Fishy tales of snoek in False Bay

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Recreational fishermen still catch snoek in the occasional run. Local Fish Hoek business person Alf Caplen looking happy after a morning catching snoek in the bay.
Recreational fishermen still catch snoek during the occasional run in the bay. Local Fish Hoek business owner Alf Caplen looking happy after a morning of catching snoek.

Lawrence Green, the gem of South African writers who loved the country so deeply, recalls meeting the old fishermen at Saldanha who talked of the days when one man could “haul in 200, even 300 snoek in a great day’s fishing.”

As Green says, “… the fishermen needed enormous catches when a snoek fetched only twopence on the wharf.”

I never caught much above 100 snoek in False Bay and the times that I did break through the hundred mark I could count on one hand.

Already in the mid-1970s commercial fishing was taking its toll on snoek fishing in False Bay. Even the professional fishermen from Kalk Bay did not often catch 100 each a day. Yet there was a legendary skipper nicknamed “Hondered Bedonderd” (Hundred Crazy”) who regularly reached his target.

In those days fishing for snoek in False Bay I got my early lessons in basic economics; the useful supply and demand curves. If we caught many snoek on days when there were few boats out or small pocket shoals, we’d get excellent prices. But on days when the snoek went dilly and all the boats were leaning over to starboard with catches of snoek as they chugged into Kalk Bay harbour, the price would be so low that it was an insult to “give them away”.

Now that's why you catch snoek. Delicious on the braai.
Now that’s why you catch snoek. Delicious on the braai.

The one time we really hit the snoek in the “dik” (thick) was just off Glencairn in late December. I was fishing on my father’s boat, the “Myrabird”, a 20-foot (3.7 m) ski boat with two 85 hp outboard motors, which made it easy for us to fill the boat with snoek, run into Kalk Bay harbour, sell our snoek and go back to the snoek shoals of Glencairn.

We brought three boatloads of snoek to Kalk Bay harbour that day, starting early in the morning and riding in with our third load at about four in the afternoon. But I tell you when we came in with our first load at 11:00 in the morning and heard the opening bid of 25 cents a snoek from the “langaners” (fish auctioneers) our jaws and our hearts dropped. I think we didn’t even reach R1 (one Rand) that day. This was at a time when the average going rate for snoek was about R2.

Though the price of snoek dropped so sharply we enjoyed catching them so much that we went back to catch more. On the quayside crew who hadn’t fished with my father before were virtually begging to come out with us. (Clive Muller did come out on the boat with us – who could have refused such a professional fisherman?) The word had got out to False Bay fishermen and those who had slipped up for whatever reason (late-night partying mostly) were crazy for a piece of the action.

I was down at Kalk Bay harbour the other day on a Saturday afternoon eating a piece of “kuiter” (snoek roe) from Kalky’s (the harbour cafe). I scrapped the batter off the roe, took it and went off to do one of my favourite things. I cast the pieces of batter on the harbour quayside and watched the seagulls swoop down and furiously pick the pieces.

It’s something I watched the owner of the real and orginal harbour cafe Mrs Fish (yes, that was her surname – the wife of Gerry Fish, the fisherman) do when she would throw out fried batter to the gulls in the late afternoons when I went down to the harbour after school.

Even the spectacular catches of snoek I experienced growing up in Kalk Bay now seem like some fishy tale from one of Lawrence Green’s far away and long ago stories about the great Cape Coast.

Few boats go out from Kalk  Bay harbour these days because False Bay has been overfished.

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