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

 

 

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Helpful   Hint

 

 

– Fresh Bait

 

Fresh bait is a must!

 

Preserve your bait throughout the day by using natural resources. Keeping your bulldogs’ in between layers of water chestnut leaves and stems will ensure your bait will stay cool till way into the afternoon. Remember keep your bait box out of the sun and in a cool area – trust me there is nothing worse than a box of decomposing bulldogs!!

  

-H.W.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DRIFT BAITING FOR TIGERFISH

 

 

 

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Drift Baiting for Tigerfish

 

“Bulldogs” or “Nimbele” as they are called in our part of the world, are insect eating fish which are preyed upon by both humans and tigerfish. The locals catch them in their nets by the hundreds as they move up on to the shallow floodplains after dark. The nets are then tended to in the early morning and the bounty is divided up, larger bulldogs make their way to village kitchens while the rest are sent off to market. Bulldogs can reach about 30cm’s in length but the average size is about 15cm’s. So why has this fish become the focus of such an introduction, well this is what drift baiting revolves around. The bulldog becomes an integral part of Tigerfishing for 5 months out of the year. November through to April – from the time the first rains start to when the river reaches it’s highest point these fish become the staple diet for the tigerfish.

 

Techniques & Tactics

From December to the end of April drift baiting becomes the most successful and just about the only method that can be used to catch tigerfish. The reason is the heavy rains that bring our annual flood bring with them dirty water. In this dirty water the tigerfish are locked onto one type of food source, unlike the cleaner winter months when a variety of food is available. The tigerfish just has one shape, smell and taste on its mind and that is bulldog. If done correctly drift baiting can be the most productive of all fishing methods. The technique is extremely enjoyable, there is nothing quite like the sound of a bait runner ratchet creaking as a hungry tiger picks up the morsel, mouths it for a few seconds before chomping down and screaming off into the distance.

 

Where to Fish

The basics behind the technique are to drift the boat and bait down stream over areas where a change in current and depth usually hold patrolling tigers.  The baitfish is rigged up on a “free-drift” trace i.e. no sinker or float is used only a swivel, steel trace and 2 holding hooks – 1 fixed and 1 smaller running.

Over these wet months there are no specific areas that hold more tigers than others only more specific water structures, such as drop-offs and long shallow flats that run alongside faster, deeper waters.  Using an experienced guide is a must for newcomers to the area, as it is mostly through hit and miss that we learn which areas will hold the most fish.

 

What to expect

This fishing technique is rather simplistic, but as many people have come to realize, it is the hardest to master. Finding the tiger is only the first hurdle, as many fish are lost with only a bump and some telltale teeth marks left behind. Novices to this form of fishing can expect about a 1 in 10 chance of landing a tigerfish using this method, but don’t despair the odds increase with every bite. A simple steel trace and 2 hooks are used, and a bulldog is then neatly dressed and presented as dead drift bait. Live bait is very effective but because bulldogs are obtained from local gill-net fishermen, live specimens are seldom found. These fish are extremely delicate, and any type of stress will cause them to die. They are very soft fleshed and keeping them fresh is a challenge and a necessity as a tiger will often turn up its nose at a foul smelling piece of bait.

 

How to Fish

The dressed bulldog is simply cast out and left to drift alongside the boat, it will sink on its own accord if fresh, and if not, the bowel area of the bulldog needs to be pierced to let out any gasses formed from the rapid decomposition of the food it had eaten.

Then just kick back, relax and wait. This is an ideal time for bird watching and soaking in the beauty of the mighty Zambezi. Hippo’s and big crocs make this water their stomping ground so be weary if the heat of the day calls you take a swim. Ask your guide first as he will generally know where it is safest!

 

The Crunch

There are 2 reel techniques used when drift baiting. The first is to fish with a bait runner spinning or multiplier reel which has a switch type gizmo which allows the spool of the reel to run freely if any tension is put on it. The second is to fish with a normal “coffee grinder” or “spinning” type reel. Leave the bail open and hold with just one finger on the line, so that when a fish does pick up on your bait it will generally pull it right out and off your spool. I like both these techniques as the most important thing is that the fish is given a chance to run with the bait. This is important as the tigerfish has a particular way it attacks larger prey such as bulldogs. It will first grab the baitfish by the belly, immobilize it and then carry it out of the school (of other feeding tigers) where it will swallow it head first. This means you should actually let the tiger run long enough to be able to take the whole bait in. What is long enough? Well that is the golden question, when the act is happening each second feels like ten and every one of them feels too long, but you will realize that a short strike will miss fish time and time again.

 

The Strike

Ok so now you’re sure that beast has taken it in and is ready for the hook set. Remember that this fish could have taken a fair distance of line off by now and the stretch and bow in the line has to be compensated for or there will be no force to drive that 5/0 gamagatzu hook into the bone. Drop the rod tip down, close over your bail or bait runner switch and wait till the line tightens up then….. Strike!!

 

 

The Fight

Although single hooks are being used I still believe a very tight drag should be avoided, but remember to apply constant tension as any slack will generally loosen a good set. I suggest keeping the rod down and to the side when fighting these fish as they have a tendency to give great aerial displays but not without the cost of freedom.

Once near the boat, raise the rod tip up and let the bend in the rod do its job by giving the fish some leeway to dip and dive without putting too much strain on the line and hook. 

 

 

Drift Baiting 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 “Maxima ultra-green” 20lb mono fishing line. In the past I have had a very negative attitude toward braided lines, my opinion however is now shifting as I have tried it a number of occasions in the current season. It can be a very useful addition to your fishing quiver of armament if you understand its properties both pro’s and cons.

At first I thought it was the visibility

 If you have never used braid, try it at home first and make sure you are comfortable with it before bringing it along. Firstly what you need to know is that braid has minimal stretch this effects the choice of rod that is to be used with it . A softer more flexible rod has to be used with braid    

 

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 when 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 Symetre 4000fa and those higher in the spinning range are perfect for tiger fishing, as well as the Shimano Curado and Calcutta multiplying reels. There are also a couple of good “bait runner” spinning reels on the market, the one that has surprised me the most is the Okuma Epix bait runner which I feel is excellent value for money and very well put together.

 

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 or a bit higher up in the range – the Shimano Crucial of spinning and baitcasting rods.

 

Terminal Tackle

The great thing about fishing with drift bait is that the tigerfish has already made up its mind as to what it wants to eat, which saves us guides the task of having to try and guess what type of lure is going to be best in what conditions etc. The method I use to present the bait is a simple one, I want to make the bulldog look and act as natural as possible in the water, it must drift along and bump the bottom just like a dead bulldog would. The easiest way to do this is by using a soft wire trace with one small “floating” hook and a larger fixed hook at the end. The larger hook is threaded through the  bulldog from the head to the tail, and the smaller hook then impaled trough the bulldogs cheek or forehead.

The actual equipment you will need for this trace is:

-         25cm of 30 – 40lb nylon coated “soft wire”

-         1 x black swivel

-         1 x 2/0 hook

-         1 x 4/0 or 5/0 hook

 

 

I prefer V.M.C. National Round “needle point” hooks as they are light, sharp and have a relatively thin gauge. They also tend to oxidize and break down quickly so you know that if you have to leave a hook inside a fish, it won’t be there for too long like some Saltwater hooks.

 

Bait

Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Bulldogs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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