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The Blue Tiger

The Blue Tiger

Despite man’s appetites, the Kilombero valley in Tanzania remains one of the last great frontiers to explore. The Kilombero is the largest tributary of the Rufuji river, which from it's source in the Livingston Mountains to the Indian Ocean is more than 600 km long. When flooded, at it’s peak in April / May, the Kilombero valley forms a massive freshwater wetland, providing a prolific breeding ground for the 38 species of fish that thrive in this system, but there can be no argument about which of these fish rule with impunity.

After a quick transfer through Dar es Salaam on FastJet and a comfortable overnight at the festive Slipway hotel, we landed in the renowned Kilombero North Safari's concession.

We were fortunate to be fishing on one of the Kilombero's renowned tributary’s, the Mnyera, where base camp for this hands on fishing operation is situated.The battle hardened duo of Cartwright and Tommo were on 'Inside Angling' duty, whilst myself and Jeremy were taking the 'WildFly' fight to the Tanzanian Tiger.

Visiting well prior to their breeding season, which takes place in November / December, the plan was to entice a few aggressive females who we hoped might be feeding voraciously before embarking on their annual spawn.

Now I've had some great guides put me on the spot over the years, but Greg Ghaui managed to surpass them all, anchoring just above the camp and telling me to throw my fly into the deep undercut clay bank. First casts strikes I've had before, but to land your largest fresh water fish on your very first cast deserves almost savante guiding status in my eyes.
 
 
 
 
And that's when my complacency and that of my fellow anglers ( Tommo having landed a puppy of 8lbs, just testing his rig off the jetty) set in.
 
We woke the next morning to overcast skies and drizzle, which had our boat skipper Dennis, shaking his head at our enthusiasm to still get out on the water. He, like all the locals, knew that this was a beast that enjoyed the sun and warm water in which to hunt.
 
Over the next few days we toiled, in fact I would go as far to say that I did more casting then a hapless Hollywood talent agent. We had a few chances, with both Jer and myself dropping a good 10 plus pound tiger, but we practically threw our arms off. Yet despite putting a range of flies in the right spot, the cold water was making these fish just too lethargic to chase anything.
 
Tommo and Brad were getting some surface smashes on lures and landing a few on buck tail jigs, but considering the amount of water they were covering, it couldn't be claimed that is was cooking.
 
So we decided to change tactics and fish some slower water on a recently formed Oxbow lake. It was a promising area teeming with baitfish and flocks of water fowl.
Erupting feeding fish greeted our arrival, and both Brad and Jeremy hauled out their floating lines with poppers. It was action time. In the space of 10 minutes two great fish of between 8 and 9lbs had been landed with a few more buzzing the wake of their flies.
 
 
All in all an entertaining day, with lots of stories around the campfire that evening, having filled our bellies on bounty of delicious food produced by 'Bobetino' the resident chef.
 
We explored the breathtaking Kasinga rapids on foot the next day, being the headwaters of the Mnyera and got a few enquiries with our casts, but our fly crew left the white water to the spinning team and decided to drift the runs below. Again, anchoring, to cover the water properly, we focussed on an area just above the watchful Hippo. And that is when mayhem erupted. Many anglers have noted that this Tanzanian Tiger doesn't fight as aggressively as it's cousin of the African Tigerfish (Vittatus), but Jeremy's shredded hands will attest to what a 20lb Tiger can do. Realising we had left our boga grip with the guys on the bank and only had a badly repaired net half the size of the fish, panic ensued. Eventually on the 2nd attempt we landed the behemoth to the howling celebrations of Rochester.
 
 
And what rounded off the trip was hearing that Tommo had also inducted himself into the hallowed 20lb Tiger club, thanks to Des, the camp manager stepping up to the guiding plate. Every game fish deserves an anglers respect, but this is one that absolutely demands it. The Blue Tiger Fish, (dubbed for it’s blue adipose fin) has been recorded up to 28lbs on rod and reel and if there’s one guaranteed motivator to get your casting arm in action, it’s seeing this prehistoric looking predator willing to savage your lure or fly.
 
Aside from popping, in terms of fly fishing techniques you practice predominantly two -:

a. The river is littered with structure, the annual floods depositing cover all around the banks, creating the ideal habitat for this killer to ambush. When casting at this structure, the emphasis on Accuracy and you only have a few seconds with each drift to get your fly into the strike zone, so assessing flow rate / depth and retrieval pace is critical…….thank goodness for great guides.

b. Channels change each season, as the river erodes and deposits sediment. When fishing these deeper sections, casting upstream, you will mend your line to get into the seam and sink your fly down to where the big fish are, in all likelihood holding. Be aware, fish will take you on the drop and always use your double hand retrieve to keep in contact with your line at all times

You are using heavily weighted size 2/0 to 4/0 Flies, the patterns that perform being a point of animated debate every evening. 35lb leaders and 40lb Rio knotable trace wire is the minimum gauge in your arsenal if you intend contending for any title. Anchoring and fishing the deep channels and banks means that you also need the right line, being a Rio 250-300 grain, with a 24 foot sinking tip…..bring a spare!
 

Popping hooks with their hard bone palate happens, especially fishing barbless, so don’t sweat those that throw your fly, it’s all part of the tiger scuffle. But this is a fish that you need to stick like the proverbial pig, a hard line strike and constant pressure is your only option, so you had better bring your no nonsense game, because this is a fish that you can give no quarter to.

The Kilombero North Safari concession is truly one of the great wilderness areas on our planet. It’s unique habitat and incredible array of fauna and flora is worth the visit alone. Couple this with the fact that you have the opportunity to take on a legendary beast that surpasses your every game fishing expectation and I personally can’t wait to get back on the water.

As a definitive point of note, in what was admittedly very trying climatic conditions, each angler got his personal best on this trip!

 

 

Location (Map)

Kilombero, Tanzania
Okavango Barbel Run, Tigerfish Season 2016 – Week ...
Kilombero Blues

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