Zambezi Safari

For regular visitors to this site, you may have seen my article on Nile Perch fishing in Lake Victoria Uganda last year. This time I wanted a mix of Fishing & Game Viewing, and I needed to travel in April as I will be on another trip to Australia later in the year so I asked the tour company www.tailormadeholidays.co.uk who organised my Uganda trip  to come up with a venue that would fit the bill. They suggested a Safari to the Lower Zambezi in Zambia to fish for Tigerfish &  Vundu (GiantCatfish), although it would be at the end of the rainy season and maybe not the best time the Lodge they selected looked an excellent venue.

So I set off for my 12 hour flight from Gatwick on the evening of 23rd of April, and arrived in Lusaka at 10.30 the following morning, from there I was transferred by road & boat to the Royal Zambezi Lodge on the banks of the mighty Zambezi river. I was quite lucky as it was at the end of the main Tiger fishing season and just after the Easter holidays,I had the entire Lodge to myself.

That first afternoon there was just time for a few hours fishing before dark to catch some bait fish for the following mornings Tiger session. The main method used by the guides at the camp to catch Tiger is to use a fillet from a bait fish either drifted down by the current with the boat anchored above a drop off or cast up stream and let the boat and bait drift along together usually by one of the islands or banks, the best places for takes are the usual ones, joining streams or creeks, fallen trees and snags.

The lodge manager, Steve Maartens & I set off for a nearby island and anchored the boat at its tail, we fished for Chessa and Nkupe which make ideal bait fillets, both species look very similar to our native bream as you can see from the photos, but are much harder fighting. We used size 8 hooks baited with worm on a light ledger rig, gently holding the line between our fingers to feel for bites, as the smaller fish (around skimmer size) give very tentative takes. My first efforts at this weren’t very successful, as I would get two or three taps on the line and then nothing, only for Steve to say I think he’s taken your worm, and he was right! This happened five or six times until I finally hooked an 8 inch Chessa, I caught another one and a small Catfish before darkness fell, luckily Steve had managed to land around six to seven more fish, so we had a good supply of fresh fillet ror the morning session.

Next morning I woke up just as dawn broke, the sun rising blood red out of the still Zambezi, African sunrise & sunsets are really spectacular! Steve Maartens could not take me out that morning as he had some urgent work to do around the lodge, so I went with one of the local guides called Luka, he was an experienced angler and new this stretch of the river well. We headed up river for a mile or so until we reached a submerged sand island marked by an old tree stump, we anchored the boat a little up stream of the stump, and started to fish. I was using my own equipment, a G.Looms GL3 two peace bait caster rod & a Shamano Chronach reel loaded with 110 meters of 15lb spiderwire braid and about 20-30 meters of backing line (not enough as it turned out!). We baited our size 4/0 hooks with Chessa fillet and cast out into the main current, so that the weightless fillets would drift down past the old tree stump and on to the drop off at the tail of the island. Luka got a take straight away and brought in a nice Tiger of around 5lbs, the next cast it was my turn to get a bite. I had let the bait drift around 30-40 meters behind the boat, and let it settle, when I started to get some strong tugs on my rod tip, Luka told me to wait, let the fish run with the bait, then tighten up, and strike. The fish was on! It took around 20-30 meters of line on its first run, and there was no sign of it jumping (smaller Tiger upto 5-6kg tend to jump when hooked) this fish stayed deep, I managed to halt the fish briefly, only for it to surge off again, then stop, and start coming towards me, I reeled in quickly, made contact with the Tiger again, then it was gone. I reeled in to see what had happened, the line had broken or been bitten through just above the wire trace, not the start I was hoping for.

The next cast brought even more dramatic results, the fillet had been in the water only a matter of minutes when a fish picked it up and ran with it, no taps on the rod tip this time just one long straight run, I hooked the fish, and it just kept going, I tightened the drag, it made no difference, Luka was trying to get the anchor up so we could follow the fish, but before he succeeded nearly all my braid had gone, with the backing line coming up fast I tightened down on the drag again and broke off just above the trace. I was not a happy angler at this stage, we had been fishing for less than half an hour, and I had already lost two very large fish. After the lose of these two fish the swim was quiet for the next hour or so. Then my luck changed, a couple off taps on the rod tip, followed by a good run, and I was into a Tiger, after three or four jumps and some action when it saw the boat, Luka landed it for me, a nice fish of around 5lbs. I landed two more fish before we returned to the Lodge for brunch, the best weighing in at 4.5kg (9.5lbs) and I also lost a couple of others, one in double figures, close to the boat.

Back at the Lodge, I talked to Steve about those two lost fish at the start of the day, he thought the first one was probably a large Tiger, but by the description I gave of the second take, he thought it more likely to be a big Vundu. After Brunch and a few hours sleep in the afternoon, Luka and I set off again for the same spot, this time I tried a slightly different tactic, using a small drilled bullet just above the wire trace to keep the bait on the bottom, after only a few minutes I had a good run, and I was into a 5kg Tiger (the best fish of the trip as it turned out) I had a couple of other knocks after that, but no good runs, and we returned to the Lodge as the sun was setting.

The next morning brought a nasty shock, as I walked toward the river I noticed it had risen by a foot or so over night, and worse still there were great rafts of weeds & reeds floating down on a very strong current, the colour had changed also from being quite clear to a dirty brown. I was fishing with Steve that day, and we set off for the tree stump swim again, but when we arrived the nature of the spot had changed completely, the stump was now nearly under water, and the current was ripping through so fast that the anchor would not hold us in a fixed position. We started to fish, but after about 30 minutes we gave up, our lines were being constantly snagged by the weed & reeds that were floating down stream. So Steve suggested that we try to find a quieter stretch of water (the river is around 800 meters wide) and there are many sand islands, and some side streams. He showed me how best to fish for Chessa & Nkupe, by finding a pod of Hippos and anchoring around 30 meters behind them, Hippos feed up on the grassy banks at night, and in the morning, well they do Hippo poo! and lots of it! This makes ideal ground bait for Chessa fishing, and we soon had a good bag, Steve catching the lions share, as I had still to perfect my Chessa technique. The local guys at the camp were very pleased as fried Chessa is one of there favourite meals!

Unfortunately, the river conditions did not improve much until the end of my trip, this we found out later was due to four flood gates at the Kafue River Dam being opened, which made the Tiger fishing difficult as these fish tend to prefer clearer water. But I still managed to catch plenty of Chessa, Nkupe and the odd Bream, and I did see plenty of wild life, one evening was particularly memorable as we sat in the boat fishing on one of the feeder rivers a herd of around 25-30 Elephants came down to the river for their evening drink & bathe, with sizes ranging from tiny infants of no more than a month old through to a couple of large Bulls, two more similar groups followed them down each taking its turn.

As I said early in this peace, I will be visiting friends in Melbourne Australia in November, But I will also be doing some fishing just off the coast of the Northern Territory at a place called Croker Is. There I hope to catch Barramundi, Threadfin Salmon, GTs & Queenfish. I also expect I will be dropping a line in with my mate on one of the jetty’s in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay. So look out for some more far-flung fishing stories later!

If you haven’t seen the Nile Perch article, please click here to do so.

Bryan Garnett