Reflections of the 2002 Garrick (Leervis) season

It has been a fair season this year for the annual migration of Garrick (Leervis) along the Natal coastline that normally arrive in shoals around the month of May, moving north with the sardine migration and then returning southbound to the Cape around October/November.

As an avid hunter of these fine gamefish over the years, I am in a position to speak from experience regarding observation of this species in Natal waters (Last year I was fortunate to bag 34 fish with the biggest at 15,9 kg, and this year so far 27 fish with one of 14,2 kg. I would have surpassed last year’s figure however the latter half of July (peak Garrick season) was a wipe out weather wise).

At the time of writing (1st. week November), it seems we are in for a late return run of these fish as I was actively hunting them until end October where I’d encountered a few single specimens still moving north at Umzumbe on the Natal south coast. I personally have not observed many large individual fish this year and have not heard of any taken over the 16 kg mark but Ernest Wegener fishing off his ski took two fine specimens of 19 and 21 kg respectively at Umgeni mouth off Durban a few weeks back. Most shoals I have encountered this year have been made up of 10-15 fish (earlier in the season around July) with single or paired fish later in the season and much smaller on average (around 5 kilo’s) especially along the lower south coast.

Hunting wise, it is a case of 'the early bird story...` though the Garrick sometimes move through an area a little later in the morning often on a turning tide. Ifafa point is where I’ve had most success though it gets a little overcrowded with more than two spearo`s there, a few at the cutting (Bluff) and Umzumbe down south - in fact any good point where they have to come around on their migration north or south.

One aspect of hunting Garrick is the spearo has to put up with some big surf conditions in the pursuit of success and I often hunt a 2.5/3 meter swell (which can be very hairy at times!) to get my fish and have had my fair share of being wiped out. Fortunately, with not much loss of equipment. Generally, their travel line is just behind the last set of breakers and often right in the vortex of a churning swell. Some days one can wait for hours on end until boredom sets in, other days the action is in quick succession.

I’ve had quite a bit of success with the `double up` technique i.e. `two guns`(ideal 1/1.2 m barrel length and runner system) but it is not every spearos `cup of tea` as one has to be quick to take two of these fast moving fish out of a shoal even though they are curious and it is hectic action handling two big ones at the same time and trying to dodge the last set of "crunchers".

I find the really bigger fish (over 12 kg) give a hard and sometimes `dirty` fight - garrick don’t generally head for the rocks but I’ve had the bigger ones tow me almost onto the rocks and into the white water where they will pull very hard bending spears and sometimes smashing equipment, often getting away by working the spear out with their shaking around. Best to keep the pressure on them all the time without applying too much as I’ve also seen them throw a spear out or roll it and the barb closes (make sure barbs lock properly). I usually shorten my buoy line up to only 4/5 meters to avoid too much drag in the surf and as Garrick are generally shallow water it is not necessary to have yards of buoy line out.

Though numbers are down from previous years, they are still a relatively common and accessible gamefish which fortunately have little or no commercial value, though vulnerable to ovefishing I believe the silting up of our estuaries and inlets (kindergartens for the Garrick) is a bigger threat to this fine species.

by Darrell Hattingh