CAMEROON – Shallow water sight fishing to Tigerfish at Gassa Camp
Picture this, from about 15 meters off the bank, you and your guide are scanning shin to knee deep water, flowing uniformly over a white sand bottom. Walking slowly, you are on edge, constantly asking the question, “what‘s that?!”with an urgency that belies the calm and methodical manner you are approaching the session, as you pass a schools of distchodus, labeo or niger bard. These are not your target for now. Like a GSP on point, your guide tenses, as he stares through the glare, to confirm the shapes you are after. Forked tail. Check. Hint of red on the tail? Hmmm… possibly. Conspicuous black adipose fin? Yes! Slowly your eyes adjust, and you too can make out the unmistakable shape of school of 5 tigerfish, finning, almost motionless in no more than 2 foot of water.
For anyone who has targeted tigerfish on fly in Africa, the scenario above would be close to unfathomable. The standard modus operandi, is fishing to structure, drop offs and seems. Most often with a sinking or intermediate line. Here, the deeper you go, the bigger fish you likely are going to catch, with the bigger fish holding the prime lies in the safety of deep water, often around structure. In places like Tanzania, we have had great success on surface patterns for big fish, covering prime lies. And, although in TZ this is not classical sight fishing, the eats are very visual, and casting to dedicated lies and lines make the entire experience really rewarding.
However, these fish, laid up on the sandbank in Cameroon are a different kettle of fish, and we cannot get over just how spectacular this is. Although not as beefy as their TZ cousins (H. tanzania), the Hydrocynus brevis, which is our main tigerfish target in Cameroon (guests also fish to H.vittatus and H. forskahlii), is a longer fish, with a more delicate jaw, and comes with speed and an ariel ability that leaves its cousins in a decidedly second place. Best of all, at Gassa Camp, sight fishing to these spectacular fish is the real deal.
African Water, Gassa Camp guides and managers, Stu Harley and Greg Ghaui reported sighting and fishing to big tigerfish during the early part of the 2019 season, and have been working on understanding this unique aspect of the fishery ever since. 2020 saw massive leaps in the right direction, with the guide’s team dedicating sessions to specifically sight fish to tigerfish, and with great success. All of this has led to a massive shift on how we target these shallow water tigerfish. First off, is the approach. Not unlike how you would approach a session sight fishing on the Bokong River, Lesotho, or a NZ south island river, the prime areas are approached with caution and from far off the bank, keeping a low profile. Once fish are spotted, a plan is devised, before the first cast is made. With the bigger schools of tigers, you may get a handful of shots to hook up; the larger single and double fish, will often give you only one.
6 to 9wht rods are used. Tropical floating lines and 12 to 15ft 20lb flouro leaders. We have reverted back to single strand piano wire as bite tippet, in an attempt to keep the business end as inconspicuous and delicate as possible. On the fly front, un-weighted bulk head deceivers and lightly weighted clousers and small brush flies are best. The profile and colour of the flies is important, with light and natural colors proving to be the best. Sparsely tied, and on a size 2/0 Gamakatsu SL12S. We started fishing with our standard tigerfish hooks here, the Tiemco600sp (which for Tanzania are definitely the best), but have found the SL12S suite the style of fishing on the Faro, and the smaller jaw of the local tigerfish far better.
Making the cast and getting tight as soon as possible are key ingredients here. As soon as the fly lands in the vicinity of these fish, they react to eat. The angler needs to remain in contact throughout the cast and delivery. Releasing the line from your hauling hand on your final line shoot/delivery (and then ‘fishing’ for it to start stripping) is a sure way to miss out on a the first, and often most positive, eats. Anglers need to focus on keeping control of the line in their hauling hand as they deliver the fly, so they can get tight and start stripping as the fly lands. A fast single or double hand strip with rod tip low and pointed at the fish will to the trick. Solid strip sets are important and keeping your nerve and not lifting the fly out of the zone is important. When a pack of fish attack, if the first fish throws the fly, or you come unbuttoned, it is very important to carry on stripping as the remaining fish will be fired up and looking to eat. This season we were treated to an 8lb fish picking up a stationary clouser off the sand after it had been dropped by another fish seconds earlier. It was akin to watching a bone fish eat a shrimp, an incredible experience said Stu and Greg.
In the seasons to come, I am sure we will learn a lot more about the tigerfish habits on the Faro, as well as the myriad other fish species we target here, and we look forward to sharing them with you in the future.
If you have any questions relating to this post, or anything else Gassa Camp, Cameroon, fishing related, please email firstname.lastname@example.org