Be careful not to catch an elephant when tiger fishing in Zambia.

Catching tigers in Zambia

During your Zambia safari, set off in a boat from your camp in Lower Zambezi National Park for an afternoon of catch-and-release fishing. Tiger fishing in Zambia offers a thrilling experience on a pristine stretch of river where you’ll be surrounded by hippo, crocodile and incredible birdlife.

The highlight of our Zambia safari was the chance to pit our skill and strength against a small, feisty adversary. Our lodge in Lower Zambezi National Park comprised a series of luxury safari tents set on the banks of the Zambezi River. From our wooden deck, we could watch the animal traffic coming and going. Lunches were sumptuous affairs, after which we’d take a dip in the pool or have a siesta.

On our second day, after high tea, my partner and I were excited to try our hand at tiger fishing. We were pleased to note that this was done on a completely sustainable basis. The killing or netting of fish isn’t permitted in the park; a strict catch-and-release policy applies to all species.

We were introduced to Malimba, our expert river guide. He’d grown up on the Zambezi and had been guiding anglers, novice and expert alike, for more than a decade. We boarded the boat, a sturdy metal craft with a canopy for shade. The lodge had provided all the gear. Malimba loaded up fishing tackle for spinning and lure fishing. I noticed a large assortment of rods, reels, wire leaders and swivels. We weren’t going to be mucking about!

The engine coughed to life and we motored downstream. Just being on the mighty Zambezi (never mind the game viewing) was a fantastic contrast to the dusty hours we’d spent on game-drive vehicles.

As we puttered along, Malimba told us a bit about fishing on the Zambezi. ‘Certainly the tiger fish is the most fun to catch. It’s a relative of the piranha, has large, carnivorous teeth and can grow to 15kg. These fighters are renowned for their strength and spectacular leaps out of the water when struggling on the end of a line.’

I noticed a fish eagle, sitting regally on the branch of a leadwood, watching us pass. Just then, a herd of elephant emerged from the trees and rushed towards the water. Soon they were drinking and playing in the shallows, the babies rolling about in the mud. Much more sinister where the enormous crocodile basking on the banks. If we got too near, there’d be an almighty flick of their tails and they’d splash into the stream.

Malimba switched off the engine and let us drift. It was time to prepare our rods. ‘Fishing is pretty good all year round,’ he said. ‘However the hot, spring months from September to November are the best time to catch tigers. This is the breeding season when the fish are active, feeding more regularly. The water level is also lower and the visibility at its best.’

He told us that spinning for tiger fish requires a medium-action rod of around 2,5m. My reel was of a good quality, baitcaster type. The line was quality monofilament with a 7kg breaking strain.

‘On the Zambezi, successful flies are generally of the heavily dressed clousers or deceiver type,’ said Malimba. ‘Colour combinations that work well are white and blue or white and silver. But for late afternoons, like now, we use black and red.’

He explained further that no cut bait is permitted, only artificial lures, and only one, debarbed hook per line is allowed. ‘These measures have been scientifically proven to reduce the stress and mortality in catch-and-release fishing. This part of the river is the most protected stretch and thus offers the best sport-angling opportunities.’

Malimba positioned the boat to help us get the right cast and cracked open a couple of beers to lubricate matters. We began casting, inexpertly at first, but slowly my partner and I got the hang of it. We cast slightly upstream, letting the lure sink to about 2m. After an erratic, jigging action, we retrieved the lure as the current brought it level with the boat.

We often got a strike on the pick-up and immediately gave a sharp snap of the wrist, just as Malimba had taught us. But the fish only stayed hooked for a few seconds before escaping. This went on for an hour or so. Alas, it was time to return to camp.

Suddenly, a decent hit! The tiger tore the line off my spool with a short, intensive run before leaping into the air, shaking its head. I kept my rod tip down and my fingers crossed.

‘Don’t allow any slack line!’ shouted Malimba. ‘And don’t stop working until the fish is in the boat!’

At first, the tiger was a terrific fighter, but didn’t have much stamina. Malimba secured the fish at the boat’s side, while watching out for crocs. He revived the tiger before lifting it out briefly for me to photograph.

I held the beautiful-ugly creature in my hands. The body had long horizontal stripes and the fins were red tipped. Its razor-sharp, interlocking teeth looked quite terrifying. Then I released the tiger back into the stream. With one flick of the tail, it had disappeared.

Malimba started the engine and we motored back to camp, where a fire was waiting and the stories of my famous fight and terrific catch would grow taller with each minute that passed. What a day!

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