TROLLING FOR TIGERS
Tigerfish (the “hard-fish” technique)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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:
Strike and Fight #1 – Tightish Drag = Big Strike
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.
Strike and Fight #2 – Loose Drag = No Strike
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.
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
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).
that you know what to expect when trolling for tigers here’s what you
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.
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?
again my preference is the Shimano Calcutta multiplying reel and the
Shimano Symetre 4000FA spinning reel.
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
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.
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
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.
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
Herewith are the lure types and the colours you
will always find in my box: (picture of rapalas)
11cm floating rapala magnums - Fire tiger
7cm & 5cm floating rapala fat raps Red Craw
chrome (red lip)
chrome (green lip)
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.