| |Capt. Brad Philipps|
To my right, the first shafts of daylight spread across the bush as the sun climbed above the Lebombo Mountains. A slope-shouldered hyena shuffled toward his lair after an active night. It was February in South Africa, and the summer heat enveloped the Lowveld’s vast tabletop flatness, which stretches all the way from those mountains to the Mozambican Indian Ocean.
| |Make sure you take the extra time to go on safari while in South Africa; you never know what you will run into… (Phillip Kuypers)|
Unexpectedly, a most impressive sight greeted me as I rounded a sharp corner, on the road northward toward Punda Maria camp, in Kruger National Park. A massive bull elephant strode purposely in my direction. Veteran bushrangers will advise you, under normal circumstances, to pull over and switch off the ignition. They assure you that 90 percent of the time, the animal will pass without incident.
However, the dark-brown gooey secretion emanating from the temporal glands of this lone bull triggered alarm bells in my head. These glands are particularly active in stressed or aggressive animals — bulls in the rut, for example — and should be avoided at all cost!
Therefore, I chose Plan B: I snapped a few photos and did a hasty U-turn. I maintained a constant distance with Jumbo in my rearview mirror and was feeling comfortable until I read the fine print: “Caution. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!” Our tight caravan continued for approximately two miles as he maintained his pace down the middle of the road.
A sense of relief finally came over me as I spotted him sauntering off into the dense mopani scrub. I executed another U-turn, and as my heartbeat dropped back down to normal, my thoughts drifted toward big-game fishing in South Africa and its similarities to big-game viewing. Both begin very early in the day, and both can end with a rush of adrenaline and fond memories.
A Land of Diversity
South Africa is five times the size of the United Kingdom, with topography as varied as that of the United States. The country is highly diverse in terms of its climate, culture, tourist activities and infrastructure, and it caters to a variety of tourism niches.
| |While long known as a premier destination to view the Big Five of African game animals (elephant, leopard, lion, rhino and Cape buffalo), South Africa is also home to some surprisingly good big-game fishing, with anglers pursuing blue, black and striped marlin along its coastline. (Capt. Brad Philipps)|
The indigenous vegetation is divided into desert, forest, fynbos, karroo, thicket, grassland and savannah, and the fabled bush veld, which contains the truly impressive assemblage of wildlife for which Africa is rightly famous. South Africa is justifiably proud of its conservation record, particularly regarding the white rhino, which, during the 1960s, was brought back from a population of around 500 to the current number of more than 6,000.
South Africa is subtropical with a generally temperate climate, so the changes between summer and winter are invigorating without being frustratingly extreme. Because South Africa lies south of the equator, the seasons occur at opposite times of the year as in the United States.
The country possesses mountains, valleys, rivers and plains. In short, it’s a beautiful country, and it is largely self-sufficient. There are more than 2,200 miles of pristine coastline. While many of South Africa’s rivers flow to the sea, there are a few natural harbors: Richards Bay, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Saldanha Bay.
The continental shelf is narrow along the east coast on the Indian Ocean, but much wider to the west coast on the Atlantic Ocean, and especially to the south, where it extends into the large, shallow Agulhas Bank. The coastline is dominated by two major current systems: the cold Benguela Current along the Atlantic coast to the west, and the warm Agulhas Current along the Indian Ocean to the east.
Two Currents Dominate
The Benguela Current has two components: an offshore oceanic flow, with a temperature range of 60 to 68 degrees F, which pushes northward toward the equator. Inshore of this, the current is driven by local weather conditions and subject to periods of upwelling, with water temperatures ranging from 50 to 64 degrees F. This intense upwelling results in high biological productivity, which in turn supports large fish stocks, including pilchards, anchovies, hake and several varieties of tuna. Fortunately, it also produces large quantities of tasty rock lobster.
Along the east coast, the warm Agulhas Current flows southward from the equatorial Indian Ocean. The current is strongest and warmest at the shelf break, where temperatures range from 68 to 82 degrees F. Off northern KwaZulu-Natal, the current flows close inshore but moves farther offshore as the shelf widens off Durban, and it continues southward toward Cape Town.
The region between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point is regarded as a region of overlap between ocean currents. About six eddies break off from the current per year. Known as Agulhas Current leakages, these eddies transport warm water in a northwesterly direction into the Benguela system. It was apparently from one of these Agulhas rings that one lucky angler plucked a 650-pound black marlin while fishing out of Cape Town!
| |Phillip Kuypers|
It should also be mentioned that with this warmer water swirling around the southern tip of Africa, there has been an explosion of striped marlin. The quaint fishing village of Struisbaai, a mere six miles from the southernmost point of Africa, has become the newest destination for billfish anglers!
But anglers don’t fly all the way to South Africa just to catch striped marlin. Ski-Boat magazine editor Erwin Bursik says that, between the late 1970s and the late 1980s, black marlin became the major attraction. “Several fish in the 700- to 900-pound-plus class were caught in South African water, and as you’d expect in a brand-new fishery, a number of granders were hooked and lost, primarily from boats based out of Sodwana Bay,” he says. “The biggest fish during these times, black marlin, were a 938, a 927, a 924 off Sodwana and a 904 that came from Cape Vidal. All these fish were taken in the early 1980s. From then to present times, a number of blacks in the 700- to 850-pound class have been landed, but to my knowledge, no more 900-pounder-class marlin have been landed, although a few may have been released.”
| |Phillip Kuypers|
Bursik says that after the opening of Richards Bay Harbour, anglers started to upgrade to larger, traditional sport-fishing craft, as well as bigger ski boats. Some anglers built special 30-foot models that they could still launch in the surf at Sodwana Bay. With bigger boats and a newfound faith in pulling lures, a new and very exciting chapter in the history of billfishing off the South African coast began.
“The most remarkable evolution is that blue marlin, deemed to be extremely rare here, have ‘suddenly’ become the premier billfish species taken in our water,” Bursik says. “As an example, during the last few years, the release-only South African Deep Sea Angling Association tournament, run out of Richards Bay, shows an average release of 70 percent blues, 20 percent blacks and 10 percent stripes, of the billfish released,” he says.
The highlighting of the modern trend in South African billfishing was undoubtedly sparked by Hennie Seaman’s 1,113-pound blue marlin landed off Sodwana Bay on April 1, 2002 — the 50-pound-class world record at the time. That fish was soon bettered by Lappies Labuschagne’s 1,147-pound blue caught on May 18, 2007 — a mighty catch that still stands as the largest billfish ever taken in South African water.
Annual Billfish 15,000
| |Billfish 15,000 Sodwana Bay (Phillip Kuypers)|
During November, the Dorado Ski Boat Club hosts its annual Billfish 15,000 Tournament at Sodwana in the heart of the St. Lucia Wetland Park. Because there are no marinas in the park, ski boats are launched from the beach and power through the surf at Sodwana. This type of fishing is an exhilarating sport for both South Africans and visiting anglers. When asked which single item she felt was most necessary for this type of fishing, one American angler replied, with tongue firmly in cheek, “Courage!”
Fishing is Monday through Friday, with lines in at first light (the sun comes up before 5 a.m.) and lines out at 3 p.m. The largest billfish weighed in during this tournament was an 850-pounder. Since then, the event has adopted a tag-and-release format.
| |Phillip Kuypers|
The tournament is held in collaboration with the South African Oceanic Research Institute (ORI), which conducts research on the biology of the Indo-Pacific billfish populations. ORI provides observers, while sponsors donate lavish prizes, including vehicles, boats and getaways, with the prizes’ total value exceeding $500,000.
The most recent Billfish 15,000, held in November 2011, was incredible! One participant described the tournament as “the south coast during the sardine run.”
Participating anglers caught and released more than 140 billfish of five different species (black, blue and striped marlin, sailfish, and shortbill spearfish) over the course of the five-day tournament.
Richards Bay SADSAA Billfish Classic
Eight years ago, Kas van der Merwe fought a five-hour losing battle with a large billfish while fishing from a small ski boat. He decided then and there to change things up in South African water. He imported a custom-built 34-foot Black Watch from Australia and, in 2005, founded the Black Watch Billfish Tournament, hosted by the Richards Bay Ski Boat Club. Forty-five boats fished the first tournament, and it kept gaining in popularity. After a few years, van der Merwe handed over the event to the South African Deep Sea Angling Association
(SADSAA), and it was renamed the SADSAA Billfish Classic.
The tournament is now completely tag-and-release and has a unique rule that allows the smaller ski boats to compete with the larger sport-fishing boats by stipulating that at least one of the top two prizes be awarded to the smaller boats. During the 2012 event, which is now an IGFA-recognized tournament, more than 300 anglers participated. They released 18 blue marlin, seven black marlin, four striped marlin and five sailfish.
Two Oceans Marlin Challenge
| |Hennie Seaman with his then world record 80 lb-class blue marlin of 504.8kg caught at Sodwana Bay, South Africa, in April 2002. (Erwin Bursik)|
An intelligence gathering outing in 2006 was the foundation of the Two Oceans Marlin Challenge. The name was carefully selected to indicate that it’s the only place in the world where anglers can fish for marlin in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans in a single day.
Hosted by the Suidpunt Deep Sea Angling Club, the event has had some very interesting catches made on the Agulhas Bank. During the 2011 tournament, Hannes Wolfaardt caught a 110-pound sailfish, the most southerly sailfish caught in South African water. During the same event, a nontournament boat weighed in a 293-pound blue marlin. The 2012 tournament is considered the best yet. Anglers on 25 boats tagged and released 46 billfish, including an estimated 500-pound black marlin. Osprey, a custom-built 45-footer, won the event with seven releases.
National and International
Tuna Fishing Tournaments
Any discussion of sport fishing in South Africa must include tuna. Yellowfin, albacore and bigeye tuna are all found in South African water. The Western Province Deep Sea Angling Association (WPDSAA) is responsible for the provincial, national and international tuna fishing tournaments.
Sport fishing for tuna is usually done out of Hout Bay or False Bay in Simon’s Town from October to May; the peak season is from February to April. One WPDSAA tournament out of Simon’s Town held during May 2012 produced a pending world-record 234.9-pound yellowfin, caught by Frank Scholtz.
Plan Your Trip
The 14-hour Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg can be tiring, but it’s well worth the effort! Because the flight arrives in the afternoon, I recommend an overnight stay at the Dubells Guest House (dubells.com), in the Bedfordview suburbs, before moving on and catching any connecting flights.
Three weeks is the ideal time frame for a South African fishing safari: one week for angling, one week to explore Cape Town and the surrounding countryside, and one week on safari to discover which of the Big Five game animals (lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros) will present you with an unforgettable rush of adrenaline!
•Leander Wiid (Chairman)
021 559 3996, [email protected]
•Jean Vd Walt
082 375 9810, [email protected]
Serendipity Guest House
•Phillip and Elsabe Kuypers
044 877 0433