The annual migration of vast shoals of sardines [pilchards] up the Natal coast heralds the beginning of another fishing year.
During June and July each year, these little fish make their appearance along the eastern seaboard where Natal's coast stretches from the Umtamvuna River in the south to the Tugela River and the Zululand boundary in the north.
It is this stretch of coastline that has cradled the desire to fish for many a South African, for along this stretch lies the holiday playground for most residents of the hinterland cities in the Gauteng region.
It is the sardine run, a fantastic, annual phenomenon that occurs during one of the premium holiday periods, and the game fish that follow it, that attracts many a person to take up rod and reel and ``go fishing".
The Elf (Bluefish in the United States) then makes an appearance, and being the voracious feeders that they are, they fall easy prey to the countless anglers who pursue them until the 31st of August each year.
After this, they are protected to spawn in relative peace until the 30th of November.
Surf and estuary fishing is about as old as the Port of Natal, Durban. Historical records reflect that the early settlers soon realized the potential of these waters to produce a harvest of fine eating fish. However, it was not until just prior to the second world war that beach anglers, continually tempted by splashing and boiling shoals of fish just beyond casting range, effected an improvisation and paddled out aboard upgraded surfboards beyond the big surf line to catch these fish.
As the surfboard on which this craft was based was called a "crocker ski", the new craft was colloquially called a "ski-boat", a name that has been retained even for today's high-powered, sophisticated offshore fishing craft.
From this humble beginning a new vista opened. Catches multiplied as King Mackerel, Natal Snoek, Dorado, and a vast variety of reef fish added a new dimension to the sport of angling.
Today offshore angling is practised extensively from this section of the South African seaboard. From nearly every rocky promontory that affords some protection from the relentless surf line, a ski-boat club has been formed.
It is from these little bays as well as open river mouths that ski-boats negotiate the surf to permit anglers to go fishing at sea. The port of Durban is the only deep water harbour in this entire 250 mile coastline.
Therefore, it is the intrepid skippers who break the barriers of the heavy surf that enables this sport to be enjoyed.
During the summer months, the warm Mozambique current makes its way close to shore and brings with it a fair concentration of a wide variety of pelagic game fish including King Mackerel, Tuna, Bonito and Dorado, with a fair number of Sailfish and Black, Blue and Striped Marlin also being caught each year. Reef fishing for species such as Black and Red Steenbras, Kob, Yellowtail and Rockcod is a winter sport, when the colder green water pushes in from the south.
Durban, as the only port, supports a fair number of offshore charter craft and private vessels in this class. These vessels, together with the high-class hotels, offers visitors to this part of the world an opportuity to experience the pleasures of a day at sea off the coast of Natal.
A feature unique in angling circles was the shark fishing that used to take place off the southern breakwater of Durban harbour's entrance to the sea. As a whaling port until the early '60s, a large number of sharks followed the whale carcasses as they were tawed into port by whale boats.
These sharks were sought by a select band of fishermen who, using heavy surf rods, wooden Scarborough reels and 2 000 yards of 18 cord flex line and a chunk of whale meat as bait, landed numerous sharks over 1 000 pounds. The heaviest recorded was a great white of 1 660 pounds landed by Reg Harrison in 1953.
The end of whaling all but put an end to this type of angling, for these days it is only the odd shark that is caught and the hardy band of shark fishermen pursue other sports for pleasure.
Besides the ski-boat, the Elf, the Sardine and the King Mackerel, it is the overall availability of angling opportunities that has made Natal famous. From the young child catching his first tiddler in a rock pool to the big game angler fighting a 400pound marlin, many varied opportunities exist.
From the protection of estuaries and bays, rocky gullies, ledge fishing, high rock promontories and long white beaches, to the deep sea, an angler, no matter his preference or his level of expertise, will find a brand of fishing along this stretch of coast to suit himself.