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Tag: tigerfish (page 1 of 2)

Over Covid

I recently went fishing at Baines River Lodge in Zambia and if you ask anyone in that country about Covid 19, the answer in every instance will be, “there is no Covid here”.

This may simply be a case of complete denial, the old ostrich with its head in the sand trick, or, it could be a remarkable case of the power of positive thought.

None of this made any difference to the fact that in order to leave Zambia, one is still required to pay a substantial sum to have a very long ear-bud type contraption inserted through the nose to ascertain whether the dreaded virus has somehow made a nest in the lower region of your brain. The same test in South Africa involves a similar probe being shoved down your oesophagus and gently rotated just below the adams apple, until one is retching uncontrollably and tears are running down your face. And after all that, there is still doubt as to whether the bloody test even works at all!

Anyway, if that’s what it takes to get back onto the glorious Lower Zambezi after 8 months of lockdown induced withdrawal symptoms, they can shove their little probes wherever they like.

Being November, as expected, the weather was hot and steamy, the kind of conditions Tigers seem to love. Unfortunately, fairly high winds were also prevalent, which has the opposite effect on these toothy critters.

I was sharing the boat with my old fishing buddy, Scott Brown, who is a director of Baines Camp and knows this section of the river like the back of his hand. We left camp daily at around 5.30 am and made our way down to the Lower Zambezi National Park (LZNP) for the day, returning only at dusk when the Park closes for the night. Fortunately, the Baines team pack a mean cold box filled to the brim with plenty of ice to last the day, along with enough food to feed a small village if required.

After an 8 month hiatus, the first day on the water was a bit like learning from scratch. Wayward casts found overhanging trees and visible stumps in the river with unerring accuracy, leading to much foul language, repetitive re-rigging of bent wire, snapped leaders and lost lures. But as the day progressed, we started to find our feet, along with our confidence and some hope. None of which helped us land any decent fish.

The next day, however, saw an immediate change. Stick baits landed near the river bank and underwater structure were smashed within seconds. As usual with topwater lures, hook up rates were limited, but within minutes we had 2 double-digit Tigers weighed and safely released, along with a few smaller fish. Game on.

Drifting down the broad expanse of water sandwiched between Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the LZNP is a special privilege. Herds of elephant splash through shallows, the largest concentration of hippos on the planet inhabit the drop-offs, huge crocodiles bask on the sandbanks, buffalo roam the islands, lions amble down to the water’s edge for a drink and laze in the shade. Birds of every shape and colour add a cacophony of sound. In short, a natural wonderland in which to fish.

In all we landed 6 fish over 10 pounds, along with a few more nearing that magical mark. Not a blinding outing, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Gorgeous sunsets, nursing large cold G&T’s on a sandy island, followed by fine dining and beds with crispy white sheets in air-conditioned comfort are what Baines is all about.

But don’t take my word for it, try and get up there yourself, it’s well worth it.

Prepare to be violated through a few orifices first though.

Shayamoya

When we think about a tiger fishing trip with wildlife, birds and a lodge experience thrown in, we usually think of the Zambezi river or a lake Kariba expedition.

Shayamoya – Where Eagles Gather

Last week I visited Shayamoya Lodge in northern Zululand and had a superb taste of all of the above.

Shayamoya is a game farm and lodge on a ridge overlooking the Jozini dam and catching the cool breeze that drifts up the slope.  Eagles often hover in that breeze, scanning the slopes below for potential prey.

Rooms are appointed in secluded spots along the ridge and consist of wood and thatch. There is a resident spotted eagle owl called Nandi, who was brought up on the property and chooses to stay, she has been there for the last twelve years and is renowned for bringing gifts of geckos and mice and proudly presenting them to guests who are sleeping with their room doors open to catch the cool breeze.

The drive in the early morning down to the launch site in the back of the lodge’s game viewer vehicle was a treat, with plenty of Nyala, Kudu, Impala and giraffe on hand to keep us entertained.

On the water at Jozini dam

Once we got onto the water our focus was firmly on hunting those elusive, toothy tigers. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of action that we had. The tigers were very active in the early mornings and we had a lot of fun drifting along weed lines and casting lures along them.

The lure that was most productive for us on this trip was a white 5 inch Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad, rigged weedless on a weighted 4/0 Owner Twistlock swimbait hook.  These could be cast into the weeds, grass or any other structure and be twitched out into the open water.  They were also perfect for working along the weed lines, and the tigers couldn’t leave them alone.

The soft plastics got worked over properly by the tigers and we went through a pack a day (there are ten in a packet). It was well worth it though, as it was thoroughly entertaining fishing. Sadly we didn’t land any big tigers, but we caught plenty of smaller ones, and my highlight was a fish of around 2kgs caught on the soft plastic.

Once the sun brightened and the day warmed up somewhat the bite would typically slow down on the lures. Our skipper and fishing guide, Maxwell, would then take us to a spot to drop anchor and we would spend a couple of hours fishing with live bait or sardine fillets. This proved to be a lively and productive method of fishing and we caught a number of tigers and catfish during the hotter hours of the mornings.

While we didn’t catch any trophy tigers, they swim in those waters. A friend of mine got a ten-pounder on fly during December on Jozini and his wife caught a twelve-pounder on fly some time ago. Judging by the numbers of small fish, there must be quite a few of the big ones around.

We were entertained by fish eagles and ospreys hunting fish in the dam, and some amazing views of herds of elephant coming down to the water’s edge to drink and bathe. We saw Rhinos every day as well, not something that I normally associate with tiger fishing.

I was very happy to spot a pallid harrier hunting over some swampy grass nearby, a great sighting and a lifer for me. It was brought to my attention by the alarm calls of a pair of wattled plovers, which must have had a nest nearby.

Coming back to the lodge for a delicious lunch and a relaxing beverage on the main deck, with the eagle’s view over the dam, was always a pleasure, as it got very hot during the midday hours.

A swim in the lodge pool, or a quick nap and then we would be back to the dam to enjoy an afternoon session of fishing and game viewing.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to have the opportunity to have this experience right here in South Africa. With the costs of flights and international travel these days it is great to be able to drive yourself to a lodge that offers the experience in our backyard. It is the ideal destination for a father and son trip or a family trip with some bush and fishing on the cards.

A herd of elephants on the water’s edge

The lodge and game farm was developed by Brian Blevin and his family and like many owner-run operations, it is plain to see the effort and love that has been put into the lodge and the grounds and gardens surrounding it. The farm was successfully claimed by the Ntshangase community, and the Blevins were paid out by the South African government. They now have an agreement with the community whereby the Blevins continues to run the Lodge, leasing it from the community. It is a win-win situation and it is really good to see a project of this nature working successfully.

Tiger Blues and Jackpots

Tigerfish are fairly easy to catch, aren’t they…? Television programs and viral videos always paint the picture of Tigerfish feeding constantly, aggressive and hungry all the time and eating anything and everything that dares cross their path. This is what I used to think until I got my first taste of the “Tiger Blues”

So the truth is, tigers don’t feed constantly and they don’t eat anything and everything that crosses their path, in fact, most of the time they are fickle little bastards who would rather just chill in their little hole than eat any of your synthetic manmade offerings.

Tigerfish have a habit of “switching on” and “switching off”. Like most predatory fish they won’t constantly feed and hunt but rather conserve their energy and wait for the most opportune moment where the conditions are right and they can get the most out of the feeding period. This is not to say that a Tigerfish will not react to an easy meal swimming past at any given time of the day, but trust me when I say, you will know the difference between an active feeding period and a lazy period.

Kasinga Rapids on the Mnyera River

Sometimes the smallest change in weather or river conditions can be the trigger for Tigers to start eating, the trick is, it’s hard to be in the right place at the exact right time to capitalize on the frenzy. The best advice I have ever been given on Tigerfish is to just keep casting even when you aren’t getting as much as a nibble, just keep hitting your targets, at some point something will eat.

On a recent filming trip for the WildFly Fishing Series to Tanzania with Kilombero North Safaris, I came down with one of the worst cases of “Tiger Blues”. Guys who have fished for Tigers when it’s really tough will know what I’m talking about here. I had spent the whole day casting on the Mnyera river not having landed a single fish. Bites were few and far between and the ones that did eat the fly I managed to screw-up with a perfectly executed trout strike. I was a broken man, drained both physically and mentally.

Coming down with a bad case of Tiger Blues

Craig Thomassen who was with me on this particular trip could see the agony on my face and quickly intervened with a well-timed “Tommo talk”. He told me to think of it as a slot machine at a casino and I’m playing with an endless amount of coins. Every cast is a coin into the machine and the only time I don’t have a chance of winning is when I stop inserting coins, and at some point, you are going to hit a jackpot.

The African sun was calling last rounds on the Mnyera and still, I was fishless. My guide Johan Du Preez from Tourette Fishing was trying his best to keep me motivated literally squeezing out the last couple of casts I had in me. He set me up to fish towards a large piece of timber in a deep channel, it was nothing special in terms of structure, in fact, the Mnyera is littered with identical targets all over the place, but I placed my bets and made the cast as tight as possible into the structure. The result of that one cast late in the day yielded the biggest Tigerfish I have ever landed in my life, weighing in at a whopping 22 pounds, I had undoubtedly hit the jackpot.

The Jackpot, a 22lb Tanzanian Tigerfish

The rest of the trip we managed to get a few good double figure tigers, the ones the Mnyera is renowned for, but nothing came close to the one that I caught on that day, one fish for the whole day on the very last cast and she will be the one I remember for the rest of my life.

Return To Zambezi

The Zambezi River… known for its natural beauty breathtaking sunsets and a certain piscatory canine that inhabits its darkest corners. Anglers with rods of varying kinds annually flock to these waters all in search of one fish, a trophy Tigerfish.

Over the last two years, I have developed a love-hate relationship with big Tigerfish. When they sit on the bottom of a river with a toothy grin, barely moving and ignoring every last one of my flies, flies that took a lot of time and effort to prepare, I hate them. When they decide to have a taste of the hair and feathers pulled past their stuck up faces, only to spit it out a second later in a disrespectful “get that out of here” aerial display, I hate them.

But when stars align and they oblige by attacking those very same flies with vigour and intent and somehow you manage to keep them hooked until safely in the net. Then I love them more than anything else on earth.

On my very first visit to the Zambezi, there wasn’t a lot of love going around. For some reason the fishing was tough, but it wasn’t all the fishes fault, there was a lot of angler error that stemmed from frustration and impatience. When I got an invite to go back to the Zambezi for the second time, preparations started early and a lot of it was mental preparation.

I have been fortunate enough to fish for Tigers in a few different bodies of water, mostly smaller rivers with fast flowing currents and rapids but in the Zambezi, it’s a slightly different ball game. You only get a few chances at a big fish and you have to make those chances count. That means your knots need to be perfect on every tie up, you need to focus and be ready for the take, and whatever you do don’t trout strike!

All this is hard to put into practice when the chaos of Tiger fishing erupts. Possibly the hardest thing on earth is to keep your calm when a big angry dinosaur is jumping around trying to pull your rod from your hands, but if a trophy is what you are after, patience and composure is what you would need to conquer the beast.

So with my new found outlook on the Zambezi and its Tigers, I touched down with Airlink at Kasane airport ready to redeem myself. We were based at the beautiful Kaza Safari Lodge on Impalila island where Brett Macdonald’s team looked after our every need for the next 5 days. Trust me it’s not easy accommodating a film crew but the guys and girls at Kaza did a splendid job of hosting us. As fast as we could unpack and set up our gear we were out on the water and casting flies into the mighty African river. It’s always good to settle the early adrenaline and nerves with a few smaller fish in preparation for the big one and that is exactly what we did on day 1 and 2 of the hunt. We bagged a few fish ranging from two to four pounds and a few feisty six to eight pounders that put a good stretch in the line.

I started to feel a lot more confident and so, on the 3rd day, we decided to make the run up to Golden Pond, an area renowned for double-figure Tigers. We reached the pond after a cold hour and a half run from the lodge. It was “go” time and I immediately settled into a rhythm, a slow and steady retrieve keeping contact so when anything decided to eat I would be ready to tighten up and make sure the fish is hooked properly. Employing this technique yielded fewer bites but I was sure when something should eat, it would be a good fish.

The morning didn’t deliver much action but I maintained my confidence that I would get a good bite if I persevered. My patience soon paid off as we drifted into a strong reverse current created by a small channel draining into the main channel of the river. Birds were flocking to the area and everything about it looked fishy. A slow and steady retrieve, I started working the area and soon figured out the flow and how to get my fly down to where the currents converged. It didn’t take long for a bite and I was on with my first double-figure Zambezi Tiger, a beautiful fish of about 12 pounds. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to start the trip back to the lodge before it got dark.

The next day we headed straight back to the spot and with the same tactics hooked four fish and landed two, all over 10 pounds, the biggest weighing in at 14 pounds. It turned into one of my most memorable trips, not so much for the fish I caught but for implementing a plan and it paying off in the end.

The Zambezi remains one of my favourite fishing destinations, it’s one of the few freshwater destinations on earth where your chances of landing a ten-pound fish on fly are very good, and doing it in some of the most beautiful scenery around is the added bonus. By no means have I cracked the code on those monster Zambezi Tigers, I haven’t even scratched the surface but if there is one piece of advice I can offer to the excited angler stepping on to its shores for the first time… slow things down, be patient, focus, and be deliberate at what you are doing and you will be rewarded handsomely.

There is arguably only one place in the world where the boundaries of four countries meet. 

This “quadripoint” includes Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe and occurs at the confluence of the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers.

This would then potentially make it possible, for example, to catch a Tiger fish in four countries in one afternoon without getting off the boat.

Anyone keen to give that a go?

Of course wherever boundaries occur in rivers there is the potential for conflict. 

On the Botswana side of the river lies the Chobe National Park teeming with game of every description. There is no fencing to stop these animals moving freely through the rivers and onto the islands between countries. Although the game is not hampered or exploited within view of the various tourism establishments in this area, should they cross into Zambia their visit may well be short lived. But it seems they have worked this out themselves if the barren cattle lined banks of that country are any indication.

Impalila Island, just a stone’s throw from Kasane (Botswana) “belongs” to Namibia and is the ideal base from which to fish this area. It’s less built up and touristy than Kasane itself, with only three luxury lodges perched far apart on this large piece of land.

 

Ichingo Chobe River Lodge is nestled there among huge shady trees overlooking fast flowing rapids which are not easy to navigate or set nets in and thus tend to produce larger specimens of Tiger fish year round, as well quiet solitude. 

The Lodge was the brainchild and home of the late Ralph Oxenham who was legendary in these parts, as much for his tenacity and acerbic wit, as for his love of fishing. The guides too are passionate about the area as a whole, but have an inherited affinity with those in search of fish. Be that as it may, this is a destination where a non- fishing family could happily spend a few days of idyllic holiday. Picnics on the island sand, game walks, drives and cruises, day visits to Victoria Falls, or simply lolling by the sparkling pool are all options, handled by the management and staff professionally and with a smile. The accommodation is in large comfortable en suite safari tents with mosquito nets, air-conditioning and overhead fans. 

The western boundary of the island is called the Kasai Channel, a large body of water which joins the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and is home to an annual mini Barbel Run, normally in late June or July. At this time of year large schools of these remarkable catfish move into the channel and feed on smaller baitfish, often chasing them from the shallows into slightly deeper water where the voracious Tigers are waiting to snap them up. Flocks of noisy water birds move with the feeding fish, settling briefly on the overhanging papyrus and pouncing on any left -over morsels, and are therefore a good indication of where to cast a line for the hungry Tigers.

But fishing is only one aspect of interest here. As mentioned, the Chobe National Park is a pleasant afternoon sundowner cruise from Impalila and there is something particularly splendid about drifting within meters of drinking herds of Elephant and Buffalo, or a family of frolicking Baboons on an outing. The animals seem less threatened by waterborne humans than those in smoky Land Cruisers. Pods of Hippo grunt and giggle while the stealthy Crocodiles eye one hungrily from their watery world. 

Chobe itself could not be described as a remote African experience, there are simply too many tourists in this area for that. Given that the glorious Victoria Falls are only an hour’s drive downriver, this is not surprising. However, its easy accessibility both by road and air mean that it is a reasonably priced option for visiting and fishing the Zambezi conveniently and in comfort.

In fact, using Airlinks daily direct flight from Jhb to Kasane can have you from the morning traffic in Sandton to your first cast after lunch.

So what are you waiting for?

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