I was on my second hosted tigerfish fly fishing trip to the Okavango Delta armed not only with the usual clouser minnows but also with some new ideas incorporating rabbit zonker strips. Staying at the lodge was a well known South African guide with two clients from Europe. In the morning as we were heading out to the boats the well known guide looked at the fly I had tied on as he passed by and said “Tigers don’t dig bunny bru”. I was mortified and just said “ you think so?”. To be honest, I wasn’t sure.

On the previous trip we were all using clouser minnows tied on SL12 salt water hooks that were given to us as part of the package. They were heavily weighted with big dumbbell eyes and were quite sparsely dressed. The typical adage that you land 2 out of 10 tigers you hook rang true and it was frustrating as hell. I kept wondering why and what could be done, there was a theory discussed around the night fire that maybe the big dumbbell eyes were getting in the way of the hook set by getting stuck in the long interlocking tigerfish’s teeth.

One of the main bait fish you hear about and people mainly use as live bait for tigerfish on the Okavango and Zambezi is the Bulldog. It is a small strange looking fish with a proboscis type appendage under the mouth, it’s colouration varies from olive and darkish brown to coppery brass. So for this trip I tied what I thought to be a good bulldog imitation with small dumbbell eyes to help with hook ups and because bulldogs have a really beady little eyes. To get a bit more of a profile to clousers I used a rabbit zonker strip that sits on a body of lead wrapped in flash to help it sink fast. I really like using copper as a colour for tigerfish and tie it into clousers as well. Before my fly fishing days I have been the guy without the copper spinner or spoon on the boat.

I’m not saying it’s THE tigerfish fly. I think clouser minnows are brilliant and most productive, black, black and red being probably the most popular colour combinations with olive over grey and other colour variations working better at times. The Gamakatsu B10S stinger hook has really improved hook up rates, so bang goes the theory about the dumbbells getting in the the way.  The Okavango and Zambezi rivers have many minnow species and fry from bigger species that are forced off the floodplains into the main channel drawing the barbel runs and the marauding tigerfish. I believe that the tigers focus on the particular small fish coming off the flood plains being it baby barbel (there must be tons of those and I’ve seen tight schools swimming along the weed edges) imitated by black and black and red, minnows and robbers by lighter and silvery colours. I also think the structure of the river plays a big part in what fly to use, black and red for slower sections which are deep and lighter silvery minnow type flies for the faster water and rapids where those kind of fish can handle the current.

The fly did catch fish on that trip but it was on the last day where it became a firm favourite. We had the choice to sleep in or get up early for a last short morning fish. Almost everyone got up early and headed to where the barbell run was last seen. Find the barbel run and you’ll smash fish as long as it lasts. We couldn’t travel too far and my boat pulled up to where a few of the boats were positioned and guys were fishing with playful banter between boats. The guys weren’t catching but I was till pretty determined and swung my new fly deep into the current, bam, I caught 3 big tigers in quick succession and then it was time to leave.

On following trips to the upper Zambezi it has produced when other flies haven’t, sometimes other flies are better. Keep changing flies until you find what works in that area at the particular time, it could be Bully Beef.

Thanks to Andre Van Wyk for the name, when he suggested Bully Beef I remembered how bully beef was a stock standard for lunch on fishing trips growing up in Zimbabwe.

Bulldog image – Rob Palmer


Make sure you tie a strong fly and don’t get tempted to make the zonker tail too long, little tigers like the one above have incredibly sharp teeth the will nip it off in no time. Keep it between 2 to 3cm long, the zonker fur gives the fly plenty of movement when in the water.


Hook – No. 2/0 Gamakatsu B10S Stinger.

Thread – 240 Veevus PC670 Denier – Copper/Rusty Brown.

Nickel Dumbbell Eyes – Yellow 4mm.

Lead wire – 0.8mm thick.

Under coat – Sally Hansen’s Triple Strong Nail Fortifier. Don’t mess with Sally.

Body and Tail flash – Copper flash or crystal flash – Gold has also worked.

Body over coat and strengthener – Solarez Hard UV Resin.

Wing – Rabbit Zonker Stips – Magnum or Standard can work too. It is important that the fur is long for a bigger profile. Colour – Natural Hair. Here I have used Magnum bared.

Rib – Thick copper wire.

Gills – Red cactus flash – There’s a thing about having a touch of red in tigerfish flies and lures that’s imprinted in my brain from the little red plastic tags on tigerfish spoons growing up so I always incorporate some. I used to use marabou or rabbit fur as well.

Note – The fly swims hook point up, but initial tying is hook point down, the hook is flipped in the finishing stages.

1. Place the hook in the vice, hook point down. Lay a solid foundation of thread and tie in the dumbbell eyes about 5mm from the hook eye like you would on a clouser minnow.

To add weight to help the fly to swim hook point up, to sink fast and to create a body, use three strands of lead wire tied on top of the hook shank. Two parallel strips on top of the hook shank and another on top of those as per the hook cross section below.

2. Tie in the tip of lead wire just behind the dumbbell eye. You want the wire to run on the top of the hook but just off to the side. Do this by holding the wire out at a 45 degree angle while tying it in.

3. Tie in the second strand of lead parallel to the first strand and on top of the hook shank.

4. Tie in the third strip of lead on top of the two parallel strips.

5. Build a body of thread over the lead creating a bit of a taper at the hook bend.

6. Tie in at least six strands of copper or gold flashabou or crystal flash for a more scaly look. Leave about 2-3cm protruding from the back as per the image. You can make this longer if you prefer for more flash.

7. Coat the thread body with Sally Hansens Triple Strong and wind the flash to the dumbbell eye and back creating a solid copper or gold body. The excess can be added to the flashy tail. The Sally Hanssens strengthens the body and secures the flash. You could use super glue but I find it can make the flash dull sometimes.

8. Tie in a length of copper wire at the tail, this will be used to secure the zonker strip.

9. You need a really durable fly for tigerfish’s teeth so coat the body with Solarez hard.

10. Rotate the hook to sit in it’s swimming position, hook point up. Tie in a dash of red just behind the dumbbel eye. Measure your zonker strip from the eye up to the bend of the hook where the thread body ends, mark the point where the bend starts on the zonker.

11. Pierce the hook through the zonker strip where you marked it.

12. Slide the zonker strip to sit firmly at the back of the flash body.

13. Pull the zonker tight and tie off the zonker strip between the hook eye and dumbbell eye.

14. Now wind the copper wire through the zonker strip towards the hook eye. It helps to use saliva or water to part the hairs.

15. Tie off the copper wire at the head, coat in Solarez and brush back the zonker fur. Trim the tail and flash.

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