The west is my oyster

As much as I love crunching black mussel shells walking a West Coast beach, I also cherish the succulents of the mountain ranges that lie near this coastline. I get to do and see these things when I set off on mini adventures, solo missions to find fish.

Succulents of the Cederberg fascinate me.

Good fishing spots, salt or fresh, in the western parts of the Cape are far apart and tricky to pinpoint on Google Earth, but when you find fish it is as good as winning a lottery. It makes trips there even more addictive as you never know when you’ll hit the jackpot. On more than one occasion I’ve simply thrown clothes and rods into my trunk, filled up with fuel and disappeared from cellular signal further up the West Coast to get away from humans and other domestic animals in search of gold.

Bluefin gurnard is one of the saltwater jewels one could expect to catch from a West Coast pier.

I never have a fixed plan, usually only a few GPS points marked on a satellite map to explore. The freedom of choice between spots and the fact that I could crash anywhere in the back of my SUV adds to the excitement.

A CapeNature map highlighting rivers worth exploring for indigenous fishes in the Cederberg. PS – kill all the bass and bluegills you come across in these rivers.

Finding fish may take a few hours of hiking, or sometimes an entire day of casting, but I seldom return home without seeing a fish. I keep things simple with an intermediate line and Clouser’s for the sea, and a floating line and hotspot nymphs for rivers. What’s more is that fish have never bustled about in my presence, a sign that few travel to these parts to catch them; they are simply not scared of humans. The great pleasure I get when sight fishing to naïve fish is a good reason to indulge in my passion for fly fishing in the west.

A typical pool in the middle reaches of a Cederberg stream with indigenous fishes swimming around, very tempting to the angler.

The rivers vary greatly from shallow, freestone upper reaches to deep pools surrounded by white beaches in lower valleys. An endless list of species, from aliens like brown trout, rainbow trout, spotted bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sharptooth catfish and carp to the indigenous sawfin, Clanwilliam yellowfish, Clanwilliam sandfish, Cape kurper and many redfin species awaits the open-minded angler in the clear waters. I find the indigenous fishes most attractive and usually set off in search of them, rather than trout or bass, for instance.

Big browns live in the freestone sections of some West Coast rivers.
Smaller, but beautiful golden Clanwilliam yellows are common in tributaries of the Olifants and Doring Rivers.
Larger Clanwilliam yellowfish, although difficult to find and catch, are worth targeting in the lower parts of mainstem rivers.

In the Atlantic Ocean one could expect to find guitarfish, rays, gurnard, steenbras, stumpnose, wildeperd, blacktail, shad, garrick, silver kob, blennies, mullet and sometimes even yellowtail while fishing on foot. Enough to try make me fantasise my way into catching one of these on the long drive there.

Big blacktail are the pearls of the West Coast; they like to hang out in sheltered bays – photo by Jimmy Eagleton.
A fish is a fish is a fish, right? Blennies can be found along the entire South African coastline and can save the day if nothing else bites…

A cool, early morning start from home goes hand in hand with a cup of hot coffee and music in the car to stay focused on the road, but when the midday temperature exceeds 30 degrees Celsius ice cold caffeine sharpens one’s senses while hunting fish. When the heat gets unbearable I swim with the fish. Being able to choose from such wealth of options creates a sense of childhood imagination.

Ice cold caffeine keeps me going from spot to spot in the West Coast heat.
If the heat becomes unbearable, deep Cederberg gorges are the perfect places to cool down in.

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