The human race is generally a bit, dare it be said, ‘uneducated’ with regards to the ocean and all that she holds. Leisure Boating will look at different ocean species every month with the aim of giving our readers a closer look at the wide range of life forms that lurk below.
Often called ‘the wolf of the sea’, Snoek is a ferocious and not at all fastidious predator that will attack pretty much anything that moves in its proximity. Snoek is ingrained in the South African, and especially Western Cape, culture. It is the quintessential Cape fish and forms the staple of countless Cape families’ diet. It is therefore highly sought-after commercially but is also surprisingly popular among recreational anglers mostly for its aggressive and feisty nature.
Family of the Snake mackerel, Snoek is a predatory, pelagic schooling fish found in temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere. They go by a few other names including “Barracouta” or just “‘Couta” (not at all related to the Barracuda) in and around Australia, and “Sierra” in South American waters, especially off Chile and Argentina. In South Africa it was originally called the ‘Zee Snoek’ (Sea Snoek) by Dutch colonists who arrived in the 1600s, as it said to have reminded them of the freshwater pike (or snoek) found in the Netherlands.
It has a slender, elongated body and is usually dark blue/greyish dorsally while silvery on the belly. Snoek has an oily complexion with very fine scales that are almost undetectable. They have distinctive dorsal fins and rays that run along the entire length of the body. They have a few viscous teeth and those to the front of the upper jaw may occasionally even seem fanglike. The lower jaw is somewhat protruding and is almost half the length of the head.
As most gamefish do, Snoek grow quite fast – they normally reach 29 cm after a year, 73 cm after three years (sexual maturity) and between 90 and 100 cm after 10 years. Most Snoek caught are 1 – 4 kg and the maximum recorded weight for this species is said to be 6 kg. Scott Tindale holds the record for the largest IGFA recorded catch with a fi sh landed in the Hauraki Gulf in 2013, measuring 100 cm, weighing in at 5.42 kg and caught using 22 kg line while using Skipjack tuna as bait.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Snoek are mostly restricted to temperate waters of the Southern Hemisphere including the stretch of ocean between Angola and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Tristan de Cunha Group and Gough Island (Southern Atlantic), and the St Paul and Amsterdam Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.
It is usually found near continental shelves or around islands and seamounts. They tend to stay near the bottom during the day, but often migrate to the surface at night. It can be found from Namibe in Angola to Mossel Bay in South Africa. They are especially abundant off the Western Cape waters of South Africa.
Snoek is a pelagic and migratory species that travels in large schools of similar sized fish. They undergo unpredictable seasonal migrations known as ‘snoek runs’ and their migratory habits make them less vulnerable to overfishing.
As mentioned, Snoek isn’t fussy when it comes to dinner time and will almost eat whatever happens to be swimming or drifting by. They typically feed on pelagic fi sh. Small juveniles will mainly feed on small Lanternfi sh and adults will primarily eat pilchards, anchovies, redeye roundherring, crustaceans (largely euphausiids) and cephalopods.
HOW TO CATCH ONE
Snoek will go for pretty much anything you offer it, as long as it’s visible and even better if it’s shiny. So, a variety of spoons, spinners, lures, bait and even live bait will do the trick with Snoek and it’s up to you to find out what works best on the day and in the particular conditions you’re fishing in.
When spinning, opting for a heavier spinner is advisable as Snoek normally linger at about 30 – 40 m below the surface and you therefore want a lure that sinks fast. A standard setup including a six to seven foot fibreglass rod, a reel of your choice (preferably on the lighter side) spooled with around 30 kg line and a leader of about 50 kg, will do just fi ne. The thicker leader (a wire trace is also recommended) is to combat the Snoek’s fierce teeth and also to be able to lift the fi sh clear of the water without cutting your hands.
Some anglers opt to cast the spinner or spoon out as far as possible, letting it sink, while others simply let out the line until the lure sinks to the preferred depth – usually around 30 – 40 m, before starting the retrieve. Metal lures or spinners of about 30 – 60 g retrieved at a medium speed and which produce a strong action are ideal for Snoek.
Trolling is another method to land Snoek. Simply troll a few lines behind the boat as you would for bigger game, but slower – around three to four knots is ideal for this species. You can troll with whatever you like; be it squid-type lures, spoons, strips of bait or whole pilchards. Once you have a few hook-ups on the backlines (simultaneous hookups are almost guaranteed as this is a tightly schooling species), have the rest of the crew toss a few spinners in the mix as well – you’re bound to get lucky. When the bite is hot, jigging is also very effective. Simply drop the jig down to the depth at which you reckon the fish are and then jig it up at a medium pace.