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
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 time again.
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 consider:
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
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!