There are very few fairytales while Tiger fishing in Tanzania. It is completely true that taking an opportunity to fly fish for tigers on the Mnyera and Ruhudji rivers is to live out a fairytale, but when it comes to the actual landing of dream quality fish, the Tigers generally depart sharply from anything resembling a Hollywood script containing key elements such as the triumphant successful landing of a trophy specimen, either capping off a stellar week of relentless action, or possibly at the end of a long week to avenge dealing with a lot of dramatic agonising losses of (ideally) smaller trophy fish beforehand.
This is a completely natural torch for traveling anglers to be carrying when arriving to fish for the Tanzanian tigers, born out of the eternal optimism of fly fishers everywhere, and often experiences at other big fish or big fish numbers destinations, where success almost achieves a level of expectation. They often think that the hardest part of catching tigerfish is the the travel to get there-once arrived everything runs to this script! The great part of this delusion is that even when it spectacularly deviates from this ideal, all that happens is a real appreciation for what tigerfishing involves, and a new version of a slightly twisted fairytale anyway.
So who are the really big fish reserved for? Absurd numbers of enormous fish and a couple of true giants are landed every season-whose fairytales do they belong to and why?
The reality is that the big fish go along way out of their way to find the people who aren’t looking for them, often in circumstances that are beyond make believe. The irony is that they are the people whose fairytales were already complete, even without a feature of one of these hero-villains. These are the people who know that the only certainties when tigerfishing in the Valley are that the soup and the firewood will be excellent, and nothing more.
I would venture that the only parameter defining these people is that they are the minority sects of either of the two most broad categories – those who already have some tiger slime on their hands and know what it takes to lather up, and those seeking to get their hands tiger dirty for the first time. In either case, the pitfall trap of temptation to take aim straight at the top of the pile is tricky to sidestep-most have either ‘caught or know enough about tigers to be ready for the big one’ or ‘have caught some big Golden Dorado and are ready to notch up a tiger next.’ Nothing amongst any of these sentiments is wrong or bad-they have come all the way here so why not aim high, and of course as much diverse experience can only be useful reference for a new venture. Which is why the anglers who are able to shed themselves of any expectations beyond making the next cast, and whose eyes and minds are solely on the current one, are the minority. The angler who is able to combine some experience and appreciation of the prospect of a large Tiger on a fly without projecting it any further is a force to be reckoned with!
The 10th week of the 2021 season crystallised this beautifully, providing the full spectrum of players. I had Sam and Alex from the States down as the eager, ambitious and hopeful tiger cherry poppers, Carl and Roland as the rookies, having barely cast a fly in freshwater, and Johan, Matt and Chris as lifers steeped in tigerfish lore.
Sam and Alex blazed a fiery trail through a week of hard casting that turned them loose with a lot of fish. Their full subscription to the cause meant that they caught them in many different ways, and even in two’s-a double up with one of the fish on a popper was very memorable! There wasn’t anything about the huge fish they didn’t find out, except for how to get the slime on their hands, as they raised, hooked fought and snapped off-the most acute way to come to appreciate the Tanzanian tiger!
Carl and Roland rode a heady curve of rapid improvement, juggling all departments from casting basics to retrieve technicalities, and not letting any one lag behind. Between achieving total engagement in the task and balancing their huge progress with continually grounding themselves with how much was still ahead of them, I think they were the only ones still genuinely surprised to be landing 17lb and 18lb snorters respectively by the tail end of the week.
Johan and Matt leant on a lot of experience to convert chances very impressively and weigh in heavily with trophy mid teen fish in Matt’s case, and ratchet up progressively larger fish in Johan’s case.
The rare prize of the week, and many seasons for me, manifested on the end of Chris’ line midway through the week. There had to be some explanation for how in a single day 3 huge fish gravitated to his fly back casted off the back of the boat, although with one blasting right through his fly line upon impact on the Harley Shake surface fly, and the most violent one slipping off the hook in sight of the boat, it could have looked like a particularly sharp ‘tiger experience’ hiding going his way. However the middle fish broke the sequence, and all sorts of barriers when it nearly had all three of us on the boat overboard trying to contain it! I maintain that the sheer weight of the fish on the line is what ballasted us out and kept us onboard, and allowed us to boat all 24lbs of perfection. This was Chris’ fairytale fish- there is no accidental way to land a fish of that caliber that way!
The best part of it all for me is that it wasn’t because Chris was probably the best rod we had all season, or that he has a life time love for tiger fish, but because the hardest part of his trip really was just getting there, because whatever happened beyond that was a bonus-demonstrated by how he was happy to back cast off the back of the boat all day just to give his partners the best shots up front. The beauty is that although these truly enormous fish are so rare and can’t be for everyone, they can be for anyone, and none is ever by chance.