Big game fishing off Cape Point – the ones that got away

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Credit:  U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

My first fishing experience goes so far back into my early childhood that most of it is like a blurry dream. Flashes of memory place me at a fishing spot behind Clovelly station off the rocks. My father had handed me the rod but I can’t remember pulling in the fish. My next image is seeing a large white Steenbras on a rock next to the water’s edge with white surf rushing in. I did not see the Steenbras escape but I know I lost it and I have always remembered the bad feeling I experienced afterwards.

Charles Horne recounts how on Wednesday, January 9, 1957 fisherman at Rooikrantz, near Cape Point, landed about 200 tunny weighing from 9 kg (20 lb) to about 20 kg (60 lb). He says in “Big Game Fishing in South Africa” that “no estimate will ever be made of the number of big fish that threw the hooks or broke away” and how many were lost on light or weak tackle.

On that day history was made in tunny fishing from the rocks in South Africa.

Fishing from Rooikrantz for tunny (yellowfin) started in the summer of 1945 when Alf Boshoff landed the first “baby blue-fin tunny” but later identified as yellowfin. Other rock anglers were Vernon Pendlebury, Reggie Biggs, Jack Wheeler, Karl Wiegel, Willy Basson, Vic Edwards and Edgar Knipe.

I was fortunate enough in my teens to go tunny fishing off Cape Point with my father, who had caught two of the largest bluefin tuna in False Bay during the summer runs of the late 1960s and early 1970s. My first tunny were longfin and when I was fifteen I caught a yellowfin which took me half an hour to reel in. I have a photograph of me holding the yellowfin with the tail just below my chin.

A tunny I can remember losing was 20 nautical miles of Cape Point. I had a strike on my rod and the Dacron line just kept running out. This is going to be my personal record, I thought. I kept holding my fish and then my father pointed out a large triangular fin that surfaced near the boat. A great white shark had taken my yellowfin. It was all over in seconds. My line went slack and the shark sped off with its meal.

Years later I was on holiday in Cape Town and we were running back from the 20 nautical mile bank off Cape Point, speeding up towards Smitswinkel Bay when my father saw yellowfin tunny break the surface. It was about 3pm in the afternoon. A sunny day. We put out to the tunny lures and within minutes got two big strikes. I landed my yellowfin tuna in about 20 minutes and watched fellow fisherman Junior Locke struggling with his. He brought his fish up but his line caught between the plate holding one of the outboard motors and snapped. He spoke about his disappointing loss for years.

Big-game fishermen remember the big ones they caught but never forget those they fought long and hard but got away.

If you’re going fishing this weekend, I wish you tight lines.

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