Fresh crayfish, harders on the grill and the salty scent of bokkoms epitomize a West Coast holiday. It’s our bracing oceans and long, solitary beaches too that bring recreational fishers, divers and water sport enthusiasts back, time and again.
The coastline is also a place of stark and rugged beauty, with kilometres of solitary beaches, undulating dunes and sandveld.
There are three towns on the coast:
Strandfontein – a popular holiday resort – and the two fishing hamlets Doringbaai and Papendorp. North of Strandfontein, at places like Gert du Toit-se-baai, Geustyn-se-gat, Brand-se-baai, Malkopbaai and Jurg-se-kaya there are more isolated fishing and camping spots for off-road enthusiasts.
The Olifants River estuary at Papendorp provides some of the best line fishing opportunities along the coast. Catches usually include silver cob, Angolan cob, white steenbras, West Coast steenbras and elf. Fish stock levels have dropped dramatically over the years, and visitors should be aware that some species – like abalone – are protected by law and cannot be removed from the sea. Permits are also required to catch galjoen and crayfish. Fishing permits can be bought at local post offices. The crayfish season begins in November and ends in April, and the daily limit is set at four per permit holder.
Both Doringbaai and Strandfontein have slipways from which to launch rubber boats. Whaling stations and crayfish canning factories have long since closed along the coast, but one industry that has survived, is that of collecting seaweed. The two most common seaweeds harvested along the West Coast are brown kelp (Ecklonia maxima) and red seaweed (Gracilaria verrucosa). Seaweed extract is used in a variety of unlikely products such as cosmetics, pet food, ice cream and salad dressing. Agar, a jelly extracted from some red seaweeds is also used as a culture medium in medical research.
Favourite spots for fishing are on the coast between Doringbaai and Brand-se-baai. Fishing is popular along the Olifants River too and at Bulshoek Dam.
Deep sea fishing trips can be booked while trips can be arranged from Papendorp, where subsistence fishers still use rowing buggies and catch with hand-made nets.
Fishing permits can be purchased at any post office.
Unique fisher family experiences
Fishers love the West Coast for fishing and catching crayfish. But it’s also the place for some of the best seafood experiences, from a community-run kitchen serving smoorsnoek, viskoekies and roosterkoek and fish shops in Doringbaai to insider specialities served up in a local family home. Ask the tourism office for more information.
The harder mullet (Chelon richardsonii) is the iconic west coast fish, and dried harders known as bokkoms are a local delicacy.
Whales and dolphins
Whales and dolphins are often observed in the coastal waters, especially around Doringbaai and Strandfontein. Heaviside’s dolphins can usually be spotted surfing in the breakers in the early mornings, while Dusky dolphins are fond of riding the bow waves of boats. Southern Right whales visit the coast during winter and early summer to calf. A hill south of Strandfontein is a good for spotting these magnificent creatures.