Ultimate Guide to Tigerfishing the Caprivi Stretch of the Zambezi River!
The Zambezi River
fisherman’s perspective of the Upper Zambezi)
The Zambezi River
is a truly magnificent, powerful and awe inspiring wonder of nature. It
has captured the hearts and minds of many talented writers and photographers
all of who are a lot better with words and celluloid than me. I’m not
going to write about it’s powers and beauty
because I don’t believe my descriptions would do it any justice. The main
reason for this page is to provide information about the Upper Zambezi area to those who are interested in
visiting this amazing fishing spot. The “Yearly Flood Calendar” section
is a must read for anyone wanting to know which time of the year best
suits their favored fishing method.
The Zambezi – in short
The Zambezi river of southern Africa is
the fourth longest of the continent, about 3540 km long and draining an
area of some 1.3 million sq km. It rises in northwestern Zambia and flows
in a double S curve southeast to the Indian Ocean. From its headwaters,
about 1524 m above sea level, it flows through eastern Angola, traverses
western Zambia, and forms the border of northeastern Namibia; it forms
the boundary between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and flowing through Lake
Kariba, it crosses central Mozambique (where it forms a lake behind the
Cahora Bassa Dam) and empties into the Mozambique Channel through many
In its upper course, totaling
about 800 km, the Zambezi falls only about 180 m. About 70 km below its
confluence with the Chobe River, it forms the great cataract known as
Victoria Falls (Mosi-Oa-Tunya), and for the next 72 km it rushes through
a narrow gorge 122 m deep. It then enters its middle course and flows
through hilly country for about 1300 km to Quebrabasa Rapids, the last
great natural barrier to navigation, in Mozambique. In its lower course,
it flows through a broad valley to the sea. Besides the Chobe River, the
chief tributaries of the upper river are the Kabompo and the Lungwebungu.
The Zambezi receives no important tributaries in its middle course; the
chief affluent of the lower river is the Shire.
Despite such barriers as
cataracts, rapids, and sandbars, the Zambezi is navigable for long
distances. The navigable reaches of the river and its tributaries total
about 645 km.
The small stretch of river
that I refer to throughout this website as “tiger heaven” is found on the
upper reaches of the Zambezi River, in southern Africa. The exact
location of this piece of water starts from Impalila Island (the point
where Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all meet at the most eastern tip of
Namibia), and spans some 100km’s upstream to Katima Mulilo.
What makes this stretch of
water any better or different to the rest of the Zambezi River?
Floodplains!! This stretch of
river is bound to an annual flood that every year brings growth and
rejuvenation for the system. Every year this part of the Zambezi has the
ability to restock itself, everything from insects to crustaceans to fish
make there way onto the flooded plains in order to breed and eat. The
yearly flood over such an expanse of water also means that no permanent
infrastructure can be built and settlement formed i.e. very little
environmental damage from humans. This is truly one of those rare places
in Africa where everything is still relatively untouched by man.
The Flood Area
The floodplain is triangular
in shape and spans from the tip of impalila island to the northwest town
Katima Mulilo and stretches in a south west direction from impalila
island along the Chobe river to the Ngoma border of the chobe national
The Yearly flood
October - Every year
at the end of October the annual rains start to fall in the north western
Zambia – the main catchment area for the upper Zambezi, this generally
marks the start of a new flood year for me. With these rains comes the
rising of the river which has been at its lowest point from beginning
September. The rise is very slow at first and not much difference can be
seen in the river other than the changing of colour of the water and the
explosion of green amongst bushes and trees.
Fishing during this month is
usually difficult with bulldogs being hard to find and mostly the
trolling method of fishing having to be used. The only place left to flyfish is the rapids in front of Impalila island
lodge which are accessible only by mokorro.
November – much the
same as October, the rains become a little steadier and the colour of the
water becomes more stained.
Fishing gets a little better
as fresh rains introduce new oxygen into the system , bulldogs become a
little easier to find and drift baiting becomes the principle method used
for catching tigers. This month marks the very last of the fly fishing
season, still the only place possible to catch tigers (small ones at
that) is in the rapids in front of the lodge.
December – Rains fall
steadily like clockwork every afternoon as large thunderstorms rumble
across the Zambian plains and into the small Caprivi Strip. A great
change in the whole ecosystem of the river occurs as the first
floodplains just west of Impalila island lodge begin to cover as the
river starts to burst its banks. As soon as this happens there is a major
exodus of fish and water creatures from the Zambezi’s main channel onto
these flooded areas. The main purpose for this, is the structure that the
water grasses covering the newly covered floodplains creates, it becomes
a safe haven for smaller bream species and fish that immediately take to
feeding and breeding. The tigerfish does not hunt in these shallow waters
as it is the tiger’s speed that gives him the advantage in deeper faster
flowing waters, amongst all the structure found on the floodplains it
just isn’t possible for him to hunt successfully. The only time the
tigerfish will venture up onto the floodplains is to breed.
Fishing is extremely good from
the middle to the end of the month; this in fact is one of my favourite
times of year for fishing. Good quantities and good sizes are caught
everyday, but expect to travel some distances upstream to find these
fish. Drift baiting is the only method of fishing used and is very
successful. Definitely no spinning or fly-fishing during this month as
the water becomes too dirty and flows too strong to venture out into the
rapids in front of the lodge.
January – The heavy
rains intensify and the water becomes stronger in flow and dirtier in
appearance. The fast flowing waters start to fill up the open
floodplains, firstly covering the floodplains nearest Impalila island
lodge then moving upstream. The rocks just out in front of Impalila lodge
start to disappear and the roar of breaking water subsides.
Fishing is good in the first 2
weeks of January but soon the heavy rains bring with them dirty water and
fishing slows. Drift baiting is still the only method of fishing that is
February – Still the
rain falls in heavy showers and the river rises every day. Small
backwaters and channels such as the Kasai and Mambova channels provide
constantly good fishing as their flow intensifies.
March – The really
heavy rainstorms start to ease but the river still rises quickly from the
huge amount of water generated in the Zambian highlands. Fishing closer
to the Lodge gets better as the water rises high enough to drive boats
down the rapids, this provides fun fishing in the faster and more scenic
part of the river system. Drift
baiting with bulldogs is still the only way to go and no spinning or fly
fishing is possible.
April – The time
between rain storms becomes longer and a definite change in season can be
felt as temperatures drop. The river still rises higher and floodplains
upriver near Katima Mulilo start to cover, the end of the rainy flood
season is near. Fishing in the main Zambezi River gets tougher but
fishing in the rapids improves although the size of fish is average.
Still drift baiting is the only method viable.
May – The rainy
season has come to an end with usually only the outside chance of rain on
occasion. This is an important month! Toward the end of May the river
will stop rising and start to subside. Fishing is good this month. The
change in tide means a change in fishing tactics. Bulldogs are harder to
find but tiger fish soon have other food available to them and start to
focus on the smaller bream and slender bodied fish that are starting to
leave the first emptying floodplains upriver. Fishing becomes very good
in the upper reaches some 2hr drive by boat upriver but definitely worth
it! In the last week of may the fly rod and spinning tackle can be broken
out from its 5 month dry spell and given a go. Fly fishing and spinning
at this time can be very good if you are prepared to spend some time
June – The rains
have ended and the temperatures dropped, the morning ride upstream is
chilling so be prepared with warm winter clothes (beanies, gloves &
Jackets). Midday is warm but very comfortable and winds generally calm.
Fishing the month is incredible; it is hard for me to explain how good it
is. Baitfishes are forced from the emptying
floodplains into small channels and holding bays. Tigerfish are easy to
target as they are generally anywhere in the vicinity of concentrated
baitfish. Spinning and Fly fishing is very good comparable to some of the
best destinations of the world. Sight fishing for these monsters is also
good as “frenzies” appear all about as bait balls are carved up by tigers
July – the
fishing doesn’t stop at the end of June, in fact the quality of the fish
gets better, although not as many are caught. The river is rapidly
subsiding and every day shows new bits of land that the previously been
covered by water. Once again spinning and fly fishing is the most viable
option, and does not disappoint.
August – the river
is now dropping at an extremely fast rate and a lot of the main
floodplains upstream are dry, toward the end of the month the floodplain
on the western side of Impalila Island starts to empty its bounty into
the kasai channel and gives rise to an amazing “catfish run” every year.
Thousands and thousands of catfish rove up and down the Kasai channel in
search of pockets of baitfish that seek the refuge of the receding
waters. Although this “run” generally last for 2 weeks, depending on the
level of the flood that year, it is very hard to identify when it will
happen. The catfish run has extreme importance to those targeting tigers
as the tigerfish will generally be hanging off the sides of the channel
waiting for any bait fish forced out by the marauding catfish. but be
warned although there are a lot of fish around sometimes the tigers can
be extremely fickle about the type of lure they will take as there is so
much food available to them.
September – the river now
starts to slow and has reached its lowest point. The water is clean and
warm and fishing becomes more difficult again. Although fish can be
caught on fly and by spinning, trolling is the most successful method for
catching tigers. This month and October are generally not the best months
for fishing on this part of the Zambezi. The end of September marks the
end of our fishing year and usually a well earned holiday, (for fishing
guides that is!)
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