Thump thump like an amplified heart beat that reverberates in your solar plexus…then again thump thump and again thump thump…silence only the sound of your own increased heart beat. The unmistakeable sound of big Daga Salmon calling to each other. But where are they…thump thump thump, thump thump…you are trying not to move and keeping as quiet as possible…thump thump…then you make out the bright dots that travel along the lateral line of the Dagas first and their shadows on the sand below as they circle closer in like ghosts from deeper out on the sand and time seems to freeze briefly as you hope and pray they come in close enough to plant a decent shot through their armour plated scales.
Big Daga Salmon aka Kob or Cape Salmon (Croakers/Giant Corvina Med and North Africa, Mulloway Australia) are enough to rattle even seasoned pros and have led to quite a few Spearos having a shallow water black out especially when hunting them off the deep KZN ledges and wrecks were they normally holdup and rest during the day 22m and deeper only coming in shallow at night or when visibility is poor in the shallows. They travel up the East coast of South Africa from the Cape following the annual Sardine run from June and bulk up for breeding on the nutrient rich Sardines from Port St Johns river in the Transkei to KZN and Zululand waters towards spring and early summer. In recent years stocks of these large Argyrosymus species have been overfished and the breeding numbers are at an all time low according to the older commercial line fishing skippers and Marine biologists. The estuaries where the young Daga salmon and smaller half kob feed and get shelter from open ocean predators are also in a poor state due to pollution and silting up from bad catchment area management. Illegal gill netting is also on the rise adding more pressure on juveniles in the estuaries and coastal rivers closer to home here in KZN and up in Zululand as well.
The good news is that two of the main holding spots for the Daga salmon off Umkomaas KZN (Nebo and Produce wrecks) are now under protection within the New MPA (Marine protected Areas ) as of beginning of September this year with only pelagic game fish being allowed to be harvested/caught within the new extended Marine reserve recently Gazetted. The new Tugela river mouth MPA will protect them to a certain degree as well.
They are definitely a trophy fish for shore divers and boat divers alike , with a 20kg plus fish being considered the benchmark in recent times (specimens over 70kg have been caught on rod and line) and can do serious damage to your terminal gear straightening barbs and breaking spears , sometimes snapping 250kg running line like cotton and opening stainless steel retaining clips if not seriously hurt or killed outright with decent shot placement…never mind getting them up to the surface through circling hungry Blacktip and Zambezi (Bull) sharks that hold off the deeper marks waiting for free takeaways alla “Spearo Mr delivery”.
Recently I lucked into a decent specimen shore diving the Umhlali area on the KZN North coast in Crystal 20m plus viz…and my trusty cheap Chinese HD camera was on and recording! This being the second one I have managed to bag in the last three years or so whilst shore diving in KZN.
Dylan Koekemoer ( previous apprentice and Umhlanga Spearfishing Club Chairman) came along with me and another diving mate the day before for a quick Crayfish dive and maybe a chance for a Garrick or Queen Mackerel or two and I stayed shallow still not being able to equalize properly after a two to three week bout of sinus and flu. This turned out to my advantage having to stay shallower than my dive mates and bagging a decent 8kg Garrick from a quick moving shoal on the backline and a 4.5kg Catface rockod out a bit deeper in 14m whilst looking for my last 4 crayfish from a new cave and ledge I found in the 15m plus viz , but my right sinus was squeaking badly and my dive buddies had hit the beach already so I didn’t go any deeper and swam back to the parking in the 1knt plus reverse South North current. Besides a small shoal of Queen mackerel they had seen no fish at all. On the way back home I asked if they wanted to give it a bash the following morning but both had other commitments so I figured I would give it a quick go the following morning ace out staying shallow again looking for the Queen mackerel shoals before the predicted North East made it too bumpy.
Just before I left the following morning at 5am Dylan messaged saying he would join after all as his plans for the day had been cancelled, always a plus having a dive buddy and we found ourselves swimming out same spot at sunrise the main dive mission being to get Dylan a Garrick over 10kg and some Queen mackies. Wow 20m plus viz but not much current and the first Garrick shoal came past me in 10 minutes somehow eluding Dylan but after I got my fish the shoal returned and Dylan managed to bag a decent one, after a second shot from me, just a shade under 10kg so it was smiles all round.
We decided to look a little deeper and 5 minutes in I bagged a decent 8.5kg Queen Mackie out of a fast moving shoal of 200 plus fish and we hung around for a while nothing else doing so went out to 15m in search of some crayfish and bottom fish. At this stage Dylan was getting cold so grabbed his bugs and headed in while I carried on diving wanting to check the spot from the day before again which was 100m further south on the reef and had two semi decent caves and a ledge a bit deeper out. I dived down onto the 1st cave and immediately noticed a big crayfish in a crack above the cave so grabbed it quickly and as I started my accent there came that unmistakeable drumming sound…Thump, thump thump, thump thump! DAGAS! I checked both caves but no joy so headed out to the deeper ledge for a quick look before the long swim/walk back to the parking.
Straight away from the surface I could see it was a great mark with a pile of fish holding on it, Tassel fish, Bronze bream and plenty Old Women holding above and on the ledge. As I reached the ledge I noticed two medium sized (4/5ft) sharks circling out on the sand outside of the ledge but they moved off as I got in position to make a dive on the up current side of the ledge. Just before I duck dived I saw what I thought was one of the sharks moving down the ledge away from me and ignored it diving down on top of the Tassel fish as quietly and slowly as possible so as not to spook them. My last equalise just above them squeaked through my right sinus and they bolted down the reef from the sound so I decided to settle on the reef and look around for a decent fish maybe coming in from the sand deeper out. As I looked to my right out over the sand I made out two white ghostly shapes heading towards me which materialised into two Daga salmon one fairly large model in the lead followed by a sub 20kg one! Turning slowly and smoothly with my gun I turned and moved slightly forward to close the gap waiting for the bigger fish to move past me a bit so as to be able to place the shot from slightly behind and above to get under those big scales and timed the shot perfectly just missing the kill shot but going through the shoulder behind the head and exiting just behind the opposite sides pectoral fin. She bolted off at speed swimming around the top of the ledge with the dyneema getting entangled in some reef growth. Two more circuits around and the dyneema gave the reef a haircut and the fish was loose and free of the reef before I hit the surface so I started applying pressure to keep the fish off the bottom with it dragging me under once or twice and 5 minutes later I had my hand in the gills of this beautiful silver slab of a fish! It was a long swim back because there was no way I could carry it along with the rest of my catch, one and a half hours later I reached the parking absolutely exhausted but super stoked with the epic dive! She tipped the scales at 29kg…
Daga Salmon tips from me are don’t move just your gun onto the fish move with the gun, moving just the gun tends to spook them and when lying on a ledge next to sand just a single quick pull on the gun rubbers tends to call them in to investigate. They hunt by sound so hear everything so try not to make noise and don’t equalise directly above them or on the same level as them. I use 7.5mm spears and 2mm stainless steel retaining quick clips from Rob Allen with 1,8mm Dyneema running line so as not to lose out on those bigger fish.
Travelling spearo Chris Leppan has a few tips as well …”Always dive with a buddy, they can put a second shot (if needed) into your fish and remember your dive buddy should be someone who you trust! I once shot a Daga that reefed me up in a bad spot in the wave zone and got tangled in my line with a powerful Daga on the end of my spear. I managed to shout out to my dive buddy who came over and cut the line which allowed me to keep my gun and the fish. Thanks Marcus, I owe you one! Keep your guns well maintained! Check your spears and replace them if they are rusted or bent. Daga Salmon are extremely powerful fish and I have snapped a spear clean in half on a Daga of a lifetime! I have noticed that Dagas frequent the same spots every year. If you have managed to see or shoot a Daga in a particular spot chances are you will see another one there. Check your Daga spots when the season comes round and don’t tell your friends (or your instagram followers) where you found your fish! Loose lips create crowded dive spots!”
I will be putting the full Daga salmon video up on Master watermen YouTube channel here is the link to the channel for all to enjoy and as always dive safe and straight spears…
“Yowser Jason, that is real quality work right there…
Looking forward to your next tutorial. What your gonna shoot this time?” – Xona