Cape Snoek on the Fly

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Don’t for one minute believe that a Snoek is a walk in the park. It may appear that way when you observe the commercial fishermen hauling them in one after the other. Take a closer look at their tackle – a 100 to 150 pound hand line and a 12/0 hook – no rod to bend and give the fish its head, no reel to wind – just a direct pull straight to the boat. Try the same fish on light tackle or the fly and you’ve opened a whole different can of worms.

The Snoek is an extremely aggressive predator with a formidable set of teeth and blindingly fast strike capabilities. Sounds like a helluva lot of fun? It most certainly is. These fish have the numbers and the fighting ability to teach the angler far more about saltwater fly fishing in a single day than one could read or experience in most other waters in years.

Feel up to it? Read these basics, gear up, and brace yourself for fly action rarely found anywhere else in the world!

I was fortunate, or rather unfortunate, enough to be one of the early pioneers of saltwater boat fly fishing in the Cape, and looking back now on how we struggled to find suitable tackle in sizes capable of handling the Cape’s big, strong fish, I’m surprised we didn’t just give up then. If that wasn’t enough we still had to work out how to fish for the different species, what flies to tie, how to keep them on the line, and how to deal with the multiple reel-burn blisters across our hands. Suitable drag systems were only just seeing the light of day. Fortunately that’s all changed now and there is amazing fly equipment to be found at almost every good tackle store.

Of the specialised stores I shop at for my fly equipment, my favourites are Upstream in Cape Town and Frontier Fly-fishing in Gauteng. I also shop regularly at Fishing Specialist, Tuckers and Suburban Tackle; they have great ranges to suit all pockets and are all able to offer excellent advice.

Fly fishing rods and reels are classified by ‘weights’, a 0-weight being the lightest in strength all the way up to 14-weight and beyond. You’ll need something manageable, light enough for you to cast for long periods of time, and strong enough to land a big fish, which puts you between an 8-weight and a 12-weight outfit. The tackle I have found to be most productive for catching Snoek, especially until you get the hang of it, is a 10-weight outfit. Once you become more proficient you can go down to an 8 or even a 6-weight.

Large arbour reels are preferable for quick line retrieve but not necessary if you keep your reel full with backing. I recommend a reel of an alloy construction, with a large radius disk-drag system to avoid heat buildup while maintaining a smooth release of line. I use at least 200 metres of 50 pound Dacron or Braid backing and 20 metres of running line attached to a DI-7, quick sinking or lead core shooting head fly-line. I find this combination to be more controllable in the wind and gets the fly out and down quickly. A full length fly line of around 500 g is also suitable if you can’t find a shooting-head.

I keep the leaders fairly short at around 5 feet to allow for the tippet and a short 4 to 6 inch piece of #4 or #5 single strand wire. Due to the frantic nature of Snoek fishing I preassemble my flies with an Albright knot joining the wire to the tippet material with a loop at the end to quickly attach to a similar loop on the leader. I prefer not to use swivels to join the wire and tippet as they are prone to make bubbles which the Snoek can find extremely attractive.


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