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






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Trolling for Tigerfish (the “hard-fish” technique)

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 but sometimes spinning for them just won’t provide the goods and a different approach has to be used.


Trolling for tigers is mostly used over the months of September to December when the river is at its lowest, cleanest and warmest, although I do also use trawling over the spinning months if conditions become hard due to either heavy wind or a severe change in barometric pressure. Although dragging a piece of balsa behind you for sometimes marathon distances isn’t everybody’s idea of exciting fishing, there is no doubt that this technique has the ability to consistently provide fishermen with trophy size hookups and is definitely the most successful of all tactics in the “hard fish” season.


There are many reasons and factors that contribute to making trolling the technique of choice over the months of September through to December. Over these months the water is at its lowest, is at its cleanest, is at its warmest and is at its slowest. All these factors make for very hard tiger fishing on the upper Zambezi. At this time of the year the tigerfish move back to their home range territories and are not in concentration as they were when the floodplains were dropping from June to August. The tigerfish are very skittish in cleaner water as they are preyed on by fish eagles and crocodiles. The warm slow moving water becomes poorly oxygenated and tigerfish are just not as aggressive.

Trawling gives the angler the opportunity to cover maximum water in search of feeding fish and provide some distance between fishermen and lure that could not be achieved when spinning.


Techniques & Tactics

Although the equipment used for this method of fishing is mostly the same as the equipment used for spinning, the trolling technique is in fact a lot different to spinning. Trolling is basically done by dragging a lure off the back of a boat at an idle speed. Although this sounds pretty simple, trolling can be quite challenging for a guide as a whole host of factors can affect whether you are successful or not. These factors being: speed of troll, upriver troll or downriver troll, colour of lure, size of lure, type of lure , and length of line between fisherman and lure. This is where an experienced guide can really give you a good advantage over the fish. Even still I must admit I haven’t mastered the ways of successful trolling like my fellow guides, “Victor Simapande” and “Simon Parker”.


Where to Fish

A very important decision any guide has to make before choosing a lure or colour is to decide what areas to fish and how to target them. Trolling is mostly (95% of the time) done when the fishing is toughest over the months of September, October and November. At this time of the year the water is at its lowest level, warmest temperature and cleanest visibility, the water levels don’t fluctuate very much at this time so generally I will be targeting the same areas. The reason I do this is because at this time of the year the baitfish that are the tigers main food source are not concentrated in any specific areas like the months June, July and August when the river is dropping off the floodplains, this means that tigers are not concentrated in one area of the river but rather spread throughout the system. What the tigers will do however is look for parts of the river which are easy ambush points where traveling bait fish will be at there most vulnerable i.e. drop offs! What I mean by “drop offs” is areas where you find a sudden change in water depth, usually shallow to deep.  The result in a sudden change in water depth is tumbling water where bait fish will get caught up in the wash and become easy pickings for a hungry tiger. This is where I hope to catch my fish by pulling a well presented Lure (usually an 11cm Rapala Magnum) some 30 to 80m off the back of the boat at a reasonable speed that you really have to find through trial and error on the day. Unfortunately it just works out that some days tigers prefer fast moving prey and other days slow!!


How to fish

Once again although this might have sounded like an easy and simple way to catch tigers believe me its not! Once your guide has been able to put you on the fish, it might only be 3 out of 10 bites that are landed as the next set of governing variables and factors come into play. There are many different ways a person can (and often does) react to the bite of tigerfish on troll and I believe you have to find out what works best for yourself as there are no hard fast rules about these things. There are 2 main methods that are used for hooking a tiger on troll and it basically comes down to the setup of your reel and the strike:


The Strike and Fight #1 – Tightish Drag = Big Strike

The first option here is to tighten up your drag while trolling (not so much that you run the risk of snapping you line or rod on the impact of the tigers bite) and basically let the force of the boat and the tigers momentum hook itself, then lay into the tiger with a big strike. Generally this method requires heavier line and a heavier rod and sometimes using a big single hook on the back of your lure.


The Strike and Fight #2 – Loose Drag = No Strike

The second option is the one I generally use, it requires that a relatively loose drag is set, to the point where if a small piece of weed or debris is picked up while trolling, line will be pulled from the reel. This is one reason why I prefer this method of trolling because I will always be able to feel whether I have a “dirty” lure or not. But back to the bite – what will happen when a tiger strikes the lure is that the reel will scream as line is ripped from it, then I slowly tighten up on the drag lift the rod and start to reel, fighting the fish with a loose drag. This method tends to work better when fishing with trebles.


Boating the beast

After you have fought the opening rounds, don’t become 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 trolling for tigers here’s what you will need:


Trolling Equipment Needed



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 mono fishing line, the 20lb has a .40 diameter and extremely abrasion resistant and tends to blend very well with the colour of our waters. 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.



Both spinning and baitcasting reels can be used for trawling although I do feel baitcasting or multiplying reels are a lot better, for the main reason that spinning reels tend to get severe line twist after a couple encounters with a running tiger. Line twist is caused by line coming off the reel in a different direction to which it goes on, if that sounds stupid have a look at what happens when you pull line off using the drag system of a spinning reel and then reel it back on, it comes off in a straight line as the spool unravels then gets put back on with a twisting motion of the bail arm. At least there is no casting involved in trawling so even amateurs can manage a baitcasting reel?

Once again my preference is the Shimano Calcutta multiplying reel and the Shimano Symetre 4000FA spinning reel.





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.




Basically the same lures that would be used for Spinning but bulking up on the 11cm Magnums.  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 trolls 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 trolls.

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 trolling for tigers but choice of colour is the most important decision you will have to make.


Lure Colours

Colour becomes a critical factor when trolling 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


Silver mackerel



                                                                   Green mackerel

                                                                   Red head


                                                                   Purple mackerel


7cm & 5cm floating rapala fat raps       Red Craw

                                                                   Fire tiger



                                                                   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 strains. Clip-on traces are a must for spinning but not for trolling. Although they make lure changing effortless clip-on traces tend to run skew causing the lure to do barrel rolls in the water – which is obviously not going to be to the tiger’s satisfaction. I usually tie a #8 swivel to the mono end of the trace and attach the lure to the wire using a simplified rapala knot.








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