Saltwater fly-fishing in the western cape can be a very unforgiving affair. Blank days are very common; in fact, it’s part of the parcel. But we all have those days when the river lifts her skirt and everything seems to fall into place. A while ago my buddies and I experienced this bounty. But nothing is a given; one has to be able to adapt and change and I came back with more than a few lessons learned. Mike Gradidge, Stephen Smith and myself spent a few days on our favourite Western Cape estuary two weeks ago. We each had our personal targets. After losing a big kob in October, I was keen to get that meter plus fish that have been eluding me for so long. Stephen Smith, or Twinkle as he is affectionately called, was a grunter virgin, and saying he was desperate for pinning one of these would have been the understatement of the year. Mike, well, let’s just say Mike was keen on catching fish and lots of them, the bigger, the better.
The highlight of the first day must have been Twinkle losing his grunter virginity. After a few kob at dusk, we concentrated on shallow mud bays for targeting grunter. Conditions were overcast, making spotting cruising grunter difficult on the sand flats that seemed devoid of tailing grunter. We hoped the grunter would reveal their presence through mud clouds and pancakes as they tailed on the mud. Mike and myself were fishing JAM flies to tailing fish. Twinkle was fishing a floating deer-hair prawn imitation, which is primarily fished blind in the vicinity of tailing fish, or fished completely blind. Now most of my buddies and I had a snobbish attitude to the floating prawn. As purists, we considered grunter a species worthy of being sight fished only, and using a floating prawn is considered heathen tactics. This articulated deer hair pattern, being a rather ugly fly, was baptized the turd burger by one of us. No one can remember who named it now, and every one denies naming it now. Mike and myself were silently sneering at Twinkle and his turd burger while scanning the waters surface for signs of grunter, of which there were none. Suddenly Twinkle cried out and we watched in disbelief as line peeled of his reel into his backing. Minutes later, midst lots of whooping and hollering, Twinkle landed his first grunter. And not just any grunter, a fish with a fork length of 69cm and an overall length of over 70. Big stoke all round!
But the day had a few more surprises in stall. With the tide going out later that afternoon, we fished yet another mud bay for grunter. A month or so ago, Mike and I had some excellent sight fishing to tailing grunter here, but on this day there were none. What I did notice was several mud prawns swimming high in the water column. I knew then that the fish must have been present in good numbers, why weren’t we seeing them? Just before sunset, another surprise.
While were standing with JAM flies tied on, Twinkle quickly landed two more grunter on the turd burger in quick succession. I was slowly starting to make sense of the great grunter disappearing act.
The next morning started with a bang. While I was going for kob (and landing one) Mike and Twinkle went back to grunter bay. Mike borrowed one of Twinkle’s turd burgers, of which he had two only. I sauntered over after breakfast, just in time to see Mike land the first grunter of the day. For the next few hours it felt like I was running between Mike and Twinkle, photographing their catches. I was waiting for tailing grunter in vain, there were none. I secretly whished I had a turd burger in my fly box, but alas. Eventually Mike felt sorry for me and gave me his turd burger, while he tied on one of Craig Thom’s felt prawns (and caught two more grunter on it). I couldn’t buy a fish. By the end of the session, Twinkle had 6 grunter and a small kob, Mike had 5 grunter and a small kob. That is seriously good tally for grunter on fly!
“Its time for a slam!” I suggested. A Breede river slam is catching grunter, kob and leervis on fly in one day. Twinkle replied that he had to head back home, and trying not to sound too desperate, I asked if I could have his ‘floating prawn’ fly for the rest of the trip. After Twinkle left, it was nearly high tide, Mike and I decided to go for leervis off the main sandbank. I was hoping Mike would get some leeries, this would make him the first person to catch a slam that I have witnessed. And being a leervis machine, Mike did not disappoint and soon we were both tucking into stripping basket size leeries. Packs of leeries were chasing down and slamming the flippers we were fishing; I really enjoyed this and have forgotten how much fun and adrenalin leerie fishing was. At some point some big grunter cruising around on the flat behind us distracted me, but they were spooky as hell and there was no joy.
Mike kept slaying the leeries on the spit until the tide was in, signaling time for a few cold ones and a siesta. ‘Why don’t you go for a slam too?’ Mike asked as the evening session commenced. All I needed was to pin a grunter. Ya sure, have turd burger, go catch grunter, no problem! We waded onto the flat and started laying out casts. Mike remarked that the activity was tapering off, since he’s fished for about 30 minutes without a take. But as the sun was setting I saw him strip set and he went tight on his 6th grunter for the day. As dusk was falling, the prospect of a slam started fading and I suggested to Mike that we go light a fire and down a few bottles of vin rouge. ‘Give it a few more casts’ came the reply. Ok, 5 more casts, I thought. And then, miraculously, on cast number four, I got an aggressive pull and went tight on a feisty grunter. Big stoke, two slams in one day!
At the fire that night Mike and I concluded that when the prawns are moving about in the water column, the have no need to root around on the bottom, sucking prawns out of their burrows. They merely have to cruise around sipping up the slow swimming mud prawns in the water column. Because they are not tailing, one cannot cast to sighted fish, and this is an excellent time to pin them on the floating prawn. You can be sure to find a small army of turd burgers in my grunter box when I’m on the river again! Especially if I can tie them as beautifully as Peter Coetzee does…