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Thread: Tigers on fly in the Caprivi/Zambezi: the things I learnt.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2014
    Johannesburg, Gauteng

    Default Tigers on fly in the Caprivi/Zambezi: the things I learnt.

    Hi everyone

    I have only ever fished for trout on fly, albeit quite a lot. I got an invite from a mate in January to join them on a trip to Sekoma on the Zambezi for 4 days which I couldn't say no to. I got back yesterday and learnt some pretty handy things that I would like to share with anyone else keen on trying to catch tigers on fly for the first time...


    1. Tigers are MENTAL fish. The fight is like nothing I have ever felt on a fly rod. I have caught tigers before on spinning rods. But a 6lb tiger on a 9-weight fly rod makes an 8lb rainbow trout on a 5-weight feel like the trout is having a nap. I learnt pretty quickly that while I always feel in control of a trout fight, your are NEVER in control of a tiger. You just hold on for dear life and pray it doesn't come off. One such 6lb fish took my fly one morning, swam aggressively down river with the current, at ease. Just after I started slowing him down he jumped twice sending my panic into overdrive and then turned and began hurtling towards me and the boat... After stripping line at record pace to keep up with him, the little bastard jumped as he got to the boat and spat the fly out as if it was his plan the whole time just to mess with me... I never had control.

    2. Unlearn almost everything you know about trout fishing... Don't strike with the rod or you'll rip the fly out the mouth. If you have the reflexes of a marvel superhero, you may be able to strip strike off the take but only if you're quick enough. Otherwise, before you know it, line is being ripped from your reel at a smoke-inducing rate. Then, do not ever raise the rod. Fight it with the tip as low as you can, NEVER letting the slightest bit of slack in the line. It's not entirely easy to properly hook a fish so you need to be at full concentration all the time. We had about a 10:4 hooking:landing ratio which I can only assume will improve with practise. I personally hooked 6 fish and landed only 2 of them.

    3. Casting a 9 weight rod for 12 hours a day is not for the faint-hearted. Expect tennis elbow and wrist pain. Take anti-inflammatories. Or do cross-fit.

    4. There are a lot of theories about full-moon fishing with the fish feeding at night. This seemed to be the case for us. It was seriously tough to catch a fish. I would suggest planning a trip around the new moon. 8 of us caught 19 fish in 4 days - funny enough mostly between 8:30 and 10. And that included a professional fly fishing guide/mate who caught 9 of them - 7 of which were under 5lbs.

    5. The Kasai is a legendary and beautiful section of river but can be very unfruitful if it's not fished during the barbel run. We aimed to try get it right but it hadn't started by the time we left. Likely it began the minute we boarded the bus. The barbel run is a 3-week window where barbels in their hundreds make their way up the Kasai and bring with them birds, baitfish, crocs and tiger fish. We will hopefully get better timing next year but it's total guess work. Late July/early August the best guess.

    6. Mosi Lager is a delicious beer at any time of the day. Especially 7am.

    7. We mainly found joy with red and black Clousers. If I went back I would take a fly box with Clousers only. Red and black or grey and olive. A few fish took a Whistler but Clousers was their food of choice.

    8. I learnt some new knots, the double uni and the perfection loop which all proved useful. Especially once I realised I was wasting my time with piano wire and started using some of my mates not-so-cheap knottable wire. It makes the fly swim better and is easier to cast. Oh and doesn't kink.

    9. I personally had no joy drifting down along banks. Most of my very short lived joy came from anchoring along a bank where there was a clearly visible seam (where you can actually see the faster water of the main river join the slower water along the bank). Cast out perpendicular to the bank, give the line a big mend upstream and let the line wash downstream while sinking without tension. It begins to pull once it swings to 45 degrees at which point you start concentrating and holding on. As it gets to about 15 degrees start retrieving. Some guys retrieve at lightning speed but I found very slow, long retrieves worked. Give it 5 or so retrieves and then let some line out to let the fly sink again. The fly has to be deep. Very deep. Just deep enough to snag on reeds at the bottom.

    10. I absolutely adored every second of the trip and would do it again in a heartbeat. Catching a tiger on fly is one of the greatest things I have ever done. As I said, tigers are MENTAL fish and catching them on a fly rod is possibly unbeatable.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    North west


    Very nice post Dean, I agree completely with everything you say. Except we fished the kasai during the barbel run last year, and some times the fishing was really really good. Getting a 20lb leader broken off like it doesnt exist by a massive run from a tigerfish is probably one of the highlights for me of any fly fishing I have had. One of the guys that was with us there at the same time started putting on 40lb leaders, and then his hooks started straghtening on big hookups. The stuff of dreams for me!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Western Cape


    Awesome post. Sounds like you have tiger fever.
    I agree with most things, except your strike. Tigers need a good healthy strike with the rod, but for the rest, all good. Theres nothing like the first 15 seconds of a tiger fight.
    Disclaimer.... none of my posts are intended to be "expert advice"..just opinions from someone who is willing to help where he can.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Cape Town


    Have to strongly disagree with the rod strike (unless I am misunderstanding) - the best method for me is what I call the straight stick strike. Grip your fly line with your non stripping hand against the cork of the rod handle and rip the rod backwards as hard as you can as soon as you feel the slightest bump. This works very well for the bream species too. This way you can set the hook so hard you actually feel the line stretch as the hook hits home. I will often do "test strikes" or practice strikes while retrieving to make sure I am ready. It helps to keep your rod arm extended forward to enable a harder backward strike when you get a bite.


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