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Experience The Greatest Shoal on Earth

Striped Marlin and Sea Lion hunting in Sardine bait ball

South Africa’s Sardine Run is one of the most breathtaking marine spectacles in the world. Often referred to as “The Greatest Shoal on Earth,” it is compared to the Wildebeest migration. After experiencing the Sardine Run, I’ve compiled a post with all the information you need to experience this phenomenon that attracts predators, dolphins, whales, game fish, and birdlife. I also explain what to expect, when, and where to witness this extraordinary natural wonder.

The Sardine Run offers a captivating experience, with excellent opportunities for photography of abundant marine life, oceanic predators, and bird life both above and below the water. Besides the extraordinary phenomenon, KwaZulu-Natal is blessed with fantastic weather during the winter months, which aligns with the winter school holidays, making it an ideal time to visit. The KZN tourism industry profits from it, attracting tourists eager to witness the phenomenon and enjoy the warm weather.

South Africa Sardine run KZN South Coast #Sardine run South Africa
South Africa Sardine run #Sardine run South Africa

A phenomenon where millions of sardines migrate north in giant shoals, attracting predators. Sardines prefer temperatures in the range of 17–19ºC, and as the water temperature increases, these shoals venture further from the shore, delving into deeper waters. The Sardine-run shoals can reach lengths of up to 15m, widths of 4m, and depths of about 40m.

The South Africa Sardine Run offers adventures for both divers and non-divers and caters to dolphin, Whale, and bird enthusiasts and photographers. During the day, predators navigate the South African coastline elegantly and voraciously prey on bait balls. The patient observer can view the voracious predators preying on bait balls and regrouping around other swirling masses of fish until all the creatures are entirely satiated.

It’s believed that changes in ocean temperatures during reproduction cause the sardines to migrate. During their short lifespan, they multiply quickly and reach a length of about 15m. They reach maturity at two years but rarely live longer than three years. A few oceanic species migrate during this time, tracing the cool, nutrient-rich currents. Pods of humpback whales also migrate to the warmer waters to give birth.

Predators accompanying the sardine shoals are problematic and damage nets, causing a significant financial burden to the KZN Sharks Board. Remember that during the Sardine Run, the shark nets are lifted. For public safety, some beaches restrict bathing. Therefore, before swimming, check which beaches are open.

The best places to witness the miracle in the early phase between May and June are Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape, and the Wild Coast, Transkei. During June and July, the marine spectacle continues its journey along Kwazulu Natal, which encompasses Durban and Mozambique, with shoals visible from the beaches.

Excellent opportunities to experience this natural wonder exist in places like Port Elizabeth, also called Nelson Mandela Bay, and Port St. Johns. Sardine netting areas include Kenton on Sea, Cintsa, Haga Haga, Mdumbi, and Port St Johns.

On the KZN South Coast, some popular places netting for sardines are Port Edward, Ramsgate, Shelley Beach, Hibberdene, Mtwalume, Pennington, Park Rynie, Scottburgh, Mgababa, Illovo, and Winklespruit.

Netting for Sardines requires skill and coordination and is costly.

Sardine Run South Africa Netting procedure from above
Sardine Run Netting from above
Sardine netting on KZN South Coast
Sardine netting on KZN South Coast

It has been a tradition for centuries and provides a livelihood to many families. Commercial fishermen, pilots and the KZN Sharks board monitor the sardine shoals and use sardine netting, which involves taking the nets out by boat.

When the Skipper arrives at the preferred spot, one of the crew, obviously an experienced swimmer, jumps into the water with one side of the net. The Skipper then further encircles the Shoal before another crew member jumps in with the other end of the net. Both crew members swim to shore while the boat returns to shore.

On the Beach, other fishermen wait to drag the net ashore and scoop the shiny fish into crates. Sardines (Sardinops Sagax) are primarily sold in crates for human consumption, and any fish that are damaged during netting are sold as bait. Sometimes, the netters allow the public to take some sardines, and beachgoers gather around to scoop up any sardines that fall out of the net in the shallow water.

Unfortunately, shortly after the start of the Sardine Run, experienced fishing legend Goolam Fareed Essack and his crew encountered challenges with their commercial 5.5-metre fishing vessel. The boat flipped at the backline surf zone with its four-man crew at the backline surf at Umgababa Main Beach, close to Scottburgh.

While two crew members were rescued, Goolam tragically passed away after numerous resuscitation efforts. A private aircraft and police helicopter conducted an aerial search for Sandile while lifeguards and others continued shoreline searches, unfortunately without success.

Unfortunately, Sandile’s body was later found on Scottburgh beach. With great sadness, Goolam Fareed Essack and Sandile, both skilled fishermen from Durban, passed away shortly after the start of the 2024 KZN Sardine Run.

Net with life Sardines after Sardine Run Netting
Net with life Sardines after Sardine Run Netting

The 120-kilometre coastal stretch from Scottburgh to Port Edward boasts several good fishing spots for all anglers. Fishing opportunities on the South Coast KZN are fantastic, especially during the Sardine Run when South Coast anglers and boats track the action and flock to the beaches to participate in game fishing. The year-round temperate climate makes fishing a tremendous recreational option every season. Although Cape Town is beautiful, Kwa-Zulu Natal Province has its unique charm and is incomparable. The gorgeous rock pool below is where families swim while hubby goes Fishing at Pennington Beach.

Pennington Beach Pool South Coast Natal
Pennington Beach Pool South Coast Natal

The KZN South Coast offers fantastic fishing opportunities year-round, and anglers can expect to reel in shad, Garrick, kob, bronze bream, stumpnose, blacktail, and sharks. The highlight of wintertime fishing is the much-anticipated Sardine Run, which draws anglers due to the abundance of fish it brings close to the shore. This is also when massive sharks and gamefish are in plentiful supply as they hunt for sardines. To successfully catch these big game fish, you must use vital fishing gear and visible lines to distinguish your line from others.

For the best results, fish early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Move to a different spot if you don’t get a bite within an hour or so. Fish with higher fat content, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, and sardines, have much stronger flavours than other fish. These fish are known for their heart-healthy omega-3 fats.

The KZN South Coast has two Marine Protected Areas: Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks, both well-known for excellent deep-sea fishing. Several charters offer fishing excursions throughout the year, and one can expect to catch tuna, amberjack, king mackerel, dorado, skipjack, and Marlin. These excursions are mainly from Port Edward in the South, including Shelly Beach, Pennington, Rocky Bay, Scottburgh and Umkomaas.

  1. Scottburgh Beach is one the most famous fishing spots for catching shad, Mackerel, Garrick, and sharks.
  2. Rocky Bay Beach is also great for any level of fishing. In addition to its fantastic campsite and wooden chalets, Rocky Bay offers beautiful spots for catching shad and Garrick. 
  3. Pennington and Umdoni Point: Experienced anglers looking for great fishing should head to Pennington, which is well-known for kingfish, queen mackerel, and shark fishing.
  4. Umkomaas River mouth and Umkomaas beach are excellent spots for all anglers for kob and shad.
  5. Stiebel Rocks and Pumula are the other two favourite locations where experienced anglers try for Shad, Kob, Garrick, sharks, and Pompano.
  6. Port Shepstone Sandspit spot is known for consistent cob and Garrick. 
  7. St.Michaels Orange Rocks is another location where you can expect to catch snapper, Salmon, sharks and Gamefish.
  8. Margate Pier is a popular fishing spot in Margate, known for catching Shad, Garrick and Kob. Get there early in the morning if you want a place on the Margate pier. 
  9. Glenmore and Leisure Bay: Ladder Rock is a popular fishing spot amongst anglers looking to catch sharks, so you should head to this notable spot.
  10. Splash Rock in Port Edward is a famous spot where experienced anglers intend to catch sharks and Gamefish. Cray tail and cracker prawn are both winning baits for Muscle crackers.
  11. Splash Rock in Port Edward: This is another excellent spot for experienced anglers intent on catching sharks and Gamefish.

Tip: Fishing areas around Umkomaas and Black Rock can be unsafe without a sizable crowd. It’s generally safer to fish at the river mouth during the day when many other anglers are around. Avoid Park Rynie at night unless you’re in a crowd, and never leave valuables in your vehicle (not even under the seat) or the boot. Remember, this is South Africa, and you’re not in Vietnam, where it’s much safer!

Park Rynie is located between Scottburgh and Pennington on the KZN South Coast and is one of the most renowned fishing spots among anglers and fishing charters. The Park Rynie Boat Club, or Rocky Bay Ski Boat Club, is situated in Park Rynie next to the pier, where you’ll find anglers day and night. Besides the Park Rynie fishing Pier, there is a swimming beach and many rock pools. Many boat charters launch from Park Rynie if you want to go deep-sea fishing. Park Rynie is only 4,3 km south of Scottburgh and 9,4 km from Pennington.

There are also swimming and fishing pools, walking trails, and mountain bike trails. A diving shop and a shop where you can rent bicycles are also nearby. The Bell is a good restaurant with a sea view.

Angler Fishing at Rocky Bay KZN South Coast
Johan Fishing at Rocky Bay KZN South Coast

Nestled along the picturesque South Coast of Kwazulu-Natal lies the most beautiful Beach, with crystal-clear rock pools and marine life. Our favourite destination, Rocky Bay Resort, is a true gem. This family-oriented beach resort offers relaxation and convenience, boasting stunning beaches and verdant forests.

The resort features charming wooden cabins and a delightful Caravan Park with beachfront sites, providing an idyllic year-round escape for families and couples alike. Conveniently located just an hour’s drive from Durban, Rocky Bay Resort is the ideal coastal retreat. Additionally, a shop selling necessities, a beautiful swimming pool, clean ablutions, and pets are allowed on request.

We love KwaZulu Natal—not only for its incredible climate but also for the green scenery and the warm Indian Ocean. My hubby Johan was born in KwaZulu Natal, although we (my parents) only moved to KZN while I was in high school.

Frequently asked: Where to fish on the KZN South Coast, and where is the best fishing? My hubby and many fishermen’s favourite spots are Scottburgh Beach, Park Rynie Beach, Rocky Bay, and Pennington.

My dad, Edmund Wilson, was a renowned fisherman and Skipper who operated along the South Coast in the 1980s. We lived in Port Edward, and Splash Rock held a special place in his heart. I’ll never forget the thrill of my first time fishing at sea when I reeled in a whopping 35 fish.

Rocky Bay Resort offers the most fantastic view and Beach! Besides wooden chalets, the Rocky Bay Caravan Park is the best on the South Coast. Amenities include immaculate bathrooms, a swimming pool, and a play area. Is Rocky Bay pet-friendly? Yes, small dogs only. The Bell is part of Rocky Bay Resort, which has beautiful wooden cabins and Rocky Bay Campsite.

Campsite at Rocky Bay Resort South Coast KZN
Our Campsite at Rocky Bay Resort South Coast KZN

Our beloved camping spot at Rocky Bay on the KZN South Coast of South Africa is a picturesque haven for fishing enthusiasts. Over the years, we’ve been standing at several sites, but no 31 and no 39 are our favourites. Both offer direct entrance to the Beach. Besides the lovely beaches, there are hiking and mountain biking trails.

This versatile destination offers many prime fishing locations for deep-sea and shore anglers. Amidst breathtaking coastal vistas and a rich marine ecosystem, visitors can anticipate an array of fishing experiences – from exhilarating deep-sea expeditions to laid-back shore fishing escapades.

Camping at Rocky Bay Caravan Park Park Rynie
Us Camping at Rocky Bay

One of the most popular places to angle is Scottburgh Beach. In addition to being a popular swimming beach, it is famous among surfers, and the beautiful Beach offers restaurants, parking, and other amenities.

Lively Scottburgh beach on Sunny day
Lively Scottburgh Beach on Sunny day
Mackerel 20kg caught by Ronnie while Fishing at Scottburgh Beach
Mackerel 20kg caught by Ronnie while Fishing at Scottburgh Beach

The best fishing bait in KZN and the best live bait for big edibles: In the warm Indian Ocean of KZN waters, plenty of species are suitable for Live bait.

If you ever encounter Bonefish, this is your best live bait for catching Kingfish. Although mackerel and sardines on the south coast are popular baits, do try different baits as fish get fussy. Some fish prefer squid, whereas others prefer mussels, prawns and red Bait.

A few Sea Fishing Charters operate from Park Rynie and Scottburgh on the Southern Natal Coast. On most of these deep-sea fishing South Coast Charters, the Captain will assist even those without experience. A Fishing Charter South Coast lasts approximately 6,5 hours in summer.

The South African Sardine Run is a bucket list item for any diver, angler, marine, or ocean lover. It is also an excellent opportunity to spot pods of dolphins and migrating humpback whales. One of the frequently asked questions: Where is the best place to see Sardine Run action when diving? The best place, I would say, is off the coasts of the Eastern Cape, on the Wild Coast.

Port St Johns, Wild Coast, offers exhilarating diving in South Africa. The area is well known for its marine diversity, including bright, soft corals, starfish, anemones, seahorses, sizeable pelagic fish schools, and the passive ragged-tooth shark. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, join Off Shore Africa or ProDive Port St Johns, Wild Coast, which offers the ultimate South African sardine run tours. Both are renowned for providing a beautiful Sardine Run diving experience. 

The Beaches on the Wild Coast and Eastern Cape also offer some of the most beautiful beaches in the Country. Port St Johns and the Wild Coast offer all types of accommodations. For all options, visit Where to Stay in Port St Johns.

The Sardine Run is one of the hardest products in the dive industry to market and to work with. The main reason being is that every outing is dependent on what nature offers us on that particular day. BUT…it is not just about sardines and baitballs. Sardine Run facts is that aside from sardine migration, there are at least another 5 species of bait fish doing their own mini migrations at the same time. Among these are Anchovies, sugar mackerel, red eye herring, East coast herring, and Sauri. Each of these species attracts predators in all shapes and sizes and is preyed upon at every given opportunity. Some of the these species have a tendency to “ball” as a defensive strategy, as sardine does, while others just scatter and create chaos.

A few things are guaranteed on every outing: – huge pods of dolphin sometimes numbering in their thousands, numerous species of sharks (if visibility allows) are seen individually or in large packs on most “jump-ins”. A huge variety of oceanic bird life including the well-known Cape Gannet, which arrives in their thousands. Besides 5 species of Albatross, Petrels, Cormorants, Terns and, the annual Humpback Whale migration offering loads of breaching and surface displays due to the topography of our coastline. The attraction of it all is that one never knows what one will come across on any given day.

Off-Shore Africa

June and July are excellent times to witness the Sardine run South Africa and the spectacle of Dolphins, Whales, birds, Game fish, and predators it brings along. Umkomaas is the favourite destination for Shark diving. Places to stay in Umkomaas.

Pods of Dolphins patrol the South African coastline in search of sardines. The density of marine animals during migration is remarkable, with massive groups of dolphins playing close to the shore. Besides highly social mammals that engage in various behaviours, Dolphins swim together, protecting one another and collaborating to hunt for food.

Orca: Despite being known as “killer whales,” orcas are the most prominent members of the oceanic dolphin family, Delphinidae. Their impressive hunting abilities have made them perceive them as whale-like creatures. They can grow up to 9m long and weigh up to 8 tons.

Dolphin pods on the South Coast KZN
Dolphin pods on the South Coast KZN
Humpback Whale jumping out of the water
Humpback Whale jumping out of the water
  • Humpback Whales: From June to January, Humpback whales migrate up the east coast of South Africa to mate in the waters off Mozambique. Female Humpback Whales can reach lengths of up to 12m.
  • Southern right Whale is a large marine mammal known for its large black body and unique features. Unlike other whale species, it lacks a dorsal fin and has numerous warty growths called callosities on its head. When exhaling, it produces a distinctive V-shaped spout. These majestic creatures can reach up to 16 m and weigh as much as 65 tons.
  • The Bryde’s Whale is predominantly dark grey or mottled with a lighter underbody. These magnificent creatures have an upright dorsal fin, and the females can grow up to 13 meters long.
  • The Minke Whale is the smallest of all whales and the most abundant. These whales have dark grey bodies and white bellies.
  • Sperm whales are toothed whales known for their iconic shape. Males get up to 18m long and weigh up to 45 tons.
  • The blue Whale is the largest and most awe-inspiring mammal, able to grow up to 30m and weigh as much as 100 tons.
Fresh sardines and Ingredients for Grilled Sardine recipe
Fresh sardines and Ingredients for Grilled Sardine recipe

The best is always fresh; if not, use frozen sardines, which also contain valuable nutrients that benefit your health. Also known as pilchards, sardines are a lean protein rich in omega-3, calcium, magnesium, selenium, potassium, iron, and zinc.

The good cholesterol in sardines decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and triglyceride levels, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. Frozen sardines for dogs: With their excellent nutritional benefits, they are also a fantastic addition to your furry friend’s meal.

The Sardine Run South Africa is the perfect time to get them fresh. Fresh Sardines are the best for grilling on an open fire. Here is all you need to know about cleaning and ways to enjoy big Sardines on the grill or frying in a pan.

You can also use defrosted, frozen Sardines, but I’m not talking about those canned baby sardines. Grill for about 4 minutes on both sides. Serve with fresh bread or rice and a Greek salad.

  • Firstly, the eyes give the best indication of the fish’s freshness. They need to be clear, not hollow and have firm flesh.
  • Rinse the sardines under cold running water and lightly scrape off any scales.
  • You can, but you don’t have to remove the head. I prefer to keep the head on; if not, use scissors to snip the head off behind the pectoral fins on each side.
  • With a sharp knife or scissors, cut open the belly, pull off the dorsal fin, and clean out the belly under cold, runny water. Use a sharp knife to scrape the inside and rinse under clean, runny water. You can remove or leave the backbone, as it is easy to remove while eating.
Fresh Sardines and Recipe for fried Sardines
Fresh Sardines
how to eat grilled sardines with greek salad
Grilled sardines and Salad

Our favourite grilled Sardine recipes use about 12 sardines. You do not have to remove the heads, although you don’t have to eat them.

  • 12 Large Sardines
  • 3/4 cup butter or olive oil
  • 4 glove garlic chopped
  • Zest of 2 lemons or 1 tbsp chopped Lemon Grass
  • Salt & Black Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Fish Spice or Fish Masala and parsley
  • 1/4 tsp of Cumin
  • 1/2 tbsp of Aromat
  • 1/2 cup cream (optional)
  • chopped chilli (optional)

Method: Dissolve the butter in a frying pan and add garlic. Fry on low heat, add spices, and after a few minutes, add cream. Smear the mixture on the inside and outside of the Sardines. Left to stand for at least 15 minutes before grilling on the fire for 3-4 min on both sides. Serve immediately with Ciabatta (fresh bread) and Greek salad.

How to cook sardines in a frying pan: Mix the following ingredients and baste the sardines on the inside and outer sides.

  • About 12 Sardines
  • 6 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
  • Garlic finely chopped (4 gloves)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Fish spice or Masala
  • 1/4 tsp of Cumin
  • Chopped Parsley (optional)

Leave to stand for at least 15 minutes. Heat the butter in a frying or roasting pan until it is sizzling hot. Add all the ingredients to the pan and fry on the fire or stovetop.

Sardines’ ingredients are remarkable, even from a tin. The tiny bones in sardines contain calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, which promote healthy bones. To preserve calcium and vitamin D, mash pilchards or small canned sardines to make fish cakes. With chopped onion, it is also delicious on toast. Not all tiny bones are removed in canned fish, which promotes bone health. A can of sardines contains an average of 23g of protein, which helps repair and form new cells and supports good bone, cartilage, and muscle health. The cons of Canned Sardines is that they contain more sodium and fat than fresh South African sardines.

Cook fresh, seasonal mussels in a creamy sauce with butter, garlic, lemon zest, and cream. Serve with fresh bread and parsley. Mussels are a delightful meal for shellfish lovers, especially during summer beach holidays.

How to Cook Fresh Mussels

Remember that you need a licence to remove mussels from the rocks, and please leave the small ones—we need to be conservation conscious. Here is how to prepare fresh Mussels.

Rinse and scrub them to remove any debris. Soak them in fresh water for at least 20 minutes. They breathe and will expel sand. Add the mussels to the pot and cover with fresh water and salt. Simmer with the lid for 6 – 8 minutes. Discard any that do not open. Remove the byssal threads, or what is commonly called a beard.

Melt the butter, garlic, and onion and simmer for a few minutes. Add the cream, lemon zest, juice of 1 lemon (or 1/2 cup dry white wine), salt, pepper, and parsley. Simmer for another 1-2 minutes. Pour the mixture over the hot, drained mussels. Serve with fresh bread. Enjoy!

Creamy garlic mussels served with fresh bread overlooking the ocean
Creamy garlic mussels served with fresh bread

Where to Stay

Accommodations on the South Coast vary greatly, from camping to staying in a lush beach bungalow or a fancy hotel. Here are our suggestions on the best hostels and hotels to help you determine the best places to stay.

 

Currently, two airlines offer flights from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Durban South Coast. The average one-way flight duration is 1 hour and 30 minutes. Flights to Durban from Cape Town take 2 hours and 5 minutes. Another option is to fly from O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Margate Airport on the South Coast in Margate. For the best prices and to book Flights to Durban from Johannesburg or any of the above, visit Travelstart or CheapOair.

Shuttle service Durban Airport transfer to South Coast and Durban Shuttle to Margate South Coast.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi real interesting and informative.
    Love the fresh sards.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the post as much as I did putting it all together.

  3. What a comprehensive post! Thank you. Will I get a frozen sardine or two to try your recipe?