Friday 15 March 2013

Tiger Fishing at Kariba

The fishing locations at Kariba are scenically splendid, but one of the most spectacular is the Sanyati Gorge, where boats can penetrate for 13 km from the lake itself, between steep wooded cliffs that rise on either side.

Above. An angler returns from a morning's fishing with a good catch of Tiger. Boats of all sizes may be hired, from small three-seaters to cabin cruisers with sleeping and dining accommodation which operate three-day fishing safaris.

IN ANGLER'S first experience with a Tiger-fish is something to remember. First, this voracious predator strikes with venom and vigour. Then the acrobatics begin, with lunging dashes, high leaps out of the water accompanied with frenzied head threshing that rattles the spoon, and often a headlong dash towards the angler that means a slack line, and often a lost fish.

 The Tiger-fish grows to its greatest size in Lake Kariba, the 5 100-square-kilometre inland sea created when the Zambezi River was dammed at the entrance to the steep Kariba ("the trap") Gorge.

Above: The fishing locations at Kariba are scenically splendid, but one of the most spectacular is the Sanyati Gorge, where boats can penetrate for 13 km from the lake itself, between steep wooded cliffs that rise on either side.

The lake, with its year-round sunshine, has become a major Rhodesian tourist attraction, for with the 129-metre-high dam wall itself, watersports, game-viewing along the shore, a crocodile farm, and superb scenery, the visitor, even if he is not an angler, finds much to see and do.

The developed area of the lake, near the dam wall and the town of Kariba, offers a wide range of sophisticated hotel and motel accommodation and tourist services, to cater for the many visitors who arrive by road (370 kilometres from Salisbury on a full-width tarred highway) or on the daily scheduled Air Rhodesia services.
But one of the great attractions of Kariba is that the developed area is confined to a few miles near the dam wall, and that once one is out on the lake, or along the shore only a few miles from the town, one is in contact with an Africa that has not changed in a thousand years.

The fish eagle cries overhead, elephant and antelope graze on the lush growth along die waterline, and in the clear, unpolluted waters of the lake itself a vast population of fish exists. The prince among these is the Tiger-fish, the zoo- logical name for which—Hydrocynus vittatus—is translated as "striped water dog". The Tiger- fish has all the virtues an angler seeks in a sporting fish: a beautiful appearance and above average fighting qualities.

The general conformation of the fish is sleek and streamlined, its back is a blue-green, shading through shining silver sides to pink on the belly, with dark stripes running from the gills to the tail. To set off this striking combination of colours, the fins are an orange gold. In opposition to the beauty of the body is the functional, bony head, with its large eyes and savage mouth with razor-sharp, interlocking teeth.

Basil Hill, a leading Rhodesian angler who has had experience of catching Tiger-fish in Kariba since the lake was created ten years ago, gives this advice to those testing their skill against this superb fish for the first time:

"To be a successful Tiger-fisherman, tackle must be in good working order. The outfit for normal Tiger fishing should consist of a semi-stiff rod between seven and nine feet in length, and a good multiplying or fixed spool reel capable of holding at least 183 metres of 20 to 25 lb. line. A quick retrieve is essential, so the reel should have a gear ratio of at least three to one. A gaff, landing net and sack are necessary.

"A note of warning: always have great respect for the jaws of a Tiger-fish, especially when removing the hook. A slip may result in the loss of a finger.

"Once hooked the Tiger-fish fights with great speed and power, diving and leaping, shaking its head in an endeavour to throw the hook. Slack line at this stage will result in a lost fish.

"There are three proven methods for catching the Tiger-fish. First, for the angler who is keen on trolling. This is done in deep water, such as the Sanyati Gorge or bush cleared areas, when a three-inch spoon is used, or, alternatively, a spinner with a fillet attached to a 7/0 hook. The fillet must be firmly tied on with cotton. When trolling, remember to use a keel sinker or a good ball bearing swivel to avoid twist in the line.

"The second method is "stick fishing", which produces very good results if the angler is prepared to lose a certain amount of tackle. The procedure is to tie up to a tree in to 12 metres of water and lower a small fish or fillet over the side, varying the depth. Or select a clearing in the semi-submerged trees and spin with a spinner and fillet or small fish.

"The third method used, and one which has proved most successful, is to select an area either around submerged islands or parallel to a row of trees in the bush-cleared area. Stop the engine and let the boat drift. Then start casting and spinning, varying the distance and depth, with a spinner and fillet. The best spinner to use has a long fluted blade with a 7/0 hook attachedto the end."

Kariba for the angler must be considered in two parts: Kariba East, which includes the town of Kariba and the area round the dam wall, the Gachegache and Sanyati basins, the Sanyati Gorge, and the lake as far as Bumi Hills; and Kariba West, which is the upper reaches of the lake and the Zambezi River just before it enters the lake and its tributaries, the Deka, Gwaai and Mlibizi. Both areas offer wonderful fishing, but Kariba East is a more developed area, handling as it does the greatest part of tourist traffic to the lake.

At Kariba East there is a wide choice of accommodation, from air-conditioned hotels to caravan and camping sites. Boats can be chartered from several companies, and tackle can be hired or bought from most lakeshore establishments. At Bumi Hills, 60 kilometres uplakc from Kariba town, there is a hotel specialising in fishing and game-viewing holidays. The hotel is reached by a daily launch service.

At Kariba West there are four resorts which cater particularly for the fisherman: Deka, Mlibizi, Msuna and Binga. Deka and Mlibizi are reached from a turn-off from the town of Wankie, and are situated on the Zambezi River, and the river where it meets the lake, respectively. Mlibizi and Binga are situated on the lake itself, and are reached via a secondary turn-off from the main Bulawayo-Victoria Falls road 48 km south of Wankie Town. They provide chalet accommodation and caravan and camping facilities. All are liquor licensed and have stores, but only one offers restaurant facilities. Boats, tackle and guides can be hired at all resorts.

The scenery at Kariba West, as the lake narrows and the Zambezi River winds its way through the Devil's Gorge into the lake, is spectacular. Due to the undeveloped nature of the surrounding country, game-viewing here is excellent, and the colourful tribal life of the local Batonka people adds considerable interest to any visit.

Anglers who venture on to the lake in small boats are warned to remain near the shore. Lake Kariba is a vast body of water by any standards, and weather conditions are subject to rapid change. The visitor is required to notify the hotel or motel where his boat is moored of his departure time and the time he expects to return. Larger boats, with radios, are required to maintain contact with the Lake Navigation Control and Lake Safety officc at Kariba town, Sinamwenda and Binga.

One of Africa's major fishing tournaments is held annually at Kariba, devoted entirely to the catching of Tiger-fish. Held in late September at Kariba East, it is a team event which during 1970 attracted 348 anglers from many countries. The average catch of Tiger during the three-day contest is 5,000 lb., and the record single fish caught weighed 20 lb. 6 oz.

Of course. Tiger-fish are not the only fish the angler will catch at Kariba. Others which are great favourites with local fishermen are the many types of Bream (Tilapia), Chessa, Nkupe, the giant catfish known locally as the Vundu (up to 100 lb.), Bottlenose and Cornish Jack, to mention only a few. Tiger-fish also occur in the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls and below Lake Kariba, and in rivers and lakes elsewhere in Rhodesia, though they do not grow to such a large size.

Above: Visitors wishing to gain a closer view of the 129-metre-high dam wall may do so by applying for permission at the Rhodesian border post.  This allows them to proceed to the abutment on the southern side of the wall, where views down the Kariba gorge can also be obtained.

Below: Where else in the world can an angler fish within sight of a herd of elephant grazing on lush, lakeshore vegetation. This picture was taken near the shore of the Matusadona Game Reserve across the lake from Kariba town.


Source: Rhodesia Calls, May - June 1971 made available by Denise Taylor.
Thanks Denise.
Extracted and recompiled by Eddy Norris for use on "Our Rhodesian Heritage" blog.

Thanks to the author, the photographer, the publishers for the use of their material.
Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at

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