The ability for a tigerfish to leap out of the water and grab low-flying birds out of the air has only been the stuff of local legend in Africa - until now. For the first time, researchers have been able to catch this practice on film and twenty instances were observed and documented.


Several species belonging to the genus Hydrocynus of the family Alestidae are referred to as "tigerfish", and are particularly prized as game fish. These African fish are found in many rivers and lakes on the continent and are fierce predators with distinctive, proportionally large teeth


Tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), is commonly found in the southernly Okavango Delta, and the Zambezi River, and also in the two biggest lakes along the Zambezi, Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe, and Cabora Bassa in Mozambique, and finally in the Jozini dam in South Africa.


In the western gamefishing world, Hydrocynus vittatus is considered Africa's equivalent of the South American piranha, though it belongs to a completely different zoological family. Like the piranha, individual tigerfish have interlocking, razor-sharp teeth, along with streamlined, muscular bodies, and are extremely aggressive and capable predators who often hunt in groups.


The African tigerfish is the first freshwater fish recorded and confirmed to attack and catch birds in flight.






Tiger fishing tackle (line, reel, rod, trace & lures) differs according to the fishing method used (spinning, drift baiting, trolling & fly fishing). The fishing tackle needs to be the best available in order to catch and boat the fearless tigerfish.


Whilst Shackletons Tiger Fishing Lodge provides guests with tiger fishing tackle (except for fly fishing tackle) at no extra cost, guests are free to bring their own tackle. The tiger fishing tackle recommended below has been tried and tested at Shackletons Tiger Fishing Lodge over many years.




Rod: 7 ft medium-heavy action spinning rod; 2-piece (for ease of travelling); line weight 15 – 30lb; lure weight: 3/8 – 1 oz.


Reel: Good lever drag reel (seated on top of the rod) that holds at least 180m of fishing line. The reel must ‘match’ the rod.


Line: Braid line (30lb to 40lb – depending on size of reel spool); monofilament line (20lb to 30lb – depending on size of reel spool); at least 180m; natural green (not high visibility line).


Trace: Piano wire (>=40lb); 40cm long; size 6 power/barrel swivel; size 6 snap swivel (to change lures easily). Can also use pre-made wire traces – must be >=40lb and 40cm long.


Hooks: Very sharp size 4/0 or 5/0 hooks (Mustad Big Gun).


Note: Always use the best/strongest terminal fishing tackle for Tigerfish. Tigers will exploit any weak link in the fishing tackle setup (and you will end up losing the Tiger).




Rod: 6ft – 7ft heavy action trolling rod.


Reel: Good lever drag reel that holds at least 200m of fishing line. The reel must ‘match’ the rod.


Line: Braid line (at least 30lb – depending on size of reel spool); monofilament line (at least 25lb – depending on size of reel spool); at least 200m; natural green (not high visibility line).


Trace: Piano wire (>=40lb); 30cm long; size 6 power/barrel swivel; size 6 snap swivel (to change lures easily). Can also use pre-made wire traces – must be >=40lb and 30cm long.


Lures: 11cm floating Rapala Magnum – fast trawls; 7cm floating Rapala Fat Rap – slow deep water trawls; 5 cm floating Rapala Fat Rap – slow shallow water trawls.


Lure colours: 11cm floating Rapala Magnum – Fire Tiger, Red Head, Silver Mackerel, Black/Gold, Silver, Green Mackerel, Purple Mackerel, Shiner; 5 & 7 cm floating Rapala Fat Rap – Fire Tiger, Red Craw, Black/Gold, Silver, Grey Shad, Silver Chrome (red lip), Blue Chrome (green lip).


Hooks: Replace back treble hook with very sharp single 4/0 or 5/0 hook (Mustad Big Gun).




Rod: The best rod for upper Zambezi tiger fishing is 8 or 9 weight with a fast action. Recommend 4-piece rods for ease of travelling. If possible, take 2 rods on the boat – one with sinking line and the other with intermediate line.


Reel: Match the rod with a high quality large arbor reel. Reliable disc drag system. Holding 200m of Dacron backing.


Line: Line should match the rod weight. Type 3 & 6 fast sinking lines (250 – 375 grain for 8 & 9 weight rods). Intermediate lines for the many back shallow waters are a must. Integrated shooting head lines are best. A spare line in at least one of the line categories (i.e. sinking and intermediate) is recommended.


Note: Presentation is not all that important with tigerfish. This means that the integrated shooting head lines are preferred over full length sinking or intermediate lines as they are quick loading and great distance casting lines. Most offer an intermediate running line with a WF quick taper head for distance and quick casting. The running line section of these lines also behave better than the full sinking lines.


Leader and tippet: Leader – 25 to 35lb monofilament. Tippet – 25 to 30 lb knottable wire or piano wire.


Leader set-up: Tigerfish are not leader shy, but we recommend the following leader set-up:


Make sure your fly line has a well-made fused loop. Tie a loop into a 6 – 8ft length of 25lb Maxima Ultra Green and connect to the fly line with a loop to loop connection. Many flies are purchased pre-wired with a small black Japanese power swivel (size 6) to which you can tie directly to and you are good to go. This is the easiest way to put your terminal gear together. If you do not like to use swivels you will need to perfect the Albright knot (click here to see how to tie the Albright Knot) to attach the leader to the piano wire. When using this knot to attach wire and mono make sure you seat the knot 100% or you will break off. Click here Animated Knots to see how to tie all the knots you will need.


Flies: There is much debate on flies for Tiger. We recommend you carry a selection of Tiger Brush & Tiger Polar Minnow (mainly), Tiger Clouser and Tiger Whistler flies on hook sizes 1/0 – 3/0. The B10S hook is the standard. The Owner model 5180 is also a good hook to use – very high hook-up rate because it works like a circle hook. Flies do not necessarily have to be big – small flies also work well. Colour combinations that are consistently productive in Tiger Brush, Tiger Polar Fibre Minnow, Tiger Clouser and Tiger Whistler baitfish patterns include: Olive, Black, Purple and Grey (early season – March to May); Black, Black and Purple, Black and Grey, Black and Red, Olive and Grey, Black and Olive, and Fire Tiger (rest of season – June to January). Tiger are opportunistic so do not be afraid to experiment. Our guides over the years have their favourites so the first thing you want to do is show them your fly box and they will have suggestions and recommendations.