Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Ultimate Challenge part 3 - Spotted Grunter (Pomadasys Commersonni) - The Swartkops River System

Three days in the Mecca.

-part one can be read here:
-part five can be read here:
-part six can be read here:  
-part seven can be read here:
-part eight can be read here:

The Swartkops river is where Anthony Kruger, Doug Swannel and a handful of other anglers based in Port Elizabeth became the first guys to consistently take Spotted Grunter on fly.  Initially on a Mud Charlie, then on a Chenelle Bodied Prawn, then a Deerhair Prawn and then a strange breakthrough.... Squid skirts.  A small squid skirt with a small piece of closed cell foam inside threaded on to a leader with a small hook on the end.  Like a tube fly.

Grunter fishing is done differently here.  The guys fish after spring when the spawning sea run fish re-enter the lagoon hungry or they fish during prawn migrations or "prawn walks".  They cast out from their drifting boats using floating prawns or the floating squid skirts and dead drift the patterns and wait for a "tap" when the fish take.  They go after schooling hungry fish, and dont target tailing fish or at other times of the year.

I decided to fish it.  And fish it hard.  This is where its been done time and time again so I figured if it was going to happen.  It was going to happen here.

Day 1:  Faced with the challenge of a new lagoon I didnt know where to start.  So I began walking the place down looking for something good.  Mud and sharp reeds didnt make it easy.  No success.  On the edges of the channel, with about 20knts blowing into my face I stood on a few sand sharks, each time screaming like a little girl.  At one point something massive flashed right in front of me when I was chest high in at the water.  I keep telling myself it was a Kob.  I hope.

Day 2:  Time for a change of tactics.  I could see fish working around spots of weed on the shallow edge of the channel.  For the whole day I dropped casts out in between these weed beds and stipped back..  First with Jam flies and then later with a Goby immatation.

A full line away from me a solid take and something went aerial in a big way. It took about 50 meters of backing and I ran out and across the channel watching this thing jump and shake its head.  I  was trying to figure out what on earth it was and thought it could only really be a Mullet or Skippy. The fight was incredible and about 20 minutes later I was shocked and slightly disturbed to see a massive saltwater catfish at my feet. It must have been 5 kilos.  Trying not to touch the slippery spikey creature I slid it onto the bank and as I did about 20 little saltwater catfish popped out its mouth.  Strange.

It was like a scene out of big fish. I released it and it went on its merry way. Must have thought my goby fly was one of its kids.  I still cant believe the fight.. On conventional tackle my experience is they always just swim straight to you.

something similar found on  The little ones were more developed than this with tails/fins/etc.

Day 3: With the advice of a few locals I headed to a spot called Modderspruit, which is apparently where guys get Grunter from the shore.  There is a small bay where the tide pushes beautifully over a sand flat.  Through the chop I began to see plumes of sand where the Grunter were working.  With lots of other bait anglers running accross stalking fish would be impossible.  I tried drifting and casting at a few plumes.  I would say I had 5 real shots at fish.  This was encouraging, the first time since targeting these fish that I felt I was in the right place at the right time.  But no cigar yet.

I stayed at an awesome little place called Pirates Lodge.  They were extremely accomodating and the food was amazing.  The owners' son is an avid fisherman and knows the place back to front.

Pirates Lodge:
View from the room:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ultimate Challenge part 2 - Spotted Grunter (Pomadasys Commersonni)

Understanding the enemy

-part one can be read here:
-part five can be read here:
-part six can be read here:  
-part seven can be read here:
-part eight can be read here:


Ive been looking for something like this for ages-

A survey conducted by Amber-Robyn Childs of Rhodes University in the Fish River Estuary.

If you've fished Kenton you would have noticed the Grunter tagging boards on the side of the Estuary.  The aforementioned paper has the results of this research.  Its 160 pages gives away the enemies movements and habits.

My other research on fly fishing for SPOTTED GRUNTER (POMADASYS
COMMERSONNI) can be found on the blog here:

Born to Fly Fish - The Ultimate Challenge, Spotted Grunter

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two guys doing something special - Tarpon from a float tube

Central America, rivers with Saltwater Crocs, Bull Sharks and more importantly- Tarpon.

Tapâm - a flyfishing journey from tapamthemovie on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fly Fishing the Kingdom - Intro


I clearly remember my father bringing home a copy of some Amazonian sports fishing magazine and on the cover- a giant Arapaima or Piraracu.  He also brought back a scale from the fish so coarse it could be used as sand paper.  This set my imagination wild and ever since that day it has been a dream of mine to catch one of these prehistoric beasts.

The opportunity came about when the company I work for decided to take the brokers to Phuket on our yearly incentive.  I quickly popped "fly fishing in Thailand" in Google and all sorts of interesting suggestions came up...  It looked like I might get a shot at an Arapaima sooner that I thought.

Aquaculture and the Aquarium industry of Thailand have spawned an interesting off shoot- sports fishing.  There are lakes stocked with everything from Arapaima Gigas to Atlantic Tarpon to Bull Sharks (freshwater).  And then there are Saltwater lakes that stock all sorts of other species.

In the weeks leading up to my departure I began to prep for these fish.  I got beaten up badly by fish in structure only a few weeks ago in the Maldives and realized the strength and quality of my rigging would determine my success.  Over 30lbs I'm in the dark- so using Flytalks forum I managed to get in touch with Karl Dannenberg, a man who has much experience caching massive fish on fly and retro fitting heavy offshore techniques to fly fishing set ups.  He showed me everything I needed to know from the Bimini/Albright/Dacron connection in my 100lb braid backing to my Dacron spliced loop on the leader end straight through to the knots used on the straight 80lb leader section.  Without the inherited knowledge this would only be a story of lost fish.

12 wt Sage xi2
Tibor Riptide
100lb Dyneema Braid Backing
Rio leviathan 70lb core
50/80lb Seaguar Flouro Leader

(from left to right) White Elec Tape / 80lb Kingfisher Braid / Sci Angler 600 grain tropic / Rio Inter 12wt / Rio Leviathan 550g Floating / 30lb Flouro / 50lb Flouro / 60lb Fouro / 80lb Flouro / 30lb Mono / 100lb Mono

12 fish (3 landed)

Not Used
2 hours casting - No Fish/Takes
1 hour casting - No Fish/Takes
1 hour casting - No Fish/Takes
2 hours casting - No Fish/Takes
2 hours casting - 2 Takes (no hookups)
12 fish (3 landed)
2 hours casting - No Fish/Takes
2 hours casting - No Fish/Takes
2 hours casting - 2 Takes (no hookups)
Not Fished
1 hour casting - No Fish/Takes 

Fly Fishing the Kingdom - Day 1

DAY 1:

Arriving at Gillhams (near Krabi) the previous afternoon I quickly began to see activity of the water.  Cruising Red Tail Catfish, Arawana, Rolling Arapaima.  I got an early nights sleep and got ready for the 7am lake opening.

When you are about to begin a fishing trip you begin with a bunch of false assumptions based what you have read, experienced and been told.   Quickly you begin to evolve your techniques and thinking until you finally come up with a working formula based on inputs and reactions.

False assumption 1 - They are predators and will eat anything that moves and looks attractive.

For the first 11 hours I changed flies every after each hour of blind casting with various rates of retrieve.

I was starting to get despondent.  I had been casting to visible fish with no reaction, perfect presentations right in front of their noses and nothing.  I had given up on the visible fish and my tail was now properly between my legs.

These are fussy fish.  They know exactly what they want and something with a silhouette and movement isn't enough.  

And then the lake would give up its first secret.

I started to notice baby Snakehead raising for air on the fringes.  And they looked nervous, which I would later get to know is strange for this species.  They are extremely aggressive fish.  I walked the banks umming and aahhing thinking about what to do next... My brain was telling me to tie on the brown/white leftys deceiver I had been recommended, but my gut was saying Snakedhead imitation.

Baby Snakehead

Snakehead Imitation

Snakehead Imitation

And thank goodness I did.  I noticed a fish about 40ft off my 11 o clock, I did a reverse cast and the fly landed half a meter past the fish, 20 cm in front of its head.  One strip and the fish reacted, my heart started racing.  With the fly static the fish opened its basket of a mouth, exhausted the water through its gills and ate the fly- I lifted my rod and struck violently 3 times.  And then all hell broke loose.

The fish took off, not as quick as a Giant Trevally, about half the speed but you could feel the strength in the butt of the rod.  This fish was unstoppable.  It was my first fish so I let it run.  Drag on full and its still peeling line off.  And then I noticed something odd- I looked to the right of where the fish was headed and along the bank was a submerged fence.  The fish was heading straight for it.  It reached the fence and swam along it for about 30 m after which it made a sharp turn right and must have gone through a hole.  Im going to have to swim.  Im going to have to swim in this lake full of monsters. Shit.  And I jumped.

Being towed through the water I reached the fence.  The guide Joe was in the water now and instructed him to jump over the fence and hold the line taught.  On feeling his hands on the line I grabbed the tip of the rod and swam through a hole in the fence a few feet down, terrifying, awesome.  It went around a dead tree and then back out the hole.  By now I have an audience and Sean Gillham (owner Stuarts son) is also in the water.  I swim back through and miraculously the fish is back on the reel.  A short time later we had the fish beat.  The fight of my life.  The fish of my life.

In the fight the fish knew exactly where to go, how to do it. It swam backwards as fast as it did forwards (common Arapaima trick), found holes, located obstacles, pulled at the worst times for me/best time for it.  I have never seen intelligence like this in a fish. Ever.

I sat on the bank sopping wet and couldn't wipe the smile off of my face.  Unbelievable.  I cant believe I beat this fish.  This is going to be easy- false assumption #342.  I would later find out how lucky I had been.

Frayed 80lb Flouro Leader

Later that day on a blind cast I got my first cat on the same Snakehead fly - A Sorubim Lima of about 18 lbs.  A beautiful fish covered with freckles and skin that feels like silk.  Almost its entire back is bone.


Fly Fishing the Kingdom - Day 2

DAY 2:

More blind casting in the morning. Nothing. More blind casting in the afternoon. Nothing.  And im not whipping a cute 3wt TXL around.  This fishing hurts.

By now Ive caught everyones attention and they've noticed my hard work and are most likely feeling sorry for me.  Sean approaches and recommends a new spot, I follow him round to the corner of the lake and I like what I see.  Its here that Ive seen fish rolling all day and there's a spring coming into the lake.

Fish 1:


There are Arawana cruising all around and they don't seem to want the Snakehead imitation.  I tie on a frog fly and a large fish follows and then swims directly underneath to take a sniff-no strike.  I try with every small fly I have until eventually a small golden wooly bugger does the trick.  A terrific acrobat and must be a great fight on very light tackle.

9lb Arawana

Fish 2:


I spotted a fish on the surface, not feeding but sitting still enough to get a cast out.  It took, I struck and it immediately took off into the weed bed to the right and the hook pulled.

Fish 3:

4:20 PM

Only a few minutes after the first, took about 3 meters in front of me in the running water, quick take, hook pulled on first run (hook not set strongly enough?)

Fish 4:


By now I want an Amazonian Red Tail.  I spot one on the surface and drop a perfect cast about 2m in front of it.  and some ways past it, stripping fast so that it meets its nose.  I instantly lose sight of the fish at the strike point and then a strip later (on a fast strip) and a violent take.  A fish heads off to the left at such pace that the line is reverberating and shaking as it runs.  I whistle for help and about 20min later I think I have it beat.  When we see it its not the Red Tail I'm disappointed, but its a good Arapaima.  The fish is at my feet now and my heart sinks as the line goes slack- Gamakatsu 4/0 broken at the shank.

Broken Gamakatsu 4/0

Hiding from the rains in the storm drain.

Making up a new fly:

So I've lost the only fly that seems to work.  Well I've lost the hook.  I salvage olive green zonker, olive grizzly hackle, flash and eyes.  I tie all of this onto a hook that I strip and put eyes on using UV Knot sense using 10lb mono and 50lb braid as fly tying thread.