Tiger fish of the Lower Zambezi River

By Fred Steynberg

The flight from Oliver Tambo Airport took 1hr 45 min and the connecting flight would take us a mere 30 min to within a few kilometers of  the 4x4 road to Ana Tree  Lodge.

Yousuf and Wabasha Zumla, the owners of Ana Tree Lodge, were awaiting our arrival at the entrance of Lusaka’s airport building and together we rushed to collect our luggage. The fly rods were the first to appear on the conveyer belt and while patiently waiting for the rest of our bags to arrive, Yousuf explained what we could expect from the connecting flight via light aircraft.  After an hour had gone by there was still no sign of our luggage and that of about 20 other international guests visiting Zambia.  With our fly rods and nothing else but a feeling of helpless disappointment, it was made clear that this was not the first incident of this nature where SAA was involved.

Turning back would not be a consideration after analyzing the fantastic opportunity that lay in wait.  Yousuf persuaded us to continue our journey and explained that the lodge might have a spare rod and line and that hopefully our luggage would be recovered in due course.

Armed with a toothbrush that Wadasha kindly purchased for us at a local tuck shop, and rods without reels or equipment we boarded the twin engine Piper and set off for Ana tree lodge on the bank of the Zamezi river.

Sight of the breathtaking Zambezi and surrounding wilderness curtailed our cloud of despair.  Gavin the lodge manager and senior field guide pointed out herds of impala, buffalo, elephant and large troops of baboon.  His gracious wife and manageress of the lodge, Lauren, greeted us with a welcoming drink.  Everything was wonderful and our spirits began to soar.

Ana Tree Lodge lies a couple of kilometers upstream of the Mpata Gorge in the Lower Zambezi National Park.  The park is one of Zambia’s smallest parks at 4000 square kilometers, yet undoubtedly one of Africa’s most pristine.  Lion, leopard, hippo, buffalo, baboon, crocs and numerous plains game inhabit the park and are in close proximity to the lodge as they gather along the fringes of the Zambezi during the dry winter months.  The animals are all directly or indirectly dependant on the green marsh vegetation as well as on the pods from the indigenous Ana Trees, with their beautifully gnarled and twisted vines.  The rainy season brings relief during October/November.  The tall, towering Ana trees provide a shady canopy  for the lodge and are a vital part of the eco-system, providing food to much of the large game as well as a refuge for baboons and leopards.  We watched as the elephants shook the trees with their foreheads, dislodging the pods and then foraging greedily on them.

Guests are escorted to and from their chalets by staff who use persuasive hand signals and calls to encourage stubborn elephant or buffalo from the lodge pathways. To date no incidents have occurred.  

Ana Tree offers eight double, tented chalets, well furnished in typical African style.  The chalets flank the bar, lounge and dining area.  Guests could not possibly be more in the midst of real Africa.  Staff provide a constant and effortless service.  The lodge guides amazed us with their local knowledge of bird and animal life, constantly pointing out sightings.  The swimming pool lapa affords itself as a game viewing point overlooking a section of plain and bushveld, a highway crossing for wildlife, extending toward the river.  

We were fortunate to witness a female leopard feeding on her kill in an Ana Tree 20m from the dining area.  Perfectly relaxed in our company, she allowed us to run a spotlight over her from time to time … no fences, pure, African splendor.  We can only hope the Zambian government will preserve it.

We shortly set off with our skipper Mathew and the borrowed rod, reel and a lonely orange deceiver that had seen a lot of water in its time.  Gavin offered us a spinning rig and a couple of spinners.  Our mission was to explore as much of the surrounding river within the remaining 2 hours of sunlight of our first day, a foundation to work on for when and if our luggage arrived.  Our skipper navigated us through a narrow channel that runs from below the lodge into the main river system and neighboring channels.  He carefully slowed the boat from time to time, allowing elephants or hippo to cross.  My partner on the trip Mario du Preez quickly hooked into two small tigers on spinning gear while drifting and working the fringes and structures.  Persisting with the lodge fly rod, I eventually hooked and released my first small tiger of the trip.

We enjoyed a fantastic dinner and engaging conversation together with one too many Mozi’s, the local beer.  Isaac, one of the guides, kindly escorted us to our chalet, where I lay awake listening to laughing hyenas roaming the camp fringes and a cacophony of roars and calls making up the night sounds of wild Africa.

The lodge has access to a vast length of the Zambezi which forms channels around numerous islands, creating interesting ambush areas for tigers.  This is where we headed the following morning.  Our skipper skillfully aligned the boat for perfect casts.  We dutifully landed tigers of between ½ kg to 7 kg’s that day.  Hard working anglers can expect to catch tiger of varying sizes with 4 – 7 kg’s the norm.  We learnt that these larger tigers give a real good account of themselves when hooked on lighter tackle.  Some of these bigger fish were spectacular specimens with missing teeth bearing permanent witness to their long lives.  We eventually lost our only fly at around lunch time, but most thankfully received news of the arrival of our lost luggage.

We were newly armed with clousers, whistlers, deceivers and 3 inches of 20lb piano wire as shock tippet to avoid the obvious time constraint.  Under normal circumstances we would have used 20 lb mono wire.  The tigers fed throughout the day because of the low winter day temperatures.  Strikes were ferocious, often causing line to be pulled from the stripping hand.  Striking without lifting the rod tip and ensuring that the hook is firmly set is imperative as badly hooked flies are discarded in a single spectacular leap.  We found that most of the tigers were feeding at various river bottom depths and retrieving a fly from the bottom at a medium to fast stripping speed would induce the take.  The skill in catching these tigers was in knowing where to look for them and an understanding of the method of ambush and attack.  Our skipper informed us that in his 15 years experience, September and October were prime fishing months with fish feeding on just about anything you can throw at them.

Gavin and Lauren are a young South African couple with a passion for wildlife and eager to share their beautiful piece of Africa with visitors.  With no phone lines or cell phone reception, contact is made with the owners in Lusaka once a day via radio.  Supplies are driven in from Lusaka on a hectic 4 hour, 4x4, gravel road.  Notwithstanding this effort, fresh fruit and expertly prepared meals were served.  The calls of hippo bulls woke us at first light as we rose to prepare for our flight back to Lusaka.  In silence we scanned the bushveld below, taking with us memories of a true African adventure.

How to get to Ana Tree Lodge:

Fly fishing tackle: