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Best two estuary baits for the Umzimkulu River

The two most effective estuary baits by far

The two most effective estuary baits by far

The two most effective estuary baits by far: live baits are sure to be the most fun on any estuary excursion. BUT. You got to catch ’em first! This article focuses on the two most effective ways of fishing in an estuary, with dead bait.

Recently I was teaching a guide some tricks in the Umzimkulu. The dude had caught himself a live mullet. And a live prawn. So he had one on each side of the fallen tree we were fishing against the steep bank. After a few minutes, something felt off. We needed that sardine head out there. Took me less than a few seconds, and the sard head was in position.

It wasn’t enough time for that sardine to defrost – and the rod went in the way that only a rock salmon knows how!

Bulelani’s first rock salmon release

The Sardine Head

Break a sardine in the middle. So that it’s guts hang out a bit. You are gonna use the tail section to make pencil baits in the next paragraph. But that sardine head – well, that’s the way to catch rock salmon. Just insert a 3/0 hook through the lips, bottom through to top. The sardine head needs to swing freely on the hook.

How it works is – that almost immediately, the smallies start. They chip away at the oftentimes frozen bait, creating a could of commotion and odour down there. This then attracts more smallies and before too long it’s a veritable bait ball down there.

Then out of the gloom come these big guys. To see what this commotion is all about. And it doesn’t take long for one of the gang to see your sardine head lying there and break the party up for good.

When you fish a sardine head, put your drag right up. Rock salmon don’t bite first. They are snappers and simply inhale and swallow anything that moves close to them. They lie perfectly still in ambush waiting for some hapless prawn to walk past. Bang! These are the explosions we hear at night time.

The Pencil Bait

This is something you learn the hard way. But when you get it right, can increase your hookup and catch ratio in estuaries, remarkably. Aside from the rock salmon, perch, shad and malabar, most other estuary fish, are timid eaters.

And the most difficult fish to hook by far, are grunter. Tiny mouths. Fussy eaters. The best way to target grunter anywhere is with cracker shrimp. BUT. And it’s a big BUT, they are just so hard to find and catch.

So the pencil bait then…is your next best option. For the shy guys like – Koblets. Blacktail. Zebras. Grunter.

How? Fillet your sardine tail into 4 loins. Grab hold of a prawn tail. And some squid. Anything you got really. Take a thin stick (or a pencil), and start to arrange all this lekka bait you got, along its length. Small sharp hook on one end. A slightly heavier leader is totally advisable for pencil baits. Start to cotton as you go. Just keep adding strips of bait and cotton, making the bait as long as possible. When you have a juicy-looking pencil bait – remove the stick (or pencil) by sliding it out. Tension up with a little more cotton and off you go.

When a grunter comes along, and he is hungry, he will peck at your pencil bait. You will feel these baits and you cannot strike. Let ’em eat. Soon enough he will work out that if he grabs the one end, he can get that bait down. You might feel this happening. And then when it’s all right down, he will swim off to look for more food.

This is when you strike!

You gonna need to have long-nosed pliers with you when fishing with pencil baits. Or use a circle hook.


All you need to be dangerous in a KZN or Eastern Cape estuary, are two rods, and a few sardines. If you had a cast net you would be even more lethal. But that’s the point of this story. You don’t need live bait if you fish with these two estuary baits as presented here today for you.

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