After meeting the departing Volker at the airstrip, and receiving a brief break down of his two weeks fishing, our incoming guests on the 31st October arrived in camp with a sense of awe, expectation and sky high excitement levels. We were really pleased to be able to welcome back American Paul Lavins, who was making his fourth Tanzania Tiger trip, having been unable to come last year, and is considered an old friend at Tourette HQ. Pete Tandy and Pat Butler, from the UK and Australia respectively, have travelled and fished extensively for salmon, tropical flats species, and a brief Tigerfish spell on the Zambezi some years back, and had come to see if they could better their previous results. Making up the group was well known fly fishing journeyman and photographic journalist Matt Harris from the UK, who was fresh of a 4 week stint in the Amazon targeting big Peacock Bass. After the traditional lunch together at Dhala camp, Matt went over to the Ruhudji with guides Mark and Stu, while the Mnyera contingent set about rigging up the rods for the next day.
With just a single client on the Ruhudj it was again a prime opportunity for a fly camping expedition, and Matt was always game for something different, so the guys packed up the boats and headed back up river to the majestic Ruhudji Rapids. The plan was to only spend one night up top, so the arrival afternoon was a combination of a quick circuit around the rapids, and then working some of the top stretch and bends off the boat. Although these rapids are small, and hold more fish than you could shake a stick at, some of the spots are pretty technical to fish with very deep fast water, and unless you are consistently getting your fly into the right areas, chances are that you could come away empty handed. This was not the case with Matt, whose first ever Tiger fish was a glorious 17lb fish that came right out of the guts of the raging funnel section! While Matt and Mark covered the rapids, and headed down on the boat, Stu headed off on foot to explore the higher rapids. The fishing was pretty quiet for Matt and Mark but Stu found more than he could have hoped when he bumped a leopard that was drinking from one of the top pools before tearing off up the hill!
The next day the guys headed off downriver with the happy conundrum of having to cover lots of water and countless fishy spots with only one day to do so. Fishing a combination of surface flies, mainly a big Pole Dancer popper, and sinking streamers, the team fished furiously hard but found the going pretty slow. This was probably due to the increasingly unstable weather we had been experiencing as the imminent first rains continued to build. A few fish were raised on the popper, and Matt did pick up a 10lb to go with a couple of smaller ones, but the most memorable moment came while Stu was fighting an 8lb, as a massive fish came and attempted to maul it! Stu was the guide present when the 28lb monster was landed last year, and he maintains that this fish was comfortably larger..! More evidence that the big fish were around, but just not out and about as the weather continued to play havoc.
A light drizzle on Monday evening seemed to have relieved some of the meteorological tension that had been building, and Tuesday was a completely different story. Matt and the guides were into fish from the get go on the Middle beat, with Riffles once again firing hard. Stu was again in the mix, as he boxed and landed a hard-nosed 18lb, while Matt continued to put the heat on numerous 8lb-12lb fish that made for really good hard action. Fish were coming out hot from all corners, and with a very healthy average weight of 8lb, exceptional fishing was had right up until time for departure for the Mnyera.
Only one catchment over on the Mnyera, things had played out slightly differently over the first three days. Heading upriver to the top beat on Sunday, we had a relatively circumspect morning with the best pulls coming early doors while Pete and Pat were still feeling their way around. However, every time things threatened to go quiet, we would get a press, and both gentlemen managed to convert a couple of 5-6lb fish. A gradual improvement in quality of fish strikes and conversions throughout the afternoon meant that the first full day ended with a very respectable number of fish caught, and of course a couple of rippers that couldn’t quite be tamed! Paul in particular was unlucky with a well hooked big fish that popped the leader deep into the fight.
Monday was spent in the ample confines of the versatile Middle beat, and amidst some heavily building weather. The fish proved to be really aggressive early on and into the mid morning period, with a lot of surface movement and activity, and a myriad of strong strikes from nearly every likely looking piece of water. With Paul, we frantically went through a number of fly pattern combinations trying to tap into the frenzy, including a popper, and although we had a number of strikes from mid size fish, we always felt we were just on the sidelines of the main activity. A very exhilarating but frustrating place to be! Pat and Peter were experiencing the same voracity, but Peter in particular was right in the big fish mix. He managed to latch onto a 14lb, and eventually a magnificent 23lb fish to blow the session right out of the water! It was again a reminder of how having just a few things go your way can really reward a session, and hats off to Peter who was really riding a great wave of form! The afternoon slowed down quite significantly, although Peter again rose to the fore and weighed in with a 19lb fish just above camp late in the day to wrap up a vintage day of tiger fishing!
If Monday was a game of T20 cricket with hard and fast action, then Tuesday was definitely a five day test match in one. Pat in particular must be commended on paying a lot of school fees and fishing really well for limited action, while even Peter with his golden arm had to work harder than usual for his fish! He still managed some superb catches, with an 11lb, 10lb and some 5-6lbers, quite a few of which seemed to have come from the exact place that Pat had previously just put a fly! Late in the day, with strong gusting winds and deep dark clouds building, Peter again plugged into a huge fish from deep down, and after another loose and lively fight had another spectacular 19lb fish on board! Paul too had had a long hard day, but managed to stick some nice mid size fish in the afternoon before making a wise choice to avoid an inbound thunderstorm by taking refuge in camp! Supper this night was a lively affair with plenty to report from both parties from the fishing front, and the returning Ruhudji crew had also had a really special encounter with a lioness and cubs on the drive back over, adding further excitement to the mix!
The news of the big fish prowling the Mnyera had Matt in the grips of some text-book tiger fever, which proved to be extremely infectious, so on Wednesday we decided to poke our heads into a couple of the Kasingo rapids spots to see how they were fishing and to make sure we had some shots there before the imminent rains came down. We had some really good action on surface flies in certain spots (Spag-Bol) while most areas were very quiet. However, our first drift through the rocks back on the boat was really promising, with quite a few positive smashes on Matt’s sinking streamers and also on the guides’ popper rod. With the intensity pushed up even higher, there was a strong feeling of inevitability about someone connecting with a something special, and eventually Matt hooked and delivered a belter of a 22lb out of a slim stream, unleashing some pent up emotions! After going to town on the photographing of this fish, Matt was straight back throwing poppers over anything that looked like it might hold something, and raised quite a few very large Tigers that somehow couldn’t stick! Despite rain falling in the afternoon, we stayed right amongst fish throughout, and found ourselves enjoying a rose tinted spell of pulling really solid 10lb plus fish out of seemingly every spot we worked, a truly remarkable experience!
Over on the Ruhudji, the rains finally came down on Wednesday, putting the afternoon session on the backburner. However by the time of this interference, the unstoppable Pete Tandy had already added an A-grade 18lb on his first day, and backed it up with a 15 and a 14lb on the subsequent days. The going was much tougher than on the Mnyera, with long spells of no positive fish activity, and most of the few takes being short strikes or non committal tugs. The fishermen quickly realised this and instead of being disheartened or conceding to the conditions, they applied themselves with admirable commitment, and maintained a positive outlook and fished with added intensity. It can’t be stressed enough how much of a difference this made to quality of the week, and it was really rewarding to be a part of making the most of their time. Paul Lavins was rewarded with a smoking 14lb Tiger and even added a beautiful Black Velvet yellowfish to his tally before the water conditions deteriorated.
By Thursday afternoon, the Mnyera had risen about a foot, and undergone temperature and colour changes for the worse, and Tiger fishing became a fruitless enterprise. This was not before the relentless Matt Harris had reined in a few more double digit fish, and raised some really big ones. Having turned his back on the poppers, and now fishing his ‘game changer’ fly (aka the ‘Chinese Dragon!’), Matt suddenly had the attention of some fish that seemed to be in the mid to late 20lb range, with two in particular that really seemed to be pushing the magical 30lb mark! Unfortunately none of them came in for a closer look, but it was a pleasure to be reminded that they are around, and we had a great time trying to work out a way to target them more successfully!
All in all, it was a week drenched in success despite the slightly anti climatic washout finish. The great fish recorded was a testament to the energy and enthusiasm of the clients, which went a long way to energising and motivating the guides! Any week featuring tigerfish of the quality these gents experienced is a successful one, and another cameo from the yellowfish added extra quality. Matt came away with some amazing footage, and the tigerfish’s impressive appearance was definitely done justice! A special mention must be made of Pete Tandy, a quiet and unassuming tiger assassin, who ended up with the joint largest fish on each of the rivers this season!
We are confident that the rivers will recover in no time, and that the tigers will be back to do battle for one more week. I know we’re looking forward to the last week of the season, and here’s hoping for a stellar finish!
To view Matt Harris’s full gallery of this week, have a look at the link below: