Conventional Tiger Fishing in Lake Jozini
Lake Jozini is the third largest lake in South Africa and is the southernmost home of the tiger fish. Also, known as Pongolapoort dam. It is approximately 30km long and 5km wide. The mountains form the Eastern shore. The lake wall is in a 5km gorge in these mountains. The lake is surrounded by reserves on all sides, and is abundant in wild life, such as elephants, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, giraffe, buffalo and various other game. When full, the lake covers approximately 16000 hectares. The department of Water Affairs monitors the lake and keeps the level between 70% and 80% full.
Lake Jozini is a very productive lake, being home to a few other species including: Sharptooth Catfish, Threespot Barb, Bowstripe Barb, Imber, Carp, River Goby, Purple Labeo, Rednose Labeo, Silver Robber, Mozambique Tilapia, Silver Catfish, Redbreast Tilapia and a variety of other smaller species. After the heavy rains brought by Cyclone Demoina, fish (including the Largemouth Bass) from the farm dams upstream swam into the dam. Tiger fishing on Lake Jozini became popular in the mid 1990’s. Marketing of the area has increased the number of anglers visiting the lake. It has proven to become a wonderful alternative to tiger fishing in neighbouring countries, although the average size tiger fish is a little smaller than those caught up north.
Due to the sheer size, Lake Jozini can be extremely dangerous. One needs to be on the lookout for any signs of strong winds or thunderstorms. Please keep emergency numbers handy and ensure that you have the required safety measures on board. There have been many incidents of boats getting into serious trouble or sinking. Alternatively, the river offers a safe fishing area where many large tiger fish have been caught.
The Tiger Fish
The tiger fish (Hydrocynus Vittatus) is a major freshwater angling game fish and can easily be recognised by the bluish sheen on its back, a series of parallel longitudinal black stripes, intensive yellow to blood red fins with trailing black edges and a series of 8 large protruding sharply pointed teeth on each jaw.
Tiger fish are ferocious and aggressive apex predators, and are a hard fighting freshwater game fish. An awesome fish to catch on light tackle and fly fishing equipment. Tiger fish are indigenous to Africa. A local name given to the tiger fish is Striped Water Dog.
There are many legends surrounding the arrival of tiger fish in Lake Jozini. However, the reasons are mainly geographical. Tiger fish inhabit many rivers North and West of the area, in Swaziland, the Kruger Park and Zimbabwe, so it would be natural for them to populate the water downstream, especially since the climate is tropical and the winter temperatures are moderate.
Tiger fish move around in schools of 7 to 15: Generally, the smaller the tiger fish, the bigger the school, and vice versa. Thus, it would be typical to have more than one rod catching as a school passes by. On occasion, up to 3 fish, each over 4kg, have been caught within 5 minutes. The average tiger fish caught on Lake Jozini is about 35cm long and 800g to 1kg in mass. Tagged fish have been found up to 7km away from where they were originally caught over a two-month period.
When the water warms up to temperature of 20°C, coinciding with our summer months, the tiger fish begin feeding and give a good fight. The temperature starts dropping off in May when the winter chill sets in. In October when the breeding season starts, the tiger fish migrate to their closed off breeding area upstream of the Railway Bridge. This provides a good opportunity to catch a large tiger fish. However, we appeal to you during this period to release as many tiger fish as possible, so that they can continue spawning.
The bigger tiger fish (females) tend to hold fixed territories and holes throughout this period of the year. They may move when either food supplies run short, breeding occurs or they are regularly disturbed. Tiger fish are voracious feeders and are cannibalistic. They will take a fish up to 60% of its own size.
Tiger Fishing Tackle
Any firm 6 – 7 foot fast action rod (10 to 20 lb) will do for tiger fish, finding most bass sticks appropriate.
Here a good reel is important to handle short fast hard runs. A good drag system is a necessity. Good coffee grinders or bait casters that can hold /- 120m of line is imperative.
8 - 12 kg monofilament line (nylon). In open water, tiger fish can be landed on lighter lines, but when tiger fishing in structure at Lake Jozini, higher breaking strength line is essential.
Any size from a 1/0 to 6/0 is most commonly used. You will buy almost all tiger fishing tackle with trebles on. Remove all the treble hooks from all your hard baits, spoons and spinners and replace them with hard, chemically sharpened, thin gauge single hooks. Tiger fish have a soft membrane in their mouth which treble hooks tear out of easily.
Circle hooks for Tiger Fish (How to use a circle hook)
When fishing for tiger fish with live bait or Sardines, one of the most effective methods is using a circle hook. These hooks ensure a good hook-set.
Circle hooks look odd, with the point facing inwards. They are designed to hook tiger fish on the way out of the mouth, after the bait has been swallowed, and line tension pulls the hook back out of the mouth from the throat of the tiger fish. The in-bent point prevents the hook from hooking the tiger fish in the throat, gills or stomach, but swivels into place and penetrates the Tiger fishes jaw as it exits the mouth.
The two most important points when using circle hooks are firstly to allow the tiger fish to swallow the bait before attempting to set the hook. The hook and bait need to have been swallowed for it to work. The second important point is not to strike at all, but to allow the line to tighten and the hook to be pulled into place by the line tightening. Striking will most often simply pull the hook and bait out of the fishes’ mouth, while a gradual tightening of the line will allow the hook to swivel into place naturally. Once the line is tight, and the tiger fish is on, then you can further set the hook by giving the rod a couple of firm nods.
Therefore, once the bait has been picked up by a tiger fish you should allow it sufficient time to eat the bait properly while the reel is giving line freely. Once you decide that the bait has been swallowed, then tighten up and only give a couple of firm nods to the rod once the line is properly tight and the tiger fish is pulling hard on the other end.
Photo by Pete Barrett
By using circle hooks you will seldom gut hook, or throat hook tiger fish, and the chances of your tiger fish surviving the experience is so much better than using any other method of bait fishing. Also, because the hook will not set in the guts, you can allow it to feed a bit longer before deciding to set the hook without concern that it is going to be hooked too deep. This cuts out some of the anxiety of striking too soon which can happen when fishing with conventional J-hooks and not wanting to kill the tiger fish.
When fishing for tiger fish, steel trace is essential! It is essential to have a roll of fishing trace of 25-50kg braking strain in your tiger fishing tackle box. One can use either monofilament steel wire or nylon coated steel cable. Piano wire tends to kink and break, especially during long fights. Ensure that your traces are at least 50cm long because tiger fish often attack the lure from the front. If you are using a short leader, the tiger fish bites it off above the swivel. Tiger fish destroy light tackle, so if you buy readymade traces, remove the clips and replace with strong ones. Self-made trace is always best.
Split rings and swivels
When a tiger fish is hooked, its initial run is so fast and powerful that the drag created by the bow of your line in the water is enough to pull open split rings, break weak swivels and snap light line. Even if your tiger fishing tackle survives the tiger fishes first run, often the line gets wrapped around weeds, common at Lake Jozini. Replace all your split rings and swivels with high strength hardened steel. When buying spinners and other lures for tiger fishing ensure that the lures and their individual components are built for strength.
Spoons and Spinners
Tiger fish take spoons readily, and this is one of the best ways to catch them. Shiny silver and copper spoons can be fished easily around and over weed beds or in deeper water. Spinners of any variety work well for tiger fish in Lake Jozini.
Soft Baits (Drop shot Baits)
There are lots of better baits than soft baits for tiger fish, but for those who prefer catching tiger fish with soft baits be sure to pack enough into your tiger fishing tackle box because soft baits do not stay intact for very long when fishing for tiger fish.
All hard baits work well for tiger fish in different conditions and at different times of the year. There is a huge selection of lures on the market.
Make sure that all the tiger fishing tackle which you buy is durable, and replace the split rings and swivels with high quality products which will not fail when you finally get a monster tiger fish. Remember to ALWAYS replace your treble hooks with single hooks.
Other Bait for Tiger Fishing
To prevent unnecessary deaths while using live bait, slip the hook just through the skin on the tail side, not placing the hook too far back. If recasting, check first, and if necessary swop it to the other side. Try and prevent casting and retrieving too often, as the bait will die. The bigger live bait can be pierced through the body, either just below the head or above the tail. Try and prevent piercing the vital organs, although dead bait work well when you cast and retrieve it. Ensure the hook is through the head and mouth firmly in this case. A running sinker can be used as well. When using a cork, adjust to time of day and surface activity. Generally, 2’ of line under the cork is sufficient. When free swimming the bait, watch out it does not run into structure or grass. Free spool the bait, let the tiger fish swallow it before striking, give a count of 5 when the line starts spooling off, then strike.
Like setting up for saltwater fishing. Fished with a sinker, bobbin or by drift. Depending on hook size, the hook should be totally covered yet the point exposed. Use 2-3 cuts out of the sardine, and find it works well. Ideal hooks sizes from a 1/0 to 6/0. Tie it on properly with cotton. It’s a case of casting it and leaving it for at least 10 min, if not longer, yet still check it periodically.
Fillet works best when moving. Either drift with it by using the boat and wind or cast and retrieve it. Retrieve per depth of tiger fish and movement needed. Red wool can be added, though not a must. A running sinker can also be used. On a spinner, it needs to be attached on the eye of the hook until just past the end of the hook. Make sure it doesn’t affect the action of the blade.
Tiger Fishing Tips
When to strike: Free spooling is the most common tactic, but there are takes when you should strike right away, set the hook once and allow the tiger fish to have some drag. If the tiger fish is swimming away and peeling off your line, put some pressure on to keep the hook set and only re-strike when the tiger fish has turned.
Keep the rod tip down: The rod tip should be kept down during the entire fight. The tiger fish gives you about 3 seconds before its first jump where it will take advantage of the slack in your line, so automatically drop the tip.
Do not try and fish the whole lake over your stay. Lake Jozini is a large and patient lake. When looking for new spots, trawl the area while looking at the fish finder. When you have decided on a position, drop a kilogram of sardines, watching where you are going to position your boat, keeping the wind direction or change of direction and current in mind. Secondly, look out for any obstacle that the tiger fish will use to tie you into. Rather chum a little distance away and draw them out of their fighting ground. Once completed, you can head off to another area, doing the same. Now go back to your first spot and fish there. Every 10 minutes, cut up a sardine and throw it in. Try for an hour or so. If you are unsuccessful, go to the next spot. Generally, you should fish shallower spots during the early and late hours (4 – 5 m) and the deeper chummed spots when the sun is high (8 – 10m). Cover this range of depths as you will want to get as much fishing done during your stay.
Try and keep a variety of baits on board. When using artificial bait, work off structure. When fishing in holes, ensure that your lure is getting down there. Up to 60% of our offerings are not reaching the strike zone. Allow the spinners to drop giving line so that it works the entire distance.
Safety on Lake Jozini
On the safety side of things, if you don’t feel comfortable going to fish the main lake, then rather not. The lake is dangerous especially with strong winds and can test one’s boating skill. Keep an eye out for hippo, as there are approximately 60 inhabiting the lake. There are also a couple of dangerous areas to be avoided. Consult your skipper and KZN pamphlet. Avoid the main lake late afternoon.
When to Catch Tiger Fish on Lake Jozini
September through to November is their spawning months, and like many other fish species, they tend to spawn in fast flowing waters up stream. They are stimulated to breed when temperatures go over 20 degrees and this coincides with our rains. This is an ideal time to try and tackle the bigger spawning females on their way up to their breeding sanctuaries.
December to February is when the weather is at its hottest in the area, and although fishing is still excellent, fishing days consists of short sessions, being early morning and late afternoon.
From March to May tiger fish are generally fattening up for the winter months and a good time of the year to seek them out. June to August also produces fish although it all depends on the climate, as a drop in temperature can put them off the bite for a couple of days.
Areas of the lake that Pongola Game Reserve boats fish
The Pongola Game Reserve boats only fish in the river section of Lake Jozini. Guests bringing their own boats can also utilize the other areas.
River section: Unfortunately, Lake Jozini has no fast flowing water or rapids available for angling. This area starts at the train bridge and ends at the mouth of the lake. It is approximately 5km long and on average 1km wide. It offers a variety of different types of fishing from old river beds to cliff faces to a lot of submerged trees and structure. During the spawning season, it is a must to fish, especially the stretch from the train bridge to the Nkwazi Lake Lodge bend. It also offers a lot of protection from the wind. By looking at either the fish finder or above water features such as predicted river course, one will quickly get an understanding of their hang outs. Other hot spots include the pump station area, cliffs in front of Nkwazi Lake Lodge. The Pongola Game Reserve boats only fish this section of Lake Jozini.
Other areas on Lake Jozini
Main Dam: A huge expanse of water, but a productive area. A fish finder is a must, looking for drops and holes. The southern part of the lake is relatively unfished, but the Candover stretch is worth a long line drift. Average depths fished in the lake average between 8 and 25 meters. Patience wins the day when targeting the bigger tiger fish.
Eastern shores: Besides being extremely peaceful, almost every bay or point holds fish. Deep channels, rocky bottoms and lots of structure abound on these shores. A favourite area to fish when dirty water spoils the fishing in the river. Due to the amount of structure a lot of tackle and fish are lost, and trawling is recommended at least 50m away from the bank to prevent such hang-ups. Finding drops or holes for the bigger tiger fish take a while, but by trawling and keeping an eye on the fish finder one will pick them up. Smaller tiger fish can be found in the endless bays stretching down to the southern part of the lake. Do not be afraid of fishing in water exceeding 15 m, just make sure you allow enough line and time for your bait or artificial lure to get down there. Your retrieve rate should also be slower to keep one in the target zone. Pongola Game Reserve boats do not fish these shores.
Western shores: Muddy banks, shallow waters and lots of structure make up this part of the lake. When the lake is above 90 % it is a good area for fishing, but as soon as the water level drops one has to go out at least 200 m – 400m to get any fishing done. Weed beds are the only real cover for tiger fish and this is where you should target them. Otherwise trawling is a good means of finding schools if you are unsuccessful around the weed beds. This part is relatively unfished due to the distance involved and the likelihood of the wind picking up. Pongola Game Reserve boats do not fish these shores.
Gorge: Approximately 16km from the KZN launch site, set between the Lebombo and Ubombo mountains. This area is beautiful and very deep. Good areas are points of bays and the bends of the bays. The tigers must follow the shoreline to find any suitable structure for bait fish. Hot spots in the gorge are the second and second to last bays on the north shores, slipway just short of the dam wall, entrance to gorge on the southern shore. Watch out for any wind picking upon the main lake. One is often caught out with a 20 knot southerly. Pongola Game Reserve boats does not fish the gorge.
Other Fish Species in Lake Jozini