The rivers in the Transkei are different to those in KwaZulu-Natal. The difference lies in the sugarcane farming along the KZN coast and the natural grasslands along the Transkei coast.
Most KZN rivers and their lagoons are silted up by the soil washing off the sugar cane lands. The rivers in the Transkei are not, and they continue their role as breeding grounds for many species of fish.
The Umngazi River is a wonderful playground for kids, and adults too. For swimming, fishing, mulleting and much more.
The Unmgazi River meanders
The river meanders up from the sometimes open, sometimes closed mouth, between the sand dunes on the one bank and the ‘bungalows’ on the other, and then onwards past Pop Leach’s Point, Pondo Rocks, the prawning grounds, and then around the bend to Roman Pool. Then a bend left and a bend right and then onwards over some shallows to Dassie Krantz, a favourite haunt of leguaans as well as dassies (Hyrax) the fairly close relative of elephants.
One can row across and up the river, but to reach Dassie Krantz you need a small outboard motor. Such a trip took about 40 minutes at a slow, languorous speed. Now and again a mullet jumps lazily out of the water and occasionally jumps again, and again. On the banks the occasional leguaan. Lots of birds. Sometimes fish eagles or storks. Lots of fat wood pigeons. Always surrounded by green rolling hills.
Fish from boat or river
One can fish from a rowboat or from the river banks. We used to catch the occasional Kingfish, rarely a River Roman, quite a lot of Scotsmen, Spotted Grunter, sometimes. But lots of Kabeljou (or cob as we called them). Nothing very big. The small Tiger Fish were a menace – sometimes pecking the bait off within seconds. Near the mouth, an occasional sand shark or sandfish put up a tough fight on our little river rods.
Most of the river fish loved prawn as bait (or crayfish!). Many also liked fillets of mullet. Mudcrackers dug from mudbanks on the rivers at low tide (when the mouth was open) also made good bait. Red bait, cut from sea rocks at low tide was also good in the sea but useless in the river.
In the old days (’50, ’60s) we kept the bait fresh (or at least not rotting) by treating it with a product called Frigadine, I think it was called (a white powder containing boracic and salt). In later years frozen, stinking Sardines (more correctly called Pilchards) made an appearance.
There was a story (dunno how true it was) about Jaco Lorentz and Ghillie Langley going fishing up the river one night, They sat on a river bank, smoked cigarettes and drank brandy and coke. Jaco had not a single bite from a fish all evening. They finally agreed to call it a night and Jaco starting reeling in his line. But there was no line! It turned out that (so the story goes) one of Jaco’s cigarettes had touched the nylon line and melted through it, earlier in the evening.
Fish on the dining room wall
Back then, the dream of every fisherman was to get a lifesize drawing or his or her big fish pasted on the dining room wall. The fish had to be very big for its breed. The bars were set high.
Initially, these drawings were lifesize cutouts on brown paper that recorded the weight of the weight of the fish, the date it was caught, the bait used, the tide at the time of catching, and the name of the proud fisherman, of course. Then gradually, the quality of the art start to improve. Someone added crayon, later pastel. In the end, some looked professionally painted!
The biggest fish
It would be hard to forget, the biggest recorded fish caught by an Umngazi guest and displayed on the wall. There were also huge Kob, Garrick and Silver and Black Steenbrass. Big Rockcod too. But the huge Brindle Bass was king of the wall.
Caught in the adjoining Umngazana River by two men taking turns, over several hours, to pull the fish in with a small rod and light line. As best as I can recall, it weighed about 370 lbs (170kg). The year was 1947 and one of the two men was Tiny Ross-Elliot. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the other man.
Fishing dreams (and nightmares)
To all boys (and some girls) who came to Umngazi, these two men were the heroes. When we went to bed at night we would dream of catching an even bigger fish. Sometimes my dreams turned into nightmares in which I hooked a whopper that was so strong it nearly pulled me into the river or the sea, and then pulled out all my fishing line until it finally broke.
I never made it onto the main wall, but I did get one fish (a 20 lb (9kg) Kob caught in the Umngazana) onto the ‘teenage wall’. My dad did make it to the main wall with a large Bronze Bream and a spotted Anderson’s Rockcod, both caught in the sea.
Fishing as meditation
But, catching fish is only a small part of the experience of fishing. Much, usually most of the time is spent in a kind of meditation. You are fishing, but the mind wanders far and wide. Occasionally one is awoken by a tug on the line.
During the day, the sun is warm and the breezes cooling. At night the stars really do shine extra brightly above, and fishermen fishing are at peace with the world. At least, that is what most fishermen say.