Making It Count In Kosi

When you get only one chance at a GT, you have to give it all you’ve got – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll land your dream fish, writes Robert Kyle.

About a month back, I was having one of my usual afternoon WhatsApp chats with my brother Ewan, who was up at Kosi Bay and had a few days off between clients.

These conversations generally start off with the message from me: “What you caught today?” I generally cringe and go green in response to the pictures that I get in reply, so I was braced for what I thought could be his worst. I wasn’t emotionally ready enough for the reply I got, however: “Fished a slightly different spot in the lakes today, came home to get my fly-rod after the 7th GT. Lost a huge snapper and saw some others.” He then went on to say that they “weren’t that big and the best one was only 107cm FL”. It was while this message was sinking in that I decided we had no choice but to go and have a shot at one of these fish ASAP – while they were active.

With Amy being a teacher, it’s not possible to get weekdays off at short notice – so the only option was to shoot up for a weekend. Typically, the weekend after this earth-shattering message was received, I had a postal fishing comp so we couldn’t go then. I had to wait another whole week and with the weekend looming and me checking Windguru 30 times a day, it was showing that there was going to be only a one-day fishing window open on the Saturday, with a westerly buster on Sunday.

The likelihood of hitting a complete blank when going up for only one session was very high, but I justified it to myself and Amy with the fact that many people travel across continents and oceans at the cost of tens of thousands of rand to have a chance at big GTs. For us to drive 1 000km for a single session to have a crack at one was actually quite reasonable and in fact we would be silly not to jump at it. Clinging to this justification, we packed the bakkie with a ridiculous amount of tackle for one day and left town after work on the Friday afternoon, arriving with Ewan and Chanelle at Kosi at about 10pm.

After a quick meal, we got down to the serious task of selecting tackle for the morning’s onslaught. Ewan had been having most of his fish on the CID poppers, so a selection of these had to go with. Soft plastics are always a great option so a whole variety of these were packed. There was always the possibility that the fish would not be feeding on the surface, so an assortment of stick baits and other hard baits were added. By the end of it all, the boxes and bags were full to overflowing, and we definitely had a lure to catch just about any species of fish that might have presented itself to us. Both Ewan and I chose to fish our Assassin Amia 8ft rods.

Having caught quite a lot more of the GTs than I have, he was slightly less stressed about making every bite count, so he went with a 6k Stella loaded with 30lb braid on his rod. I was considerably more stressed about making every bite count so I went with a 10k Twinpower loaded with 70lb Grinder braid. The 8ft Amia is the most incredible rod for this style of fishing as it is light and sensitive enough to throw and work a weightless soft plastic comfortably the whole day but also strong enough to get a lot out of the 70lb braid when the chips are down, provided you keep a fairly low angle on the rod and don’t pull like a complete nitwit.

By the time all the preparation was done to a satisfactory point, there were only a few hours of dark left to sleep before the alarms were going off and the time to make coffee was upon us. A quick mug of the dark, life-enhancing liquid to clear the mind and get the hamster back on the wheel while I retied all my FGs and gave the hooks a quick last-minute sharpen and we were off down to the boat. Heading out onto the Kosi lakes at first light on a glassy calm morning is an experience in itself and is one that is actually worth driving 1 000km for. While skimming over the mirror surface, one cannot help but let all the other rubbish that’s filling your brain from your day-to-day life melt away.

It wasn’t long and we arrived at our first spot, which happened to be the same area that Ewan accounted for the seven fish two weeks previously. Expectations were to the roof as we sent out the first exploratory casts and we watched with eagle eyes every movement of the lures as they were worked back to the boat. The first throws produced nothing, as did the next couple of hundred casts that followed.

After about an hour, Ewan had a proper rock salmon come up on his plastic a few metres from the boat. It all happened in a split second but I was watching Ewan’s lure at the time and it happened as if in slow motion. I can still see it in my mind as though it happened seconds ago. The fish came up from the depths and momentarily stared at the plastic like a bass does. Ewan twitched it at the perfect time and I watched a hole open under the McArthy 7” as the fish inhaled the plastic out of sight. Ewan dropped the rod to allow the fish soft line to be able to suck the lure in and then hit at the perfect time. Now, just to clarify, Ewan does not make mistakes often and is probably the best artificial lure angler I know – which only serves to make any slip-up more amusing. Instead of his perfectly timed strike meeting with the solid resistance of an angry 6kg rock snapper, he was left with a tag end of braid drifting in the wind a few metres from his rod tip where his fluoro leader should have been firmly attached. That particular spot in the lake shall now be known for eternity as “FG”.

We fished that section hard for a while longer but didn’t manage to raise any more fish there, and Ewan decided to move us along to another spot. On arrival, he set us up for a long drift and the casting commenced again. It is such a pleasure to fish on a boat with someone sharp, as provided your timing is correct, anyone can throw at any angle and you should never get tangled lines.

We were about 50m into the drift and Ewan had thrown a long shot with the wind at 90° to the side of the boat. It was about a third of the way into the retrieve when the first GT came up on the lure, and from that point to literally the side of the boat where they could not chase it any further was a foaming, splashing chaos of 20kg+ fish competing with each other to eat the lure, getting more and more frustrated with every failed attempt. Each swirl and splash was greeted with ascending shouts of encouragement and direction from Ewan and myself, sprinkled tastefully with expletives not well suited to being captured in text form.

Amy, who had never before borne witness to the wrath of a pack of GTs – nor such colourful language from me, probably – was not quite sure how to react, and towards the end of those few seconds I think she was half relieved that the fish hadn’t followed through and climbed onto the boat to eat the plastic. After it was done and the boat was left rocking gently from the waves pushed out by the charging fish, there was little left to do but mutter the words: “Bother! That could have worked out differently,” and continue with the drift.

The problem with fishing the weightless plastics on the surface is that they are so light that the bow wave pushed in front of the charging fish very often pushes the lure away from the fish’s mouth, and the harder the fish goes for it the bigger the bow wave and the more water there is to push the lure away. There has to be a bit of luck involved, and the fish has to come at the right angle to actually get the lure in its beak!

After this interlude of chaos, we continued with the drift, and about 10 minutes later I had a single fish come up on my lure from vertically below it and make a splash akin to someone throwing a Hilux at my plastic. This fish only came once but its aim was true and something along the lines of “s**t, I have it” slipped from my lips while it sunk the hook with more than one meaningful tug of the rod. I honestly don’t actually know what particular part of fishing it is that we enjoy so much as the hours of fruitless casting is frustrating, the eventual bite is heart-stopping, the fight nerve-racking and then the rest until the fish is released is stressful to make sure that it’s not getting hurt. When you look back on it though, and put it all together, it is pretty friggin’ amazingly awesome.

The fight with this fish, although stressful as always, was pretty uneventful and Ewan managed to get his paws around its tail after about 15 minutes. He held the fish in the water while I tried to move other rods and clutter out the way and fill the tub with water to lift the fish into. As I got the tub filled, the fish gave an unexpected kick and broke out of Ewan’s grasp. I dived for my rod which was lying on the deck but the loose line while Ewan had the fish by the tail had wrapped twice around the second guide from the tip, and now it was jammed there, preventing the fish from being able to take any line. A super-stressful few seconds followed while the fish did a few circles under the boat, but it was no longer strong enough to surge hard enough to part anything. A few shallower circles followed before Ewan got to the tail again and lifted it into the safety of the tub on the deck.

With the fish in the tub, comfortable and breathing well, we rushed it to the nearest bank where we could hold the fish in the water. Here it was safe and we could then take pictures and tag and measure it pretty much at our leisure while the fish regained its strength. I was super glad to have Amy there to experience the whole thing, and to get a picture with both of us and the 111cm fish was super cool. Definitely a photo that will find its way onto the wall at some point. Once photos from all the compulsory angles were taken, there was nothing left to do but to walk the fish out to slightly deeper water and let it go. I love how when a GT is ready for release, the pectoral fins come forward again, and you can almost see the spark or realisation come back into its eyes that it is going to be heading home shortly. Yes, you may have won that battle and beaten it  on that occasion, but you showed mercy and now it is going back into its domain where it can again be proud and free.

A little later on that day, we were drifting another spot with all four of us on the boat fishing and Amy had a whole shoal of rock salmon come up on her lure. A really good fish ate her plastic off the top but amazingly it didn’t stick. It did break the plastic however and ruined her chances of getting a second bite. I happened to have retrieved my lure at just the right time and quickly snapped a short throw out into the middle of the turned-on fish. One of them ate almost as the plastic landed and after a brief but energetic fight Ewan lifted it into the tub to get tagged and photographed before it was sent on its way. This fish measured just over 70cm and is definitely one of my best on lure from the lakes.

Chanelle also managed a nice rock salmon a while later which ate the lure off the top in a splash that left us convinced it was a GT, and I got another smaller snapper. As per the prediction, the wind continued to strengthen and ultimately blew us off the water.

There was a west forecast to come through early on the Sunday morning but luck was on our side and it gave us a small morning gap to shoot out for a few hours to try again. This session resulted in Chanelle landing a really good GT, but this is a story for her or Ewan to tell.

We arrived back in town on Sunday evening exhausted after having had about seven hours of sleep since Friday morning and been on the go pretty much non-stop. The gamble had paid off however and that one fish had made the trip worthwhile 10 times over, not to mention the two rock salmon which were themselves really special fish to get on the lure.

I wrestled with myself whether to first post pictures of the fish we got on this trip on social media or write this story for the mag. Eventually I decided to go ahead and let the story get out there as it is no secret that there are big GTs in the Kosi lakes, and I would genuinely like for as many people as possible to have an experience like we had. I do know however that there are some out there who will see the pictures on social media and read this story here and be in a hurry to get to Kosi to ultimately kill one or more of these amazing fish. It is my hope that by spreading the right message, there will be enough people who go there with the intention of just bringing home a photo so that the minority who are intent on killing these fish might feel pressured to change their ways.

As a lighty growing up at Kosi, I remember a time when there were a lot of big GTs in the lakes, probably around 20 years ago. I remember how one particular group of guests who used to stay in the camp had worked out how to target these big GTs effectively and killed all that they caught. Over the space of a few years that they came to Kosi, this one boat was in my opinion responsible for having a serious impact on that group of big fish, and for many years after that there were very few big GTs to be seen in the system.

About 10 years ago, we started finding shoals of 2-8kg-class fish moving around together again in the lakes, and ever since – at the right time of the year in the right places – we have been able to find a few. These fish have been getting slowly bigger and bigger every year, and this year one of Ewan’s clients got a stunning GT not much shy of 40kg out of the lakes. The reality is that these fish are pretty much stuck in the system now – if they try to get out to sea to spawn, most, if not all, of them will get trapped in the fish kraals.

These fish have all they need in the lakes to live long and grow very big provided they are allowed to do so. My plea that goes out with this story is to everyone who goes to Kosi to try their luck at catching one of these amazing fish. Please treat them with the respect they deserve and release them to grow bigger and make the next person’s journey worthwhile too. We have been catching fish from these shoals for a long time now – and they feel like our pets.

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