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Thursday, 06 December 2012 18:38

Hunting Africa’s top fresh water predator, the Tiger Fish

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By Stephen Sutherland

What is it that draws man to a body of water? It might be the ocean, a lake, a river, or even just a pond. We sit and gaze over the surface, mesmerized by its tranquillity. Then something stirs under the surface and causes ripples that instantly snap us out of our trance. It's at this moment that our deeply entrenched instinct to hunt kicks in. Whatever caused that ripple must be caught. If not for the pot, then purely to satisfy our need to hunt.

Tiger Fishing in AfricaFishing in Africa can be hard work. It’s an outdoor sport that exposes us to extreme elements, but at the same time it attracts us to some of the most beautiful places on earth. One of these places must undoubtedly be the Zambezi River in South Africa. It starts in northern Zambia and runs south through the Angolan highlands. Eventually it turns east where it forms the northern border of Namibia in an area called the Caprivi Strip. It’s in this area, known as Tiger Ally, where I do most of my Tiger fishing.

Tiger Fishing in AfricaTiger Fishing in Africa is one the most exhilarating forms of fishing an angler can experience. Tigers can hit lures or bait at over sixty kilometers per hour, leaving many an angler looking on in despair as their rod races away beneath the surface, never to be seen again. We use different techniques to catch this river monster depending on the time of year. One of my favourite times is when the river starts to subside after bursting its banks, and flooding the plains. This is where the huge variety of Bream species go to breed. When the water starts to flow back into the river, thousands upon thousands of fry get washed back into the main channel, causing a feeding frenzy that has to be seen to be believed.

The surface starts to boil as the Tigers circle and start hammering the shoal from all sides. This is an opportune moment to throw a surface lure like a popper or Zara Spook Bass lure. I’ve seen Tigers strike a lure clean out the water and miss it, only to be hit by another Tiger the second it hits the surface. These frenzies can last up to twenty minutes and normally leave the anglers on the boat chattering like fervent monkeys for the rest of the day. This time of year is in May and June. It can be chilly in the morning, but the daytime temperature is very pleasant. We also drift with bait known locally as bulldogs, a small fish that is caught by the locals in their nets.

Tiger Fishing in AfricaTo successfully land Tiger fish one has to find the perfect balance between the stiffness of the rod, the line strength, and the tension on the drag. A general rule of thumb is when the line is pulled, the drag must only start to give when the rod is bent to about ninety degrees. This will not break the rod when you get hit hard and will also help to set the hook when the Tiger takes the lure. A loose drag won’t get the hook to penetrate and a tightdrag can break the rod, or even pull the hook from its mouth. The only reason I don’t catch Tigers on mono-line is because of the stretch in the line. Braided line gives instant striking ability, whereas mono is like catching fish with a rubber band.

Tigers are not easy to catch. One of the reasons for this is their bony mouths. Getting a hook set can be difficult. There are three rules to Tiger fishing: 1st - sharp hooks. 2nd - sharp hooks. And 3rd - sharp hooks. Another reason why these fish are not so easily landed is the fact that they can get extremely airborne once they realize they're hooked. They clear the water and vigorously shake their heads trying to free themselves - and they succeed more often than they fail. A seven-foot medium to heavy rod will suffice, but a good quality reel is very important.

We’ve had clients insist on using their own trusty old Carp reels, only to have them go home with a bag full of spares.I find a good quality reel is very important. I like to use the Shimano 4000 series. A steady release on the drag is vital, and good quality reels will give you this. A reel with a uneven drag system will be used as a sinker! Don’t be fooled by the size of the drag washers on a reel. This does not make for a smooth or effective drag. It’s the amount of drag washers and the materials used that make a good reel. Reels with the drag system at the back of the reel are best left at home.  

Tiger Fishing in AfricaSteel traces between twenty and thirty centimetres must be used, as these fish have a very impressive set of teeth that will cut through any line. Sometimes even a steel leader. I prefer to double my line for the two feet before the leader by using a simple surgeon's knot. This will also give added strength on the knot, and extra protection against his tail fin as the Tiger makes off with the lure. I find a Uni-knot with doubled braid is very hard to beat. I’ve straightened hooks trying to free it from a log or rock. Thirty lbs braid is good, as it will not impede your casting distance, while still strong enough to tame the Tiger. Tiger Fish up to twenty pounds are not uncommon and will give you an initial run that leaves you holding on for dear life - wondering if your tackle is going to survive. Often it does not.

On a recent trip we bagged just over a hundred and ten lbs of Tiger fish and caught Catfish up to 25 pounds. These fish also readily take bait and lures intended for Tigers. Catching Tigers is an amazing experience and must be one the most rewarding kinds of fishing there is. The setting for this battle between man and fish couldn't be in a more beautiful environment. Fish eagles act as umpires from above. There truly is never a boring moment.

Some One Liners I’ve heard after a Tiger has emptied a reel or broken someone s line.

“ I have never been treated with such disrespect!”
“ What the hell was that?”
“ I didn’t bring enough tackle!”
“ I should have brought a gun, not a fishing rod!”

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