Twinkle, two slams and the legend of the turd burger

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.

Dusky kob at sunset
Dusky kob

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!

70cm of grunt. Not bad for a first!
70cm of grunt. Not bad for a first!

IMG_4032LR

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.

Twinkle scores again
Twinkle scores again

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.

Dawn patrol kobbie
Dawn patrol kobbie
One from the ledges
One from the ledges

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!

First for the day
First for the day
The legend of the turd burger
The legend of the turd burger
Twinkle on a roll
Twinkle on a roll
Kob on topwater
Kob on topwater

“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.

Pushing tide on the main bank
Pushing tide on the main bank

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!

The spy who came in from the cold
The spy who came in from the cold

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…

14 thoughts on “Twinkle, two slams and the legend of the turd burger”

  1. Craig says:

    Nice one guys. Noticed a swimming crab migration at Langebaan this weekend. Them critters are on the move.

  2. Platon says:

    Great article Conrad, and to see that an old salt like you has an open mind and can adapt. . . . very successfully. Can’t wait to get back there.

  3. Reveck says:

    Hi Conraad

    we were there on the breede on the 13th and 14th November 2015 and we lucked out. We were hosted by phillip from flytalk but conditions were tough. we fished kob alley and grunter bay but nothing apart from a single small kob and a few investigations from grunts in the bay. the south wester really blew. Apart from some juvenile leeries that was it.

    which days did you get your fish ?

    1. Conrad Botes says:

      Hi Reveck. We were there a week before you guys.

  4. stephen says:

    Nice one Ali…was a great 2 days spent with good mates..the fish just happened to play along…we look to re look at this “purist” statement…just saying…

  5. Andre Van Wyk says:

    Twinkle you legend!!! Solid work gents, amazing fishing, and superb write up Conna… 2 Slams in a Day?!?!? Madness… Long live the Turd…

  6. Fred Davis says:

    Well played on popping the cherry Stephen… And as for You and Mike, Conna – that’ll teach you to be rude about floating prawns…. turds 😉
    And exceptional work on the double slam! Can not have happened to often…

  7. Kevin says:

    Shatters that’s a good few sessions. Congrats chaps. Twinkle- I like it…

  8. stephen says:

    Just a quick shout out to Richard Wale for the flies and advice…give him a call if you want a guided trip or even just a couple turd burgers….

  9. Peter Coetzee says:

    Call my Frankenstein Prawn the turd burger ONE MORE TIME! In the words of Samuel L Jackson- “I dare you ! I double dare you motherfucker! Say Turd Burger ONE MORE TIME!”

  10. Michael Gradidge says:

    Turdburger

    .

  11. Craig says:

    Amazing Grunter fly fishing! Trying to fashion up some Grunter flies for a local waters where the guys get plenty Grunter on surface “walk the dog” lures, is the Frankenstein Prawn / Turd Burger a full on surface fly or does is sink / suspend slowly in the water column? Is the fly tied on 3 hooks to create the articulated “walk the dog” movement?

  12. Niel says:

    Nice article Conrad and great fishing all, especially Stephen. I was at Breede River recently and also managed a slam – 4 grunters (59, 58, 53 1nd 48 cm), 1 cob (55 cm) and 2 small leeries. Next day in the howling SW wind I managed a 62 cm grunter that gave me a good fight on my #7w! And yes, most of those ona surface deer hair prawn – I have several variations and they certainly seem to work (previous trip I caught 4 cob, 2 on that fly too).

    Can’t wait to try my new creations!!
    Regards
    Niel

    PS: No why don’t the web designers make it possible for us to load some pics here too!

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