On the Prowl for Tigerfish in Africa
by Todd Feldman
This all started when I asked the sales person at the Worldwide Sportsman store in Islamorada, Florida "What's the name of that fish hanging on the wall behind you?." She said "That's a tigerfish." (Hydrocynus vittatus). This was the first time I had ever seen one. I couldn't believe my eyes. It looked like a striped bass, with its brilliant silver color, built into a salmon's body - and it had the most unbelievable canines you'll ever see. I knew at that moment I had to go fish for this thing.
I spent months on the internet reading about this fish and I contacted everyone I knew who lived in Africa. It led me to the Chief Editor of "African Hunting and Fishing Magazine", Anthony Williams. He was pleased to speak to an American angler interested in coming to Africa to fight tigers. Anthony had fished for them for over 30 years and was incredibly informative. He highly recommended that I use a guide named Simon Parker, whom he called the most knowledgeable fisherman that he ever fished with.
He explained that Simon was currently running
a land-based lodge. I was so excited after getting his number that I called
him right away and sat on the phone with him for over an hour and a half.
Just listening to him talk sounded like music, I could feel the excitement,
passion and love that he had for these fish. Without even thinking twice,
I booked a 6 day trip with him. I couldn't wait to get there. I had now
begun counting down the days till I hooked my first tiger.
The tigerfish is a fierce and wily creature regarded by most anglers as being the best freshwater game fish in Africa. It is beautiful as well, with a bluish-silver torpedo shaped body and red & yellow fins with black trailing edges. The head is large with extremely bony cheeks and jaws. Their impressive teeth are conical, extremely sharp and used for grasping prey. Males and females are similar in form and coloring but females generally grow larger, reaching over 700mm at maturity. Tigerfish in the fast flowing waters of the Upper Zambezi can reach 10kg (22 lbs.). Although tigerfish are also found in the Congo River, Lake Tanganyika and some other North and West African river systems, they are most abundant in the warmer, well oxygenated fresh waters of Southern Africa in the Zambezi, Okavango and Pongola river systems.
The tigerfish is an aggressive predator, consuming
other fish as its staple diet. They move and hunt in schools with
only the largest specimens living on their own. The Upper Zambezi
river between Victoria falls and Katima Mulilo is a constantly changing
environment. For half the year waters are rising and for the other
half, receding. Tigerfish constantly change their feeding patterns
to stay in line with water levels, clarity, and the different prey that
becomes available to them as the seasons change.
Six months later I arrived at the great Zambezi River. I was blown away by the beauty of this very wild river. Imagine a very fast moving river surrounded as far as your eye can see by a plain of tall river grasses. Exotic birds flew everywhere. The dark, stained water was rippling. I was incredibly excited, I couldn't wait to break out my rod and reel. After a half hour boat ride, we turned a bend in the river and I saw Simon's magnificent operation. Simon greeted us and led us to our very tastefully decorated waterfront cabin. I couldn't believe it; I was in the middle of nowhere and I felt like I was in a first class hotel. I've fished around the world but the comfort level here was unbelievable.
After dinner my daughter Jessica and I went
to sleep early. I tossed and turned all night just thinking about
going fishing in the morning. At 5:30am we got up and Simon's staff had
breakfast and a box lunch waiting for us. The sun has just starting to
rise and the temperature was around 58 degrees. We took a quick boat ride
to a local village where we bought some live bait from a local fisherman.
The whole village came out to see us. It was great talking with them and
watching the small kids run around and play. It was a lovely experience.
We spent around fifteen minutes with them and headed off.
We started the day throwing spin and rattle baits. We were casting at the brush, trying to find holes and throwing at grass points wherever there were pockets that held fish. It only took 15 minutes until I got my first hit. The tiger slammed my lure like a freight train. My rod was bent double and my drag was screaming. You could feel your shoulder on this fish. After around 30 seconds he finally exploded out of the waters. I was so excited that I heard myself scream "oh my god". I heard Simon say "he's around 10 or 12 pounds." I fought this fish for over 10 minutes. I couldn't believe the fish. He hit just like a bluefish on drugs, danced like a tarpon and ran like a bonefish. When I finally got him in the boat, both my daughter and I stood and looked at him with amazement. I couldn't believe the teeth on this absolutely gorgeous fish.
After all the raves that I read and heard,
there was no disappointment in what I just experienced. This fish was truly
a trophy fish and a true competitor. My daughter and I looked at
each other and we knew that our own competition had just begun.
The average catch was about 12 tiger fish a day with at least 3 to 6 Nembwe" (Serranochromis robustus) between 2-5 pounds each. Everyday we fished, we felt like we were exploring. The wild life, the birds, the landscape and the fishing was unbelievable. The temperature range was from the high 50's to around 90. The next couple of days fishing were incredible. The Zambezi River was a treat to be on. I really understood why it was called The "Great" Zambezi River. It's powerful and beautiful. For hours on the river we didn't see a person. Simon took me fishing one day where the Zambezi and Chobe River met. This is where we used our bait fish. We put some sinkers on our line and dropped some live bait down to 10-15 feet in the strong current, We got slammed by some really large fish. Unbelievable hits and blazing runs. Just an amazing day.
It was also great spending days on end with
my daughter, fishing, seeing the river at its best and sharing it with
her. I think what I enjoyed the most was watching the excitement in my
daughter's eyes when she caught some real big fish. I truly believe she
will always remember this special time on the "Great Zambezi".
I spent many hours talking with Simon and his partner Haydn Willans about their operation, about the Zambezi, and what their future on the water will be. They told me that they were building a river yacht that will sleep 10 guests and pull 6 aluminum fishing boats behind it. Haydn explained that this boat would allow them to avoid having to run, sometimes for hours, to get to the best fishing grounds. Now they will be mobile and access more fishing water. Although the lodge was wonderful, with gourmet quality meals, a bar stocked with the best South African wine and superior staff and service, I understood their logic. Simon and Haydn have designed this new boat to have all of the benefits of a luxury lodge with the advantage of mobility and better access to the prime fishery.
Tigerfish are very different from anything I have ever fished for before. Their power and beauty separates them from most other species of game fish. The region's wildlife is just as spectacular, so Simon also offers game viewing by boat. Jessica and I took a photographic safari. After a half hour boat ride to Chobe, we spent 5 hours photographing the wild life. We saw elephants, zebras, hippo, giraffe, even a pair of lions along with many other animals. We got some tremendous photographs that day.
The nights are incredibly beautiful on the river. You can hear
the bell frogs singing at night and the hippo grunting at the river edges.
They serenade you to sleep. The stars are so bright that you feel like
you can grab them in your hands. This is truly a very beautiful experience.
The fishing, the wildlife and the educational experience is impossible
to describe. You just have to see it for yourself. Join me and Acute
Angling as we help Simon and his partner Haydn Willans inaugurate their
new yacht, on the prowl for the wild tigers of Africa. . T. Feldman
The tiger fish is a true trophy species and an awesome competitor. Their power and beauty separates them from most other game fish. Anglers experience an average catch of about 12 tigers per day.
The "Nguni" houseboat was developed to be the consummate tiger fishing machine. Sleeping 10 guests, it pulls 5 aluminum fishing boats behind it. The boat eliminates having to run, sometimes for hours, to get to the best fishing grounds. Its great mobility permits access to the best fishing water all of the time. Enjoy all of the benefits of a luxury lodge with the advantage of mobility and better access to the prime fishery.
The Wildlife is spectacular and game viewing by boat is available.
The fishing, the wildlife and the overall experience is beyond description.