The former United States senator, Charles Waterman, said that since most of the world is covered by water, a fisherman’s job is simple: pick out the best parts. A young man who lives just north of Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe, Josh Clegg, got this simple job perfectly right. He has most certainly found one of the best spots to live is passion – tiger fishing. He gives us some tips to ensure the big one doesn’t get away.
First off, you need to research and decide on a destination. There are numerous water bodies in Southern Africa where Tigerfish are found. The most popular sites include the upper and lower Zambezi River, Lake Cahorra Bassa, and Lake Kariba. For South Africans, Lake Jozini is a popular spot, while the Levhuvhu river north of the Kruger have also thrilled some anglers with good catches.
A lesser-known spot is the Runde River in Gonarezhou National Park in the south of Zimbabwe. This is my local fishing spot and we have caught some big ones here before – up to 5kg! While tiger fish can be caught throughout the year, it is best to check with locals to find the best time of the year for the area you are visiting.
Once your destination and trip date has been finalised, you have to get equipped with the right equipment and tackle. I would consider a seven-foot medium-heavy rod, partnered with a 4 000-5 000 size reel. It is important to purchase a reputable brand because these ferocious water beings will destroy any substandard reel. If starting out or on a budget, I would recommend the Shimano Sienna 4000 with 20-50lb braid. Personally, I use the Shimano Stradic 5000.
Tigerfish have razor-sharp teeth, so a trace is essential. In my experience, a 30cm piece of 40lb piano wire works well – attach it to your main line with a power swivel and a snap to your lure. It is best to avoid buying trace with flimsy or weak clips as they tend to open on big fish.
Luring the big one
In terms of lures, choose a selection that covers all the depths of the water column. My top tiger fishing lures are: the Tiger Wakka spinner, a spook for the surface, a diving Rapala (such as a Shad Rap), a gliding Rapala (such as an X-rap Twitching Minnow), 16 – 30 gram copper spoons, and my top pick is the Afrijig. If you want to fish with bait, use a 5/0 hook with live bait – chicken hearts or strips of tiger fillet works well.
Tigerfish lurk on drop-offs and ambush baitfish that slip over the edge, which makes deep pools below rapids, back eddies and slack water good spots to drop your line. In lakes such as Jozini, fish in the large weed beds and other structure such as dead trees. River junctions and mouths into lakes are also prime spots. Use your selection of lures to cover the water column and try different retrieves and speeds. If you don’t get bites move on and locate the fish – tigers are pack hunters, so where there is one, there will be more! You can add small strips of fillet to your spinners and jigs to add extra scent.
Pay attention to your guide’s advice on how to fish the area – they have years of experience, so it will be foolish not to draw on that experience.
When it bites
So once you get a hit from a tiger, what do you do? Set that hook, of course! If you are using lures, you have to react quickly and strike. You can strike twice to ensure there’s a solid hook set. When fishing with live bait or fillet, I usually let the fish eat/run for seven seconds before flipping my bail and setting that hook really hard. If you are using a circle hook, you need to reel into the fish.
So now you’ve hooked your fish. Expect a powerful first run, followed by a spectacular jump! You can usually anticipate the jump by how your line will rise out of the water as the fish races for the surface. When this happens, angle your rod tip down to prevent the jump, as this is when the Tiger can throw your hook. When the fish gets near the boat or the shore, it will be tough to net as it doesn’t give up easily. While it may feel counter-intuitive, it is very important not to force the fish – just be gentle with it until it’s ready to go into your landing net.
Once you have your Tiger in the boat, be quick and beware of the teeth! Remove the hook with long nose pliers and weigh your catch in the net. Then get some quick photos. Place your left hand under the fish’s belly and hold its tail tightly with your right hand, making sure your wrist is behind the fish. Use a Boga grip if you can’t control the fish tightly, but be sure to support the fish as hanging the fish is harmful.
When releasing your fish, be very careful of crocodiles and take care not to injure the Tiger. Hold its tail and place its head facing upstream so that water flows through its gills, wait until it feels strong, then release and watch your catch swim away.
* Riyaz Jasat, a tiger fishing Guide on the Zambezi, helped with some expert advice for this article.
**Follow Josh on social media: @thisisafricaoutdoors and check out his YouTube channel on www.youtube.com/c/ThisisAfricaOutdoors – it’s filled with fishing and other outdoor adventures.