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Mossel Bay | Garden Route

Mossel Bay Sea Fishing Rocks | All About Yellowbelly Rockcod

Yellowbelly rockcod caught while fishing in Mossel Bay on a Salt Life Fishing Charter trip
Yellowbelly rockcod caught while fishing in Mossel Bay with a small crayfish still in its mouth

Mossel Bay is home to yellowbelly rockcod (Epinephelus marginatus) and cat-faced rockcod (Epinephelus andersoni). It’s pretty easy to distinguish between the two since the yellowbelly lives up to its namesake, sporting a bright yellow belly and chin. Catface, on the other hand, are light brown, with lots of dark spots and no yellow. Yellowbelly rockcod, aka dusky groupers, are the most sought-after rockcod species for anglers since they can grow to over a meter long and over 27kgs in weight. They also give you a good fight and are not easily landed.

Catfaced rockcod caught and released in Mossel Bay
Cat-faced rockcod with distinctive spots and no yellow

Where do you find yellowbelly rockcods?

You’ll find these big beasts, well, in rocky reefs… hence the name. They do love to dwell in their caves in solitude and are very territorial. They supposedly have one rock that is “theirs” and they fight hard to defend it. We have plenty of rocky reef here. Another great reason as to Why We Love Deep Sea Fishing in Mossel Bay.

Yellowbelly rockcod caught in August 2023
Large yellowbelly rockcod caught and released on a Salt Life Fishing charter

Face-to-face with rockcods

As SCUBA divers as well as fishers, we love coming across these creatures. We are very aware of how inquisitive they can get and they have been known to get a little too close for comfort. They’ve even taken a couple of chunks out of divers. Just ask our friends at Go Dive Mossel Bay and Garden Route Scuba.

It’s not just their mouths that are razor-like. They have extremely sharp gills to, so you have to be extra careful when handling your catch.

How to catch them while fishing in Mossel Bay

Their prey is, unsurprisingly, bottom-dwelling fish and crustaceans. Yellowbelly rockcod are ambush predators and tend to swallow up their prey whole. So if you’re fishing, you’ll need to use nice, big baits to entice these guys. They’re definitely not too fussy though, so don’t worry about the type of bait as much.

Great catch of a yellowbelly rockcod off Hartenbos, Mossel Bay
Large yellowbelly rockcod caught and released on one of our research trips

Can you eat yellowbelly rockcod?

They are pretty slow-growing fish and can live up to 24 years. Although the daily bag limit is one per person, per day with a minimum size limit of 60 cm total length, we don’t usually keep them. That’s not to say they are not good-eating fish. On the contrary. They have delicious white flesh! Although they have a lot of bones and not a lot of meat.

Can you eat yellowbelly rockcod?

Tagged and released yellowbelly rockcod

Before we release yellowbelly rockcod, we’ll often spaghetti tag them. We treat them ethically, keeping out of the water for the minimum length of time, and handling them to ensure there is no damage to their scales. These tags are used to track fish movement patterns, growth rates, mortality rates and population dynamics as part of the ORI Cooperative Fish Tagging Project. The data gathered through the project provides extremely valuable information for South African scientists and enables them to instruct more effective management and sustainable use of our linefish.

To date, more than 4,000 yellowbelly rockcods have been tagged through the project. And a whopping 700+ have been recaptured. That’s almost 20% of tagged yellowbellies that have provided essential data, helping scientists to learn that they’re mostly a resident species, travelling an average of 7 km in their lifetime.

Fun fact about yellowbelly rockcods

Huge yellowbelly rockcod or dusky grouper caught on a Mossel Bay deep sea fishing trip

Yellowbellies are a monandric protogynous hermaphrodite species. That’s a bit of a mouthful, but what it means is that they are able to change sex from female to male. They are born as females and as they grow older, some will turn male, likely as a result of environmental or social cues.

Try your hand at fishing

Justin and his team will use their decades of knowledge and experience to guide you to the best fishing spots and help you to land your dream species, like yellowbellies. You can chat to us about booking a private trip or booking your deep sea fishing charter.