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Sardine run diving

Thread Status: Hello , There was no answer in this thread for more than 60 days.
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Certified SCUBA Rider
May 7, 2002
Hi Guys

Been a while since i posted. I started a new job at the beginning of june, so i've actually had to do some real work for a change:waterwork

The sardine run on the natal coast is probably close to its end, but I did manage to dive the sards twice, although on both occasions, the gamefish didnt come to the party.

The fisrt dive was about two weeks ago. there was a lot of activity, with big shoals in the area at a spot called kelso on the natal south coast. the netters were on the beach when we got in the water, as they had collected enough for the day.
the conditions were incredible, with excellent viz for winter (10-12m) and flat surf, with the south westerly only managing a slight chop on the surface.
there were pockets of sards everywhere, one of which was in the inshore channel, between the beach and the backline breakers.
swimming out, the atmosphere was literally thick, swimming through clouds of scales suspened in the water. there were dead sardines everywhere on the sea-floor. makes you wonder how much of a chance the bait fisherman have. from above the water, the sardine shoal is a big dark patch, like a piece of reef, the only difference being that the waves dont break on it.
from underwater, the dark shape slowly starts to take the form of thousands of small fish. it was quite disorienting, because of the size of the shoal, and the fact that it actually moves around quite a bit, so keeping a certain distance from them is quite tricky. the sardines are definately scared of the diver and if you swim towads them, they move away from you, keeping at least 1-2m distance. at one stage, my buddy and i drifted into the shaol, and without realising it, we were sitting in a sort of sardine amplitheater. the fish were swimming upcurrent, which was pretty strong, and you had to fin constantly to keep on the upcurrent side of them. the shoal is very tight, and a few fish in it gets very dark. they are also very good at sticking together, and the shoal is amoeba-like in its behavior. I tried to break a small section of fish off to try and bait ball them :D, but they just rejioned their mates.

EDIT - Added in Bit

As far as predators go, we only saw one shark. a bronze whaler, around 6ft, but then they always look much bigger underwater, dont they. The rays were the only species hitting the inshore shoal. every now and then an area of the shoal would suddenly open up, when a ray had a go.

On my last dive, on saturday, the sardines were schooling very loosely, and there wasnt anything troubling them this time and they were shooting around, mouths wide open, feeding.

here are some pics a friend took on his dives (i wasnt with them at the time) enjoy


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more pics

more pics


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Reactions: Cingene

Fascinating stuff, great pictures. Thanks for posting.

Florida also has migrating schools of bait along the beaches which are often accompanied by preditors. The vis is usually not so great and I don't know anyone who dives them. However, surfers are often bitten by sharks and occasionally bluefish during these migrations. I get real nervous surfing in the middle of a bait school that are all headed for the sky because a preditor is trying to eat'em.
Do you have any shark issues during the sardine migrations and, if so, how do you handle it.

Hi connor, sharks are sometimes a big problem, but this is only what i have heard. it depends on the type of school, as the majority of the sharks hang out with the bigger pockets, while the smaller pockets have fewer sharks. Apparently the sharks are only interested in the sardines, but the shark i saw on the one occasion was more interested in us than most of the sharks i have come across. the first pass it made, i didnt think much, but when it came back in, this time more directly at my dive buddy, i swam down after it for a while. seems to scare most sharks off (so far!). a friend of mine dived a big shoal recently, and he said it was pretty hectic, and he's pretty experienced spearo (about 10 years diving). as for the viz, i wouldnt dive it if it were any worse than about 6m (20ft)
Bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix, very abundant, schooling preditor 1 to about 10 kilos, very sharp, triangular teeth, like a piranha. When feeding heavy, they get real excited and confused and will hit just about anything. Also good to eat and fun to spear.

Most if not all of the surfer bites are mistaken identity. The sharks are feeding and overexcited. Almost always, it is one bite and gone. Not much comfort to the one who got bit.

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Hiya Griff

Shad or Elf to us Sarf Erfrikans!!!!:D :D :D


Originally posted by cdavis

Fascinating stuff, great pictures. Thanks for posting.

I get real nervous surfing in the middle of a bait school that are all headed for the sky because a preditor is trying to eat'em.

CDavis I didn't know you were a fellow waverider.


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