It’s still a mystery to me why 10 pounds is the benchmark for many fresh-water fish in terms of angling accolades. My best guess is that it is a hangover from the imperial yardstick. Nonetheless, this aspiration still drives my journey to rivers and lakes with a fly rod in hand.
Front of mind was why we had been invited, which wasn’t for personal gratification – but even the phenomenal wildlife around every corner couldn’t dislodge the nagging irritation at being thwarted.
Eventually the realisation dawned that fish get to trophy size for a reason. As despondent as I was, the wilderness I was fishing in was the real privilege. Accepting the bigger picture with humility, I saw a fish break the surface while we were walking back to camp. My cast was automatic. You’re never calm or collected when a big fish smashes your fly as it hits the water and my reaction telegraphed my panic to all!
In a confined channel it challenged every ounce of my patience, until the nerve-wracking ordeal ended with the striped beast in my net. Relief gave way to hollering celebrations and eventual thanks to our hosts for truly my finest tiger experience of a lifetime.
Months later we were invited to Matoya lodge in Barotseland, where double digits are guaranteed, to the extent that 20 lbs. are the new benchmark. “My Vissermanvriend”, Rhuan Human proved this by opening his account with a 12 lb. tiger in his first session.
Fishing with partner in grime, Jeremy Rochester, I saw the wee beasties lurking. He snapped a fly line on a big fish and then had his 20 lb. trace wire sliced through by another.
After five almost fruitless days my contributions would barely be fit for a dinner plate …
Even lures, thrown with precision by Craig Thomasson didn’t deliver the renowned Barotse Express, with Tommo resorting to live bait for the result.
Squeezing in a last two-hour session in the morning had my resigned last cast at a tree stump surprisingly answered. The fight wasn’t a fair contest, as I didn’t give an inch of line, my overweighted tippet ensuring that what stuck was going to be landed.
Another 10 lb. tiger on my very last cast of the trip!
Then there was the Lower Zambezi a few months later. Water levels were unprecedented, drowning the sandbanks ordinarily found here. Dirty water added insult to injury. Only the magnificent base of Baine’s River Camp with its specular wildlife provided some perspective.
Scotty Brown, the man behind Baine’s proved that both bait and jigs soon uncovered the fish, with multiple tigers eclipsing the 10 lb. mark each day.
But the watercolour had me praying for that proverbial blind squirrel to stumble upon my nut. I spent an irritating amount of time watching my line racing downstream with nothing to show for it.