Cape Knife Jaw

Beware of the Cape Knife Jaw beak! It behaves like a vicious parrot and will try and bite you given half the chance. It also has a few small scales, because they have a very tough leathery skin.

I got a call from my Gran (yes, I have her well trained) that the sea was a beautiful crystal blue on the wild coast. The south westerly wind had been blowing the last two days and the sea was as flat as a pancake and perfect for a spontaneous shore dive. I had to make the most of the opportunity, I was in the Eastern Cape for the weekend before heading back to the cold waters of the Cape. I threw my gear into the car and went off to my favourite diving spot in Chintsa which is about a forty minute drive from East London. The conditions in Chintsa for spearfishing are often not this good, and so most times I go diving in minimal visibility. Low vis is not as much fun, leads to less fish and you miss out on noticing the little gems of the sea life. There is also a higher chance of literally bumping into the resident Ragged tooth sharks in the area. 

Diving alone is not advised, always dive with a buddy and make sure the weather conditions, currents and tides are good and ensure that you are super fit if you are going to dive from the shore. I take precautions to minimize the possibility of things going wrong when I dive alone, as I’ll dive shallower than I usually do and physically will not push myself as I do when I have a buddy with me. I dive with a kill knife for quickly killing the fish to eliminate as much shark activity as possible; for in the case of any snags as well as using a float line and a reel on my gun. The sea was cleaner than usual for the area; it was still not perfect so I decided to dive closer in at a shallower depth this is my technique to find fish when the conditions are like this.

Heath Field

Safety First! I called my father and dropped him a GPS pin to let him know where I was diving and jumped in the water. I swam through the shore break the swell was about 2 foot and smooth at the back line I adjusted my goggles, loaded my gun and calmed my breathing. My weapon of choice is a free divers 110 rail gun with a reel it is a bit over powered for shooting fish in holes but you are able to choke the gun to reduce the strength if you need to, so with this gun you are able to shoot most species that you will encounter in these waters without worrying. In this area it is possible to shoot anything from Cape Knife fish, otherwise known as a parrot beak, to a Bronze bream, Bartman, to a Garrick and other game fish, because even though you are close to the shore there is a deep drop off only which is only 100m off shore.

I made my first few dives in about five metres of water and could feel the tide pushing down into the cracks, this was perfect as I knew it would funnel the fish into these cracks to feed. I made a dive and waited by lying on the bottom for the fish to settle; and then kicked off slightly and worked my way around the corner of a rock shelf, using it to hide me from the fish on the other side, as the swell pushed a Bronze Bream swam around the corner and I shot a kill shot at close range. It was a great start, a nice fish just bigger than “size,” good target practise to get my eye in. I put this fish on the stringer, brained it as this the most humane thing to do and helps to reduce the attraction of sharks in the area. The last thing you want to do is fight off sharks attracted to your distressed dying fish attached to your float line. 

Beware of the Cape Knife Jaw beak! It behaves like a vicious parrot and will try and bite you given half the chance. It also has a few small scales, because they have a very tough leathery skin.

Heath Field

I had been diving for about two hours when I came across a lovely Cape Knife Jaw. I went down and got to the same level and shot it through the gill plate – this the best holding shot especially on these tough fish as they will fight you hard. It is important to get to the same level as the fish to take your shot, this prevents an inaccurate aim, caused by the error of parallax, a parallax error is the perceived shift in an object’s position as it is viewed from different angles through your goggles and the water. I was super stoked with my catch and did not need to target another Cape Knife Jaw even though the bag limit is four – I decided to limit my catch and not catch my limit and went on to target another species instead.

With the sun almost setting it drastically reduces visibility under water and when it becomes dark and shadowy your mind begins to wonder and you sometimes hear “the music”. For me though, this is my favourite time to dive as the ocean is at its most busy almost like the five o’clock traffic. Dolphins buzzed past me in a flurry of tails and clicks, I was not surprised by them as you hear these noisy beauties long before you see them. They are very inquisitive! and came in close to me had a good look at me – literally looked me in the eye before they moved on. I was very excited as the dolphins and larger game fish normally hang out together and I moved out onto a large drop off in anticipation for some large game fish action. I had shot game fish here many times before, and waited patiently but unfortunately it was not to be my lucky night. You can’t always get lucky and bag the big one! With all the fish I needed, I climbed out the water and watched a giant amber sun setting, turning off the lights to a wonderful day in the water. With the excitement over, I started feeling a bit peckish and still had the long drive back home. I delivered a fish to my Gran and received a much deserved beer in return. After cleaning all my gear, I began cleaning my fish and check the stomach of the Cape Knife Jaw to show you all what this unusual fish eats, its stomach was filled with sea urchins – it had been putting its hardy beak to good use.

I would advise that you skin the Cape Knifejaw as its skin is not very palatable and bleed your fish.

Heath Field

The Cook

  1. I prepared it by cutting the beautiful fillets into small cubes to make them easier to handle
  2. Grab a bowl of flour and your seasoning and dust the fish lightly in that
  3. Shallow fry these cubes in a little oil, the trick is to seal the one side so that it holds the fish together then turn down the heat and cook it slowly while constantly checking that you are not over doing the fish
  4. While it is cooking I add drops of lemon juice and soya sauce over the top and then turn it
  5. This was served with some chips and salad

The fish was moist and delicious and devoured by my hungry mates, it tasted even sweeter, because I had provided it. My joy of cooking fish that I have harvested, is that I know it was ethically sourced, treated humanely and every morsel enjoyed right down to the content of it stomach which is offered back to the sea.

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