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Cape snoek (Thyrsites atun)

Snoek is as much part of Cape as Table Mountain and Robben Island. It's a Barracuda type fish and extremely aggressive. When pulled from the water it comes out snapping and it can deliver a very nasty bite which delivers a Haemo-toxic fluid. The fisherman's' cure is that you cut open the eyeball of the fish and use that fluid to wash the wound.

Snoek is an ocean fish. It can weigh up to 5.5 kg and measure to just above the average person's waist, from the ground up. One of the heaviest snoek landed was in 1959 and it weighed 13kg. It has a silver color and the scales are not easily visible as it seems to shed it's fine scales when it's pulled from the water. Snoek is caught using a hand-line and mainly from April to around August. Lately they are caught all year round, which is an indication, perhaps of global warming.

Snoek and Chips to a Capetonian is like Burger and Hot-dogs to an American. Dried fish is the cheapest form of protein for the fishing communities and fish is one of the cheapest most wholesome meals purchased in the Cape. One of the activities which I do on my tours is to treat people to a Fish and Chips lunch at Kalkies, an take-away on Kalkbay Harbor.

You will be considered a day tripper and will be charged a fee. Your catch will be sold along with that of everyone else. You will then receive your portion of the money.

Let's "tackle" the issue....

Before you set off you need to be very well prepared, both mentally and physically. It can become very dangerous, as you will see later. You will have to be alert all the time because you're often working in the dark, on a wet deck and up to 10 other fisherman sorting out their own problems.

I would recommend that you team up with a local fisherman with whom you can team up. Meet at least 2 days before the time and get to know one another. It helps to calm the nerves.

You will need

An Oilskin

This is a pvc over-all protective suite. It normally comes as a two-piece.


Rubber boots that reach up to just below the knee

Finger Protection

One has to rely on what's worked for the locals for many years. The finger protection is made from bicycle tubing. You have to cut the tubing to the length of your pointing fingers. This will stop the line from cutting into your finger, when pulling up the fish.

Water bucket

You need a 10ltr water bucket with a 2m rope tied to the handle. This is used to scoop water from the ocean to wash your fishing area in the boat


  • A minimum of 15kg breaking strength line
  • Large hooks and sinkers
  • A decent fishing knife

Here i have to warn you to refrain from the, dangerous, local trend of filing away the barbel on the hook. This done in order to enable a quick and removal of hook from the mouth of the fish. I have seen some gruesome accidents happen as a result of the fish throwing the hook on being plucked from the ocean.


You need to take light sandwiches and coffee along since the local boats leave around 03h00 and return around 12h00

Catching the fish

The action of catching happens very fast. An experienced fisherman will have up to 3 lines in the water at one time with fish on two. Each fisherman works from his own designated spot in the boat. There are nails driven in the wooden edge in front of him. Once he has cast his first line he will wind the lie around the nail to secure it. The same with the others.

When they come across a school of Snoek they don't even use bait. They just shine up the sinkers and hooks with the back of the knife, and the fish go after the glitter. The fish get into such a feeding frenzy that they can be caught using a combination of lead sinker and copper, strips of brightly colored robber, silver paper and even red cloth.

So the action is:

  • cast
  • tie up the line
  • cast line number 2
  • tie up the line
  • pull in fish on line one
  • lift it out of the water and under your arm
  • break the neck and lay the fish down
  • pull out the hook
  • throw the line into the water
  • tie up the line
  • start all over again on line 2

An experienced fisherman can catch up to 100 fish per day. A fleet of boats can catch 15 000 fish per day.

It's hard work but if you enjoy fishing, it's a thrill of a lifetime. My late Father did it 40 years, as a hobby...nearly every weekend.

The alternative....

That's a lot of tackle, but if you're just wanting a once-in-a-lifetime experience then you can take a trip with one of the local tour operators in Hout bay, Simonstown or Kalkbay. The details can be sourced from the local tourism offices. All the equipment and tackle will be supplied and they don't leave that early in the morning.


Typical hand-line tackle

Typical hand-line tackle

Kalk Bay Harbour

A fishing boat getting ready to dock

A fishing boat getting ready to dock


Yellowtail being sorted

Yellowtail being sorted


Snoek being off-loaded from the boat. Notice the protective PVC the fishermen are wearing

Snoek being off-loaded from the boat. Notice the protective PVC the fishermen are wearing

Snoek, Sea Breem(bunches) and Red Snapper being sold off the harbour

Snoek, Sea Breem(bunches) and Red Snapper being sold off the harbour

Snoek being loaded onto an Isuzu "Bakkie"(pick-up) to be sold in the residential areas

Snoek being loaded onto an Isuzu "Bakkie"(pick-up) to be sold in the residential areas

Dried Snoek

Wind-dried snoek on the harbour

Wind-dried snoek on the harbour


Snoek sold by the roadside

Snoek sold by the roadside


Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on December 07, 2012:

Yes it is dangerous as you have to pull it up and under your one arm, let go of the line and then snap the neck backwards.

It's all about technique. I think my next article regarding this matter will be about gutting the fish. It's very different due to the anatomy of the fish

Alfonso on November 27, 2012:

hi jonathan, would like to know if you found it hard to break the neck of a snoek, as i hear that's the most dangerous part of fishing for snoek.



Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on May 05, 2012:

Just something i forgot to mention....

When you're "smoking" snoek for commercial puposses and wish to increase the shelf life then you may want to consider using Potassium Sulphite in the Saline solution during the salting process. I think the dossage is 0,01 grams per Kilogram of fish.

You would also want to include "cook out" when you aplly the Annato dye for the coloration.

I've always preferd smoking the fish to using the "smoke essence"

Brian on February 03, 2012:

Hi johnathan,Thanks for this informative site much appreciated.I live in Cape Town and is new to the dry snoek business and i have learned a lot from the information that you have shared.Thanks

darren on September 13, 2011:

does anyone know where i can find out in more detail about things like the eating habbits, where when etc..

Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on August 08, 2011:

@Claire....They are not the same. For starters, we are getting a lot of Barracouta being sold as Snoek in South Africa. There is, for me, a huge difference in taste. The flesh of the Barracouta is darker and firmer. It also lasts longer than Snoek if you smoke it.

CLAIRE on May 24, 2011:

I am writing again about snoek. Now Jonathan what is the difference between snoek and barracutta. I went on the internet and it says that they are both the same. In Australia it is called Barracouta.

Please explain.

Claire on March 30, 2011:

Hi Johnathan

Thank you so much. Now I am trying to get the snoek from a place where they sell it frozen. I don't know if it will work but I will try.

The salted snoek I use to buy was cut in small pieces in plastic bag.

Thanks again.

Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on February 24, 2011:

You can just salt it and hang it outside on the washing line or similar.You would need to use coarse salt.

The other method is to lie it in a very strong salt and fine pepper solution for up to 2 days. Then you can hang it out to dry. The pepper helps to keep any flies away.

Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on February 23, 2011:

Hi CLaire,

Yes, i do. I think you've just given me my next HUB Idea.

Claire on February 22, 2011:

I love eating dried snoek. However I live in Australia and I never get to eating it.

So is there anyone who knows the salting and drying process of the snoek done in Hout Bay, South Africa.

I thought may be I can use another fish similar to the snoek.

Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on February 14, 2011:

Well, it doesn't mean that you will get ill. If you know it could be a problem you can get medication or take precautions. Just enquire at any Pharmacy.

Fred van Niekerk on February 13, 2011:

What about sea sickness when you are a novice

Johnathan (author) from Cape Town, South Africa on January 19, 2011:

Thanks Jeremy. For me it's the eating....lol. It is annoying when i get to the fisheries and they serve me Baracutta instead of snoek. Few people even notice the difference but it's becoming a common thing in Cape Town.

Jeremy Howard on January 19, 2011:

This is an extremely interesting read and educational. The fun is actually doing the fishing...