August 15 2023

A Tiger fishing Adventure on the Chobe River

Fishing for Tigerfish in the wilds of Africa is a bucket list adventure for many intrepid anglers.

Words and Photographs by Gero Lilleike

I could barely contain my excitement as I prepared to embark on my first-ever Tiger fishing experience and I was soon to discover that the Ichingo Chobe River Lodge in Namibia is perfectly located for prime Tiger fishing on the Chobe River.

Despite having over two decades of fly fishing experience, I consider myself to be an average angler, at best, but thankfully I would be accompanied by Gavin Erwin, a renowned South African fish artist and seasoned fly fisherman. Our mission was simple: to catch as many Tigerfish as possible and to target other fascinating fish such as the Nembwe, Three-Spotted Bream, Catfish, and if we’re lucky, the elusive Pink Happy Bream.

Gavin lives and breathes fishing and not only is he a master of creating remarkable fish-inspired artwork, but he also boasts an impressive track record of hooking various fish species across South Africa and abroad, including the feisty Tigerfish. His wealth of knowledge and experience promised to be invaluable for this Tigerfishing expedition.

The splendour of the Chobe

We caught a flight to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and crossed the border into Botswana where we headed to Kasane and met our enthusiastic river guide, 37-year-old Cassius Tebuho, who would impart his knowledge of the Chobe River and the wildlife that calls this beautiful place home.

It’s here where the mighty Zambezi River and the Chobe River converge, and this region is the only place in the world where 4 countries share borders (known as the Kazungula Quadripoint) including Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Further downstream, the Zambezi River cascades into the Zambezi Gorge at the world-famous, Victoria Falls, a site worth visiting while you are in the area.

We stepped onto a tender boat and Cassius took us to the local Namibian immigration office on Impalila Island to formalise our arrival in “The Land of The Brave”. With stamps in our passports, we embarked on the short water-bound journey to Ichingo Chobe River Lodge.

The river was teeming with wildlife and birdlife. Thousands of squawking birds tended to their nests in the trees, hippos wallowed in the shallows, crocodiles basked on rocks in the afternoon sun and toothy Tigerfish lurked below.

Ichingo – A fisherman’s paradise

Cassius expertly manoeuvred the boat through the rapids at Ichingo Chobe River Lodge where the lodge manager, 62-year-old Kennedy Ilunga, welcomed us with his larger-than-life personality. We had arrived!

Amidst the lush canopy of trees, 8 charming Meru-style tents provide a picturesque view of the river, but there was no time for rest; the call of the fish beckoned! After a quick and delicious lunch of lamb pie and salad, we prepared our tackle for the Tiger fishing hunt.

It’s worth highlighting here that your stay at Ichingo is all-inclusive which means that all your food, drinks and a dedicated boat (including 25 litres of fuel per day) and river guide are at your disposal for the duration of your stay. Awesome!

Armed with both flyfishing and conventional tackle, we ventured upstream under Cassius’s guidance, in pursuit of Tigerfish, also known as the “Striped Water Dog”.

On the way, Cassius delivered disheartening news: 3 days before our arrival, an unusually cold weather system had brought strong winds and lowered water temperatures, rendering the Tigerfish less active and fishing more challenging.

Undeterred, we pressed on with determination but fly fishing in the wind was difficult and the fish were sadly off the bite. Nonetheless, we accepted our fate and enjoyed a spectacular sunset on the Chobe River!

Tiger fishing on the Chobe River

The following day offered slightly warmer weather, but the persistent wind remained unyielding. Cassius, well-acquainted with the nuances of the Chobe River, devised a plan. He steered us towards the Kasai channel, a narrow waterway winding northwards to the Zambezi River, effectively separating Impalila Island from the Caprivi strip. The Kasai channel is a sheltered fishing ground with reeded banks, secluded bays, deep channels and shallow sandbars offering excellent opportunities for determined fishermen.

Both Gavin and I opted for fly fishing using various Clouser patterns in colour combinations such as red/black, purple/black and orange/black in conjunction with fast-sinking fly lines.

Gavin quickly scored the first catch with a juvenile Tigerfish, followed shortly after with a slightly larger one. Meanwhile, I diligently worked the water without success. Throughout the day, we explored the Kasai channel, taking advantage of the shelter it provided. By day’s end, Gavin had landed a stunning 1.5 kg Tigerfish, while I returned to Ichingo empty-handed.

Kennedy welcomed us back to the lodge and celebrated Gavin’s success with a shot of sherry as he stepped off the boat. Other fishermen also reported challenging Tiger fishing and fishing conditions with just a handful of fish caught. This news soothed my wounded pride somewhat.

We joined the other guests around a roaring bonfire, sharing the days Tiger fishing tales and we enjoyed a delightful braai fireside with the sound of the rushing river filling the night sky.

With renewed determination, we turned in early, eager to embrace the river the following morning. A hearty breakfast and steaming coffee prepared us for the day ahead. Cassius positioned the boat skillfully in the rapids upstream from the lodge and we started the day’s hunt with our trusty Clousers which were proving to be successful.

Gavin wasted no time in hooking another Tigerfish in a fast-flowing drift. A while later, Gavin added another sizable Tigerfish to his tally. Gavin was showing me up, but I concentrated on perfecting my technique, determined to catch my first Tigerfish. Cassius was hugely supportive and encouraged me to persist and stay focused.

Tiger fishing and Flyfishing in the Kasai Channel

The wind picked up later in the morning and Cassius once again headed up the Kasai channel in search of some shelter. We explored various spots, including shallower banks with steep drop-offs, which proved successful for Gavin. His catching streak continued, and he added two medium-sized Tigerfish to his tally. My yearning to catch my first Tigerfish on fly grew ever stronger.

We also fished conventional tackle like spoons, spinners, and lures in areas less suited for fly fishing, such as heavily congested lily beds, hoping to catch a Nembwe (Yellow Belly Bream), but our efforts were futile. Fly fishing, for us at least, was proving to be far more successful.

Later in the afternoon, Gavin switched to a floating line and presented a Flipper fly on the surface and his success continued with another small-sized Tigerfish on the end of his line.

Then, as the sun dipped low, it happened! We were fishing a drift at the end of the Kasai channel when a small Tigerfish aggressively devoured my purple/black Clouser. With sheer joy, I landed the catch — my first Tigerfish, caught on fly! I was a very happy man!

Back at the lodge, Kennedy was waiting for the news of the day’s catch, and he celebrated the moment with exuberant gestures in a way that only he can. As we gathered around the dinner table, lively conversations ensued including stories of the largest (and smallest) Tigerfish caught on fly.

Well-known South African fly fisherman, Daniel Factor, was fishing at Ichingo with his family. He hooked a large 6kg Tigerfish in the Kasai channel on fly! For Daniel and his family, Ichingo is undoubtedly the best place to catch Tigerfish on the Chobe River.

In addition to fishing, guests at Ichingo also have the option to visit Kafubu village, home to the Basubiya Tribe with an impressive 200-year-old Baobab tree standing in the centre of the village. Unfortunately, our time at Ichingo coincided with the passing of the local Induna leader and so our visit to the village was short and solemn as most of the villagers were preparing for the burial ceremony.

It was our last day of fishing and we wasted no time in getting back on the river to hunt for more Tigerfish. Cassius put us in a drift just upstream from Ichingo. Gavin’s line couldn’t have been in the water for more than 10 seconds before he hooked yet another lively Tigerfish. Two minutes later, I also had a small Tigerfish on the line — what an exhilarating start to the day!

Fishing over a rocky shelf, Gavin’s line tightened once again, but this time, it wasn’t a Tigerfish. He had caught a rarely-seen Pink Happy Bream! These elusive and shy fish are seldom enticed by passing flies, but Gavin’s luck had prevailed. Cassius was delighted, admitting it had been a long time since he last witnessed a Pink Happy Bream caught in the Chobe River.

Wildlife of the Chobe

With hunger setting in, we returned to Ichingo for lunch, savouring a delicious spread of hake, chips, and coleslaw. Across the river, a huge hippo was basking in the sun, bearing a visible wound on its head, presumably from a recent fight.

Seeing that it was our last day, we wanted to see more wildlife and Kennedy suggested we venture upstream to the Chobe National Park, a 40-minute boat ride away.

When we got there, we sat in awe at the scene before us. Thirty elephants quenched their thirst at the water’s edge while a massive 6-metre crocodile lay motionless on the river bank, watching. A pride of lions napped under the shade of a tree with a troop of baboons chattering overhead. African Buffalo grazed peacefully in the golden light and further up the bank, a bloat of hippos lazed in a mud pit. Being on the boat afforded us a unique perspective of the animals in their natural environment and because we were on the water, we could get really close, which is great if you are a keen wildlife photographer.

As the sun approached the horizon, we seized one last chance to cast our lines. With a pastel-red sky and the river’s life energy reaching its peak, we sat in silence, absorbing the magic of the Chobe. The river had blessed us with an unforgettable experience and we would be going home with hearts bursting with happiness. This is the fishing trip to top them all…

Contact us to book your Tiger fishing adventure at Ichingo Chobe River Lodge!


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