I’ve lived in Durban for most my life, so warm water, beach breaks amd good diving have always been the norm. Moving to Port Elizabeth has been quite a change for me… and it was only when I came here and began spearing the waters of PE that I realized that ‘normal’ in KZN is not ‘normal’ for the rest of the country.
In PE, if you are both a spearo and a surfer, then you should be ok. But if you’re just a spearo, you might get a little frustrated. Wind, wind and more wind!!! And if you can’t dive during the week then you might as well accept the fact that you are not going to be diving much. The crazy thing is, I have most definitely never enjoyed diving as much as I have since moving to the Windy City. I think it has something to do with the awesome crew I have connected with, Darryl Hiscock and Nick Horn to name a few, and the super challenging ocean environment that tests me to the max. The water is consistently 14 to 17 degrees C and we dive mostly in 4 to 7 metres visibility. The fish we hunt are clever, so any vis over 7 metres and things become really tough. The main species to go for are Cracker/ Brusher, Poensies/ Black Musclecracker and of course Yelloe Tail – quite a change from hunting Snoek and Couta in Durban, as I was to discover.
Not so long ago Darryl took me out to this wild and crazy dive spot to see if we could run into some Tail. A couple of days before, I had said to Nick that I was too interested in hunting Yellow Tail. I had speared so many Snoek and Couta in KZN, so wasn’t too excited about going after ‘yet another mid water game fish’. Well, to say the least, I received the schooling of a lifetime.
I jumped off the boat and saw Darryl scooting off into the gnarly surf zone after some Cracker. I thought to myself, “Well good luck with that buddy, I think I’m going to hunt on the fringes… not too amped for one of those disaster camp fire stories today, thank you very much.”
So I just hang around in the calmer water looking for some Poensies. Suddenly, for the first time in my life, a shoal of Tail swum right underneath me… just like Couta. I dived down, took my time and tried for a good shot. I missed the head but landed a pretty decent body shot, and thought to myself. “Great shot, the fish is mine.” I let out some line so the fish could tire itself out in the run (just like Couta) and before long I would have my prize.
BIG MISTAKE! The fish swam straight for the reef and proceeded to swim around every pinnacle and boulder in area. I had no idea what hit me. I found myself swimming frantically all over the reef trying to undo snags and before 3 minutes was up the fish was off and I was left with a botch up! That Tail must have been over 10kg, my first Tail ever and it turned out to be the one that got away. Max pulled up to me with the boat and I threw my arms up in the air with disgust. At this point I really did not know what had just happened… I had been totally dominated and completely humbled by this fish… a fish that definitely was nothing like Couta!
Finally I sorted out my mess and before I had even reloaded, another shoal of Tail puffed in beneath me. I dived down and shot, hit the spine and landed the fish in seconds but it was only a “baby” of 6kg, leaving me a little disappointed about the one that I’d lost.
On one of my last dives for the day, I was set up perfectly. Lying under a crack under the ledge, I thought that there just had to be a Poensie around. I turned to look behind me and saw a fosh of something big moving towards me. It was the biggest fish I’d seen in PE, a bus in a Tail, at least 18 to 20kg. With adrenaline rushing through my veins I tried up the shot and fired out, hoping for another personal best. The shot was a little low again, but no cause for concern. I surfaced.. while giving the fish some line to fire (idiot) and had an almost exact repeat of the previous scenario. I was scampering around the reef, undoing line wrapped around anything and everything. The fish was off in a couple minutes and I was super bummed. I got on the boat and told the guys… they just could not before it, twice in 1 day!
At the end of the day, I still had the only Tail on the boat so it was not too painful but to be honest, deep down inside I felt like I had failed big time. On the way home I told Darryl what had happened and he just burst out laughing. His words were simple but very true: “Tail aint no Couta son”. He then proceeded to school m in how to shoot and land these powerful fish.
The story does not end here. A month later, Darryl and I went down to Cape St. Francis, again in the pursuit of the mighty Yellow Tail. About 30 minutes into the dive I had my chance for redemption. A shoal of Tail swam under me, all 10 to 15kg fish. I aimed at the head of one, and then in a split second one of Darryl’s pearls of wisdom came back to me, “Shoot for the dorsal and hold on for dear life”.
I dragged the spear point to the back of the fish and fired. Not letting out any line this time, I held on with all I had. The fish proceeded to drag me under, over and under again trying to get to the reef, but the shot held fast. It took me 5 minutes to land one of my most exciting catches yet, a 13.5kg Yellow Tail. Finally, I had absolution for one of the most humbling dives of my life.
In complete respect for this magnificent species I will quote the ever so wise words of Darryl Hiscock again, so that all can take note where they encounter Yellow Tail and think their tried and tested Couta tactics will help land the fish:
“Tail ain’t no Couta son”.