Of course I’d heard about surface-feeding vittatus. I’d seen the videos too, like this one of bird-eating tigers.

In October 2019 Ewan Naude and I were on the upper Zambezi at Sioma Falls (Ngonye Falls) with Wildman Fishing Co.

Early one morning we saw some peculiar surface boils in a quiet bay. Part of our mission up there was to fish for the near-mystical yellowfish ( Labeobarbus codringtonii) of the area, so we immediately assumed that’s what was eating on the surface like that. We were unequipped for them right there (having left the lighter tackle and surface lines in camp for this session) but I stepped down my tippet and tied on a roach pattern from LeRoy Botha. Only to fruitlessly worked the bay for about 30 minutes, all the while the feeding continued sporadically. I managed to cover a few rises stillwater trout style, but no dice.

(Learn how to tie that fly, here)

LeRoy Botha deerhair Roach fly pattern

LeRoy Botha’s deerhair roach pattern.

Eventually I went back to a wire trace and clouser and immediately hooked into a small tiger, close to shore and in not very deep water. In hindsight, what I perhaps should’ve done is persisted with a Dragonfly nymph imitation….

But how would such a pattern translate to tigers. What hook would you use? And, you’d have to go wireless for sure.

 

a dragonfly nymph husk from the Zambezi River, while fishing for tigerfish

Zambezi trophy

I’ve discussed what Ewan and I saw with various people since that day. People who know. Most deferred back to the yellows as the most likely. Some entertained our tiger theory however. Kind of like the guy who ‘found’ the mystical indomitable snowman: “I know what I saw…”

Just perhaps it could be.

You see, earlier this year, Gareth Reid and the other guides at Mavungana Flyfishing noticed similar behaviour at Lake Jozini. And then some…

Lake Jozini was at around 55% during that time after a summer of heavy rainfall season (October through January). This meant the flooded margins (where the vegetation which grows on the exposed banks during the dry season gets covered), offered structure for all manner of creatures, aquatic and otherwise to thrive. The hydrilla weed beds were lush, making the margins even more alive. In short, it was boiling with insect, amphibian and fish life.

Spiderweb on Lake Jozini while fishing for tigerfish

Proliferation of life in the flooded margins on Lake Jozini, May 2021 (c) Gareth Reid

Of course this meant the predators big and small, waterborne and terrestrial  (see the orb spiders above) were also about in numbers.

‘Rather than hunting in the surface film,” says Gareth of what the tigers were doing, “they were deliberately ambushing and stalking.”  Now, it’s not uncommon to connect with tigers at Pongola with surface patterns such as NYAPS, crease flies and poppers. In fact I came very close in early September 2020, giving up after various inquiries during one session only because my boat partner hooked into a solid fish sub surface (read more about that session, here). But those patterns (and they way they’re fished) imitate baitfish.

Topwater tigerfish are a real option at Lake Jozini

Topwater tigerfish are a real option at Lake Jozini

The behaviour Gareth and the other guides observed was something else completely. It happened only on certain mornings under very particular conditions and, when the barometric pressure was stable and overhead conditions clear and warm. As they season shifted into winter, it stopped completely.

As Garth points out, they weren’t rising on the surface as in the Zambezi, they weren’t nymphing… “The were actively hunting adult dragonflies, tracking them as they flew and then launching clear of the water after them.” They spent some time behind the cameras but never got lucky enough to catch a predation on film.

 

Lake Jozini tigerfishing

Hard to believe that the dragonflies (and nymphs) are a big enough source of protein that it is worthwhile for a predator as vicious at the tigerfish to add it to the breakfast menu? Evidently it is…

Bugs of the Zambezi valley

This has been bugging me for ages

He called it ‘Shadow Casting’ – Keeping his line low enough, for long enough to make a tiger rise.

*Apologies Norman, I couldn’t help myself.

** The tiger in the featured image was NOT caught on a dragonfly pattern. But maybe one day it could be. It would be something the likes of ‘Clyde’ from Nick Lyons’ A Flyfisher’s World might add to his oddball bucketlist:

“Clyde has done well for other species over the years and I had always listened with awe and envy to his litany of accomplishments :
Carp on his Mulberry Fly of crimson chenille;
Dace on a #32 Bread Crumb Special;
Sturgeon on a Duck-Gut Roller;
Piranha on a triple long-shank Finger Fly;
A small paddlefish on an Eelgrass Wiggler;
Mullet, on the Riviera, during his Twenty-fifth Wedding Anniversary trip, on his #28 Plankton Popper.
And the list goes on, including hacklehead and skate on his Cut Squid Fly from the pier at Sheepshead Bay in December and blowfish on a Clam Glob Red Tag anytime.”

Tie the fly to do it with, here.