The Unknown Specie & a Monster

November 7, 2010

Its hard to believe today was our last day. It’s possible we might get out on the water for a couple hours in the morning but it’s doubtful because we need to catch up on interviews for the film. Today was likely it. And knowing that, the South Africans put on their best show yet. Of course, we were up at 4:45 am. Then after a quick breakfast and coffee we were in our safari vehicles crossing the Mnyera on the ferry before entering the blood thirsty tsetse fly forest. Tied on top of one of the vehicles was a small inflatable raft. The South Africans had big plans for us. The whole travel time was about an hour to what is simply referred to as the rapids.

These beautiful rapids are home to numerous tigerfish of the Mnyera River. Most don’t think of tigerfish as a fish of rapids but they can be. I’ve fished them before in the Chobe River rapids in Namibia and the Zambezi River Rapids in Zambia. Both places provided superb fishing but the tigers are much smaller than here. Yellowfish, a group of fishes made up of many species, also thrive in the rapids and before we began tigerfishing Chris filmed Leonard and I sneaking around the rocks and river channels trying to catch one of these popular African game fish.

The yellowfish fly of choice is a nymph. Leonard recommended a pattern to me but I chose one of my favorite Euro nymphs tied by no other than my good Polish friend Vladi Trzebunia. As you know from past blogs Vladi’s flies are always good luck for me. We could see the yellowfish slowly milling around the back eddies between the rocks and riffles. They were incredibly spooky. The sun was blocked by clouds making it even more difficult. While Leonard headed towards a small waterfall I slowly stalked my way towards the main river.

I gave up on trying to sight cast to yellows. The light was terrible. I rigged up a dry dropper rig and started covering water. Right away I caught a tiny fish with gorgeous colors. Keith told me the name but it’s slipped me now. He said it’s a miniature cousin of the tigerfish and definitely a popular food for them. In fact as I lifted him from the water a 5lb tiger nearly took out my kneecaps trying to eat him off my line.

Chris and the crew continued to follow Leonard and me with the cameras, never losing hope that we would catch a yellowfish. Sure enough I connected while nymphing a seam against a very powerful rapid. I didn’t know what to expect from a yellowfish. Seeing pictures of them led me not to expect much fight but this fish took off. I was using my 6-weight Ross and it was all I could do to fight him in the rapids. As I finally subdued him, Leonard was at my side and he started going ballistic. This was a kind yellowfish that has yet to be named. Leonard is the only other person to catch this unusual species. He was thrilled. Evidently, when he caught one earlier this year he thought he’d go home and look him up. But he couldn’t. This yellowfish is a new species not yet even named or documented. If you remember from previous blogs, this entire fishery wasn’t discovered until 2008. I caught a fish that has yet to be discovered! Very cool!

Leonard very professionally took a fin clip. Because of the high chances of documenting a new species he even carries a vial and we carefully put the fin clip in the vial. This area is so new to the fishing world several ichthyologists eagerly await to study DNA collected by the Tourette fishing guides. It was only recently that they classified these unique species of tigerfish we’ve been chasing all week (Hydrocynus tanzaniae).

I thrive on adding new species to my personal life list but this was over the top. I was so excited about catching a species that has yet to make the text books that I could hardly think straight. I could have continued to stalk the rapids with my nymphs the rest of the day, but it was time to climb aboard the rubber raft. I was a little uneasy on the whole raft deal. My closest ever to drowning was on the famous Zambezi River whitewater below Victoria Falls. I haven’t’ been on much whitewater since. These rapids weren’t really much but I had no idea how well Rob and Keith could row a raft. We also had concerns of crocodiles and hippos. This is a crappy little rubber raft!

What the heck – before I knew it we were dropping through the rapids. First the raft was a tool to get from one pool to another then I was casting as we drifted. We’d row through some little rapid then hold against some rocks and make some casts. Fishing was superb to say the least. At every good pool we hooked up and landed some nice fish. 10lbers were a dime a dozen and then we landed back to back 14lbers. These rapids were unreal! Due to the heavy current, we were back to straight 30lb Rio Saltwater Tippet and the 40lb wire. We allowed no mercy on these powerful fish. It was simply clamp down on the line and hold them and strip them in. Let the line slide from your clenched fingers and you were sliced wide open and your tiger was gone. It was about as exciting as fly fishing gets. Then it happened. I hooked into a beast.

I’ve had a few fish take off on me this week and I fought them with the drag of the reel. But none like this. All I remember is strip setting once and then my Ross Momentum LT reel was singing like I was standing in the floor seats at Aerosmith. The ***** just hit the fan!

At the same instant Rob also hooked up and he too had the line taken away. Then mine jumped. Only I wasn’t sure it was mine because both Robs and my fish were steaming the same direction. All I knew was that the leaping tiger was one to remember. He was significantly larger than any we hooked all week. And most serious, he was at the tail out of this deep pool and another ten feet to his run and he’d be in the next rapid likely never to be seen by humans again. It was then that I realized it was my fish. I peered down to my smoking reel and heaps of backing was missing. I don’t know what got into me then but it was a good thing. I cranked my drag two spins, lowered my rod towards the fish and began reefing on him and reeling. It was like I was brutalizing a yellowfin tuna from the depths of bluewater. I’ve been dreaming of this monster all week and I was going to land him – period! Meanwhile Keith was frantic. He wanted this fish as much as me and was blurring instruction that I could not comprehend. By now Rob was holding a respectable 12lber. He thought briefly about hanging on to him for pictures of a double tiger catch but then thought wisely. He realized I was going to need some help. He released his tiger and came to the front of the raft to assist.

The immense tiger was close by now. He made a few heart stopping jumps next to the boat but I had him hooked well. I tried my best to get him to Rob and then the usual craziness began. Every time I hoisted him to the surface he spooked and shot deep and under the boat. Nets are useless on giant tigerfish because their teeth chew right through the mesh. The only way to get them is to tail them. Several times I got his head up but the tail dangled three feet below the fish. Finally after numerous scares, Rob got two hands around the tiger’s tail. I yelled with delight and dropped down to Boga the prize.

We never weighed this incredible tigerfish. Lifting heavy fish by their jaw on the Boga grip is a practice that often injures such large fish. There was no way I was taking that chance. I would have easily estimated him at 20lbs, but the final vote went to the South Africans – it was 18lbs. Like I know a 6lb trout from a 4lb trout, they were probably right on. Until I make it to the Congo for goliath tigerfish, this will probably be the biggest tigerfish of my life. Fantastic!

All the excitement in our rubber ducky kept us unaware of the excitement that Leonard was experiencing. He too was fighting a great fish from shore. His fish was 15lbs and soon we were posing for a double with our fish. Then he released his and we all went to work for Chris. My fish was what this film was dreaming of and we had to work fast to keep the tiger safe.

After a serious filming session and some photos, I watched the remarkable creature return to the Mnyera River rapids. This place is so rarely fished that it’s likely he will go on to pass the 20lb mark and most likely will never see or meet a human again. He was truly one of the great fish of Africa.

We continued to catch the tigerfish for the remainder of our float. Except for a very scary run in with some hippos I was daydreaming, continuously replaying the incredible day in my mind. It was epic to say the least. I caught a species that’s not yet documented and a tigerfish so big that I will have difficulty believing it until I see the photos and film.

We spent the later part of the afternoon relaxing on a beach while Chris interviewed the South Africans for the movie. I leaned back on the raft and before I knew it I was down for the count. The trip had reached its peak on the last day and as a team we may have made one of the coolest fly fishing film segments ever. Today will go down as one of my most memorable fishing days of my life!

Special Note – Because I am in the Confluence Film I will be very limited on taking my own pictures. A special thanks to Jim Klug, Jim Harris and Chris Patterson for providing most of what you see on the blog for this Africa trip.

Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing Website

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