Yes, you can target Africa’s biggest freshwater fish, the vundu, on fly. Experienced African fly fishing guide Stu Harley tells us how he does it in The Mission Issue 42.
The vundu (Heterobranchus longifilis) is the largest true freshwater fish in Africa. According to literature, adults can grow to a whopping 1.5m in length and can weigh up to 55kg. Although local fables inflate these measurements. A key feature is the large fleshy adipose fin posterior to the dorsal fin. Vundu, like most catfish, are generalists. They are extremely well suited to adapt to any ecosystem, and can survive outside of the water for extended periods.
Almost all wild populations of vundu share habitat with a number of crocodile species, which presents a few research challenges… But we know that they can live for more than 12 years and in some systems have been known to hybridise with African sharptooth catfish (Clarias gariepinus) resulting in bastard offspring known as Hetero-clarias.
Depending on the habitat, they fill the niche of deep water scavenger. They feed on animal remains, but in some rivers they are the apex predator. Using their long barbels for detection, they actively hunt and capture most prey in proximity, from baitfish to small ducks.
Vundu frequent and occupy most freshwater systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Habitat preference is not really considered due to their generalist nature, but most will almost always be near a deeper/slower moving piece of water, having the option to retreat if threatened or wanting to hold. I have seen vundu aggressively hunting yellowfish in shallows, riffles and rapids throughout Tanzania and also come across some sitting at depths of 30m in the African lakes that they call home.
HOW As for the kit, a 9-weight with a sinking line, or standard 300 grain shooting head line, and a 35-40lbs leader will do. We fish large bulky flies that hold a significant presence in the water. Vundu are able to zone in on the turbulence created by these larger flies. The best way is to find an area or barrier that the fish are hunting in, and to slap your fly onto the water’s surface repeatedly. The vundu (if present) will investigate the disturbance. Then comes the exciting part of feeding a fly to a very visible and potentially massive freshwater fish. Surprisingly, I have never seen or heard of vundu showing interest in surface flies or lures of any kind. They are best targeted in moving river water, because hunting a free swimming vundu in a lake would be too vague and more than likely too unproductive. A small handful of lodges in Africa are suited for actively targeting vundu.
The vundu’s size sadly makes it a highly obtainable source of protein in Africa. So this widespread species is quite scarce. All of the ideal rivers for targeting vundu are few and far between. And they are all inside national parks under the custodianship of private tour operators. Tanzania is your best bet, but there aren’t really any DIY options. In my opinion the best place to target a trophy vundu on fly is Majestic Rivers (majesticrivers.com) on the Kilombero River in Tanzania.
For more from Stu, check out his Instagram account at @stuart_harley_
Read the rest of The Mission Issue 42 below. Mahala.