When you mention tiger fishing in southern Africa, the obvious spots that come to mind are the Zambezi River and Kariba.  Little do most people realise that we have a tiger fishing hot-spot right on our doorstep – the Jozini Dam , also known as the  Pongolapoort Lake, which is located in northern KwaZulu-Natal  along the Swaziland border. 

There are a number of private lodges, bush camps and camp sites located along the banks of Jozini, all suitable for tiger fishing. But for a totally unique experience, opt for a couple of days on one of the Shayamanzi Houseboats, the first in South Africa. 

We boarded Shayamanzi 2 from the mooring point at the Jozini Tiger Lodge – a great place to spend the night either before or after your cruise, and set off slowly through the narrow section while Captain Bramson gave us our safety briefing.  We were in good hands as Bramson is an experienced man, with 13 years captaining a houseboat on Kariba and 10 on board Shayamanzi. Throughout the cruise he regaled us with tales of mighty tigers, herds of elephant and the like.

We soaked up the sun and scenery of the surrounding Lebombo Mountains, which is tribal land as we soon realised by the Nguni cattle drinking on the shore, just a reminder that we were indeed in the Zulu Kingdom. By late afternoon we had reached our overnight point, anchoring a good 15 kilometres from where we started. The anticipation had been mounting all afternoon, and the avid fishermen were raring to go, and the double pontoon tender boats were waiting, loaded with rods, tackle and bait.

The Tiger Fish is a ferocious fighting game fish, and are only found in rivers running east, with a minimum temperature of about 26 degrees C, for example, the Congo River up north, the Chobe, Okavango and Zambezi Rivers and the Komatipoort and the Pongola River in South Africa. The Pongola River enters the Jozini Dam in the northern area making this the only and most southern water in South Africa to go tiger fishing. While the fishing enthusiasts were out on the water, the girls enjoyed a G&T or glass of wine from the upper deck watching as the sun slipped over the horizon. ‘Mmmm, tomorrow is another day’.

After more sundowners and a nerve-wracking Super 15 rugby match (satellite TV is available for those all important sports fixtures), we sat down to a yummy 3-course dinner prepared by our chef, Zakhele… smoked salmon mousse, lamb chops with roasted seasonal vegetables and malva pudding – just the start of a weekend of great food, great company and great fishing, of course.  In addition to fishing, a Shayamanzi experience offers great opportunities for game viewing and bird watching as Jozini borders the Pongola Game Reserve.

The area is in fact a birder’s paradise hosting over 350 species of bush birds, raptors and water birds. In addition to the Pied Wagtails that visited us on deck, we saw numerous water-birds on the shoreline – Whistling Duck, Spurwing and Egyptian Geese, Commorants, various Herons, including a Goliath Heron, which is quite a ‘big tick’, a Giant Kingfisher, and of course a couple of Fish Eagles. We also had the pleasure of being entertained be a herd of elephant as they enjoyed the fresh greenery of the shoreline, one even heading in for a dip. Some of the other wildlife that may be seen are White and Black Rhino, elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, kudu and nyala.

But it’s the tiger fishing that takes pride of place on Shayamanzi… even for a fair-weather fisher-woman like me. Alan our fishing guide, a local boy who was first introduced to nature and conservation while at school in the area, was my hero of the day – he baited my hooks, cast for me and even struck to make sure the feisty Tiger would not be able to shake off the hook when it broke the surface and leapt out of the water. What he didn’t do though was reel in, so I will happily declare that even I was able to catch a Tiger on Jozini! Albeit just a 1kg fish.

The ‘real’ fishermen however, like my hubby and most of the other guys, do it all themselves, bar the baiting – but who on earth would want to do that if someone else is willing to do it it for you?

Our weekend yielded a few nice catches, a number of 2kg fish and even two great catches of 3,5kg. Not quite the record for Shayamanzi, which is 6kg, but seeing as it was the end of the season, my delighted hubby wasn’t complaining! Great fight, great catch… what a moment.

Whilst, Shayamanzi may not tick all the boxes from an environmental point of view, what was important to me was the fact that they employ locally where possible; use environmentally friendly detergents, which is of great importance being located on the water but most of all, offer a tiger fishing experience that is easily accessible, only four hours drive from Durban, and not requiring the long, carbon generating, haul that would be required for a fishing trip on Kariba!

Words & pics – Tessa Buhrmann