Trophy fish at the Breede River

Catching a once in a lifetime Trophy fish in a wheelchair at the Breede River

So, this is my story of the best day in my life when it comes to my hobby and that is fishing but let us start at the beginning.

My disability: 

I was born on 7 Nov 1982 in Port Elizabeth a healthy bouncing boy and at the age of 2 years old I developed rheumatoid arthritis and within 2 years I was wheelchair dependent, I think I’m sort of lucky if you can call it that, but I could not recall walking, so the wheelchair was normal to me and with a younger brother I was treated like a normal child.

My passion for fishing: 

My passion for fishing comes straight from my father and grandfather, my first memories were camping at the Sundays River, every year over the December holidays, and every day was a fishing day for a month. My father was the competitive angler in our family, and won numerous awards, so fishing runs deep in my veins. 

In 1994 we moved to Paarl in the Western Cape, and the whole fishing idea sort off stopped as we were far away from the ocean. Fast forwarding to the last 10 years, this is where I started picking up the fishing game again, and especially at the Breede River where we would hire a houseboat at Malgas. This is where I started learning how the river works and it was on the Houseboat where, I have caught all my biggest grunters. Every year and like repetition of the yes word, my father still manages to catch the biggest fish every time we are on the Breede River.

Boating and Fishing:

Boating has always been an interested topic for me however I was never sure if it could become a reality because driving in a car would be a challenge by itself, but like always my family stood by my side, telling me to just go for it. Ok so first steps was to go for my skippers license, which my father did together, and today we are both qualified Category C skippers, next on the agenda was to find a boat that would suite my needs, and the first boat that caught my eye was a 2001 17ft Flamingo cabin boat with a 90hp 2 stroke engine which I bought at Magson Marine who in-turn helped me to adjust the box seat forward and a bit higher so that I could see over the windscreen.

The first time I took that boat to Witsand it was like a dream come true, and the immense freedom that you get to experience is difficult to explain, but suddenly fishing hit a snag, I have my dream boat, fishing tackle and gear, everything an angler requires for his fishing arsenal, but I am yet to land any descent fish on the Breede River. For 2 years I was going home empty handed, so decided to try another area, and moved to the north to Langebaan Lagoon, however the first year was a huge struggle and effort, as I needed to familiarize myself by getting to know and understand the area.

The second year at Langebaan, my luck started to turn, as I caught my personal best Yellowtail in the Lagoon of 6.9kg and it was the most intense fight of my life, up until that point I had no idea to how strong this species was, I actually could not believe that I hung on for dear life to that rod of mine which was a my pride and joy, the Shimano Trevala (Medium Heavy) Rod paired with a Shimano Saragosa SW-10000 with 30Lb Double X Extreme Abrasion line and from that point I was completely hooked on fishing and could not wait for the next challenge or fish.

After that fishing season, I decided to see if I could afford a bigger boat, so that I could go to sea with her, due to the fact, the Flamingo was not really meant for the open waters. As we moved to Somerset West, which is heartbeat away the ocean and both harbors in Gordons Bay I decided it was time to upgrade my old boat and purchase a 2010 Seacat 510 Forward console with 2x 60hp Yamaha Fuel Injections motors. With the deep-sea boat came new challenges, and the first thing that was required was that I had to be able to stand so that I could look over the front of the boat, which was fairly high up for me, but my father did a bit of research and found a height adjustable pedestal which could manually be lowered or raised when fishing or driving the boat, but my end result would still be to have an automated height adjustable chair so that I would not require someone’s help to lower or raise the chair, however these adjustable chairs do come at a hefty price.

Getting the boat on and off the trailer has always been my job, while one of the crew members will go to collect the car and trailer, and not to brag, with my disability and me having less movement and being challenged, I manage better than what most people would think, and this part of life, is a definite feather in my cap.

The last 3 years has seen me back at Witsand and the Breede River, due to me joining the Small Boat Owners Club which I found while on Facebook, here I have had the opportunity to meet an amazing bunch of people as well as making new friends. I have now become an annual competitor, competing in their annual competition each year with my father and brother on the boat with me.

The Big GT day

It’s the morning of the 27 March 2021 and it was our last day of fishing as we had already been here for a period of 8 days and we were yet to land a fish. At 5am, we launched the boat while staring at an amazing sunrise, we started the morning pumping fresh mud prawns and throw netting mullet for live bait. We fished a few spots with no success however our plan was still set on fishing the pushing tide. By the afternoon we moved to another spot where we had decided it would be the last spot in an area we have never fished on the river before.

So, my father and I put 2 rods a each, one with live mullet (harders) and the other with chokka (squid) and sardine mix. And the wait began…. after an hour with no bites, we did a bait check and they still looked as fresh as can be and we dropped them back into the water. Suddenly my father’s chokka mix rod went off, and he was able to land a beautiful shad / blue fish. Once again, he re-baited his line, and it was not long before he landed another shad. Although I has not yet caught a fish, I was happy to see fish on board especially after 8 days with no luck.

After this short spell, my father landed a nice 4.5 kg Kob and it was then when I decided to get my pride and joy rod and reel combo the Trevala rod and Saragosa 10000 reel with still the same 30lb mono line from my yellowtail catch and put a fresh live bait on and cast it into the water. After a long wait, thinking about how I was going home empty handed again this year, my reel started singing sweet Shimano music.

I will never forget the sound it made ever in my life, because I knew that something had gone very right or very wrong, as there was no stopping this beast. It all happened in an instant, and we realized that we had to up anchor and chase down the beast as I had 30-lb mono on. In a frantic panic my father was running around the boat winding up the other rods to get them on deck so that none of the lines would cross my rod.

Finally, we were on our way and I was now able to retrieve some of my line, however in the back of my mind the question was, was it kob, shark or garrick? As I went through the options, it couldn’t have been a shark as I would have lost it by now because it would have bitten off my line.  So, it could only be kob or Garrick and after a 30-minute intense fight this fish started to retaliate and started boxing in a real dirty manner as it came tearing down towards the boat and engines. It could not be a kob, so my bet was that it was a beast of a garrick.

The last 20 minutes were the most exciting as the fish was slowly losing the control that it had over me, as my whole body was shaking. I needed a second wind so that I could at least try to outwit and tame this unknown behemoth of a fish. I had a rest for a few seconds, while the fish was slowly starting to lose its fighting resistance and strength.

I started seeing this ghostly silver brown silhouette of the predator, my father scooped it and with the net in the boat we realized what species it was, I had to pinch myself twice as I thought that I was in dreamland, I had just caught and landed a GT. What was it doing here I asked myself? We tried to revive the GT, but unfortunately after all the effort we put in it eventually succumbed and went belly-up.

I know that there were people and anglers who were upset about the fish not being unable to swim off freely, as it could not be revived, but that fish proved that a disabled person is also capable of landing a trophy fish, if you put in the hours and hard work.

Maybe, it’s a start of more to come, but I would really love to see more fishing leagues setup for disabled people and get more people involved with this sport, people may think that we are incapable, but I think most people would be surprised how capable us wheelchair bound anglers are.

Yours in wheelchair angling

Heinrich van der Mescht

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