Fishing in Zululand

South Africa's only claim to tropical seas is the short stretch of coast bordering southern Mozambique.

These clear blue waters, washing over coral reefs and into vast offshore trenches, draw not only a good concentration of pelagic game fish, including billfish, but also the cream of South Africa's big game anglers to pit their skills in battle.

A vast section of this 120-mile coastline is a marine sanctuary which protects the marine life, including demersal fish species. Anglers fishing from both the beach and from craft at sea are permitted to target the abundance of pelagic fish that migrate southward from the warmer northern tropical waters.

In order to fish these waters, high speed ``ski-boats" capable of being launched from the beach, are used, as the only harbour within this region is Richards Bay at the southern extremity of the area.

Launching through the surf line very often provides terror for the crew and excitement for those watching from the beach, but it allows anglers access to the known fishing spots.

Fish that predominate in this area are all tropical water species of the Indian Ocean, headed by the billfish family of which the black and striped marlin are the most common. An occasional blue marlin is also captured in these waters.

The biggest black marlin caught in South African waters was captured in December 1984 at Cape Vidal and weighed in at 938 lb. The second-best fish, a 927 lb black, was caught at Sodwana in November 1981. A number of 900 lb-plus fish have been caught since then and there can be no doubt that it is not a case of ``if" but ``when"!

The Zululand coast's marlin season commences in early November and peaks in late November, after which it tapers off gradually to its conclusion towards the end of April.

Pacific sailfish are also captured in fair numbers by anglers targeting the main species, king mackerel. Sailfish visit these shores from January until June and range from 45 to 150 lb.

With the increasing awareness of the pressure the billfish resource is attracting, a strong tag-and-release program is gaining momentum. It is, however, the varied species of game fish such as king mackerel, queen mackerel, yellowfin tuna, bonito, dorado, wahoo and kingfish that attract light tackle anglers to the area.

Surf casting and fishing from rocky ledges also provide exciting catches, ranging in size from small bream to large sharks.

Two tidal lake/estuary systems are found in the area. Apart from the wildlife they support, anglers fishing from small craft with light tackle are assured of a lot of sport and a number of very good meals.

Fishing the Natal Coast

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 practiced 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 opportunity 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.

Fishing in The South Western Cape

Just east of Cape Agulhas, Africa's southernmost point, lies the small coastal town of Struisbaai, arguably the capital of near-shore boat angling in the Western Cape, served by a small but functional harbour.

Frequented in season by many recreational ski-boat anglers, the huge shelf of the Agulhas Bank supports a wide variety of bottom-feeding as well as pelagic species, desirable both as sport and food fish.

Another favourite species is the kabeljou, or "kob", a fish similar to the American red drum. Favouring reefs surrounded by sand, this specie averages a similar size to the yellowtail.

A number of bottom feeding redfish species also occur in this area. The largest is the famous red steenbras which attains 150 lb but is commonly around 30 lb.

Other popular redfish include the red stumpnose and the red roman, reaching 20 and 10 lb, respectively. As with most redfish, these species are all prized eating fish.

Rock and surf angling is a popular pastime in the Garden Route area and good catches are made. A number of different species of shark are caught along with kob and elf quite regularly.

Fishing the Wild Coast

The lack of coastal development and the sheer rugged beauty earned this 300-mile stretch of the Africa coast its name ``The Wild Coast".

Home to South Africa's second largest ethnic clan, the Xhosa, with the Pondo tribe in the northeastern section, this coastal stretch features a wide variety of fish and fishing conditions. The tribes had little effect on the marine resources of this coast for many years, other than shellfish.

However, recent times have seen over-exploitation of oyster, abalone and rock lobster populations by commercial operations. New legislation is in the pipeline to facilitate proper management of all marine resources in the Transkei, with special emphasis being placed on maintaining the tourist angler trade into the future.

Starting in the northeast corner and travelling down the coast, past the port city of East London to the Great Fish River, we notice a great abundance of estuaries, rarely more than five or six miles apart.

For the first hundred miles, the green rolling hills slope steeply from 300-400 feet down to the sea, interspersed with short stretches of sheer cliffs, sandy beaches and estuaries. At one beautiful spot near Msikaba, a waterfall pours down the cliff face straight into the sea.

From the central Transkei southward, the high green hills make way for heavily wooded sand dunes and long stretches of beach again broken by the estuaries, some of which only open to the sea for short periods in the rainy season. Nevertheless, they harbour many saltwater fish and prawns.

Several of the estuaries feature hotels which provide for visiting anglers, while others are accessible by means of four-wheel drive vehicles.The steep banks of the estuaries are heavily forested with indigenous trees which are home to an incredible variety of birds.

Boat fishing is an unforgettable experience for nature lovers with the cry of fish eagles, trumpeter hornbills and glimpses of the beautiful crimson-winged Knysna Lourie being the daily norm.

The warm Agulhas current (up to 26 degrees Centigrade in summer) sweeps down this entire coastline. Close to shore in the north, it tends to meander as it nears East London, sometimes close, sometimes 12 miles offshore depending on the prevailing winds.

At its strongest near the continental shelf, the current allows little sand and silt to settle, resulting in large areas of prime reef fishing.

The warm Agulhas current brings pelagic fish south almost year-round. Regular catches include black and striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, world record size kawakawa, skipjack tuna, king mackerel, queenfish, kingfish, dorado and wahoo.

A prime attraction for offshore reef fishermen on this entire 300-mile stretch is the giant endemic snapper-type fish called the red or copper steenbras which grows to 60 kgs (130 lb). The strict, management measures mentioned earlier will also be invoked to limit catches of these magnificent fish.

While their numbers have been seriously reduced, visiting and local anglers still have a good chance of success. A number of other reef species make bottom fishing attractive when the game fishing is slow.

With the exception of the East London harbour, all offshore boats launch through the surf from estuaries, semi-sheltered bays or open beaches.

The Agulhas current also provides the shore fishermen with a variety of warm water fish interspersed with cooler water fish when the current meanders offshore. Garrick are prized targets at some of the deeper water shore spots like Brazen Head, Poenskop, Mbolompo, Mazeppa Bay, the East London harbour breakwater and Cove Rock.

Tuna are sometimes taken from these ledges. Two marlin have also been hooked and lost. Yellowtail, elf and kob make up the bulk of the catches.

A variety of bream-like fish which make excellent table fare are still reasonably abundant, as are sharks and rays which, on a tag-and-release basis, make up the bulk of competition angling catches.

The estuarine fishing is good with kob (which grow to more than 100 pounds), spotted grunter, river snapper, garrick and small kingfish. A popular light-tackle fish is the tarpon's relative called skipjack which provides spectacular aerobatics when hooked.

This coast is very popular with South African anglers and a growing number of visitors are sampling its unspoiled beauty and variety of fish.

However, hiking the Wild Coast is most probably the only way of exploring the area in depth.

Fishing in the waters of Mpumalanga

The Lowveld and Eastern Transvaal Escarpment has, by virtue of its many hospitable stretches of water and active private trout breeding industry, become the mecca for fly fishermen in South Africa.

Indigenous to the chilly water of the northern hemisphere trout has, since the beginning of the century, become a happy immigrant to the rivers and lakes of southern Africa among other sub-equatorial territories.

The high, cold waters provide a perfect habitat for the fish, and for anglers who have made the area their playground.

While originally intended to provide this sporting fish for public angling enjoyment, the impressive Lydenburg fish breeding and research station now only propagates rare and endangered indigenous species.

The role of stocking the lucrative trout fishing reserves is now in the hands of local private professionals, who even export fertilised eggs to Europe and America.

There are, however also various public clubs providing high quality trout fishing to members and visitors at a normal fee

Rainbow trout is the most popular quarry for fishermen, although browns are taken from time to time. Very few reserves allow the use of any other lure than fly and the sport is governed by the true traditions enforced by managers, to the letter.

For many years, the excellent fishing in and around Lydenburg was a closely guarded secret. While most anglers enjoyed what surrounding towns such as Belfast, Machadodrop, Waterval Boven and Dullstroom had to offer, the few who cared to venture a little further, reaped the benefits of uncrowded fishing in the delightful rivers of Lydenburg.

In recent years, rivers such as the Spekboom, Drops and Sterk have been generally rediscovered.

Fishing at the West Coast

Due to the influence of the cool Benguela current, recreational angling off the west coast is limited and consists mainly of snoek. A commercial fishery exists for this species, particularly around Dassen Island and St Helenabaai.

The Cape rock lobster is also abundant and provides a substantial recreational fishery. Tuna are prolific off the west coast but are normally encountered too far offshore for recreational boats to reach.

A large estuary known as the Langebaan Lagoon at Saldanha Bay is a popular area for water sports. Again due to low water temperatures, the variety of fish in this area is restricted.

Anglers use light tackle to land kabeljou, elf and yellowtail, as well as a number of bottom feeding sparids, sharks and rays. The leaping thresher shark is much sought-after, as are tope, dusky, cow and occasional great white sharks. Large skates are also landed.


Flyfishing in South Africa

South Africa is an unsung number in the world of trout fishing and, secretly, many of people hope that it stays that way.

Eastern southern Africa is divided from its vast interior by the Drakensberg Mountain range that stretches from the Eastern Cape in the south to the Gauteng and Limpopo in the north.

Where to go

To the trout fisherman the mountains are a godsend. Close to the coastal plains the mountains rise steeply to over 3000m, causing a massive upwelling of moist air and heavy rain on the eastern slopes in summer. Thus, they are the birthplace of countless trout streams flowing east into three prime trout areas of the country:
- the midlands of KwaZulu Natal
- Mpumalanga
- the Eastern Cape around the towns of Barkly East and Lady Grey.

At the furthest tip of Africa in the Western Cape, trout are found in the high mountains a short distance inland of Cape Town where the climate is Mediterranean with clear sunfilled days in the summer.

Most of the rivers and lakes can be reached with ease.

Apart from these main locations, there is good trout fishing in the independent Kingdom of Lesotho, a landlocked mountainous country crisscrossed by bright, clear streams, most of them over 2500m feet above sealevel. Food is more abundant in these high streams than in any others, with particularly dense populations of mayfly.

The condition and average size of the trout is exceptional. One can get there with four-wheel drive vehicles, but air travel by plane or helicopter makes the trip a little more comfortable.

What to catch

Salmonids were introduced to southern Africa near the turn of the century from Loch Leven brown trout stock imported from Scotland. These browns did well in their environment, and rainbows were introduced a decade or so later to complement them. Still, most of the rivers retain a clear identity, either brown or rainbow waters, rarely ever holding both species.

South African trout waters are small by international standards, more streams than rivers, yet the average size of the trout caught is large. Most of the rivers produce fish of up to four or five pounds, and in the Barkly East area river fish up to nine pounds are not rare. In the upland sections of most rivers the trout proliferate and the waters tend to become overstocked.

Stillwater flyfishing

Good trout fishing is dependent on good rainfall and a season or two of poor rains sets the sport back. South Africa is dry, but droughts are less common in the eastern highlands than they are in the interior, and often less devastating.

Just as bad as droughts is the problem of flash flooding and siltation.

To compensate for the relative uncertainty of the river water, South African trout fishermen have taken to stillwater flyfishing. All the stillwaters are man-made impoundments, called lakes or dams, averaging 10 to 20 acres.

Most are remarkably fertile, and the growth rate of the fish in them is phenomenal. Trout up to 10 pounds have become commonplace, and the best go over 14 pounds. Most of fishing is done from float-tubes, using floating lines, imitative nymph patterns and dry flies.


Most river fishing in South Africa is done wading. The trout season starts in September and goes on through to the end of May. Many of the stillwaters, on the other hand, have no closed season at all.

The best of the fishing is in spring from September to October, and in autumn, from late March through May. During these months the water is cooler and the trout are more active feeders.

Most fly fishing is done using 4 or 5 weight outfits, both on stillwater and in the rivers, with rods from 8 to 9 feet. However, there has been a move toward ultralight tackle. The fish are not selective and are hardly ever consistent surface feeders.

The mountain streams of the Western Cape are a notable exception, where free-rising trout come to the dry fly smartly, just as they do in the upland streams in Lesotho.


Spearfishing only enjoys a relatively small following in numbers when compared to the sport of angling.

The small numbers together with other inhibiting factors such as dirty water and rough seas at certain times of the year, have ensured that the pressure of spearfishing on the fish stocks over the years has not been too great.

Because South Africa is such a haven for spearfishing, there are a multitude of underwater clubs, and you should be able to find one easily in almost any coastal town.

A licence is needed to spearfish or for crayfish or rock lobster. These licences are available at any post office or conservation office.

Kwazulu Natal

With the Zululand spots such as Cape Vidal and Sodwana Bay having all year round diving conditions and lots of big gamefish action, to wreck diving where large dagga salmon and big ignoblis kingfish, thrilling action is provided for everyone. The world record black marlin was also shot in this area.

Influenced by the warm Agulhas and Mozambique currents which flow southwards down this section of the coast, the waters are home to a rich diversity of fish life.

On any dive spearfishermen can expect to encounter large gamefish along with the many different types of reef fish found here - pelagic fish, black and striped marlin, yellowfin tuna, world record size kawakawa, skipjack tuna, king mackerel, queenfish, kingfish, dorado and wahoo.

Kwazulu Natal enjoys a sub-tropical climate with mild winters and hot steamy summers. Summer water temperatures are around 24C and the use of a 3mm wetsuit is more than adequate. For the winter months May-August you need a 5mm wetsuit with sea temperatures as low as 18C.

The south coast stretches from Durban southwards to Port Edward, a distance of 160km. With lots of rivers on this section of coast, the rainy months make the inshore conditions mostly undiveable.

The south coast is characterized by short beaches bounded by rocky headlands.

The annual sardine run takes place along this section of coast during winter. Shoals of sardines move up from the south eastern cape coast accompanied by large gamefish. This is an exciting time for divers with big gamefish and even bigger sharks encountered right on the backline.

Western Cape

Mossel Bay promises some fantastic spear fishing. Fed from the tropical Agulhas current and the nutrient enriched Benguela current, this is a spearfishing haven. Spot the southern Yellowtail, Kabeljou or Kob, Cape Salmon, Red Steenbras, Red Roman, Red Stumpnose and Garrick to mention just a few.

Just east of Cape Agulhas lies the small coastal town of Struisbaai which has become a popular spearfishing destination and boasts a wide variety of bottom-feeding as well as pelagic species desirable both as sport fish and as food.


Silicone goggles, a silicone snorkel, a rubber or elasticized weight belt with quick release, neoprene booties or socks, knitted gloves with tough flexible coating, a small knife with a good cutting edge, a brightly coloured foam float, and 30m line for a shore dive or 40m line for a boat dive will also be needed.

A net with a draw string opening attached to the float for rock lobster or abalone is also necessary.

As most divers do a fair amount of both shore and boat diving, stiff bladed long fins with removable blades are preferred.

The standard size gun is a 1.2m barrel length and is used for both game and reef fish. The surf-ski modified for diving or fishing is also becoming quite popular as a diving tool.

This is a cheaper way to get out to the deeper spots and still have the safety of a boat to get onto should the need arise.

Dive Types

The shore dive:
Two divers start a dive at an entry point, and depending on the current, drift over reefs known in the area. Most shore dives last in the region of 3-4 hours. On a shore dive you would probably not go much deeper than 18m and in the season will also catch 4 rocklobster during a dive.

The boat dive
This entails an early launch with 3 or 4 divers, depending on the boat size. A much bigger area is dived and depths vary from 18m to a 35m depending on the divers ability.

In both types of dives the plan is to do an early morning hunt for whichever gamefish is running and then a scout for reef fish hot spots later.