5 Fly Fishing Tips for Tanzanian Tigerfish

When a tiger fish eats its prey, it goes as hard and fast as it takes it. These fish do not wing, grab or swallow their prey; they crash into it with open mouths and bared teeth. They aim to inflict fatal wounds on their prey and then eat what they can. They are not shy about targeting fish up to 40% their size, including family members. Their strong bony mouths, incredible eating speed and out-of-water acrobatics make tigerfish one of the most challenging fish to land.

Tigers provide some of the greatest adrenaline rushes in fly fishing. With all the odds stacked in the Tigerfish’s favor, there are a few critical elements the angler can control to help even the odds. Assuming you’re fishing the right tackle and with the right flies on the right hooks, here’s what you can do on the water:

1. Rod tip down

Fly rods are not built to drive a hook home in a 1 inch thick bony jaw. So when you set a hook when fly fishing for tigers, you aim as little as possible on the fly rod in the equation. A straight line from the stripping hand to the fish’s mouth is what you are looking for. This allows maximum stripping force transfer to reach the crucial point where the hook point and the fish meet, without wasting energy on a flexing fly rod. You’ve all seen the meme, don’t f******* the trout set!

2. “Roly-Poly” underarm strap.

With the bar under your arm, learn to strip with two hands, better known as the Roly Poly. Although not used all the time, it is widely used when tiger fishing and has several benefits. One of the most important advantages this provides is that you always have one hand actively stripping the fly (regardless of speed or where you are in the retrieve/stripping cycle).

There is no part of the retrieve where you don’t have a stripping hand working the line. This means that you can react immediately when you bite. Missed sets between bands when using one-handed bands are common. By default, using a Roly Poly underarm bar means you can lift the bar when eating. We like this.

3. Do not try to get loose line on the fly reel

If the fish doesn’t reel you in on the initial wave, don’t try to reel it in. Instead, keep fighting it hand to hand. The first 10 – 30 seconds of eating a large tigerfish is similar to hand-to-hand combat (when you’re not a fighter) – fast, brutal, and quite unclear. You have to react quickly to what the fish is doing. You can’t do this when you’re trying to freewheel off the deck. No matter how often you’ve done this on your local trout stream, I promise you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

4. Keep your rod angles consistent

Unless you’re unlucky enough to have your fly penetrate the clipper (which isn’t common due to the way tigerfish eat) or get stuck in the tough skin on the top pallet, you’ll most likely be pre-tied by the point of the hook that holds onto the inside of the hard bony jaw of the tiger fish.

Unlike when you get caught on hardwood or rock, your fly often gets away from what seem like the most stubborn obstacles as you approach and change the angle. The same thing happens when your fish is close, and you are preparing to land it. During this time, changing the angle on the fish, unless necessary, should be avoided at all costs. Getting everything right, seeing your fish up close and ready to land, and then watching your fly shoot out of the fish’s mouth and back to you is heartbreaking. You can tone this down to some extent (pun intended).

5. Don’t lose your mojo

Even the most competent anglers will struggle to turn 40% of the big tiger fish into groundfish. That’s the nature of the game. You will question your skill as a fly fisherman when you have a run of 5 or more for nothing. Accept that and keep fishing.

We have seen countless experienced anglers broken down and reduced to shadows of their former tigerfish fly fishing selves. Just as the casino always wins, so do the tiger fish most of the time. Enjoy the good runs and accept the bad runs with humility. You are no better than the game. Understanding this will go a long way in keeping the atmosphere on the boat positive, which always leads to better results.

Article by Keith Clover. If you are interested in a dream trip to a fly fishing destination, be sure to check out African Waters. Follow Keith and his team on Instagram @african_waters.

Check out the articles below:

The Africa Experience: The Tiger Fish of Tanzania

Capitaine (Nile Perch) – Fly Fishing in Cameroon – [Full Film]

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