To many anglers the Tigerfish is the epitome of Africa’s freshwater game fish species. It must rate as one of the fastest freshwater species in the world, if not the fastest. Combine the speed of the fish and the ferocity with which it attacks a fly, and the rugged wild environment in which they occur and you have a first-class Tiger fishing experience.
Tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus) grow to 30lb’s, with fish over 8lb’s considered to be good fish and fish over 10lb’s as trophies. Every season fish of between 15lb and 20lb’s are landed on fly so rest assure you will get your chance.
Tigerfish can be found in most of the eastern flowing river systems in Southern Africa, as far south as the Pongola in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. They also occur in the Zaire River (Congo) as well as Lake Tanganyika and rivers in North and West Africa. The biggest concentration of Tigerfish is known to occur in the Okavango Delta (Botswana) and the Zambezi River.
Most sport anglers targeting the species head to the Zambezi River, from the upper Zambezi in the Caprivi to the lower Zambezi where it flows into Mozambique. During the right time of the year fly anglers can experience world class, frenetic fishing.
In South Africa good catches are made every season in the Komati River in Mpumalanga just south of the Kruger National Park. Most of the rivers in the Kruger Park harbour a healthy population of fish but unfortunately these water are not accessible to sport anglers.
Tigerfish prefer warm, well-oxygenated water, mainly larger rivers and lakes. All but the largest specimens form roving schools of like-sized fish, which can aptly be described as fierce and voracious. Tigerfish feed on whatever prey is most abundant but Brycinus, Micralestes, Barbus, and Limnothrissa are favoured. They breed during summer when adults migrate up or downstream to find suitable lakeshores and flooded riverbanks to spawn.
Tackle and Techniques
Tigerfish are ferocious fighters and grow to large sizes, making them an ideal fly rod for targeting them is a fast action nine-foot rod for a nine-weight line. Match the rod with a high quality large arbour reel holding at least 150 meters of backing and an extra fast sinking line.
The key is to use full sinking lines and not use fast sinking heads fused onto intermediate running lines. Whilst these lines are very popular for certain types of fishing, they are not the ideal lines for Tigerfishing as most of the fishing will be done in strong flowing water. By using a line with different densities (fused lines), maintaining direct contact on the fly can be difficult. The sinking part of the head will cut through the current whilst the intermediate running line will be dragged in the current, forming a hinge or belly.
Tigerfish have exceptionally hard and bony mouths and they hit the fly extremely hard. This belly and hinge in the line will prevent you from setting the hook in the fish's mouth, resulting in many lost fish. Even though a thin full sinking line can be a nightmare as it tangles on countless occasions it will help you to eliminate the hinge and belly problem, thus result in far more hook-ups. In order to avoid your fly riding higher than your fast sink line use short leader that is no longer than 4 or 5 feet of 15-17lbs mono to wire.
At times when Tigerfish are feeding on or close to the surface you may want to use an intermediate or floating line. When doing so use a standard 9-foot leader that tapers down to 15 - 17lb's. It is possible to catch them on straight nylon but we'd recommend that you always use a short section of piano wire between the leader and the fly. The wire shock tippet only needs to be about four inches in length. We recommend that you use No 0 or No 1 Piano Wire. Do not use fire-line or nylon coated trace as from time to time the fish will bite through this. We've tried them all and single strand piano wire works the best.
Fly selection can be kept very simple. Use Clouser Minnows in grey, black and olive with touches of yellow, orange or red, it would be advisable to carry a few bucktail streamers in combinations of black, red, orange and yellow as well. The way you tie the fly with the use of a lateral line is very important, so refer to our fly tying section. More important is the hook on which the fly is dressed. You want to use a short shank straight point hook. Straight point hooks penetrate bony mouths a lot better than curved point hooks. First prize will be a strong wire carbon steel hook with a thin point, the thinner the wire the better the penetration. Attach the fly to the wire shock tippet with a Haywire Twist and make another Haywire Twist at the opposite end of the wire for attaching the nylon leader.
Look for Tigerfish in areas where they can ambush their prey using as little energy to hold as possible. Places such as on the edge of a drop-off, a downstream spit of an island or any place where the current changes velocity. Do not overlook structure and current breaks, no matter how small. Remember that small baitfish battle to swim in fast water so as soon as they are there they are vulnerable.
Tigerfish hit the fly exceptional hard. Condition yourself to keep the rod tip down, even in the water. Use a medium to fast strip retrieve and make sure that you set the hook hard, repeatedly using your line hand to line strike the fish. This is the only way that you are going to get the fly into such a bony mouth. The help of a fast actioned rod like the G-Loomis 9ft 9 weight really increases you catch rate.
Try to keep the rod tip low during the fight. The fish will jump several times during the fight so make sure that you keep your rod low. Re-set the hook after every jump almost as if you where pulling the fish off the jump.
The sheer force and strike of the ferocious Tigerfish, together with their magnificent surroundings makes this fishing a highly desirable experience. It is easy to see why hundreds of tourists flock to catch them each year.