One of Africa’s largest rivers, the Zambezi snakes from the highlands of Zambia through Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe before reaching the Indian Ocean through the braided Mozambique Channel. More than 3,500km in length, the river is a lifeline for wildlife and also provides some very fine fishing opportunities, as you’ll be competing with the crocodiles for some of the most exciting freshwater fish in the world.
The prime species is without doubt the great toothed water dog, or tiger fish. Unlike its cousins that live in many of the larger African lakes, the river variety are incredibly fit and powerful, used to contending with the huge current of this serious river. Much like salmon or trout, packs of tiger fish inhabit structured areas along the bank or lurk behind natural breakwaters in the river, from which they pounce on unsuspecting prey as it travels past. This aggressive nature makes them perfect targets for the fly. Tiger fish are the only freshwater species that rival their saltwater brethren in aggression and power.
At the point of hooking most tigers take off with an amazing run, normally accompanied by that ripping noise of the line arcing through the water. This is often followed by some aerial acrobatics and searing runs well into your backing.
Areas of the river, especially the rapids can be “read” in the same way as any other river, the only difference being that this one has some much larger creatures inhabiting it. There are three predatory bream species, the nembwe, three spot tilapia and red breast tilapia. Although called bream in Africa they are more like bass, and also inhabit similar habitat to tiger fish. They like to lie right in amongst the structure and can provide excellent sport on a fly.
On a river system this long there are numerous lodges and camps that give access to these waters, catering for many different experiences and tastes. The standard of service and accommodation, even in the tented camps, has to be seen to be believed. Although in many cases the rooms in these tiny remote lodges are as luxurious as those of a five star hotel, they are built with local materials and blend effortlessly into their bush surroundings, with the sounds of Africa’s wildlife filtering through the canvas walls each night.
Knowing when and where to go is crucial. The rainy season begins at the end of October, and with this build up of water the river swells and in many places bursts its banks into the surrounding flood plain. Due to the length of the river this deluge of water moves down its course over months, meaning that different points along the river become prime at different times, but this also prolongs the fishing season. It is very important to understand this relationship or you may find a muddy torrent with no fish.
Fishing surrounded by the African bush is an awe-inspiring experience. It allows you to bring your non-fishing spouse or family as they’ll be just as happy to set off game viewing in canoes, on foot or in safari vehicles. Even fishing from the bank you’re likely to see elephant, hippo, giraffe, crocodiles, impala, kudu, and warthog as they all come out of the bush and down the river to drink. For those who have not been to Africa this is an amazing experience and adds immeasurably to the excitement.