When I was a kid my older brother always told me that you shouldn't bother fishing in months that don't have an 'r'. So after a spell of no 'r months' they make a return with September, signalling that it is once again fishing season.
While I don't do much saltwater fishing any more, there is something magical about getting out into nature, sitting on a deserted beach watching the sun rise with your line in the water. You've fished through the night, your hands are covered in sardine, and you've been wet for a couple of hours, but there's a smile on your face (possibly related to your intake of Irish-coffee) but also because 'this is the life'.
Fishing with my brother offers me some of my greatest memories, and one of my favourites comes from a trip we made to Knysna. We had been up for two and a half days straight, eyes on the lines with nothing but a sore back to show for it. Just after sundown on the second day we spotted a school of Spotted Grunter that had started feeding on a nearby bank (why our bait eluded them I don't know). About 50 of these animals were thrashing about in the moonlight; their tails out of the water as they pumped water to get prawns out of the bank. Standing there on the deck of the boat in the moonlight, listening to the splashing fish was just amazing.
From then on I've been in love with the Knysna lagoon, and would like to share some suggestions for fishing the lagoon.
Elf or Shad
Elf is a popular eating fish caught along the coast, and can be caught on sardines or fillets of bait fish by drift baiting. You need to use a steel trace though as elf have small teeth that will bite through the line if hooked. Note that the closed season for catching elf is from 1 October to 30 November.
The grunter is one of the most popular fishes in lagoon, and is a great eating fish with rich, natural oils. Spotted grunters are called this because when they are taken out of the water they make a distinctive grunting noise. They are often seen, as described above, with their tails out of the water blowing prawns out of the sand with short bursts of water from their mouths.
So prawn is obviously a favourite and the best bait for the fish. Grunters are more active in warm water and are quite tenacious fighters especially closer to the boat.
As opposed to the grunter, the steenbras prefers colder water which usually occurs after a few days of the south-easter blowing. Popular bait choices are prawns and bloodworm on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook. When the steenbras grabs the hook it will set off quickly taking a good amount off line of the reel in a short time.
Cob or Kabeljou
This predator averages between 3 to 15 kilograms in the lagoon, with bigger catches few and far between. Use live mullet, chokka or a good bloodworm on a bigger hook (between 4/0 and 6/0) to attract a cob. The best conditions for catching cob are when the water is warm and a dark-brown colour, which usually comes after a south-westerly wind.
Garrick or Leervis
Found primarily in the deeper channels, garrick prefer live bait. They can be caught by trolling with the live bait at a slow pace, by conventional live baiting, or on spinners.
Make sure that the bait has ample line to swim freely to attract the garrick. Don't strike immediately, as the fish doesn't take the bait immediately and a premature strike can lose you the fish.
Remember to get the required permits which can be purchased from the post office in Knysna, and adhere to any notice boards that there are. The lagoon has plenty of bait if you look in the right areas, so get out there and collect fresh bait.
Collect your bloodworm at the open area on Leisure Island, making sure not to collect from prohibited areas which are shown by notice boards. Use a prawn pump to get the bloodworms, looking for small depressions in the sand with a mini-volcano-like heap of sand nearby. Pump here and if you catch bloodworm keep them in a bucket of sea water, regularly replacing the water to keep them alive.
At low tide head out onto the sand or mud banks with your prawn pump. In about knee deep water pump the series of holes made by the sand and mud prawns. There are certain restricted areas in the lagoon so just make sure you're pumping in the right areas.
Chokka or squid can be caught at night in the shallows using a line, or you can buy fresh chokka from fishing stores in the town. Chokka makes good bait for cob.
Shoals of mullet swim in small channels and can be caught with a casting net, and used for live bait. It is best to catch them on the incoming tide.
Found on the white sandbank of the lagoon, pencil bait leave a key-hole shaped hole in the sand. It is easiest to get this bait by using a bent bicycle wheel and sticking it into the hole and hooking them that way.
- For grunter and steenbras, a good spot is near the train bridge running across the lagoon. Other good spots occur along the edges of the sand banks and small islands in the lagoon such as Thesen and Leisure Island.
- For cob go to what is known as the 'kablejougat', which is near the oyster beds.
- Garrick and cob are mainly caught in the deeper channels, so head there with your live bait for some bigger fish.
- If the water is cold head up the lagoon to warmer water as many of the fish will swim up to escape the cold.
- The Old Harbour on Thesens Island is a popular fishing spot with the possibility of catching a variety of fish including cob, garrick, and elf. The harbour was previously used by timber traders, and is now used by the Parks Board.
Best Fishing Times
The lagoon really comes to life at night, as the water is too clear in the day and many of the fish would be open prey. It is best to fish at the change of the tide when high tide is at its end and the low tide is starting. The best catches occur during the summer months, although fish can be caught all year round.