The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and home to one of the continent’s most sought-after freshwater game fish, the tiger fish. Occasionally referred to as the “striped water dog,” the tiger fish is an extremely aggressive predator with ferocious teeth. I learned first-hand just how aggressive these beauties can get during my visit to Royal Zambezi Lodge for Frontiers International Travel (organized by KAI Associates).
While lounging in a wooden armchair overlooking the Lower Zambezi River, a small group of guests from Australia gathered around the Sausage Tree Bar at Royal Zambezi Lodge. They spent the morning fishing, catching a half a dozen tiger fish ranging between 8 and 14 pounds each. A woman sipping a gin and tonic noticed I was staring at her rainbow tie-dyed jumpsuit with a silhouette of Bob Marley emblazoned across the back and images of a few choice botanicals imprinted on the sleeves. While the outfit seemed comfortable, it was not the typical fishing attire one would expect on the Lower Zambezi.
“I don’t normally dress like this,” she said with a chuckle in my direction. The group has fished at Royal Zambezi Lodge nearly every year since the lodge opened. During one of their visits, a wager materialized. Whoever caught the largest fish of the day would wear the jumpsuit as a trophy on the following day’s outing. The fish that earned her the honor was 12-pounds.
As I gathered my gear the next morning for my own fishing excursion, I noticed the Australian group waving from a boat as they sputtered past my chalet. A gentleman was now wearing the jumpsuit. I returned the wave and wished them luck before leaving to join my traveling companions for breakfast in the main lodge.
It was shortly after 7 am by the time the boat pushed away from the dock at the main lodge. The plan was to spend the morning fishing using conventional tackle with baitfish in the deeper, wider parts of the river. A few of us would fly fish along the river’s edge the next morning. Apparently tiger fish are not early risers. Our guide warned us to not become discouraged if we didn’t see any action before 9 am. The experience level varied among the group and our guide used the extra time to critique and improve our casting accuracy. Sure enough, his prediction was on-point. It wasn’t quite past the 9 o’clock hour when our host, Wazha, was the first to catch a two-pound tiger fish. While relatively small, the fish put up a fight as Wazha brought the beauty in, beaming from ear-to-ear.
I was the next person to experience the sweet taste of victory. Shortly after our guide repositioned the boat further upstream, I made a long cast and steadied myself. Then I felt a tug and a pull as my reel began to spin wildly.
“Let it run,” the guide instructed. “If it wants to run, let it. Then bring in the line as he gets tired.”
The fish pulled hard and then eased up just long enough for me to crank the reel a few turns. Just as the fish could feel me pulling, it would leap into the air before plunging back below the surface. My heart pumped wildly as I eventually drew the seven-pound tiger fish close enough to bring him in with a net. The ebony streaks along the sides resembled wide strokes of paint from a freshly dipped artist’s brush. His fins looked airbrushed like a sunset scene on a t-shirt. Of course, the teeth were a sight on their own. There was no way I would get my fingers near those blades.
Anderson, our fearless traveling pal from Atlanta, also caught a four-pounder (with Wazha’s assistance) before we made our way back to the lodge for lunch. On the way back, we came across a family of elephants splashing and cooling off by the river, a delightful reminder that this was not just any fishing trip. This was Southern Africa! We toasted to each other’s triumphs back at the Sausage Tree Bar and I was secretly grateful to be part of a group that preferred celebratory beer to jumpsuits.