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The Ultimate Guide to Tigerfishing the Caprivi Stretch of the Zambezi River! 

 

 

 

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The Zambezi River

(A fisherman’s perspective of the Upper Zambezi)

 

Introduction

 

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 mouths.

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.

 

Tiger Heaven?

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 park.

 

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The Yearly flood Calendar

 

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 successful.

 

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 traveling.

 

 

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 and gulls.

 

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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