By Ben Oxley-Brown, Head of Africa
“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions of hope” John Buchan
Africa is truly awe-inspiring. I am lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to spend so much time in a land that constantly overwhelms. Some of my most memorable experiences have happened on African soil or water – such as living with the noble and inspiring Maasai people or diving through the wake of a whale shark as it gracefully navigates the Indian Ocean. My wife, Katie, grew up in Africa so we knew travelling this immense continent would become a part of our life. However, I was harbouring a secret desire to fulfil another dream ambition in Africa: to catch a tigerfish. I’ve been a fisherman since I was six years old and longed for the chance to land one of the world’s premier game fish.
The Zambezi is a beautiful river that snakes its way through scenes reminiscent of the Lion King.
We booked to stay at the romantic Sausage Tree Lodge in Zambia, where each room has its own deck and private plunge pool, deep in the heart of the Lower Zambezi National Park. I happened to know the lodge opened out onto the filtered pools of the Lower Zambezi River, famed for its ferocious tigerfish.
But between game drives and romantic sundowners, would I have the chance to hook and battle with this powerful predator?
THE LOWER ZAMBEZI IS ARGUABLY THE MOST PICTURESQUE STRETCH OF THE RIVER AND IS BORDERED BY MANA POOLS AND THE ZAMBEZI NATIONAL PARK.
From the shoreline the forested slopes of the Zambian escarpment rise into the hills where monkeys leap through the verdant greenery and sounds of exotic birds carry across the water.
The Lower Zambezi is rightly famous for its herds of elephant which congregate to drink from the river.
Large numbers of buffalo emerge from the trees and predators are never far away. Having the tigerfish literally on your doorstep only enhances your African safari experience.
Tigerfish are not fussy about time, so this gave us time to head out on game drives at dawn and enjoy a safari together in the African bush. We watched as lions shook out dusty manes and yawned in the slivers of dawn light while elephant trumpeted to each other as they crossed the plains.
On bush walks we appreciated the big and little details – a column of driver ants or tracking a leopard’s paw prints to the tree where he languished.
After a morning game drive and a long lazy lunch in the dappled shade of the fig trees, we took to the river. At Sausage Tree, the river is wider and naturally shallower than further upstream making it ideal topography for fishing.
There are few places in Africa where you can be drifting downstream with the Big Five watching over you.
Sand banks provide perfect casting lawns in the centre of the river. A number of fishing methods can be used – either live or dead bait to spinning; and for purists, large salmon-esque flies. Tigerfish are not delicate feeders and their fearsome teeth will often smash the fly a couple of times before running with the line. Once hooked they frequently jump and will use their teeth and submerged rocks and roots to dislodge the fly. Tigerfish fight as hard as their name suggests and most hook-ups do not result in success.
Be prepared for a battle! Despite this, Katie managed to land a strong 20 pounder on our first outing, certainly cause for celebration. In between the excitement of Katie’s victory and my dogged determination to catch a decent sized one on the fly, we spent several hours on and beside the Lower Zambezi. We were joined by a plethora of aquatic birds such as fish eagles and kingfishers, the occasional crocodile and heard pods of hippo grunt and chortle from afar. The more time we spent here, the more we began to acknowledge the different personalities of the Lower Zambezi. It is the life blood that flows through this valley and supports the incredible wildlife which makes this such a rewarding safari destination. There are few places in Africa which can offer both top level safari and first-rate fishing in one trip.