Tiger fishing the Zambezi with the fly....on the Caprivi Strip, Namibia

firehuntfish

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I was able to fulfill two items on the ole'bucket list during this most recent African safari. The first was to hunt a Cape buffalo with bow & arrow. The second was to fly fish the Zambezi river for tigerfish. To be honest, going in, I really couldn't decide which adventure I was looking more forward to on this trip. I'm glad I was able to accomplish both. They were both fantastic experiences in their own right.

On my second trip to Africa (my first with Limcroma), I was assigned a PH by the name of Kobus Erasmus. Kobus is one of those unique individuals that you immediately take a liking to... He was extremely professional and knowledgeable, yet soft-spoken and as affable of a gentleman as you would ever want to meet. We hit it off right away.... Suffice to say, we have since enjoyed many adventures together in our subsequent visits to Africa. Early in our friendship, I learned that Kobus was a passionate fisherman much like myself. Although he loved hunting and being a PH, in his off-time he would be on the water every chance he got. Kobus has fished competitively and successfully throughout Africa. He is a veteran tournament angler and frequent money winner in the various competitions that he fishes. We had a lot in common on that front...

Over the years, we would always speak of making plans to go fishing during one of our African visits. In planning this last trip, I was sure to make this become a reality. Two years ago, my friend left Limcroma amicably to pursue his passion of fishing and began an outfitting business featuring the fantastic fishing opportunities that Africa has to offer. He now had his own outfitting business on the Zambezi. How could I resist??

Offtrail Safaris is a family run operation with all three of Kobus' sons participating in the business to some extent. The lodge is located on the banks of the Zambezi just down river from the tiny town of Katima Mulilo, Namibia smack in the heart of the Caprivi strip. The best way to reach the lodge is to fly into the town of Kasane, Botswana which is an inexpensive short flight from Jo'burg. Kobus will meet & greet you at the airport for the 90 minute drive to the lodge. The drive up takes you directly through Chobe National Park in Botswana. There is an excellent chance to view wildlife including the Big 5, and Botswana's impressive elephant population.

Pictured below is from the deck & bar of the lodge. This was our first of several beautiful sunsets on the Zambezi.
IMG_1531.JPG


Most of the fishing is done with lures and natural bait. If you want bait, you have run the Zambia side of the river each morning to look for the dugout canoes and the netters selling the bait. The locals were telling us that poaching is unfortunately a big problem on the river. More so on the Zambia side where the government doesn't have the same appreciation of the river's value as the Namibians do. The Namibian game wardens destroy several illegal nets each night, and yet they are back again the very next evening. They kill everything form juvenile baitfish to large breams and tigerfish.

IMG_1560.JPG


This is one of the preferred baitfish for tigers and barbel catfish. Nobody knew the real name. Locally, they call it a "bulldog". They fish them dead on the bottom with a small weight, a short piece of cable leader and a long shank hook. The most popular rod and reel is a spinner or bait caster with 8-10kg. monofilament.

IMG_1561.JPG


This is a typical example of one of the lodge boats used for fishing. The boats are on average 15-17' fiberglass skiffs with 60hp Yamaha outboards. They are basic, but clean, functional, and reliable. They comfortably fish 2 guests. Pictured is one of the lodge boats buying bulldogs for the day's fishing.

IMG_1578.JPG


So, the goal for this trip was to catch at least one tiger on a fly rod.... I brought my own rods from home as Kobus informed me he was not a fly fishing guide per se. He encouraged me to bring the fly rod, but I don't think he knew what results to expect. I had no idea what to expect other than that I knew that it could be done from the few tigerfishing videos I had seen on YouTube. The University of YouTube is where I do most of my research... ;)

What followed was a pleasant, yet unexpected surprise to us both. Kobus had taken me to a section of the river which had proven to be proven tiger area in the past. On the second cast, I don't think I made 2 strips of the streamer when I had a crashing strike that nearly pulled the rod from my hand! I came tight to the fish, and it immediately took to the air cart-wheeling and politely sending the fly back to me. I was disappointed in losing my fist tiger ever, but also happy that I actually got a bite so soon. That first morning was much more of the same. I got some great action from all of the spots where we expected the fish to be. All in all, I think we had a dozen bites, jumping off several tigers and landing 3. However, the last fish made the morning. Here is me and Kobus with my first good tigerfish on the mighty Zambezi!

IMG_1538.JPG


These teeth are impressive.... I think a barracuda and a striped bass had a love child.

IMG_1537.JPG


In the four days that we fished, the weather was perfect. Cool mornings and warm, pleasant afternoons with blue-bird skies. The river was high and still what they considered flood stage. At the start of the trip, Kobus and the other guides were concerned that the fish may be scattered and difficult to target. Luckily, the high water didn't seem to be a factor for us. We had good to incredible action each session of the day. Morning was just as consistent as the afternoon. I would say that I got 20-30 bites a day from tigers of all sizes. I would get 5-10 bites from really good fish, and maybe land half of those...? Up until this trip, I thought a tarpon was the hardest fish to hook, but a tigerfish beats them by a mile. I would bend the rod solid on these fish and they would scream off peeling line and get airborne almost immediately. Lots of them jump off. If you can survive the first jump, you have a pretty good shot of landing them.

Here are a few typical "school size' tigers. There are plenty this size to keep you entertained and sharp until the big boy smashes your fly.

IMG_1567.JPG
IMG_1581.JPG


Although the water level in the river was dropping considerably each day, this part of the Caprivi had an very wet Fall. The river was exceptionally high for early May. The typical multitudes of hippos, crocs, and other wildlife that is usually a common sight along the banks and bars were few and far between with the high water. Still, everywhere there was a newly exposed sand bank, one of these bad boys would be out getting a tan. As awesome as the Zambezi is to visit, I wouldn't regard it as great option for water sports.

IMG_1577.JPG
IMG_1575.JPG


At the end of the first day of fishing, we returned to the lodge's outdoor bar for a sundowner and the usual exchange of fishing stories with the other guests. Apparently, we were the only ones who enjoyed any consistent success. The other guests didn't believe our catch report until we showed them the photos from our phones and my camera. One or two boats got a bite or two on "bulldogs" landing a couple of average size tigers, but nobody had the number of bites nor the size of fish that I had on the fly. Throughout the day, I encouraged Kobus to pick up his bait caster and get in on the action. He was reluctant to fish too much as he felt it was his duty to be "guiding" me. Still, I convinced him to fish when the drift was perfect and the area was on fire. He landed one respectable tiger on a Rapala crank bait, but had no other bites beyond that. There was definitely something that they seemed to like with the fly.

On the second day, I handed myself over to one of the veteran lodge guides by the name of Hendricks. I wanted Kobus to spend some time fishing with his sons. I also wanted him to try and shadow us in hopes of getting some good marketing video in the event that the first day's success was not a fluke of luck.... It wasn't... I haven't seen the video yet. I hope it turns out good.

Hendricks, a native Namibian who grew up on the Zambezi, was memorized with the fly rod. At first he was very skeptical, but I started smashing fish out of the gate, and he quickly became a believer.... What impressed me was how quickly he picked up on boat position and the casting angle I needed. He did a great job in keeping the boat positioned perfectly for me. I made an expert fly guide out of him in no time.

The only thing I had to teach him was to keep the good fishing a secret in the future. Apparently, he told a few of his guide buddies that we were into fish, and the next day we had a dozen guide boats from 3 different lodges up river fishing all around us. We were still stroking fish on the fly and these other guys would float the same exact stretch without a bite. Some of them just quit fishing and floated just outside of us to watch. Their clients would clap and cheer when we landed a fish. It was pretty crazy, but definitely a lot of fun.

Each evening, we would return to the dock with a small crowd of both guests and lodge staff at the bar waiting to hear how our day fared. There had been other fly fishing guests come through here before, but none of them enjoyed anywhere near the same level of success we were having. I had tied a bunch of different patterns for this trip (all based of of the U of Y research), and all were working well for the most part. Any of my larger streamers in clouser and deceiver patterns were tearing it up. So, it wan't the fly itself. I really believe it was the presentation that was the key to motivating these fish. The downside to fly fishing for tigers is that you go through a LOT of flies.... Their teeth destroy them. It was almost a 1-2 fish per fly ratio. I'm glad that I tied 3 or 4 dozen. I went through nearly all of them.

Here's me and my new buddy Hendricks with his first tiger guided via the fly rod.

IMG_1586.JPG


Lisa could care less about fishing... She liked the boat and the sun, but would rather drink wine or shop than fish... Although once or twice, Kobus convinced her to pick up a rod when the bite was hot. She did manage one for the trip. That's okay... More for the rest of us.

IMG_1562.JPG


I will wrap it up with a few of the best ones from the trip...

IMG_1593.JPG


IMG_1536.JPG


IMG_1595.JPG


IMG_1601.JPG


If you are planning on hunting anywhere near this area of the Caprivi, I highly recommend spending a few extra days and take advantage of this incredible fishery. Even if you are not going to the Caprivi to hunt, this is a very easy destination to reach from any major airport in southern Africa. Trips can be as short as 4 days and as long as you wish. I would think at least 4 days for any serious fisherman. You also have the option to take a day off from fishing and plan a game drive into Chobe National Park.

The lodging is clean, and comfortable with a genuine African theme. The outside tiki bar and dining area is only feet from the river. There is always a fire going in the pit each night. The food is outstanding and the beers at the bar are cold! It is a casual, fun relaxed atmosphere. Both the Namibian and Botswanan people are warm and welcoming. We felt very safe traveling through.

My buddy Kobus is an excellent guide and an ever better host. He will stop at nothing to ensure that you have the trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi. Please feel free to send me a PM if you would like more details or if you want me to put you in touch with Kobus and Offtrail Safaris. I will leave you with a sunset of the river...

IMG_1609.JPG
 
Last edited:

adgunner

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Some nice tiger fish, thanks for sharing. I have had the chance to fish the Zambezi for tiger fish, but not with a fly rod ... something new for the bucket-list!
 

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Looks like a lot of fun.
Nothing like success to prove the point.
Thanks..
 

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Awesome Dan, nothing like fulfilling a dream. Forrest
 

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Thank you for sharing the pictures and the great report. Sounds like you very much enjoyed yourself.
 

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That sounded like a great trip! Tiger fish are on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!
 

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Were the fly rods and reels furnished by the outfitter, or did you take your own?
 

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Great story! I would love to catch one of those on a fly rod. Out of curiosity, is it possible to have one mounted and brought home?
 

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I was able to fulfill two items on the ole'bucket list during this most recent African safari. The first was to hunt a Cape buffalo with bow & arrow. The second was to fly fish the Zambezi river for tigerfish. To be honest, going in, I really couldn't decide which adventure I was looking more forward to on this trip. I'm glad I was able to accomplish both. They were both fantastic experiences in their own right.

On my second trip to Africa (my first with Limcroma), I was assigned a PH by the name of Kobus Erasmus. Kobus is one of those unique individuals that you immediately take a liking to... He was extremely professional and knowledgeable, yet soft-spoken and as affable of a gentleman as you would ever want to meet. We hit it off right away.... Suffice to say, we have since enjoyed many adventures together in our subsequent visits to Africa. Early in our friendship, I learned that Kobus was a passionate fisherman much like myself. Although he loved hunting and being a PH, in his off-time he would be on the water every chance he got. Kobus has fished competitively and successfully throughout Africa. He is a veteran tournament angler and frequent money winner in the various competitions that he fishes. We had a lot in common on that front...

Over the years, we would always speak of making plans to go fishing during one of our African visits. In planning this last trip, I was sure to make this become a reality. Two years ago, my friend left Limcroma amicably to pursue his passion of fishing and began an outfitting business featuring the fantastic fishing opportunities that Africa has to offer. He now had his own outfitting business on the Zambezi. How could I resist??

Offtrail Safaris is a family run operation with all three of Kobus' sons participating in the business to some extent. The lodge is located on the banks of the Zambezi just down river from the tiny town of Katima Mulilo, Namibia smack in the heart of the Caprivi strip. The best way to reach the lodge is to fly into the town of Kasane, Botswana which is an inexpensive short flight from Jo'burg. Kobus will meet & greet you at the airport for the 90 minute drive to the lodge. The drive up takes you directly through Chobe National Park in Botswana. There is an excellent chance to view wildlife including the Big 5, and Botswana's impressive elephant population.

Pictured below is from the deck & bar of the lodge. This was our first of several beautiful sunsets on the Zambezi.
View attachment 185620

Most of the fishing is done with lures and natural bait. If you want bait, you have run the Zambia side of the river each morning to look for the dugout canoes and the netters selling the bait. The locals were telling us that poaching is unfortunately a big problem on the river. More so on the Zambia side where the government doesn't have the same appreciation of the river's value as the Namibians do. The Namibian game wardens destroy several illegal nets each night, and yet they are back again the very next evening. They kill everything form juvenile baitfish to large breams and tigerfish.

View attachment 185621

This is one of the preferred baitfish for tigers and barbel catfish. Nobody knew the real name. Locally, they call it a "bulldog". They fish them dead on the bottom with a small weight, a short piece of cable leader and a long shank hook. The most popular rod and reel is a spinner or bait caster with 8-10kg. monofilament.

View attachment 185622

This is a typical example of one of the lodge boats used for fishing. The boats are on average 15-17' fiberglass skiffs with 60hp Yamaha outboards. They are basic, but clean, functional, and reliable. They comfortably fish 2 guests. Pictured is one of the lodge boats buying bulldogs for the day's fishing.

View attachment 185624

So, the goal for this trip was to catch at least one tiger on a fly rod.... I brought my own rods from home as Kobus informed me he was not a fly fishing guide per se. He encouraged me to bring the fly rod, but I don't think he knew what results to expect. I had no idea what to expect other than that I knew that it could be done from the few tigerfishing videos I had seen on YouTube. The University of YouTube is where I do most of my research... ;)

What followed was a pleasant, yet unexpected surprise to us both. Kobus had taken me to a section of the river which had proven to be proven tiger area in the past. On the second cast, I don't think I made 2 strips of the streamer when I had a crashing strike that nearly pulled the rod from my hand! I came tight to the fish, and it immediately took to the air cart-wheeling and politely sending the fly back to me. I was disappointed in losing my fist tiger ever, but also happy that I actually got a bite so soon. That first morning was much more of the same. I got some great action from all of the spots where we expected the fish to be. All in all, I think we had a dozen bites, jumping off several tigers and landing 3. However, the last fish made the morning. Here is me and Kobus with my first good tigerfish on the mighty Zambezi!

View attachment 185625

These teeth are impressive.... I think a barracuda and a striped bass had a love child.

View attachment 185626

In the four days that we fished, the weather was perfect. Cool mornings and warm, pleasant afternoons with blue-bird skies. The river was high and still what they considered flood stage. At the start of the trip, Kobus and the other guides were concerned that the fish may be scattered and difficult to target. Luckily, the high water didn't seem to be a factor for us. We had good to incredible action each session of the day. Morning was just as consistent as the afternoon. I would say that I got 20-30 bites a day from tigers of all sizes. I would get 5-10 bites from really good fish, and maybe land half of those...? Up until this trip, I thought a tarpon was the hardest fish to hook, but a tigerfish beats them by a mile. I would bend the rod solid on these fish and they would scream off peeling line and get airborne almost immediately. Lots of them jump off. If you can survive the first jump, you have a pretty good shot of landing them.

Here are a few typical "school size' tigers. There are plenty this size to keep you entertained and sharp until the big boy smashes your fly.

View attachment 185628 View attachment 185629

Although the water level in the river was dropping considerably each day, this part of the Caprivi had an very wet Fall. The river was exceptionally high for early May. The typical multitudes of hippos, crocs, and other wildlife that is usually a common sight along the banks and bars were few and far between with the high water. Still, everywhere there was a newly exposed sand bank, one of these bad boys would be out getting a tan. As awesome as the Zambezi is to visit, I wouldn't regard it as great option for water sports.

View attachment 185630 View attachment 185631

At the end of the first day of fishing, we returned to the lodge's outdoor bar for a sundowner and the usual exchange of fishing stories with the other guests. Apparently, we were the only ones who enjoyed any consistent success. The other guests didn't believe our catch report until we showed them the photos from our phones and my camera. One or two boats got a bite or two on "bulldogs" landing a couple of average size tigers, but nobody had the number of bites nor the size of fish that I had on the fly. Throughout the day, I encouraged Kobus to pick up his bait caster and get in on the action. He was reluctant to fish too much as he felt it was his duty to be "guiding" me. Still, I convinced him to fish when the drift was perfect and the area was on fire. He landed one respectable tiger on a Rapala crank bait, but had no other bites beyond that. There was definitely something that they seemed to like with the fly.

On the second day, I handed myself over to one of the veteran lodge guides by the name of Hendricks. I wanted Kobus to spend some time fishing with his sons. I also wanted him to try and shadow us in hopes of getting some good marketing video in the event that the first day's success was not a fluke of luck.... It wasn't... I haven't seen the video yet. I hope it turns out good.

Hendricks, a native Namibian who grew up on the Zambezi, was memorized with the fly rod. At first he was very skeptical, but I started smashing fish out of the gate, and he quickly became a believer.... What impressed me was how quickly he picked up on boat position and the casting angle I needed. He did a great job in keeping the boat positioned perfectly for me. I made an expert fly guide out of him in no time.

The only thing I had to teach him was to keep the good fishing a secret in the future. Apparently, he told a few of his guide buddies that we were into fish, and the next day we had a dozen guide boats from 3 different lodges up river fishing all around us. We were still stroking fish on the fly and these other guys would float the same exact stretch without a bite. Some of them just quit fishing and floated just outside of us to watch. Their clients would clap and cheer when we landed a fish. It was pretty crazy, but definitely a lot of fun.

Each evening, we would return to the dock with a small crowd of both guests and lodge staff at the bar waiting to hear how our day fared. There had been other fly fishing guests come through here before, but none of them enjoyed anywhere near the same level of success we were having. I had tied a bunch of different patterns for this trip (all based of of the U of Y research), and all were working well for the most part. Any of my larger streamers in clouser and deceiver patterns were tearing it up. So, it wan't the fly itself. I really believe it was the presentation that was the key to motivating these fish. The downside to fly fishing for tigers is that you go through a LOT of flies.... Their teeth destroy them. It was almost a 1-2 fish per fly ratio. I'm glad that I tied 3 or 4 dozen. I went through nearly all of them.

Here's me and my new buddy Hendricks with his first tiger guided via the fly rod.

View attachment 185633

Lisa could care less about fishing... She liked the boat and the sun, but would rather drink wine or shop than fish... Although once or twice, Kobus convinced her to pick up a rod when the bite was hot. She did manage one for the trip. That's okay... More for the rest of us.

View attachment 185634

I will wrap it up with a few of the best ones from the trip...

View attachment 185635

View attachment 185636

View attachment 185637

View attachment 185638

If you are planning on hunting anywhere near this area of the Caprivi, I highly recommend spending a few extra days and take advantage of this incredible fishery. Even if you are not going to the Caprivi to hunt, this is a very easy destination to reach from any major airport in southern Africa. Trips can be as short as 4 days and as long as you wish. I would think at least 4 days for any serious fisherman. You also have the option to take a day off from fishing and plan a game drive into Chobe National Park.

The lodging is clean, and comfortable with a genuine African theme. The outside tiki bar and dining area is only feet from the river. There is always a fire going in the pit each night. The food is outstanding and the beers at the bar are cold! It is a casual, fun relaxed atmosphere. Both the Namibian and Botswanan people are warm and welcoming. We felt very safe traveling through.

My buddy Kobus is an excellent guide and an ever better host. He will stop at nothing to ensure that you have the trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi. Please feel free to send me a PM if you would like more details or if you want me to put you in touch with Kobus and Offtrail Safaris. I will leave you with a sunset of the river...

View attachment 185639

An excellent story and thanks for sharing. Are tiger fish any good to eat?
They sure look fierce and I guess when they are landed that the fisher has to be mighty careful with those teeth slashing around.
 

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Are you planning on taking that fly rod to the Congo for the Goliath Tigers?

Tigerfish-and-Angler-Jeremy-Wade.jpg
 

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Were the fly rods and reels furnished by the outfitter, or did you take your own?

I brought my own for this trip. The guides are willing and able to accommodate fly fishing, but they don't have the fly tackle yet.
 

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Great story! I would love to catch one of those on a fly rod. Out of curiosity, is it possible to have one mounted and brought home?

Absolutely... There are several African taxidermists that do fish as well. I saw some beautiful tiger mounts while I was there. I also know that Gray Taxidermy here in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl does fish species from all over the world as replica mounts. You don't need the actual fish... Just the measurements and a photo.
 

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An excellent story and thanks for sharing. Are tiger fish any good to eat?
They sure look fierce and I guess when they are landed that the fisher has to be mighty careful with those teeth slashing around.
emoji83.png

Dr. Ray,
They are good to eat from what I was told, but the lodge and guides where I fished practice catch & release on all tigers. They keep catfish and the bream species to eat, but no tigers. The natives net them and do eat them on a regular basis.
 

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Are you planning on taking that fly rod to the Congo for the Goliath Tigers?
emoji41.png

I would love to...! That is an awesome fish! I never even heard of them before. Very cool!
 

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I would love to...! That is an awesome fish! I never even heard of them before. Very cool!
Here's a link to the River Monsters episode, I hope it works.
If not, Google 'River Monsters Goliath Tiger' and you will find it.

 

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I'd have to say that you did better on tigers than probably anyone I have heard of. Looks like a lot of fun. What size hooks on your streamers? What weight of fly rod did you use? Floating or sinking line? Might have to add a couple of days next time I'm over..... Congrats Bruce
 

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Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, USA, South, Central America & New Zealand
I'd have to say that you did better on tigers than probably anyone I have heard of. Looks like a lot of fun. What size hooks on your streamers? What weight of fly rod did you use? Floating or sinking line? Might have to add a couple of days next time I'm over..... Congrats Bruce

Bruce,
The fly was definitely a huge advantage to bait and lures at least on this trip. Maybe it was due to the high water and the pattern that the fish were on. I don't know, but I was not complaining. ;)

I brought 2 rods: 1 8WT with 300 grain fast sink tip, and a 9WT with WF floating line. I got bites from the floating line early and late in the day. I would switch to the sink tip for late morning and early afternoon. I think you could have fished the sink tip the entire time. The fish seemed to like the streamers deep with a fast, erratic strip.

The one thing that I would change would be the hook for the flies. I used 2/0 and 3/0 3X hooks for most of the streamers tied in 3-4" lengths. I think I may have had a better hook up ratio with a bigger hook. Possibly a 5/0 or 6/0 short shank, black stainless style that we use down here for tarpon flies. A bigger gap may have had a better bite angle. I would also have tied more flies with bulky bodies and 5-6" overall lengths. The ones that had the biggest profile seemed to work the best. I went through nearly all of my flies, and the few I had left, I left for the guys down there to copy. I will post some pics of the patterns that worked best here shortly.
 

BWH

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That is supercool!
 

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