big enough to rival most of our inland waters…. We did set out for a last tarpon session and i finally hooked up on fly and staying hooked up for 10 m before straightening yet another hook… The take was ferocious and i have blisters on my fingers to prove it… [14:06, 19/10/2019] Johan: So from here it is Cesna back to costa rica, followed by an afternoon flight to London and the tomorrow evening home to Jozi…
What a trip! Not to mention two days of travelling home!
The Fishing Pro Shop News channel is firing up! Last week we had Divan Coetzee, FPS Pro, relating his experiences with bass fishing and social media. Check that story out right here. This week we have ongoing commentary all the way from Nicaragua, where another Fishing Pro Shop Pro, our own Johan Wessels, is chasing…tarpon! Really big tarpon.
So stay tuned as we keep you up-to-date on the seasons, the fish, and the antics of the Pro crew – working at the Fishing Pro Shop, right here on this channel. For now, it’s back to Ecuador…
They are having a great time all the way over there in those fish rich waters. But fishing for those punishing brutes takes it’s toll, physically, mentally, and on your gear and tackle. They are extremely dogged in a fight, cunning and strong, as they change direction in milliseconds. Coming flying up and out of the water in cascading spray and drama. Or diving down deep and sitting vas, breaking the angler’s already broken back. You have to fit and strong to tackle these beasts. Physically, and mentally.
The mighty tarpon in Nicaragua . Nicaragua is a place in the world where huge tarpon still thrives, not just survives!
Johan left a few days ago, flying all over the planet, to get to his final destination. His first few sessions were interesting indeed, many big fish lost, but some small ones (?!), as in the pic below, did make it boatside.
Many hooks were straightened or bent. Traces broken. Egos bruised by these legendary fighting fish.
But, many lessons learnt too.
Some commentary from Johan…after his first day out there, very early morning…
[02:12, 13/10/2019] Johan: Right… so we got here and fished for tarpon for two hours… [02:12, 13/10/2019] Johan: Before the light caught us… [02:13, 13/10/2019] Johan: And i can say that i have been humbled by the silver king… Jumped 2 fish. The guides say one was 80lb and the other a 100lb… [02:14, 13/10/2019] Johan: My friend ben landed one of 130lb. Awaiting pics… [02:15, 13/10/2019] Johan: Both fish screwed up my best laid plans with gamakatsu and mustad hooks…. [02:15, 13/10/2019] Johan: I think the saying is true… [02:15, 13/10/2019] Johan: You get tarpon and then everything else.. [02:16, 13/10/2019] Johan: Now. These are the smaller fish of this area….
However things improved very fast for the FPS representative Johan, as he changed tactics and this next script arrived in my inbox!
[13:11, 15/10/2019] Johan: And so starts another fishing morning on search of tarpon… Yesterday was a tuff game chasing the tarpon, but we did manage two. One of 80 and another of 120lb… [13:13, 15/10/2019] Johan: Live bait and deadbait has been the way, but did hook up again on the bucktail yesterday… The bighest challenge has not been getting them to bite, but to get the hooks to stay in their bucket mouths….
As of this point in the adventure, Johan and crew have been battling the available bandwidth over there, in the sticks, to get the videos and imagery to us. Stand by though, it’s definitely going to be hotting up!
Then it came, the news we had been waiting for.
Finally, proof of tarpon! This action packed gallery just filtered through the airwaves, and was worth the wait for sure.
And so, barely a few days into the Nicaraguan tarpon mission, the highly prized benchmark 150lb dream fish made it boatside. Tamed by Johan Wessels after many attempts and many near misses. This was one of quite a few fish Johan was able to get to the boat. Many of the hooked fish never came near the boat at all!
They guys are fishing live bait and dead bait. And lures. The bucktail jig that Johan had some good success with, features in this next gallery, of action packed imagery.
This will mark the end of Part 1 of our coverage of Johan’s adventure chasing and taming tarpon in the wild waters of Nicaragua . I am pretty sure the team is hard at rest now that they have had their fill. Or have they?
So stay close for the next instalment or two, all the way from south America.
Bass: Fishing Pro Shop’s Divan Coetzee has prepared a series of articles putting bass firmly in the cross hairs, -this being the first one. Every week from now and for 10 weeks, we will publish one bass fishing post from Divan. In amongst other how-to and news articles from all the other fish species our authors are committed to. Johan Wessels is right now representing the Fishing Pro Shop in Nicaragua as he commits to teaching those tarpon a few lessons. We are looking forward to his contributions coming up shortly.
Over to Divan…
I’ve wanted to touch on this subject for a while now but, I was not sure what I wanted to say, or whether it will be relevant or help full… there are many aspects I’d like to cover on this topic, but I’ll only end up ranting and spewing rubbish, much like my previous works. Anyway, you’ve all seen those posts, and maybe you’ve even made one before, it normally goes something like this: – “Hi everyone, my buddy and I want to go catch some bass tomorrow. Where is the best spot and with what can I catch them”. Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it? One almost feels compelled to help. Then it got me thinking: what did I do in my early years prior to the ‘information at the touch of a button age’? I’ll tell you what! I shredded any and all information pertaining to bass fishing and fishing in general. If you are passionate enough about fishing, you’ll do the same. If not, then you are that guy that’s always late for class and did not do his homework, hoping he can get enough done in the 5 minutes preceding first period. What I’m saying is: if you are a crappy student, you’ll be a crappy bass fisherman.
Bass fishing has no short answers, just an endless array of variables. If you can’t make peace with this, then you’ll end up over complicating things for yourself. Back to the point! So, said person is perfectly capable of typing his request and submitting it to social media? Right, but why social media and not a more dedicated platform? Something like wired2fish or any Bass magazine out there. Let me tell you why! It takes little to no effort to attain ‘information’ on these sites. Remember this is the same guy who never does his homework, and most other platforms offer extensive solutions to his questions, yet he is unwilling to literally just sit there and listen, never mind having to go through hours of reading material. They like their answers in 3 words or less but, these folks will have a hard time achieving any consistency.
The fact that there are thousands and thousands of lure choices (and opinions) does not make it easy for entry level and beginner anglers either. If you are still consumed by lure selection, rest assured, the solution is not on the shelf. This brings us to the second part of the conversation – the answers! If you’ve ever answered a question like that on social media in 3 words or less, then shame on you! We’ll circle back to this shortly; ever noticed how many experts and specialists we have out there? Thank goodness these guys aren’t tournament fisherman; No wonder folks take to social media for instant advise. Top answers include, but are not limited to: “Bronkhorstspruit! Rusties! Flukes, Senko, Witbank Spinnerbaits, where do you live, I’m going there next week…. Jigs, crankbaits!” The list goes on and on…. What can one possibly hope to learn form these contradictory utterances? Yes sure you can go to above mentioned venue and throw out said baits and catch a fish, but how does that help you long term? Are you seriously going to consult whom ever is quickest on the keyboard every time you consider an outing? Luckily there are no wrong answers in bass fishing but, some answers are more correct than others relatively speaking. So how does one convey the correct info in 3 words or less? Easy, you don’t! Effort equals reward in this case and the onus is on you to up your game and reference framework. You have to put in the hours.
Reference framework I hear you ask? Every single outing you’ve had prior to the next one is your reference, ie: location, time of year, weather conditions, dam level, predominant structure, baitfish… all these factors contribute to making informed decisions. The more you fish a specific body of water under specific conditions, the better your reference will be. Our waters are small in comparison to the USA so a bass literally has nowhere to hide; yet finding fish takes a back seat when compared to lure selection locally. We place way too much emphasis on lure selection and pay little attention to the stuff that matters. Do you think the top anglers in this Country have some special bait that they’re unwilling to tell you about? Maybe…. But the reality is that these guys know how to find fish relative to the seasonal stage; that’s the key.
It’s a big pill, swallow it slowly so you don’t forget it! Perhaps we’ll take a deeper look at seasonal staging in future issues. This forms part of the fundamentals to understanding bass behavior and cycles.
In closing, if you put in the effort, you’ll be duly rewarded. Selling people down the river is in poor taste. There are no short cuts – only long days, blistering heat, icy wind, swollen fingers, sunburn, windburn, dehydration, late nights and early mornings… all of it, absolutely worth it!
Thank you Divan for another excellent piece. Looking forward to your next one – Sean