Party in the Pancake Factory

Early season grunter fishing can be a serious hit and miss affair, but on a recent trip a few buddies and I scored auspiciously. On our second day, Jannie came across a pod of fish feeding on a sand flat on the edge of a grass bed, in fairly murky rainwater run-off. What made their behavior odd was that this feeding happened quite far into the pushing tide and early on in the falling tide when this part of the sand flat was quite deep. Although there must have been enough water for them to feed in on lower tides, they definitely preferred the deeper stuff. This meant that no tails were ever seen, despite the fact that they were tailing hard.

Mike Gradidge with his firts grunter of the trip
Mike Gradidge with his firts grunter of the trip

What you had to look for was a boil-like disturbance on the surface of the water, caused by a fish tailing below. Our group referred to these as ‘pancakes’, and we had a blast casting to them whenever the tides were right. Sight fishing to pancakes required quick and accurate casting, and one had to put the fly on the pancake while it was still cooking. If one failed to cover the pancake quick enough, the chances of a hookup became very slim. We only caught fish on JAM flies and all the takes were on the bottom.

grunter at first light
grunter at first light
Spotting pancakes in windy conditions proved to be quite a challenge
Spotting pancakes in windy conditions proved to be quite a challenge
Glassy conditions, on the other hand, made spotting pancakes a pleasure
Glassy conditions, on the other hand, made spotting pancakes a pleasure
All the fish were taken on Jam flies
All the fish were taken on Jam flies

The best part of this fishing was that the flat was right in front of the house that we were staying in. Many mornings started off with the lazy sipping coffee on the stoep, but quickly turned into a frenzy of climbing into waders, grabbing tackle and rods and sprinting down the bank after someone saw a large concentration of pancakes somewhere on the flat.

Mike with a surprise catch; a good size Cape Stumnose feeding amongst the grunter
Mike with a surprise catch; a good size Cape Stumnose feeding among the grunter

I found that waist deep was the consistent depth and this presented some problems of it’s own. Waist deep meant that the line was washing about in the regular shopping-type stripping baskets, causing all sorts of problems when making quick casts. Luckily I had a waterproof stripping basket, which floated on the surface and made line management a pleasure in deep water. This paid off on one particular morning when the grunter were keeping their distance and slightly longer casts were needed. I felt the advantage and could quickly cover a pancake while it was still cooking and awarded me 5 fish during session, equaling my previous personal best tally.

Jannie with one from the shallow sand
Jannie with one from the shallow sand

As the trip progressed, the tides changed, and so did the grunters’ behavior. They eventually stopped feeding in the deep-water sand bars, but we then encountered them elsewhere at their regular haunts. One of my most memorable fish was wallowing on a mudflat in mere inches of water when I took a shot at it, standing high and dry on the bank. It picked up my JAM fly and after setting the hook, it proceeded to rooster-tail out of the shallows trying to get to the safety of the deeper water. Jannie concluded the trip by sight casting to cruising fish on the main sandbank and landed two fish in quick succession in the dying minutes of our trip, one being an absolute bus of close to 70 cm.

Jannie with the last fish of the trip
Jannie with the last fish of the trip
trophy grunter
trophy grunter

2 thoughts on “Party in the Pancake Factory”

  1. Niel Malan says:

    Fantastic report and great photos! While I picked up a few kob on my recent trip to the Breede River, on surface and sub-surface flies, I failed to get a grunter. This report gives me hope again!

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