Zambia Travel Guide | Fish like Jeremy Wade of River Monsters

Tiger fishing on the Zambezi at The River ClubTiger fishing on the Zambezi at The River Club

To draw the attention of Jeremy Wade of Animal Planet fame, a fish has got to be extraordinary and that certainly describes the African Tiger Fish. One of the world's most powerful river monsters, it is renowned for its speed and agility, not to mention ferocious skill and razor sharp teeth.

Get Ready to Go Fishing for Zambezi Tiger

If you think you've got what it takes, then you too can discover the adrenalin pumping adventure that is Tiger Fishing in the Zambezi River. This mighty slow moving river forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Great Tiger Fishing can be experienced in superb angling destinations along the Upper Zambezi, Middle and Lower Zambezi and at Lake Kariba.

Exciting and challenging fresh water fly-fishing and spinning in these destinations will certainly give you the thrill of a lifetime, but it's not for the faint hearted, especially in the depths of the river eco-system where you are also amongst wildlife such as Crocodile and Hippo. You will have to keep your eyes peeled and be extremely careful if you need to wade into the water.

The Challenge

Catching tigerfish.Tiger fishing at Sekoma Island Lodge

The ferocious fighting fish will test any angler's skill - be prepared for sudden lurching strikes and reel burning runs for at least 50 metres more than once. Tigers also like to jump right out of the water in an attempt to dislodge a hook. Getting the fish into your boat can also be your downfall - Tigers quite often take a deep dive when being reeled in, so some finesse and subtle handling is required.

Tigers are devious, clever and unpredictable - the chances of them snapping your line and rod or making off with your fly's and lures are very good. They can also change their feeding patterns so you will have to keep up on that score and vary what you do. Consider going on excursions with a good river guide who can lead you to the best spots and keep track of the changing patterns.Zambezi fishing.Fishing at Royal Zambezi Lodge

If you want to catch a big Tiger Fish, more than likely you will find them in the deeper waters of the Zambezi River. That's because Tigers won't tolerate any other fish in their territory which are close to half their own size, they'll attack and eat them (this goes for family members too!).

It's survival of the fittest in the river so Tiger Fish of similar sizes tend to stay together in the same area. Average Tigers won't venture into the depths and the smallest specimens head for the shallower waters despite the risk of predation from their relatives and birds. The females are bigger than the males.

Water levels in the Zambezi River are generally high from about April to July. Around May, the flood plains are saturated and the water starts to empty into the main river channel. Many fish species that move onto the fertile floodplains to feed and reproduce must make their way back into the deep main flow or risk being stranded. This influx of fish heading for safer waters sweeps down the Zambezi River in June and creates "bait balls" on which Tigers feed - many excellent specimens have been caught at this time. You can usually spot a bait ball by the thrashing in the water but also because gulls will be diving in from the air to join the feeding frenzy.On sighting a bait ball, excitement will be high in your boat - the chances of casting correctly amidst the clamour will be difficult until you get a hold of yourself and your stray hooks, so be prepared to keep trying until you get it right. If there are other anglers with you, look out for flying hooks - all part of the fun really!

You can also investigate areas closer to the banks by allowing the outer water to carry your boat while you cast and retrieve - bait fish may be hiding close to the bank waiting to make a run for it into the main flow and this may draw the attention of cruising Tigers. Another option is to settle at the junction where 2 waterways meet and hope to catch any Tigers lying in wait for smaller fish coming down the channels.

Once the water levels drop you can happily set off in a traditional canoe called a mokoro and seek out Tigers in the shallower waters, which is a great experience in the tranquillity of the bush surrounded by wildlife. By November the rains set in which may muddy the waters in certain areas but Tiger Fishing can be done right through to March in the Lower Zambezi.

You can also fish for Tiger at Lake Kariba, a massive inland 'sea' and hydro-electric dam on the Zambezi River. You can fish all year round but a popular time is in September or October (when some annual competitions take place) and spinning is the preferred method.

General Tips and Tricks

Fly-fishing

  • Fast action rod (minimum 8 weight)
  • Heavy, fast sinking lines (and shooting heads) that you can cast as far as possible - especially when the flood waters are high. An intermediate line is suitable for shallower waters
  • Matching reel that can withstand high speed runs
  • Strong leader line and piano wire - Tigers razor sharp teeth will make short work of anything else
  • Assorted salt-water flys with thicker hooks, as the Tigers have particularly bony jaws

Spinning

  • Medium to medium heavy graphite rod to match your reel
  • Long, strong mono fishing line (minimum 9kg breaking strain)
  • Quality spinning reel with good front drag that can hold the long, strong mono fishing line
  • 13 - 18kg breaking strain clip-on traces (pinch to close if needed)
  • Assorted coloured lures for rotation (to attract Tigers in various conditions during the day)
  • Floating lures in varying sizes and running depths

Where to go

All these great game lodges in Zambia offer excellent accommodation, game viewing activities and Tiger Fishing trips with experienced river guides, who know every twist and turn and exactly what to do out on the river. All the lodges operate on a strict catch and release basis.
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