How to Read the Water:
Where to find the Fish: Holes, Rips, Sandbanks, Rocks, Gullies, Ledges, Piers, Lakes, Estuaries, Harbors.
Reading the water is one of the most important tasks for the angler to perform before doing anything on arrival at the beach!
- And no, you don’t see Elephants, Crocodiles or Hippopotamus swimming in the ocean every day either, this is a rare occurrence! To capture these you will need a good camera!
This will help you to decide where exactly you need to fish in order to target a particular fish species or where your chances of being successful, are a lot better or almost guaranteed. Reading of the water is necessary for all forms of saltwater fishing, not only for the spin fisher.
This is a technique that is developed over time, however, this guideline will help the new or not so experienced angler to make a well-calculated decision as to where to fish. I’m sure you all have seen the one or two anglers on the beach who just reel in fish after fish, and the other anglers near them are not getting anything. Ever wonder why? Well, it is because the angler that is catching all the fish has read the water and has chosen a likely feeding ground or passage where the fish may be. If you like to snorkel then you can get a real close-up look at the structure as it is by diving around the reefs.
Remember, conditions also play a big role in fishing success. If the water is too angry or badly discolored or if the wind is howling or if the waves are churning up lots of sand, then even the seasoned angler will not be productive & they probably won’t even attempt to fish unless they are in a protected area, like a Lagoon, Lake or Harbor.
So, the spin fisherman travels light, normally with a backpack containing some water, snacks, Lures, accessories, etc. and his fishing rod. The reason he travels light is so that he can travel long distances up and down the beach, looking for these key spots to present his Lure.
If you are going to be walking long distances along the beach, then you don’t want to be bogged down with unnecessary luggage.
I highly recommend you go and investigate the beach at dead low tide to get a good idea of the structure that you wouldn’t see at high tide when the water covers it. If I am fishing waters that I do not know & I have the opportunity, to observe the conditions at low tide then I do so.
When I find interesting structure then a piece of driftwood or a branch is a good marker, pushed into the ground, way back where the sand meets the vegetation, as no one is likely to be walking there. These markers will guide you on the high tide when you can’t see the structure or remember exactly where you saw it.
Also, this method is very helpful to those of you who are still learning to read the water. You saw what the structure looks like at low tide, now at high tide look at the water in the same spot & take note of its behavior & color. In the future when you see these signs in the water, you can get a mental picture of what is happening under the water at various spots. “The water speaks!” Let it speak to you!
It is as simple as that, “Look & Learn.” Always observe every detail when looking at the beach & the water!
Just a quick one on what to observe in the water.
If an area of water is deep then you will see that it is very calm & blue with no wave formation in that area.
Now, with a sandbank, you will notice that the wave, forms just before the sandbank & when it reaches the bank’s edge it breaks & rolls across the bank as a white foamy & turbulent body of water.
Now the above also applies to the flattish bed of rock below the water surface.
When the water flows over the bank it causes turbulence which normally builds a small swell that continues to flow through the Inshore channel & breaks on the beach.
If you see a lot of white foamy & turbulent water with a clear, blue, calm water, in a patch at its center then this is referred to as a hole.
When you see white choppy water in the form of a circle or more a semicircle or whatever shape, ” clearly surrounding something, it is a definite indication of a reef.
Reading the depth of a body of water where there are waves present is quite easy.
Look at a wave, it has a top and a bottom, (A Trough and a Crest.)If you watch the wave building up from the trough through to the crest, it curls just before it drops into a break.
You take the distance from the trough to the crest for example 2 meters. The size of the wave is exactly proportionate to the depth of the water.
Fish don’t like a sudden change in water temperature and almost always move into more favorable waters. Generally, this would be deeper water.
Fish do move into warmer water in order to spawn and each year we follow the migrating species from the Cape waters as they move up to Mozambique and then back down the coast again after the spawn.
These would primarily be your Garrick. Our flatfish as we refer to them, are Sandsharks, Guitarfish, Stingray, and Skate. These fish are in abundance at the peak of the summer.
Temperature is affected by strong ocean currents that are found offshore in our waters. There are two main currents that affect the temperatures in South Africa, They are firstly the Agulhas which is a warm current that runs in our Indian ocean from Mozambique down our East coast to the Cape Were it meets the second Current at Cape Point, it has been known to meet west of the point at times, but at no fixed point. Here the warm Agulhas current turns and makes its way back up the east coast. This is just a continuous circulation of warm water. The meeting point of the two currents changes continuously. There is no fixed reference point. The original and default point however is Cape Point.
This Second current is called the Benguela current, a very cold current that runs in the Atlantic ocean from West of Cape Point, up the west coast and past Namibia to Angola.
The East coast has an average temperature of 22 degrees celsius & the West coast has a temperature of between 6 and 14 degrees Celsius. These currents move around a lot, sometimes coming closer in-shore or moving further off-shore.
These currents play a big part in the change of the water temperature, also Wind, Rain, and a Cold front can cause sudden changes. The other element of change is our seasons. Cooler in winter and warmer in summer. However, with the onset of global warming, we don’t seem to be having very cold winters anymore!
So in conclusion, sudden water change definitely affects the behavior of fish!
The Easterly wind often brings Blue Bottles and seagrass inshore, accompanied by strong side currents, choppy water, and big swells, making it almost impossible to fish at times.
This would be a good time to try spinning with a Spoon, Rapala, plug or popper or to go and find a sheltered spot as mentioned previously.
When the wind changes to a westerly, it invariably tends to prevent the infestation of seagrass and side currents but also flattens the water.
It is good if the water is a little choppy as the fish are not too wary of predators and unnatural baits and tend to feed more actively.
When the water is completely flat (mirror-like) it is very difficult to entice a strike, the fish become very wary and cautious.
One can fish productively in clean and off-color waters.
Most fish are not as wary and cautious in off-color water and will feed eagerly, here bait presentation is not as important as the fish rely more on smell and vibration rather than sight.
Here it would be pointless using an artificial worm imitation or drop shot; however a spinner, plug or popper will be productive as it vibrates and makes noise in the water, attracting feeding fish.
With artificial lures and poppers under these conditions, it is better to use a dark color as it generally gives off a better silhouette to the approaching fish as it looks up. A noisy surface popper is also productive at this time.
Salmon (Kob) in particular love to feed in ginger-colored water.
In clean water the fish once again become wary, so bait presentation is of primary importance. Smaller baits, lighter tackle, and traces should be used in order to make the bait look as natural as possible.
When using artificial bait or poppers, go for lighter colors, white or clear.
It is good practice also to wait for the wind to break the surface of clean water. Sometimes a moderate wind is beneficial for clean water fishing.
Again a fast retrieve is normally all that works well in clean, undisturbed water. A fast retrieve reduces the time that a fish has to investigate your bait and induces an “attack now or lose out response” from the fish!
The position of the moon and sun has a remarkable effect on the gravitational pull of the earth and its elements; this, in turn, affects the Tides of the ocean.
When the moon is full and also a new moon, which occurs every 14 days, is the period known as a Spring tide. The water rises to it’s maximum at high tide, consuming most of the beach and recedes to it’s minimum at low tide, exposing rocks, sandbanks, and structure that u never knew existed.
At Springtide it is best to fish the incoming and outgoing tide, high tide can be productive, but it is sometimes difficult to fish.
Fishing the low tide at Springtide can also be very productive as one can fish the channels at the edge of sandbanks or walk out a great distance on the sandbanks or rocks to fish very deep water.
A serious word of caution though. It is an extremely dangerous tide and it’s very important to keep your eye firmly fixed to the water and watch the backline wave activity. The freak wave that brings the water back can send you tumbling or leave you stranded!
7 days before and after the full moon, is the period known as Neap tide. This is when there is very little difference between the level of the water at high as well as low tide.
The neap tide can be a very productive fishing tide throughout the day and night. With very little change in the water conditions and levels; deep water or productive spots can be found and fished indefinitely.
There are 2 Spring tides and 2 neap tides in a 28-day cycle, occurring every seven days. The spring tide that occurs when the moon is closest to the earth has a greater effect (lower and higher waters) than the one that occurs when the moon is further from the earth.
Two days before or after a Neap tide you will note that there is often a tide that is not indicated on the tide table – be it a high or low tide. This indicates clearly that there is little or no change to the water levels.
The difference between high and low tide is 6 hours, with each tide lasting between 30 to 60 minutes.
Time of Day:
It is a well-known fact that fish feed more actively at sunrise and sunset and extremely well at night, although fish will still be caught throughout the day. A good torch will be useful at night!
The full moon is a great time to fish as the moon is very bright and the use of artificial light is often not necessary. One must, however, be very alert as the water levels change rapidly at a full moon.
One must be very cautious when fishing at night, and it is recommended that you go in a big group or fish somewhere safe, such as in the harbor where there is a lot of light, people and activity. It is also a very good idea to carry 2-Way radios in case of an emergency! “Unfortunately there are those who don’t like to purchase their goods with money!”
Some resorts actually have security patrols on the beaches and some resorts are private and thus a very safe place to conduct night fishing.
Reading the beach can be quite easy or very difficult depending on the conditions. It is very important to be able to read the water. The influence of wave action and underwater currents can cause major changes in the formation of the ocean floor.
Can you imagine coming upon a beach that is completely flat with little or no rocks, Where would you fish? “Every fisherman’s nightmare!”
Excellent question yes Where? Well, if you come across a beach that is completely flat then you are going to be looking at the Sandbanks that have formed in the area. These banks are your structure seeing as there are no rocks for the fish to hang around, and it is a known fact that fish love structure.
Fish feed on the Crustaceans and Mollusks that are washed out of the sand with wave action on the sandbanks, others feed off the edge of the banks in slightly deeper water and then other fish feed off the smaller fish as they swim up and down in these deeper waters.
There are a number of things to look at when observing a naked beach for a good fishing spot.
Firstly I want to mention the gradient of the shoreline.
- If the Highwater line has left a steep bank cut-out in the sand & the gradient back to the water is steep then you have no or, very little sandbanks. In actual fact, you have some very deep water to work. Note how calm the water is.
Here you can target just about anything, the deep water tends to be very calm, clear and dark blue in color. fish are rather wary of where they are and what can eat them! Having said this, the fish will still swim around there but may not stay for a prolonged time.
Remember all life is part of the food chain and everything gets eaten, except the one right at the top. There is no harm in cranking a bait through the deep clear water for the possible cruising fish. Fish don’t stay in one spot, they travel up and down in search of food. So every piece of water could hold fish.
So, in these conditions, you would look for some Choppy or foamy or slightly discolored water. This is always a good place to fish. You fish right on the line where the calm water meets the choppy, foamy water or where the clear water meets the off-color water. Most anglers will refer to this as the color line!
- Note the Choppy, Foamy, White water as it rushes over submerged Rocks in this Illustration. And note the Deeper, Calmer water behind & to the side.
If there happen to be one or two rocks visible in the water then cast next to them. On the contrary, if the beach is completely flat.
Then you have very little deep water and a lot of sandbanks which in turn create some deep spots around them and some ideal feeding grounds.
Ok, in this situation where you have flat beaches and you can see sandbanks, take a closer look. The waves rushing over the sandbanks will stir up the Crustaceans & Mollusks from the sand and the fish, in turn, will be waiting there to eat them. As the water rushes off the banks it must, of course, find its way back out to sea, as is the norm, the water comes & the water goes.
Here where this water runs off of the sandbanks is where you will find the deep water and the fish on the edges of the banks eating the food as it washes down into the deep water and in turn you will have the bigger or predator fish hanging around and picking off the very busy smaller feeding fish, one by one.
If you can picture a sandbank out in the water, then look to the sides of the bank & also to the front (the water between the shore & the bank) Do you notice that this water is rather calm and not very foamy? This is your deep water.
The ones on the sides are called the “Rips.” and they often form deep holes that hold some really nice fish.
You have probably heard lifesavers & swimmers talking about Rips and how dangerous they are for the swimmer, Well, these are the Channels that return the water back to beyond the backline, so you can imagine the force of the current in these Rips pulling the sand and water back out into the deep.
There are not always two Rips, sometimes only one is formed as it is enough to return the water and in this case, it is also normally very deep.
- See the Rip between the Arrows & the Sandbanks either side.
Sometimes a rip can become very deep as the sand rushes back out and the other one can fill up with sand as the concentration of outflow of water increases in the deeper, wider Rip.
- Now the one in the front is called the Inshore Channel or Trough, this is the passage of Deepwater that forms between the Bank and the Shore and filters water off the Bank & out to the Rips at the sides, also a very good spot to Target Fish between the two Rips.
Sometimes if you have a side current you may find that one Rip will close and the water will rush over the sandbank into the channel and out through the one Rip as opposed to the two from before.
This is sometimes to the Angler’s advantage as the fish have to go back out the way they come in, and so they are in the Strike zone a lot longer than if they were entering one side and exiting the other side.
Ok, so this is your Natural sand structure, one of the hardest things to learn to read, but very much a necessity.
My sand formula! “Sandbanks = Food = Hungry fish = Predator fish”
Although one can do some very effective fishing, on and around the sandbanks, this is not always the case. If the sand is churning excessively the fish will tend to leave the area, so it is always good to check that this is not the case.
Also, check at different periods of time as far as the tide is concerned. At low tide, for example, the water is a lot shallower and a lot of sand is sure to be churning. Don’t even go there. Rather find another spot or try again when the tide has turned or is higher, the water is deeper and there is less churning of sand.
Shad are definitely a no-no for dirty or sandy water, you just don’t get them, so don’t even try.
I have been out on the boat & caught Shad from way behind the backline, sometimes up to a kilometer behind the backline. It is my opinion that Shad, as well as Garrick and Kob, only frequent the shallow inshore waters to hunt for food & if the conditions are not favorable, they will just stay in the deep water out of reach of the shore angler.
Rocks, Reefs, Gullies, Ledges, Lagoon & Estuaries, Harbors, Piers & Jetties
- Scattered rock, are areas of a sandy beach that have some rocks here and there in the water.
These scattered rocks tend to have a proportionate amount of sand and rock or very much more sand than rock.
They can sometimes be deep & other times be shallow areas.
All sorts of Crustaceans & Mollusks, as well as other forms of food, are always present with rocks. A lot of life grows on rock, a lot live in it & a lot live in the sand around it. A lot of fish live in rock structure & a lot also take shelter in or near it. Rock is a feeding factory for fish!
Fish on either side or in front of the rock & you should get some fish.
My Rock formula! “Rock = Food & Shelter = Hungry fish = Predator fish”
Reefs can be very far out or close to the shore.
- When they are Closer to the Shore we refer to them as Inshore Reefs.
These are large clusters of mostly submerged rock witch occasional protrude up out of the water, especially when the water is lower. Reefs are basically more rock than sand. They are an absolute haven for all sorts of living organisms & are a prime source of food for fish.
A lot of life grows on rock, a lot live in it & a lot live in the sand around it. A lot of fish live in rock structure & a lot also take shelter in or near it. Rock is a feeding factory for fish!
This is one of your top spots to target good fish, cast your Lure or bait near the rock and see what happens!
My Rock formula! “Rock = Food & Shelter = Hungry fish = Predator fish”
- Gullies are Channels in Rock or Reef that allow the water in & out of Natural Rock Pools & Tidal pools.
These can vary in depth and width, the water moving in and out of these gullies is mostly churning, foamy, white water & an excellent place to hunt reef fish who dash in with the surging water to feed & then follow it out again.
The fish can repeat this process over & over for as long as the water is high enough. With these smaller fish feeding continuously, off the rocks in the gullies, are the predator fish that sit near the mouth or inlet of the gulley waiting for the smaller fish to dash out of the gulley & they then in turn feed on them. Therefore there is more than one target available here.
Fishing is not always about what we are going to cook or how big the fish is. It is more about the sport & enjoyment of catching fish & even more so the new species that we wish to add to our list.
When fishing conditions are not at all favorable, too much wind, too much sidewash, too much seaweed, etc. Then the gullies are one of the best places to fish, get out the light tackle and smaller Lures or flies and target the fish in the gullies.
Always keep an eye on the swell, the waves can surprise you at any time, one moment small & consistent & then all of a sudden a big one from out of nowhere and you got trouble. Watch & if you’re not sure then step back! If you get snagged in the rocks in a gulley, don’t swim out to try & dislodge your Lure. It is not worth it, rather cut your line & start again.
The water in a gulley reacts exactly like the water in a rip. You get caught in it you will get hurt as you are washed over the rocks into the deep water and then you still have to find a way out if you survive the ordeal & by this time you have lost not only your lure but also your fishing rod & you’re badly injured if you make it.
My Rock formula! “Rock = Food & Shelter = Hungry fish = Predator fish”
Ledges are normally low or high rocks that jut out quite far into the water from the shore. Ledges give the fisherman the ideal opportunity to be able to cast out and work some very deep water. Sometimes ledges will take you right out to almost as far as the backline as in the photo above. Note how the waves crash against the rock making for a rather dangerous situation. Look beyond the spray & you will notice the sea is flat and calm. This is your deep water and it is in casting distance, even for the amateur. We are now talking of extremely deep water & not something to be overlooked.
While ledges are very productive deep water spots, they are also very dangerous. It is imperative to wear some sort of non-slip shoes normally bought in the angling retail stores. Rocks, especially wet ones can be deadly.
It doesn’t matter if you are the best swimmer or not, a fall off the rocks into the water is going to damage you so badly, remember the rocks are covered in barnacles, mussels oysters, etc. And believe me, I learned the hard way & had some near-fatal experiences that I do not wish to repeat. I am by no means afraid of the ocean, but I have great respect for it. My no. 1 Rule, “Always keep an eye on the water no matter what”
It is generally better to fish ledges in low water conditions especially if you are not familiar with the area or at least until you have observed the ledge at full high tide to see exactly what the water is doing, how high is it coming onto the ledge etc. Where would be a safe place to stand & fish?
Another important thing is to determine exactly how or where you are going to land a fish from the ledge, this can sometimes be very difficult especially if you do not want to injure the fish because you wish to return it unharmed & this just makes it all the more difficult. If you are not sure, ask the local fishermen, they will be only too happy to give you advice.
On the ledges, you will be fishing very deep water so you can go quite heavy on your tackle, upsize on your lures & target Gamefish. From where you are fishing, it is almost as good as being on a Boat, Jetski or Paddle ski, fishing behind the backline.
But you can also fish your medium tackle into the bay off the ledge instead of the point if you so wish, or you can fish your light tackle right close to the ledge for a lot of guaranteed fun.
Ledge fishing is not always possible, oftentimes the weather/storm conditions don’t allow it at all. Best stay away at these times.
Lagoon & Estuary Fishing:
When weather conditions don’t allow for surf fishing, then one can always go and do some Lagoon & Estuary fishing. Most times these areas are well sheltered by land structure & are calm & fishable.
Here you can use light tackle & fish the banks for fish feeding on Shrimps, Prawns, Cracker shrimps & Crabs. Take note you probably want to match the Lure or fly to the particular bait.
You can target the resident species in their unique habitat, the rocks, reeds, logs, roots trees, etc.
You can also target small game species such as Garrick, Kingfish, Pompano, Springer, Kob, etc. in the deep channels.
Generally, an Estuary that is permanently or mostly open would be the best place to fish.
- Harbors are very Sheltered from the Elements and Fairly Easy to Fish.
They are like an ocean without waves or with very small waves, more like swells.
There is a wide variety of fish species in the harbor as it is mostly deep & the fish go there for shelter and to breed & occasionally to feed. They very often follow baitfish in and then feed on them. Some of the baitfish are Mullet, Razorbelly, Pinkie & many other juvenile fish. Some species come in for the Shrimp & Prawn. One can target literally any species there.
- Here we will look at Piers, Jettys, Rocky areas, Pipes & Buoys which are normally covered in Barnacles, etc.
Also Trees, Mangrove roots, Warfs, Deep channels, Sandbanks & also Lagoons and Canals leading off or into the harbor.
Although early morning & late afternoon fishing is good, night fishing in the harbor can be very rewarding also best fished on the incoming, high and outgoing tides. You can get monsters in the harbor, my personal best Kob came in at 18.5kg. There are also very big sharks that feed in the bay, I have often witnessed them feeding right, up the Canals & Lagoon when the water is high.
Some of the biggest Kob have come out in the Canal which runs into the harbor, it is no more than a meter deep at its deepest point which shows that big fish are not afraid to feed in very shallow water! It seems the baitfish frequent the lagoon and the predators follow & they don’t seem to have a problem with the low salinity either. I don’t think that would affect them at all cause they are only there for a couple of hours.
Piers are man-made structures that go out fairly & sometimes very deep into the ocean.
These Piers offer excellent fishing to the anglers as they move from shallow to medium-deep to extremely deep water.
Piers are reasonably safe as long as you stay inside of the barriers. Literary any fish species can be targeted from here.
The only downside to Pier fishing is that it can get very crowded at times.
“PLEASE remember to practice Catch & Release!” in order to preserve our fish stocks!
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