The Tigerfish, Hydrocynus vittatus
Many young fishermen growing up in Zimbabwe regard the capture of a tigerfish as their ultimate angling goal.
For the uninitiated however, the tigerfish is probably Africa’s finest and most flamboyant game fish. For sheer aggression, pound for pound, it must rank as one of the worlds most powerful freshwater species. There are several members of the tigerfish family found throughout the continent. The most notable being that of the Goliath (H.Goliath) found in the Congo (Zaire) system.
From an angling point of view, only in the last few years has our local strain been recognised by IGFA (International Game Fish Association). In the past, this has clearly put anglers in the southern hemisphere at a disadvantage, as the Goliath is believed to exceed 45kgs (100lbs) whereas H.Vittatus only averages between 6-8kgs. The current Zimbabwean record of 16.1Kgs was caught in Kariba in 2001.
Being a river species, the advent of Lake Kariba, created an unnatural environment for this predatory fish. Also the introduction of the Tanganyika sardine or kapenta has had a huge influence on the dietary preferences of the tiger. The dominant role played by the smaller bream species and barbells as forage has fallen away as shoals of tiger now cruse the lakes waters following the vast shoals of kapenta.
The fish is clearly distinguished from our other species. The tiger possesses a ferocious set of razor sharp teeth enclosed by a bony head, black/blue lateral tiger stripes and bright yellow to red caudal fin completes the picture. Females are larger than their male counterparts.
In Zimbabwe, the tigerfish has a wide distribution throughout Lake Kariba, the Zambezi and it’s larger tributaries. They are found in both Lake Manyame and Chivero and also present in the Limpopo, Nuanetsi, Bubye and Umzingwani systems.
Food in Kariba
The primary food of the tigerfish is the bream, catfish, squeakers and even tigerfish up to 40% of their own body weight. For this reason shoals of fish contain fish of generally the same size. Kapenta, which was introduced in the late 60’s has become a prime food source.
During the height of the rainy season, when the tributaries of the lake are in full spate, the tiger migrate upstream to breed at their spawning sites. They are also believed to breed in flooded areas of the lake shore. Once hatched, the juveniles are carried by the receding water to the main water body. They remain in the marginal areas with protective cover. When they are approximately 10cm in length they move out into open water, feeding on zooplankton and small invertebrates. Slowly they progress to larger food, insects and small fish and eventually are sustained entirely on a fish diet. Males mature at between 2-3 years and females a little older and bigger.