We set off from a small dock into the waters of Africa’s Zambezi River, headed toward a small island in the distance. Suddenly, we saw what our guide, Johan, had spotted a few moments before us: a small herd of elephants, including a young calf, swimming from the island back to the mainland. As our boat approached, the elephants went into what by this point in our vacation was a familiar behavior, raising their trunks and trumpeting in alarm as they focused on protecting the calf.
I would never get tired of watching these incredibly smart animals, which the locals affectionately call ellies. However, this was not exactly why we had launched onto the Zambezi that afternoon — our goal instead was to try to catch the elusive Tiger Fish found near the banks of the islands in the Zambezi, Africa’s fourth-largest river. The Tiger Fish is one of Africa’s most sought-after freshwater game fish and an aggressive predator that feeds on baitfish.
My husband, Doug, and I traveled to Zambia to go on safari, canoe among crocodiles and hippos — and angle for Tiger Fish. Our home base was Old Mondoro Camp in southeastern Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park. With six comfy, well-appointed reed-and-canvas huts, and an outdoor bath overlooking a popular watering hole for elephants, Cape buffalo and antelope, it was the perfect spot for our adventures. But back to the fishing …
Our guide, Johan, who has been on the Zambezi his entire life and has spent a decade as a guide, expertly navigated the river’s strong currents. We edged toward one of the many islands dotting the river, where the fish tend to feed. Using spinning rods with lures (fly fishing is also very common), we cast our lines as close to the banks of the island as possible. The bright African sun was just starting to go down — which also meant it was time for bug spray — and the colors on the water were intensifying. We cast our lines again and again, talking to the fish (I am convinced this helps). Suddenly, Doug had a hit, and under Johan’s instruction he kept his rod low and started reeling in what we could now see was a Tiger Fish. Johan quickly got the net and his gloves — necessary to protect against the fish’s sharp teeth — and brought our catch into the boat. I grabbed my camera for a photo as a glove-clad Doug held the fish in his hands — but before I could get a shot, the fish had decided it had had enough and jumped from Doug’s hands straight back into the water. We were practicing catch and release anyway, but a quick photo would have been nice.
As the sky grew darker, the pressure was on for me to catch a fish — and to document the catch with a snapshot. We moved to a new location, one Johan said was his lucky area. I cast and cast, lost in the beauty of the setting sun and the absolute quiet except for the birds. As I was daydreaming, I felt a sharp tug on my line — I had hooked a fish! This one was a fighter, but after several minutes of reeling and reeling, I brought the fish in. I was determined not to let this one go before we got our photo. Doug grabbed the camera and captured a photo of me holding the fish, complete with its menacing-looking teeth.
We started cruising back to camp, banking our boat along a small isle along the way to enjoy sundowners, in this case glasses of cold South Africa wine, while we watched the sun sink over the horizon. Everything in the world felt like it was in its right place.