Words: Steven J Brown
One of the most memorable experiences, even for first time and inexperienced anglers - when exploring the beautiful Lake Jozini aboard one of the Shayamanzi houseboats, is catching Africa’s legendary and ferocious Tiger Fish.
Lake Jozini is South Africa’s prime spot for catching Tiger Fish with the hot summer months being prime fishing time. Although, there is plenty of fishing to be had during the cooler winter months as well.
As our seasoned fishermen aboard the Shayamanzi will tell you, Jozini’s Tigers live up to their names. Local monikers include the African piranha or even the Striped water dog. Beware the sharp needle-like teeth and spikes on their fins when you finally bring them in after what is usually a bit of a fight.
When fishing for Tigers, its best to know that you will lose quite a few, either during an underwater tussle or during one of their legendary jumps. Many simply take your bait and head for safer waters!
The most important thing to remember is that, because Tiger Fish are indigenous and you are dipping your line in an ecologically sensitive area - on the banks of the beautiful Pongola Game Reserve - we work on a catch, photograph and release system and have many snap shots taken by our proud guests to prove that the big ones don’t always get away!
If you are joining us for a fishing safari, Shayamanzi style, here are some valuable tips ahead of time:
THE BEST TIMES
The best fishing months are September to April. During the hottest summer months in January and February, the fishing is excellent but you should stick to short sessions in the early mornings or late afternoons. From March to May, Tigers are generally fattening up for the winter months, making this a good time to seek them out. You can still expect to find Tigers between June and August, although drops in temperature can put them off the bite for a couple of days.
Our record specimen was caught in 1998 weighing 8,3kg and some in the 5-7kg ranges are still being caught. Average size is still under a kilo and specimens up to 4kg are quite possible. Their cousin is the Goliath tiger, which grow up to 50kg’s in the Congo.
THE BEST SPOTS
Summer rains bring in dirty water in the spring and summer. During this time, the clearest water can be found in the southern tip of Jozini Dam. Winds from the north make the water along the western shore very dirty. The water clears slowly when the wind dies or when the wind changes and blows from a southerly direction. That said, Jozini Tiger Fish don’t mind discoloured water. Remember that it’s difficult for Tigers to hunt in clear water, so they often head for slightly dirty water. Wind creates strong currents in the Jozini Dam. Look for places where fish can escape these. They often hide behind points along the southern shore and in sheltered bays. Although depths are mostly four metres, there are frequent drop offs to nine and 10 metres. Here, smaller Tigers congregate in weeds or old tree stands. The cannibalistic larger Tigers patrol, popping up from the depths for a meal.
Tigers also favour old river courses which can be found along the rocky cliffs on the Pongolapoort. Tigers tend to follow these courses so look for good drops, old islands or holes.
Underwater islands and holes are just like drops with year old Tigers moving away from their protective shelters to form schools to avoid their larger peers. The islands conceal bait fish that offer a quick take away.
THE BEST EQUIPMENT – CONVENTIONAL TACKLE
* Rods: Any firm 6 foot stick (20 TO 40KG) will do for the tiger, finding most bass sticks appropriate. A lighter flick stick for spinning smaller rapalas and spinners is also a must.
* Reels: Here a good reel is important to handle short fast hard runs; a good drag system. Good coffee grinders or bait casters that can hold +/- 120m of line is imperative.
* Line: High abrasive line is a must as most of the fishing or fish land up dashing for structure where they are able to hang you up. A good 12 – 15 lb breaking strain is sufficient. ‘Fireline’, a very strong light line allows for good accuracy and strength.
* Hooks: Chemically sharpened hooks allow for better penetration, and I believe good line and hooks is the key to successful tiger fishing. Any size from a 1/0 to 6/0 are most commonly used e.g. Mustad, Daichi, Kamakatsu.
* Steel Trace: Nylon or normal steel trace of about 30cm in length is the ideal although the latter is preferred as a lot of rigs are snapped up and would take time to dislodge or rust away. 50 KG steel trace is thin and flexible and the most practical to use.
* Artificials: A variety of spinners, spoons, rapalas and spinner baits should make up your tackle box. Red, silver and bronze spinners and spoons work best, ranging from 4g – 12g. The rapala range is up to your own discretion due to their price, but a couple of deep runners for trawling can be brought along. Red and white and natural colors tend to be the best. A suggestion would be changing most of the above to single hooks as it allows better penetration and does not damage the fish as much as treble hooks. 3 Tips: The brighter the sun the brighter the lure; use shallow to medium depth lures for early morning or late afternoon fishing; let your lure out as far as you can when trawling on a still day and closer to the boat on windy days. When spinning, start off with a fast retrieve. If this doesn’t work, allow the lure to drop a bit deeper and slow the retrieve down. If they still don’t take, upsize or downsize the lure, and last of all change the lure. But don’t over-fish an area, rather come back later as tiger fish are easily spooked off by too much presence.
* Live Bait: Small Tilapia, 5-12cm in size, fished with a float or free swimming. Corks are set at 2m seem to work throughout the day. Leave it on a loose drag and when the tiger bites, allow it to run at least 3-5 seconds before striking. The free swimming live bait have always been effective. Run the hook through the skin close to the dorsal fin, cast gently, don’t retrieve too often, set a loose drag, and allow the tiger fish to hit it and swallow it before striking.
* Other Bait: Sardines are very effective and rigged up the same way as you would use them for the saltwater fishing. The more blood the better, so use half a sardine, and we fish them inside out. Fished with a sinker, on or without a drift. Ensure the hook is concealed yet the point is out. The same tactic is used as in live bait fishing, although a direct strike approach also works when fishing around a structure. When using tiger fillets, a cast and retrieve approach is used or drifting. Tie fillet onto the back of a spinner to increase the strike rate.
And don’t forget to wear polaroid sunglasses, light weight clothing, a wide brim hat and high SPF sunscreen.
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