Hooked on False Bay Fishing

[Originally published in the March 2020 issue of SKI-BOAT magazine]

By Donavan Cole

KOB is probably my very favorite species to catch in the bay even though I will often return mombak. I still ask myself why I bother when I come back empty-handed, but those trips when we find the fish after the persistence makes it all worthwhile. What I love most about catching them is that when a fish take the bait you never know if it’s a 1kg or a 20kg specimen.
The kob caught in the bay are often undersize (under 50cm) and most of the time you will throw back ten undersize fish for every one that is above the legal size limit of 50cm, but then you’ll find quite a few fish between 3kg and 12kg. Bigger fish are not uncommon, but around 20kg is the biggest that you will encounter.

I will mainly be discussing fishing the areas accessible when launching from the western side of False Bay at Simonstown or Millers Point.
In False Bay kob are predominately caught during the summer months, with catches starting around early October when the south-easterly winds start blowing and warming up the water in the bay. These winds will also start churning up the water creating the milky brown “kob water” that is seen inshore along the stretch between Muizenberg and Gordon’s Bay.
A change of wind direction will, however, change conditions pretty quickly. When the wind swings more to the east this “kob water” will be pushed from Muizenberg towards Kalk Bay, and if it really blows then that water can sometimes move as far west as Simonstown. During these easterly blows you can almost be sure that kob will be off Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay and it will be worth having a look in these areas before running further down to Strandfontein.
The opposite can be said about southerly and south-westerly wind days, as this will usually clean up the water along this stretch very quickly.
The main reason that kob are found in this brown water is that this nutrient rich water will usually attract the bait fish that the kob feed on, unlike most species kob are known to be very good hunters in dirty water, these strong winds will also create a lot of wave action which will highly oxygenate the water, and the fish will in turn feed a lot more actively in these oxygen enriched waters.
I will usually plan my trip according to the predicted weather reports. If the wind is due to drop in the afternoon or early evening then I’ll run down around 3pm and, depending on what the catches are like, run back home around 10pm. Otherwise if the wind is predicted to drop during the night then I’ll launch a couple of hours before sunrise and fish well into the day. I’ve found that the best catches come an hour or two either side of sunset and sunrise. There are, however, times when conditions are good in the evening and the fish are biting nicely and I’ll stay out all night and then get to fish sunset and sunrise. I’ve also had many times where we’ve gone down in near perfect conditions and caught very little, then boats go down the next evening in less than ideal conditions and catch plenty of fish, so there are no hard and fast rules here.
I’ll usually start off running down to Strandfontein Pavilion and, if the swell and wind allow, I’ll try to get in as shallow as possible behind the tidal pool wall. If the swell does not allow then I will start looking from the edge of the surf line and work my way out to around 15m deep water. If conditions are not great there or if good catches are reported further down, then I will run down towards Kapteins Klip/ Manadi and work on towards Swartklip. I don’t have specific “numbers”, positions or spots that I run to and anchor on; I just head for these general areas and then use my echo sounder to find where the fish are.
When you’re fishing the early season from October to November you need to be especially careful at night because during these months there is an increase in the number of whales in the bay, especially in the shallows. Keep a good lookout and run as slowly as possible.
During the summer months the south-easterly winds can blow for days on end, driving everyone mad. As I write this we are in the middle of a ten day blow. When that happens I watch the weather predictions waiting for when the wind moderates, and take any gap I can get. Ideally you want the south-easter to drop off completely and then swing to the north-west. This change in direction will usually result in the best conditions, and the north-westerly, being offshore, will blow the sea flat enough so that you can get into the shallow waters that are usually in the surf zone during south easterly (onshore) winds.
I also keep a eye on the swell; ideally you want it to be under 2m so that you can get into the best areas. If the swell is over 2m then I will start looking in the deeper water, but if the swell starts pushing towards 3m I’d rather just stay home.
One funny thing about kob fishing is that when we’re out we are usually trying to get as close inshore as possible and at the same time the rock and surf anglers are trying to get as far out as possible. These days we will often see bait boats and drones taking baits out from the beach and dropping them close to us.
When looking for kob I have a few indicators I look at. Watercolor plays the biggest part in selecting the area to fish. I always start out looking for the brown dirty water that’s a result of the strong south-easter, but don’t lose hope if you arrive in the area and the water is clean as this is usually when the kob will start feeding after dark.
Kob can be very frustrating fish to catch, especially when you are among other boats. There are times when you will be so close to another boat that you can talk to one another, and you will watch them catch fish after fish after fish while you don’t get a thing. Then there are times where you will have guys on the top current side of the boat catching plenty of fish while the guys under current on the same boat will be catching absolutely nothing.
The best position to fish from will always be the stern of the boat as the swell, wind and current will come from different directions and the boat will swing from side to side while on anchor. If space does not allow you to fish from the stern then always try to fish on the top current side which should keep your lines away from the keel and engines.

When fishing in shallow water — 5m and shallower — always first stop on the outside for a while and watch the sets of waves coming through so you can get a good idea of where the waves are breaking. That way you don’t end up anchoring in what you thought was flat water and then get into trouble when a set comes through. Also be mindful of what the tides are doing and watch your echo sounder, especially over spring tides as you might anchor in water that is perfectly safe at first and later you have breaking waves around you as the tide drops and water gets shallower.
Once you have assessed the area then move in closer, watching your echo sounder. Kob can usually be seen on the echo and if they’re feeding then it won’t take long after anchoring to get them to take baits. Once you find the fish on the echo then move up ahead of them, into the wind and drop your anchor as quietly as possible. I like to lower the anchor hand over hand as quietly as possible. I also have a specific anchor set up to use in the shallow water — a grapnel with a very short, heavy chain because a long, thin chain has a tendency to get completely stuck in the rocky ground as you swing side to side. The longer chain also makes a lot more noise on the reef as it snatches up and down. I also like to have a short rope attached to the crown of my anchor with a small buoy on the end so that if the anchor or chain gets snagged and I’m unable to recover the conventional way, I can pick up the buoy and pull the anchor up inverted.
Don’t forget to always put your engines in gear while on anchor, especially when there is a strong current, because when they’re in neutral the propellers will spin in the moving current and any lines close by will be snagged and wrapped up.

When fishing for kob I will usually opt for heavier tackle — 10kg line upwards — because of how rough the ground can get. When you hook bigger fish in the shallows they will usually run off to the nearest rocks or reef and you generally don’t stand a chance on light tackle. We also find that when the conditions are favourable there will be a good few boats all anchored in close proximity to one another and with lighter tackle the fish often run around your own anchor or another boat’s anchor or their lines and get cut off. I also prefer to use heavier tackle because we frequently hook big sharks and rays and end up spending ages trying to land these fish on light tackle, unsure if it’s a big kob and wasting the best fishing times.
Having said that, when the kob are very shy you will get a lot more bites using light tackle, so it’s always worth a try when conditions are good and you’re not getting any action on the heavier tackle.
I prefer to use circle hooks as they generally hook fish in the corner of the mouth and not deeper, so fish that you want to release have a greater chance of survival. I have also found that I get snagged less often on the bottom when I’m using circle hooks, especially when fishing with drift lines. I will usually use a 3/0 to 9/0 depending on the brand and size of fish around.
Before circle hooks became so popular I would mostly use Kendal Round hooks and, depending on the size of fish around, use between a 6/0 and 9/0. I also never use wire traces, so when the elf are around I also get fewer bite offs because of the circles.
I will usually fish a drift line (un-weighted) by attaching a swivel to the end of the main line and then use a fluorocarbon trace of around 50cm between the swivel and the hook. Depending on the depth of water and how strong the current is, I will add a small ball or barrel sinker (seldom bigger than 1 oz) to the trace by sliding it on the main line against the swivel.
I like to fish drift lines using a multiplier reel loaded with monofilament line rather than using a spinning/ grinder reel loaded with braid. When casting light drift baits out repeatedly with braid you get a lot of wind knots and tangles, and they’re usually impossible to get undone in the dark. With multipliers as you can also put the rod in a rod holder and set the ratchet and wait for it to tell you there is a fish on. You really need a ratchet when you’re fishing in the dark. Another trick is to use a small light stick attached to the tip of your rod with a thin cable tie and you can then keep a good eye on what your rod is doing in the dark.
I also use a second rod rigged up with a trace similar to what rock and surf fishermen use — attach a 3-way swivel to the end of the main line with a hook trace of around 30cm on one side and a slightly longer sinker trace on the other end. I will use 1- to 3 oz sinkers depending on the depth of the water, and smaller hooks around 3/0 size as there is always a good chance of catching white stumpnose and other smaller species on this setup. This line will be dropped straight down next to the boat, and when it hits the bottom I’ll just take up the slack and wait for the bite.
In some spots where the bottom is very foul I will only fish “up and down” with the last mentioned trace as a drift line will usually get stuck as soon as it hits the bottom, and fishing the up and down method will allow you to fish with far less tackle loss.

The main baits I use for kob are squid/ chokka and sardine, and I will always try to start a kob trip by catching a few fresh squid off Simonstown or Fish Hoek on our way down to the fishing grounds. I remove the head of the squid and open the squid, cutting it into long thin strips and threading one or two on the hook, leaving a long tail depending on the size hooks. The sardine will be cut into blocks and I’ll add a piece with the chokka. I don’t ever use bait cotton when fishing from the boat. Never throw that squid head away, because it’s probably the best part of the squid and you can use it guts and all; no kob could ever swim past that. A fresh elf fillet is also very hard to beat.
Livebait can also be very productive, and there will quite often be small maasbankers and streepies/karanteen under the boat that can be easily caught with sabikis or small baited hooks. At times there will also be masses of mullet on the surface around the boat in the shallows, so carry a throw net on board for those times.
Kob can be caught on most baits when they’re feeding properly, and I have caught many kob on white mussel and red bait while fishing for reef fish.
Lures are not commonly used to target kob in False Bay, but I believe that if we tried harder we would have good results as we have caught a few fish on spinners while throwing them for elf. This previous season I managed to land a fish of 19kg on a jig, and on that particular morning I caught a good few small kob and geelbek on the same jig.
I believe that paddle tails are used quite successfully by rock and surf guys off the Strand reefs. I have tried them on a few occasions off the boat but usually lost interest after losing one or two to the foul bottom, even when rigged weedless.

In False Bay/Cape Town we follow different bag limits/restrictions on kob to anglers on the east coast and up into KZN as we mostly catch silver kob while further up the coast their main catch is dusky kob, especially inshore and in estuaries east of Agulhas.
In the Cape the bag limit is five kob per person per day with a minimum size of 50cm. Please also remember that the bag limit is what you may have in your possession at any one time, so if you spend the night at sea fishing over two days that does not mean that you are permitted to keep two days’ quota.
I try to tag and release as often as possible and have tagged more than 300 kob over the last few years. The tag recapture rates are unfortunately quite low, but in this past year two fish that I tagged off Strandfontein were recaptured on the west coast between Melkbos and Gaanzekraal. This has surprised many other anglers as most fishermen believed that the west coast and east coast kob were different stocks with Cape Point being that imaginary border. One of the most interesting kob recaptures I’ve had was a fish I tagged and released off Melkbos on the west coast and which was recaptured by a commercial boat fishing off Stillbaai more than 600km away.

When conditions are good, especially over weekends, you’ll find a good few boats out there. Just be mindful that in very shallow waters you can quickly scare fish away with too much noise, so try your best to move into the area as slowly as possible. When you’re approaching other boats try not to pass too close across their sterns as that is where the lines will usually be out; rather pass around their bow and watch out for anchor ropes. The same goes for when you’re anchoring — rather anchor next to another boat (not too close) instead of directly behind them because any big fish will usually run down with the current at first and the other boat then has a very good chance of losing their fish around your anchor rope if you’re anchored behind them.

One of my theories that many other regular kob fishermen in our area agree with, is that when we’re fishing from a catamaran in the very shallow water we catch a lot less fish than when fishing from a monohull, especially in a choppy sea. This is due to the tunnel slap as the wave action pushes through the tunnel of a cat creating a slapping noise which I’m pretty sure can be felt and/or heard by the fish.
Another theory is that you should not use bright lights while night fishing. Most of the old kob fishermen will never switch on any deck lights or shine any torches in the water as they believe it spooks the fish. I’ve fished on some boats in the past where you would almost be thrashed for shining a torch anywhere near the water.
Please note that I am by no means an authority on catching kob in False Bay and after catching these fish for more than 25 years I am still learning new things every time I go to sea. What I will say, though, is that persistence pays off with these fish more than anything else.

If you’re keen to join us for a day’s fishing in False Bay to target kob or if you would like some updated info and catch reports then contact Donavan via <www.oceanlifecharters.co.za>

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