CASTING FOR TIGERS
Adventurous anglers from across the world are packing their tackle and coming to Africa in search of tigers.
Tigers? In Africa?
The razor-toothed tiger fish – Hydrocynus Vittatus – “is the premier freshwater sport fishing species in Africa, and deservedly ranks as one of the most exciting fish in the world to catch on lure or fly”, says James Williams of specialist tour operator Wildman Safaris. “Combine the searing runs, aerobatic jumps and bone-hard jaw lined with fearsome teeth and you have a worthy adversary to target. And even better, you generally get to do this in some of the most remote and beautiful corners of Africa.”
While tiger fish are found in South Africa’s Pongola Basin and Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Chobe River, tiger fishing is centred on the mighty Zambezi River that flows for more than 2,500 kilometres from its source in the northwest reaches of Zambia, to the Zambezi delta on the Indian Ocean. While most travellers flock to the famed Victoria Falls to marvel at the majestic ‘smoke that thunders’, anglers look both upstream and downstream of the Falls for the best tiger-fishing.
The ‘Upper Zambezi’ – from the source to the Falls – is home to the greatest concentration of dedicated tiger-fishing outfits: the likes of Shackletons Tiger Fishing Lodge, Barotse Tiger Camp, Sekoma Island Lodge and Mutemwa Lodge.
And while this section of river is popular throughout the year, the peak season for hunting tigers is during the southern dry season.
“There is a simple formula”, says Chris Wood, of tour operator Tiger Fishing Zambezi. “If the fish can see then it can chase your fly, lure and bait. Clear water on the upper Zambezi is common from late-May until December, [but] this massive window of fishing opportunity has its peak from May to October.”
Another popular destination in the upper reaches of the river is the Barotse flood plain. In the early months of winter the Zambezi, now swollen with summer rains, floods across reed beds and grasslands to provide a welcome new hunting ground for tiger fish. Anglers are soon to follow in search of the hungry fish dubbed ‘The Barotse Express’.
While the upper reaches draw most dedicated tiger-hunters, the middle section of the Zambezi – from the Victoria Falls to Lake Kariba – is also popular.
A good option for anglers with families in tow, “Lake Kariba offers some wonderful big game viewing and fishing opportunities from the many lodges and house-boats that are available in the area”, says Wood, who has been sending clients to fish the Zambezi for more than 20 years. “Tiger fishing on Lake Kariba is good throughout the year, with even the quieter winter months – June to August – known to produce good fish.”
Houseboats are a particularly popular option here, with an array of boats offering experienced crew, air-conditioned cabins, on-board plunge pools and tender boats for both fishing and game-viewing excursions. Aside from tiger fish, anglers can also cast a line for Nile tilapia, barbel and Cornish jack.
Lastly, for anglers willing to spend a little extra to get off the beaten track, the lower reaches of the river, downstream of Lake Kariba, are something of a hidden gem amongst dedicated tiger-hunters.
Combining fantastic game viewing – the iconic Mana Pools National Park and Lower Zambezi National Park straddle the river – with world-class fishing grounds, “the lower Zambezi is best during the summer months between September and May”, adds Wood.
For that next trip to the continent forget about the lion, leopard or cheetah. Perhaps it’s time to meet Africa’s fearsome tigers.