STRETCHING for more than 500km along the base of the rusty gold Zambezi Escarpment is Lake Kariba, a scenic gem on its own right. There the water is worthy benevolent mistress, kissing the sky with all the love of nature and providing the much-needed comfort. Where the land meets the water, in swash and backwash, silky white coves hem in the azure waters, overshadowed by a chain of wild jungle-draped peaks towering above.
It is from the peaks that wild animals streak to the dam to quench their thirst and feed on the lush green vegetation. From the shaggy water buck to the nimble-footed duicker, the spindle-legged impala to the boisterous jumbo and sluggish hippo, the lake is a source of life, if not life itself.
It is uncommon to see elephants graze on the shoreline, massive bodies half submerged in water.
But there is the other side of Kariba. Fishing, fishing, fishing! Kapenta for the stomach yes, but the biggest fishing tournament has nothing to do with kapenta. It is the tiger fish that rules the roost.
The Kariba Invitation Tiger Fishing that has been running since 1962 is the world’s largest internationally recognised single species game fishing tournament in terms of the World Game Fishing Association.
Tiger fish has blue or blackish lateral stripes like a land tiger and bright red to yellow caudal fin juxtaposed to the deep blue waters.
For a fisherman, catching tiger fish is the greatest experience. It is quite a spectacle!
The very tackle that many fishermen use for tiger is in itself, a telling tribute to the fighting qualities of Africa’s most elusive, ferocious and speedy game fish.
Upon catching it, the tiger’s initial run is strong and fast and is usually followed by a spectacular leap of one or two metres into the air to shake off the hook, and then a series of deep, determined runs which chew every ounce of strength from this magnificent fish.
Finally after up to 10 minutes of fighting, the tiger fish is pulled, belly up, to the side of the boat, where it tries to make one or two last breaks to freedom — ike a man trying to break from chains – but is gaffed and brought onto the boat.
For a moment the fish pants, breathing its last, as the angler smiles in a typical tale of two lives.
No any other fish is known to put up such a fierce fight.
Every fisherman is careful when handling the tiger fish, which possesses a ferocious set of razor-sharp teeth enclosed in a bony head that can cause serious harm to the fisherman.
Last week all roads led to Kariba for one of the world famed international fishing tournaments.
More than 600 fishermen drawn from the world over and about 1 000 supporting staff gathered at Charara Fishing Camp, putting Kariba on the international map as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
The competition ran without incident with National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority having marshalled the dam.
The annual tournament is meant to capture the biggest tiger fish of the year and the current record is that of 15,507kg caught in the Kariba in 1962 by Jenny Daynes.
The grand prize of this year, a Nissan NP200, was won by angler Gideon Benade of Africom, who hooked an 11,40kg monster.
Last year there was no winner of the grand prize after no fisherman caught a tiger weighing more than 10kg.
In second place last week was Michelle Howell of Charter A, who caught a tiger weighing 10,37kg.
This is despite the fact that fishermen this time around found Kariba defiantly stubborn with temperatures soaring around 45 degrees Celsius.
In third place was Darren Crause of Team Deluxe who caught an 8,105kg tiger fish. Following closely was female angler Brenda Makchissin of Ram Petroleum, who caught a 7,06kg tiger.
Another woman, Jennie Christe of Charter A, caught a 7,65kg tiger. The youngest competitor, nine-year-old Samuel Willas of Team Mercury shocked many after hooking up a 3,88kg tiger, which he staggered to carry to the weighing bay.
“I have been fishing ever since I started walking. I have been fishing all my life,” said young Sam as he was being mobbed by organisers and competitors alike.
She has remained the record holder for all the years.
Tournament organiser Mr Rod Bennet, says he was pleased with the participation and the success of the tournament.
“It is really amazing. The temperatures on the lake were 45 degrees. It could easily break anyone’s spirit but no one surrendered. This tournament is recognised as the world’s largest single species fresh water fishing tournament by the International Game Fishing Association.
“It has put us on the international map. I have been part of the team running this tournament for 12 years and before then I contested for 18 years myself. It’s getting more and more exciting, with each year, especially with the support from the National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and police, as well as local communities,” says Mr Bennet.
Mr Bennet said the organisers were using strict rules to ensure fairness in the competition. He said the teams were drawn from the world over and that Zambia topped the list of countries with the highest number at 11 team and South Africa with eight teams.
The tourism fortunes of Kariba could be changed through hooking up with the tournament that has given Kariba its international face.
The tournament has given Kariba and indeed Zimbabwe a depth of character, a bite of the international fishing fame and a place in the world as being among the best hunting ground for the Africa’s most elusive and ferocious fresh water predator fish.
But what is so special about the tiger fish?
Tiger fish is known for its sheer speed and aggression, pound for pound and is ranked as the world’s most powerful fresh water species.
Females are larger than their male counterparts.
In the southern hemisphere the biggest tiger fish caught and dubbed the Goliath, weighed about 45kg.
It was caught in the Congo River and, who knows, Nyaminyami, the river god who watches over Kariba Dam, could one year give a lucky fishermen another Goliath.
The tournament is in itself an endorsement of the national brand, “Zimbabwe — A World of Wonders” and with anglers from all over the world enjoying themselves in the waters of Kariba, Zimbabwe has indeed been put on the international spotlight.
There is no question the importance this tournament has on the international angling calendar, and win or lose, it is just a great event to be part of.
The organising committee have introduced rules that bars pre-fishing tests that gave advantage to the rich, who would come a week or two before the competition to scout for areas where the biggest schools of fish are found and then concentrate on those areas during the competition. The rules level the playing field. No one has an advantage.
It is hoped that Nyaminyami, believed to watch over the dam, will not disapprove the tournament as he normally communicates his anger with heavy storms and waves in the world’s largest man-made lake.
In Zimbabwe tiger fish is distributed throughout the Kariba Dam, the Zambezi River and its tributaries.
The tiger is also found in Lake Chivero and Manyame Dam, Nuanetsi, Bubi and Mzingwane rivers also have tiger fish.
Its primary food is kapenta, bream, catfish and squeakers. They also eat their own kind as long as it is less than 40 percent their body weight.
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