A Return to the Land of Tigerfish
Reader Brian Griffith has a real penchant for tigerfish. So, it will be no surprise if this, his second trip fishing for Tanzania’s toothiest game fish, results in a third. He reports that the outfitter has fine-tuned its program since his first trip to the region. He had this to say about his experience:
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to fish the Mnyera and Ruhudji Rivers in Tanzania at what was billed “the finest tigerfish destination in the world.” It did not disappoint, and I have wanted to try it again ever since. Thus, the first two weeks of this past October found me back at Tourette Fishing’s camp in south central Tanzania to try my luck again. The entire experience surpassed my first trip in every way.
The trip began in Dar es Salaam, where I stayed at the lovely Sea Cliff Hotel. I arrived a few days early to give myself a chance to acclimate to the seven-hour time difference from the US east coast. If you can afford the time, it is well worth it to do so. Dar es Salaam, itself, has little to offer, but the Sea Cliff, where you can rest up and prepare for the trip ahead, has a nice restaurant, a well-stocked bar, and lovely grounds overlooking the Indian Ocean.
On Saturday, we were shuttled to the airport and took the one-hour-and-twenty-minute flight to Ndolo airstrip. As we were landing, we spotted a herd of at least 75 elephants less than a kilometer from the strip. Once on the ground, the departing and arriving guests chatted while bags were stowed on the awaiting Land Cruiser and we were introduced to the guides. A ten-minute drive through the bush brought us to camp along the banks of the Mnyera River. At camp, there is a central palapa-style common area where dinners and drinks are served. Here, we were given an orientation speech by Stu—one of the head guides—detailing the schedule, safety precautions, and general facts about the camps. There are two camps, one on each river, which generally hold four anglers each. My first week, there were six Russian spin fishermen who did not want to split their group up, so they headed off to the Ruhudji while my fishing partner, Bob Woolery, and I stayed at the Mnyera. It was a nice bonus to have an entire river to ourselves for the week.
The fishing program began on Sunday morning with a 5 AM wake up. Breakfast was served at 5:30, and we were generally on the boats by 6, just as the sun rose. Each river is divided into three beats (with an additional rapids section on the Mnyera) that all get several days rest between anglers. Boat rides can last more than an hour, but the time passes quickly as there are hippos, crocodiles, and countless birds to watch along the way. Occasionally, baboons, monkeys, and waterbuck are sighted as well. The boats are 18–20 feet long and constructed of heavy triple-thick aluminum to withstand being bumped by hippos. There is a casting platform up front and a sufficiently large area in the rear to accommodate two anglers comfortably. All fishing, except in the rapids, is done from the safety of the boat, as crocodiles are a real danger.
The last time I was here, the majority of the fishing was done while drifting downstream and casting to structure. The Tourette guides have refined their fishing techniques and now focus on anchoring at deep bends or slowly working deep pools. This does result in fewer fish, but the fish that are caught are significantly larger. There is still some drifting between pools where you cast to likely holding spots, but it no longer constitutes the majority of the fishing. Nine-weight rods with tropical 350-grain sink tips were the setup of choice, although eight-weights with a floating line were used with poppers as well. Both setups’ terminal tackle was six feet of 40-pound test mono with 12–18 inches of 40-pound wire. Hooks on all flies were quality 2/0 saltwater hooks. If there is a flaw in your equipment, these fish will find it and break you off consistently.
For the first three days, Bob and I fished the upper end, the rapids, and middle beat of the Mnyera. On the first morning, I hooked four fish in the 20-pound range. The first fish broke the 50-pound fly line–leader connection (not at a knot), the second straightened a Gamakatsu hook, the third broke me off six feet up my sink tip, and the fourth fish was finally brought to net and proved to be my biggest fish landed that week—weighing in at 19 pounds. These are amazing fish. Besides the fearsome dentition, they are strong and incredibly fast. The first 15 seconds of a fight with a tigerfish is pure chaos. A hard strip set is mandatory—so are taped fingers, as line burns are commonplace (I had more than a few blisters). There is very little like it in freshwater fishing! In total, I landed four fish out of eight solid hookups that day.
The rapids section of the Mnyera is absolutely beautiful and is “big fish” water. You ride to the bottom of the rapids and then walk/fish your way up to the lunch spot. The walking is relatively easy and flat, although getting up and down the banks in several spots could prove to be difficult for less fit anglers. We hooked several truly big fish, and landed a few 10-plus pounders. The popper action is more reliable here—although it does seem that tigerfish are really bad at taking surface flies. When they do get it right, however, they put on a spectacular show. All tigers seem to jump when hooked, but the takes on a popper are unforgettable. This is the only section where you regularly wade, and wading sandals are highly recommended. I did not have a pair with me, and on day two of a 14-day trip, I slipped on a rock and badly bruised my foot. I could still fish, but it was not always pleasant.
On the third day, we fished the middle beat and saw more hookups and fish landed. The weather throughout the first week was a bit unsettled. The skies were usually clear by 9, and the temperatures settled in the mid 80s. We did have a lot of clouds and wind, which seemed to put the fish off a little bit. We also had a full moon, which I believe does affect these fish, as they are better able to hunt at night. Still, I managed to land fourteen fish, with eight over ten pounds. This is not a fishery for great numbers, and you make a lot of casts for each fish, but they are truly memorable fish.
On day four, we arose early (4:30) and made the two-hour trip to the Ruhudji. Quickly unpacking, we began fishing just below camp and immediately got into fish. The Ruhudji has a slightly faster current and is shallower and a bit clearer. The fish tend to be somewhat slimmer, but they are definitely more athletic. An eight-pound fish on the Ruhudji feels like a 12-pound Mnyera fish. Here again, we concentrated on deep pools and bends where the bigger fish congregate (all the while keeping an eye out for hippos and crocs). For the first week, I went 14 for 20, with an average weight slightly above 10 pounds.
The camp on the Ruhudji is comprised of tents, unlike the cabins on the Mnyera. Dinner is taken on a sandy beach by the river’s edge. I personally enjoyed this camp and river more than the Mnyera. It feels a bit wilder, and it produced some truly memorable fish. We fished all three beats with decent results until Friday, when Bob made the trip back to the Mnyera. I stayed at the Ruhudji with my guide, Greg. While waiting for my new fishing partner, we did a little halfhearted fishing—I was tired—but without much success.
My new partner, Mark Pettini, arrived and the fishing continued much as during the previous week, only in reverse. We started on the Ruhudji and finished on the Mnyera. The weather stabilized a bit, and during the course of the week we went 17 for 27, with an average weight of over 11 pounds.
I had tied dozens of flies for this trip, most of which never saw the water. I would recommend buying Tourette’s flies on-site to save money and time. The most effective flies were brush flies in dark colors that pushed water—golden dorado flies worked great too. Terminal tackle is available in camp, but it is significantly less expensive to bring your own.
The entire guide staff was top notch. Composed of three South Africans and a Tanzanian, they are knowledgeable, tough, helpful, and fun to be on the water with. The camp staff went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. The food and accommodations have taken a real step up in class from five years ago. In general, there is very little I could find fault with. This is a trip that will prove tiring for less fit anglers; however, the guides do their best to accommodate everyone. It is not a hundred-fish-a-day kind of destination, but each fish you land is hard earned and a memory that will last a lifetime.
When I booked this trip I thought to myself that this would be my last one there. It is a long trip and not exactly an “inexpensive” destination, but I’m already trying to figure out when I will be able to get back! This is not a trip for everyone, but if you love wild places, adventurous fishing, and dinosaur-like fish, you should consider it.
I booked this trip through Pescador Solitario (remoteflyfishing.com). The cost was $7,955 per week.