Tigers under the full moon
  Garreth Coombes
Die seisoene verander
Schalk Nolte
Tiger Fishing
Charles Stewart


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Tigers under the full moon by/deur Garreth Coombes

Garreth Coombes

I have been fortunate to have fished the Upper Zambezi River for a good few years now, during which time I have had the pleasure of fishing at different times of the year and, more importantly, different moon phases.

A most common question asked though, is whether full moon would be a good time of the month to come up. Since I normally plan my fishing trips around moon phases and tides (saltwater) I too have wondered what happens over that enigmatic period of full moon. My own feeling is that moon phases on the whole can play a significant part in your success on your trip. But the full moon itself? If tigers are active then, when do they come to life? When do they prowl and feed?

Quite recently I witnessed two quite unexpected situations that may throw light on the whole deal.

In the normal course of events as regards our fishing, as it starts getting dark, we rush back to camp due to annoying mosquitoes and increased hippo activity. We were fishing one of the channels around the time of the year that we would hopefully anticipate a catfish run, ( a phenomenon well known in the Okavango Panhandle). Believe it or not, but a similar occurrence takes place on the Upper Zambezi. During this time, huge numbers of catfish migrate in large schools, which inevitably ends in a feeding frenzy, when they crash into papyrus devouring the small bait fish species that seek shelter therein. This attracts tigers like a magnet, who patrol the edges of the papyrus and wait for the cats to flush the baitfish out into the open water. Then whack…..! 

From Top to bottom: Black Deceiver, Clouser and
a Whistler flies

These are typical lures that can be used, and
have been successfully used by us,
during the full moon.

We had enjoyed some great fishing a couple days before, until the full moon dawned upon us and activity dwindled to relatively quiet. The days became long and pretty fruitless. One particular afternoon we decided to head out a little later than normal and fish an area where egrets had been congregating. It just looked so good every evening on our way back to camp and we would generally see some activity, but it was normally too late to stay and give it a go. Some of the guys even said they fished that particular area during the day, but with little success. So, that evening, we decided to anchor just a little up from the cove where the egrets and herons were sitting. We arrived while it was still light anticipating the sun to dip below the horizon at around 6 pm. Whilst we were anchored, waiting for the light to diffuse, we made some exploratory casts and caught a couple of little tigers which kept us entertained.

As it got darker, we noticed the birds starting to get restless and all around, you could hear grunts, squawks and gulps in the floating grass next to the papyrus. The lower the light, the more catfish activity with fish surfacing all around us. We knew something was going to happen very soon and the tension was palpable. I was armed with my 9wt. Sage and a large Black Deceiver, while my boat partner, the manager of Sekoma Island Lodge preferred a light-weight spinning outfit and Double Bladed Copper Effzet Spoon. Then, as the full moon waxed brightly, the water went mad. Tigers appeared on the scene and chopped the surface all over the cove. Cast for cast, both of us contacted fish averaging around 5lbs. Many jumped and threw the hooks especially the spoon, so my boat partner changed the trebles to single hooks. While he was converting I placed my Deceiver into the cove and "Bang", I felt a fish on. It was quite eerie with only the moonlight illuminating the scene, but there was no great pressure so I gathered it must be a "rat", I could feel he was still on, but the next moment a monster erupted out of the water. All the line I had retrieved flew off through the guides at such a rapid pace and the temptation was great to just grab the line and hold on, but I have many line burns in the past and was not about to have another one - and lose the fish!  

The line cleared the deck cleanly and the tiger took two powerful runs accompanied by head shakes, then was subdued next to the boat where my boat partner quickly "bogered" it. At first it looked like a good double-figure specimen, but it was too dark to see properly, so I pulled out my cell phone and lit up the scale. At 14 lbs it was an impressive fish!.

The next few days we repeated the tactic; fish the early morning session, rest at the camp during the day and go out late afternoon. Again We would go out at dusk, tie up to the point of the island and fish well into the night on the full moon. We would fish until 8 pm with great success. The excitement was great when, out of the dark, a tiger hits you and you see the water splashing in the moon light but you can't see the fish. You don't even know where the line is. Its pure adrenaline fishing - but not for the faint-hearted.

The conventional tackle we used was a seven foot Shimano scabbard spinning rod, Shimano Aero Stradic reel loaded with Viper Braid, the only line that stops the fish from cutting you off on the shallow rocks in the rapids.Besides its abrasion resistance, its non-stretch properties help you set the hook easily in using D.A.M Copper Double bladed EFFZETT spoons.
Fly tackle used was a 9wt. Sage rod with a System II fly reel, 15lbs mono leader with a short piece 42lbs Malin piano wire and large black bulky flies, Deceivers and heavy weighted Clousers. Its quite crazy to think we could throw black flies at night, but one can just imagine from the fish's view, looking up from the depths into the moonlight and seeing a large, bulky black fly with a bulky profile, very visible for a vicious predator that takes its prey by surprise.........

And yes a nice surprise too, to find the tigers so active under the light of the full moon.

Yet another 5 pounder

Garreth releasing one of the many Tigers
in the 5lbs class which was caught on a
Black Deceiver

Fighting a good fish under the
full moon. Cast for cast both of us
contacted fish averaging 5 lbs

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