As we meandered our way down the Zambezi River through the beauty and splendour that is the Lower Zambezi National Park, I could not help but wonder what this round of adventure had in store for our motley crew of fishing rod and camera-wielding travellers. 

Earlier in the day we met up with Rob Kay, owner and operator of Amanzi Zambezi Lodge. With him he carried two sacks. One filled with buttery soft White river avocados, and the other, the perfect complement to a refreshing gin and tonic, a uniquely patterned citrus called “tiger lemon”.  These were the fruits of Rob’s daytime labour. Leave it to a farmer to cultivate produce that shares its name with his favourite pastime. When Rob isn’t farming “tiger lemons”,  he spends his days fishing for Tigerfish from the comfortably equipped boats at Amanzi.

Lower Zambezi is one of my favourite places on earth to visit, I use the word “visit” here because it’s not always my favourite place to fly fish. 
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing more exhilarating than catching Tigerfish under a tequila sky, with elephants grazing in the background, but the truth is, tiger fishing is a tough business. You have to put in the work and build up to those moments, especially if your weapons of choice are feathers and fly line. 

What sets the Lower Zambezi apart from other fishing destinations is the fact that even in “down” periods when fishing is tough, you never feel bored or frustrated. There is always something to enjoy on the lower Zambezi. Whether it is sitting back with a cold Mozi, watching the elephants crossing the river with their young in tow, or the peaceful sounds of an African fish eagle suddenly interrupted by a pack of wild dogs yelping on the river’s edge. There is never a dull moment on this magical stretch of river.

Amanzi Lodge is quite literally the last lodge on the left as you travel downstream of the Lower Zambezi National Park. Tucked away on a narrow channel off the main river, the lodge is a far cry from the usual bustling park accommodations, and gave me a sense of what the area was like before development took place.  The luxury tented camp has everything you would ever need in this beautiful wilderness, and effortlessly blends into its surroundings. To me, this is the closest one can get to a truly authentic African bush experience. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening setting up our tackle and gear, relaxing around the fire and sharing stories of past Zambezi experiences, conquests, and failures alike. Our tales were scored by the sounds of crackling fires, roaring lions, and howling hyenas. Even when she sleeps, the Lower Zambezi still finds a way to entertain her guests.

We were up at first light the following morning, ready to take on the Zambezi and her fanged denizens of the deep, but as we were about to board our boats we were intercepted by Robert, head field guide and arguably the best wildlife spotter this side of the Zambezi. A pack of wild dog were spotted not far from camp, he said. It did not take much to put our fishing plans on hold to catch a glimpse of these amazing and rare wild canines. 

We arrived at the sighting, not a moment too soon as the pack showed interest in a herd of impala a few yards away from them. With some barks and yelps from the mature dogs, the chase was on. African wild dog are some of Africa’s most successful hunters, killing up to 80% of the quarry they pursue, so we knew we were in for a treat. 

The pack’s success comes from working in unison and with pure stamina and endurance, often chasing their prey to the point of exhaustion. A moment later, one of the older dogs returned to where the pups were anxiously waiting, he had some appetizers from a fresh impala kill.

The pups were worked into a frenzy and quickly devoured through the starters to follow Dad to the main course, with us in tow. It was one of the best wildlife sightings I have ever experienced anywhere in the world, and to see the unique social dynamics of these incredible animals was a rare privilege. Eventually, we had to leave the doggos and make our way to the river, we still had a fishing show to film.

The fishing on the Zambezi is unlike anything else I have experienced. The river is vast and the task of catching a Tiger is a daunting one, but exciting at the same time. When hunting Tigers with a fly rod, be prepared to make a lot of casts. And true to form we proceeded to make a lot of casts. It’s not like your casts go unrewarded, young Tigerfish are more than willing to gobble up a red and black clouser even at the worst of times. The true test of patience comes when you target the bigger fish around the drop-offs and channels. 

Now I can attempt to describe a thousand casts, fishing the same area repeatedly and getting the same result, or lack of results rather, but that would be describing the very definition of stupidity, and I’ll leave that for another article. What I can tell you, is that this type of fishing takes mental fortitude and some physical stamina. You must convince yourself that the fish are down there, no matter how many times you have cast in that zone without so much as a nibble. 

There’s a phrase used on the Zambezi by anglers, and you would often hear them speak about “tiger time”. It refers to the hunting and feeding habits of apex predators. When Tigers get to a certain size, they become wiser and more conservative. They cannot afford to waste energy looking for food and chasing down prey all day. They will rather pick the perfect time when conditions are right to hunt and ambush unsuspecting baitfish.

My trophy catch decided to “sleep in” till the very last minute. It was in the final hours of our last day on the river. I had made well over a thousand cast by that time. With aching shoulders and blistered hands, I summoned the last bit of energy I had left to make the final casts count. I pitched my fly into an area I had fished several times during our trip, a steep drop-off on a sand bank occupied by a pod of Hippos. An abrupt jerk on the end of my line woke me from my focused trance.

At first, I thought I had accidentally hooked a one-and-a-half-ton herbivore, but I soon realized that whatever was on the end of my line was moving too fast to be in that weight category. The Tigerfish leapt out of the water, giving myself and my cameraman a glimpse, if it’s not ten pounds it’s very close, I mumbled a bit. 

Eventually, the beast was subdued, and the scale confirmed that it was a  ten-pounder, with not a gram to spare. Our decision to push to the last minute paid off in more ways than one. We were left with what photography types call “golden hour”, the last bit of daylight, perfect for camera lenses. We captured the moment in the best conditions we could ask for, and sent the perfect specimen of a Tigerfish on her way to live and fight another day. 

With another exciting episode wrapped up, our crew celebrated the moment with a beautiful Zambezi sunset. As for my Zambezi experience at Amanzi River Lodge, I would rank it top two all the time, and I’m sure my colleagues and travel partners would share the sentiment. If Tiger fishing the Zambezi is on your bucket list, you won’t regret making the trip to Amanzi River Lodge, the last one on the left.