Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rule #1 Make the Arrangements Yourself. That Way You Have No One Else to Blame.

In January, I made a plan to catch Dorado in Mexico. The plan was solid, the execution flawless. Unfortunately, not all Charter trips go so well. In early March I was in Cape Town, South Africa with my youngest son, Peter. Cape Town is a favorite destination for Chef Pete with its world class wine estates and restaurants. The weather was perfect- low 80’s not a cloud in the sky-after the long Northeast winter. I had fished the warm Indian Ocean waters of South Africa and Mozambique a number of times but I had never fished the colder Atlantic off the Cape. So we decided to add a day of fishing to our salute to Bacchus.

Hermanus was strictly a whale watching scene. Gansbaai was home to the great white shark boats- no guide fleet.  I knew little about the Cape guide scene. I suspected most boats were either out of Cape Town’s Victoria & Albert harbor, Hout Bay, or Simon’s Town, home of the South African Navy.  A friend had volunteered to set up a day on the water for Pete and I which he turned over to his administrative assistant, Rachel. This leads me to Guide Selection, This leads me to Rule #1: Always make the guide arrangements yourself. That way you have only yourself to blame. 

Rachel emailed the trip info but we were in the wine region and did not take the time to check out Simon Town’s Big Blue Charters.  A subsequent review of the website said a lot about the day we would have. There were two reviews, both three plus years old. One was a “Thank you” for the dignity supplied in helping a family spread their patriarch’s ashes. In the review they noted they did not have a chance to “wet a line”. The second review had a star rating but no words. The coup de grace was the tab on the site marked “Marine Life”. A significant portion of the site was devoted to creatures we would NOT be pursuing but, WOULD be encountering- much to our chagrin.  Roz called me the day before to arrange a departure time and make sure we had directions. “Come around 9:00”, she said.  9:00?  Half the day is over by then for any fisherman worth his salt. The die was cast.

As in Mexico, there was a plan. We met Roz at the dock and she directed us to the boat. The Captain and the mate seemed ready. The plan was to catch some live bait, and combine it with frozen bait for reef fishing around Seal Island for Kob, Cape Salmon, and a variety of other reef fish. The trip started with drop shotting cut bait for mackerel. On my third cast I had a decent sized Spanish mackerel that would cut up nicely into belly strips and chunk bait. No sooner had I caught this fish we were visited by one of the local residents, a seal. This seal swam, twisted, turned and jumped generally making itself a nuisance by scaring off any fish considering a trip into the boat. I caught one more mackerel and that was it. Eric 2, Pete 0 Guides 
0. Which brings me to Rule #2: If the guides can’t even catch bait it is probably going to be a long day.

At this point, the Captain got a couple calls from a fellow charter captain fishing off Cape Point who had boated a few nice sized fish- we were not clear if they were yellow tail or yellow fin.  Our Captain announced “change of plan”. We were going to the point. I had driven to the point a few times and I guessed it would take an hour to get to the shoals 2-3 miles off the point. It was a bumpy ride when we got to the washing machine where bay and ocean waters meet.  The scenery was spectacular as we passed the high cliffs of Cape Point. When we reached the shoals, the mate quickly set lines. There were no outriggers so we fished straight out the back of the boat. It did not take long before one of the rods sang out the tune of peeling line.  Pete fought the fish hard getting it close to the boat when all of the sudden, it was gone, without even a look. And that was it. Not another bite. 

What disturbed me was the crew did not change tactics at all. They did not change lures, change colors, or change bait of any kind. It was as if they were a one trick pony. They seemed frustrated and without a plan.  Pete and I were equally frustrated.  Only the +/- 100 marauding dolphins and dozen or so seals chasing fish all over the shoals seemed to understand where they were and how to catch them. Marine life….. Rule #3: If you are out-numbered by natives, they might be catching or scaring off most of the fish.

The weather favored fishing. The plan seemed solid until it changed on a whim. The scenery was super and the marine life and naval ship watching were equally interesting. British, German and South African ships, including their newest submarine, were all on the water carrying out a joint exercise. But in the end we were reminded why it is called fishing and not catching.  A good plan A evolved into a poorly executed plan B. Some luck turned to no luck as only the marine life caught fish. Lesson learned: Rule #4: Do your homework, make a plan and stick to it. Be flexible enough to modify the plan by changing baits, changing lures and altering tactics to adapt to what the fish are doing. It doesn’t matter whether you are in South Africa or South Jersey; nothing beats a good plan well executed.

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