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SPINNING & CRANKING

 

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Introduction

 

Spinning or cranking (or basically casting a lure for those of us who don’t understand these bass borne jargonisms) is most productive over the winter months of May through to August. However these are not the only months spinning should be considered as this technique is also used to successfully target tiger over the months of September to December, even though trawling is more effective at this time.

 

The tigerfish is a very aggressive and ferocious predator that will attack just about any moving object smaller than itself when feeding. The use of lures is ideal for catching this hard fighting piscatorial specimen especially over the months of June July and August when dropping floodwaters provide the tiger with a smorgasbord of fleeing baitfish to choose from. – (Check out the section on the upper Zambezi to see exactly why June to August is so good for spinning and Fly-fishing)

 

Techniques & Tactics

Spinning for tigerfish can be both fun and exciting but it requires being flexible in your fishing style. There is no one specific way to catch a tigerfish and then again there is no one specific type of lure. Tigerfish can change their feeding patterns pretty quickly and you need to understand what might have worked one day, might not necessarily work the next. The biggest advantage you may have over the tigerfish is by having an experienced fishing guide that can read these changes and adapt different techniques.

 

Where to Fish

A very important decision any guide has to make before choosing a lure or colour is to decide what area to fish. I always take into account where the greatest concentration of baitfish is going to be. Over the months of June, July and August this decision can be quite difficult as I have 75kms of river to choose from. Over this period the massive floodplains spanning between the chobe and the Zambezi are dropping and emptying into the main river channel. At this time there is a great concentration of baitfish “washing” off the floodplains and hanging in cover and small bays. It is important to understand that baitfish will always be on the move at this time of the year as they have to escape the dropping water and disappearing cover. It is when they are the move that they are most vulnerable to predators and this is where you find the tigerfish feeding.

 

How to fish

There are numerous ways of spinning for tigers; majority will be done by boat. Which ever technique you use should be dependent on what feeding pattern the tigerfish are following.

The most popular and successful way is by drifting the faster flowing water of outer banks of big bends and casting fat raps  and magnums close up to the clay banks and retrieving them back to the boat. The strike zone here is usually in the first 5 meters from the bank, but its not uncommon for a tiger to come charging out of the depths from under the hull and engulf your lure only a couple of centimeters beneath the surface (usually making you wish you had packed a spare change of pants on the boat).

Another technique includes tying up to grass points where 2 channels converge and fishing the “meeting” downstream water. Here tigers like to wait in ambush and patrol the tumbling currents, feeding on any small fish caught up in the wash.

 

The “Frenzy”

For a couple of weeks over June and July small juvenile bream about 8-9cms long congregate in large schools under the cover of floating grass banks. They take their solace in safety of numbers and when the time is right they break off in a mad dash for downstream cover. The tigerfish round them up like rodeo crazed cowboys and smash through the “bait ball” chomping as they go. In an attempt to flee, the baitfish are forced to the surface sprinkling in all directions where excited squawking grey-headed gulls join in the feast. The result of this ambush is a fisherman’s utopia – the screaming diving gulls are a dead giveaway of the “baitball”and all that is needed is to cast a lure in the general direction of the mania and give a couple turns of the handle……. but sometimes its not that easy, the adrenalin flows thick on the boat, causing clouded judgment and trebles to find every object except the water and target intended, it sometimes takes one or two of these feeding frenzies to steady oneself (or remove hooks from guides ears) and properly undertake the job at hand.

 

The Retrieve

There is the great misconception that one must crank quickly to catch tigers, but that is not always true. Yes a fast retrieve can work but once again if the water is dirty or there are low light conditions that are affecting the visibility of the lure, a slow or staggered retrieve can be the only option. I will sometimes let my lure “swim” by itself in the current when tied up in a stationery spot if I want to target a very specific area.

 

The Strike and Fight

I have 2 theories about striking and I myself cannot tell you which one is better. The tigerfish has an extremely hard and boney mouth that is covered on the inside with a thin layer of white flesh.

 The first theory I have revolves around the thin layer of white flesh and the use of treble hooks. I believe that when fishing with treble hooks a light drag must be set. The reason for this is trebles do not have the leverage to work there way into the bone of a tigerfish’s mouth but rather has the holding power to grapple the white flesh. If there is too much pressure put on these hooks while grappling they tend to either bend straight or rip out. The key here is not to strike on the bite and let the fish run a short distance before slowly tightening down a fraction on your drag. Then hold pressure all the time and let the fish dictate what it wants to do, don’t try to horse him around. You will find with this method the tiger will often end up swimming to the boat as he is guided by the lure, rather than getting him excited through a lot of pressure and making him want to fight.

The second theory revolves around changing all your treble hooks on your lures to single hooks (something like a 2/0 gamagatzu thin gauge hook), using a slightly tighter drag and after the pickup letting the fish tighten up all the slack in the line and then striking it. It is important to wait till the fish has started to take line off the reel before striking as this makes sure any bow that might have been there has been removed.

Another tip while fighting tigers is keeping the rod tip down and at a 90degree angle to the fish so that rod has the same bend that it might have if it was straight up. The reason for this is to keep the tiger fish down when it wants to jump (as it will often want to do). Although always great to see the acrobatic display of a tiger in-flight unfortunately it is usually followed by disappointment as you realize he has managed to throw the hook.

 

Boating the beast

After you have fought the opening rounds, don’t be another statistic who said “Yeah, I hooked a beast…. but lost him at the boat!” it is the last furious runs that the tiger makes when it sees the boat that usually cause such heartache. Once you have it within 2 rod lengths of the boat lift the rod so it is now directly in line above the fish. When the tiger wants to dive let it, just drop the rod tip down as it pulls away, then slowly lift and reel. Just remember that with only a few meters of line out it has very little stretch and your drag has to be loosened a fraction or else you run the risk of a snapping off. Once the monster has done its last dance you can ease its head above the water and “slide” the fish over to the guide where he will safely net it or preferably use a boga grip.

“Boga’s” are a Tigerfishing guide’s best friend – this neat little contraption lips the fish and weighs it at the same time. I used to have a problem when netting my fish that the other trebles of the lure usually got caught in the net and caused even more damage to the fish as it would stay longer out of the water and the net would remove a lot of the antibacterial slime found on the body of the tigerfish making it more susceptible to infections. The other big plus is that I don’t get bitten trying to take lures out of the jaws of death anymore. Be weary of the tiger’s teeth they are covered in an anticoagulant secretion that causes immense bleeding even from the smallest wound. I found the best thing for a nick or cut from a tigers tooth was a coating of lip ice over the wound that then stung for a couple of seconds but then sealed the wound and stopped it from bleeding (sorry to any doctors out there, its probably not the right thing to do but its what works for me).

 

Now that you know what to expect when spinning for tigers here’s what you will need:

 

Spinning Equipment Needed

 

Line

Just like any other fishing techniques line characteristics dictate the equipment we use. In this case it is imperative that you use nothing less than a 20lb breaking strain monofilament line I like the Rapala “tough” mono fishing line, the 20lb has a .32 diameter and as it states is quite tough. I am not a great supporter of any braided lines, although they posses some extremely impressive properties, I have witnessed time after time mono getting more strikes and landing more fish. The only reasons I can come up with is that mono has more stretch which is critical in the initial pick up of the tiger fish (something I will go more into detail in regarding lures, hooks and techniques) and that its appearance under water may be similar to that of nets used in the river that all fish learn to avoid like the plague. Once again these are merely observations and not gospel if anyone has any other views you are most welcome to forward me your ideas.

 

Reels

Now with the correct line in hand you can choose which reel you would like to bring along to the battle. I find that if you are not experienced with baitcasting equipment (multiplying reels) leave it at home! A good quality spinning reel can be just as good for cranking for tigers and you won’t be sitting with a birds nest when you could be cashing in on some excellent fishing.

It is important that when choosing a reel that it can firstly hold 180m and more of .32mm diameter mono line, and secondly has a good drag system. If choosing a spinning reel make sure it has a good front drag system as tigers are notorious for making a mess and mockery of reels on their first hard run. The shimano Sedona 4000Fa and Symetre 4000fa spinning reels are perfect for tiger fishing, as well as the Shimano Curado and Calcutta multiplying reels 

 

Rods

OK now you’ve spooled up and are looking for that stick that’s going to help bring that big-boy to the boat, these are some things you need to consider:

1.     You’re going to need a rod that’s comfortable to cast and matches your reel size so usually a 6’6 to 7’ bass cranking rod will suffice.

2.     Definitely graphite that has some backbone – usually a medium to medium heavy  with 3/8 – 1 oz lure weight rod will do, just remember not too much backbone you don’t want to be striking with a broom stick that’s going to rip the lure right out of the tigers mouth.

I recommend rods similar to the shimano nexave range of spinning and baitcasting rods.

 

Lures

The right size, colour and swimming depth are extremely important when spinning for tigers. There are 3 lure types that I will always have in my box, these being:                  11cm floating rapala magnums

7cm floating rapala fat raps

5cm floating rapala fat raps

 

The reason I use these 3 types of lures is because they are all different in size and run at different depths

I use the 11cm when doing fast trawls and spinning in deeper waters.

I use the 7cm when spinning in deep water holes and current drop offs and when doing slow deep water trawls.

I use the 5cm when spinning in deep and shallow water and doing slow shallow water trawls.

The reason I use floating magnums as opposed to sinking is that a lot of times I encounter line bites and snap offs that can be very irritating and costly  – the nice thing about floating lures is a fair amount of the time the lure will rise to the surface to be recovered and used again. I also get a higher strike rate using the floating version, it can be 1 of 2 things, and either the steel lip of the sinking lure is off putting to the tigers or the sinking runs at a much deeper depth than the floating and out of the fishes range.

These 3 lure types will cover just about every fishing situation when spinning for tigers but choice of colour is the most important decision you will have to make.

 

Lure Colours

Colour becomes a critical factor when spinning for tigers; I am always changing my lure colour if I am not getting strikes. There are many factors which determine what colour should be used, these being: water clarity; visibility; baitfish type; time of year; time of day; weather and list goes on and on. Looking at all these factors I will always have in the back of my mind an order of colours that I will be trying throughout the day.

Unfortunately the successful colours change from day to day and the narrowing down process has to be repeated over and over so the best thing to do is have a wide selection of colours in your box.

Herewith are the lure types and the colours you will always find in my box: (picture of rapalas)

 

11cm floating rapala magnums   -        Fire tiger

                                                                   Black/Gold

Silver mackerel

Silver

                                                                   Perch

                                                                   Green mackerel

                                                                   Red head

                                                                   Shiner

                                                                   Purple mackerel

 

7cm & 5cm floating rapala fat raps       Red Craw

                                                                   Fire tiger

                                                                   Black/Gold

                                                                   Silver

                                                                   Grey shad

                                                                   Silver chrome (red lip)

                                                                   Blue chrome (green lip)

 

Trace setup

I will always use a plastic/nylon or carbon coated trace attached to my lure. This will be between 30 – 40lb breaking strain. Clip-on traces are a must for spinning. They make lure changing effortless, but some clips require “crimping” after attachment to prevent opening after hooking into a big fish. I usually use 2 short 10cm or 12cm clip on traces back to back and the first swivel cut off. The trace is then connected directly to the mono line, the reason I do this is because it is not uncommon for a tiger to go for the flash of a swivel ahead of the lure causing a line break.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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