past articles written by Malcolm Meintjes

(Author of Zambezi Tiger, Remarkable Flyfishing Destinations of Southern Africa, Trout Through the Looking-Glass and other titles)

                                                                          Email us 

                                                             TIGER, TIGER BURNING BRIGHT (1996)

It’s a poor state of affairs should you mention the word “Tiger” in flyfishing circles these days and the association “Woods” comes floating back.  One wonders whether the proper response ought not to be “tiger fish”, which as every fly rodder should know, is one of Africa’s greatest angling denizens?

Hydrocynus vittatus - the African tiger fish - is indeed in a  freshwater class of its own when it comes to portraying a fearful symmetry, though why the scientific fraternity changed the genus from a cat to a 'striped water-dog' is known only to them. The important point is that the tiger fish accepts a fly - with perhaps the steeliest handshake you may ever experience. A phantom built for speed and acrobatics, fangs sharpened for destruction; this is a fish deserving of esteem, before, during and certainly while the fly is being removed. 

June and July, traditionally were not months generally favoured by Hydrocynus pursuers, for they preferred sweltering temperatures, but never be too surprised by exceptions to the rule, especially when it concerns the efficacy of a fly. Threespot tilapia have snapped up a Delta Yellow or a new Zealand's Parson’s Glory with abandon during a bitter Okavango afternoon - why not the tiger?

 It was warmer last week as I  toiled away slaving over a hot rod on the Zambezi. The Caprivi winter bream - nembwe, humpback and thinface largemouths - were conspicuous by their absence and we turned our attention to the tiger fish that betrayed their unlikely presence by swirling along the edge of the river’s current. It was like having a kicker in your rugby team - the score begins to mount up with each conversion. Over the next few days the tigers showed interest in the fly. First Simon with a beauty of 6.35 kg  and, yours in perpetuity,  in another time and place, a mere stripling of 6.2 kg. There were others too, strong fish from 2kg upward that took time to subdue and often reversed the outcome.

There is nothing quite like an outsize tiger engulfing a size 8 fly. The initial meeting reverberates through one’s entire being and 50 metres of backing in the Zambezi current can melt away in less time than it takes to untie the boat. But if one can subdue panic at the sight of a quivering knot on your spool, take the time to hand line backing free from backwater weed, and chase the fish halfway down the Kasai, you may only have to worry about steadying the camera for one quick frame.

It was as leviathan swam back down into the depths, its silver flanks burning bright, that I brought to mind Blake’s immortal poem. And remembered that the 'tiger' association never was “Woods” at all.

 It was “forests”.


                                          Return to The Southern African trout and Flyfishing Directory