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All about fish in Zimbabwe....
Hydrocyon vittatus - Tiger Fish - Mcheni


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The scientific name is translated literally as water dog (hydrocynus) striped (vittatus).

It has vivid colouration, large protruding teeth, short dorsal, small adipose fin and lateral stripes along the body - this clearly distinguishes it from other species.

The scales along the lateral line are large and number 43-48 with 15-16 around the caudal peduncle. The dorsal fin has two unbranched and 8-9 branched rays and the anal 3 and 10-13 respectively. The jaws show a series of replacement teeth in the tooth sockets which replace teeth that are lost or broken.

The fish is colourful and ranges from light to dark shades - the lighter fish are normally taken over sandy substrate.

This variety of tiger fish is the second largest in Africa. The female attains a larger size than the male.

The major factor in distribution in a river system appears to be water depth. This fish is seldom seen in small tributaries and never encountered near the headwaters of rivers. It is an open water predator and often found near the water surface - this possibly accounts for the fact that it is one of the principal prey species of the Fish Eagle.

In Zimbabwe it is found throughout the Zambezi System and its larger tributaries. It is present in the upper Hunyani and in Lake Chivero. It is present in the Limpopo. It has been introduced into several dams within the country.

The Tiger Fish is probably one of the most common of the larger species in any river system.

The tigerfish prefers warm well-oxygenated water, mainly large rivers and lakes, where it tends to prefer the surface layer. All but the largest fish form roving schools of similar size. Breeds during summer, adults migrate up or downstream to find suitable lake shores and flooded riverbanks to spawn. It will come as no surprise to most anglers that tigerfish are related to the feared piranhas of the Amazon but few people would equate them with the neon tetras commonly sold as aquarium pets. This large family of fish, the Characins are found in South America and Africa and include a huge range of diverse species. The scientific name of tigerfish translates to "striped water dog" and with their ferocious rows of sharp conical canine teeth they certainly resemble their namesake. Tigers occur in the Okavango system, the Zambezi and in east flowing rivers south to the Phongolo. They also occur in the Zaire River (Congo) as well as Lake Tanganyika and rivers in North and West Africa. Although tigers grow to 15kg, the closely related goliath tiger is reported to grow up to 40kg! No other fish can be mistaken for the tiger with its bright red fins and black stripes along a silvery body. Tigers swim mostly in schools of similar sized fish hunting whatever fish species they can find. Large spawning migrations take place in summer and females lay up to 780 000 ova which disperse into flooded vegetation on floodplains. Tigers are predators from the moment they are born feeding on zooplankton and graduating to larger prey as they grow. Fishing for tigerfish is generally a specialised branch of flyfishing and it pays to consult someone who regularly catches them before venturing into the unknown. Wire trace is usually used and flies are often constructed out of durable materials such as copper wire. Hookups are fairly easy once the tigers have been located but for every ten hooked you may land one. Most success is to be had by targeting smaller tigers (which tend to be males) in the rapids or pools. Look for them where you would look for saltwater predators such as on the edge of dropoffs or where the current changes velocity. The sheer force of the strike and fishing in magnificent surroundings makes tigerfish fishing a highly desirable experience, add to this its unique status as Africa's premier gamefish and it is easy to see why hundreds of tourists flock to catch them each year.

Newly hatched fry less than 10mm long start their lives feeding on small invertebrates and zooplankton. Progressively they take larger plankton and insects and eventually become exclusive Piscavores. Tigerfish are known to take prey 40% of the size of the attacking fish! Flies Heavy-duty tiger flies tied on extremely strong hooks like salmon irons are needed. These strong flies have been developed especially because of the destructive properties of tigerfish teeth. Other flies that have proved successful are Clouser minnows and Zonker strip minnows. The following are suggested useful colours. Red, Yellow and Orange Green and White Pink and White

It is cannibalisticon its own species and other food comprises insects, grass and snails.

The first year fish tend to spend time in shallow waters - keeping safe from the large Tiger Fish.

There is no record of the species attacking humans but its larger relative, the Goliath Tiger, has been known to attack swimmers.

A knowledge of the behaviour and daily movements of this fish is a prerequisite of the successful Tiger Fisherman.

Angling is not successful during the rains between January and April as the fish are widely dispersed and often in inaccessible habitats.

For fish between 3 and 7 kg a large spoon is suggested for angling - usually a 6 with a single large hook. The larger the spoon the larger the fish caught. Tiger fish are known to become lure-wary after intensive fishing activity. Probably the most efficient tiger spoon is one which has a single hook attached to the front eye and reaching half way down the spoon, and a treble hook at the rear end. A silver spoon is preferred by some fishermen, though those with a red or gold concave surface have their champions. The brighter the spoon in the water the greater the range of attraction for the fish.

A Strong rod is needed, preferably a 7 or 8weight, with reel capable of holding 200 yards of backing and a very good drag system. Tigers are strong and fast and come from the wrong side of the tracks, so it is necessary to have good, strong equipment use a 10-15 pound leader with a short wire bite trace. This is necessary for these fish due to their extremely nasty set of dentures. A sinking line is recommended to get the fly down to the fish. Specific sink rates are requited for different situations. Slow sink for shallow areas and lead core (Airflo's DI 7 is recommended) for fast moving rivers. The most important tip of all when it comes to fishing for tigers is WHATCH OUT FOR THE CROCODILES! Tigerfish seem to like to hang around with crocodiles and hippos. So beware and limit your angling to a boat. If you must fish from the side, stay wide-awake!

Tiger will follow the shoals of Limnothrissa miodon - the kapenta or sardine that has been introduced to Lake Kariba.

Even a fish of 4kg will give a good fight often making several leaps of about 1 metre above the water.

Every Tiger Fisherman has his own preference for tackle.

The flesh of the Tiger is considered equal to that of any fresh water fish but unfortunately, especially in the smaller specimens, is often full of bones. A 4kg upwards fish - filleted carefully will make a passable meal. Pickled Tigerfish is considered to be a delicacy and is probably the best way of preparing the fish.

All preparation of tigerfish flesh for eating should be done as soon as possible after the catch as it decomposes very quickly.


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