DRIFT BAITING FOR
Drift Baiting for
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
Bulldogs, Bulldogs, Bulldogs!