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Activities: Tiger Fishing

Shayamoya’s specialty!

Tiger fishing is the truly exciting activity, which we offer. This species of ferocious fighting game fish is rare to South African waters. Lake Jozini, also known as Pongolapoort, covers 17000 hectares and is the only lake in South Africa which is home to tiger fish, scientifically known as Hydrocynus vittatus, or commonly known as the “striped water dog”.

Good sizes have been caught on Lake Jozini where the official record is 8.3kg.
The tiger fishing season is from August to early November and March to May although we fish throughout the year. The lodge has a selection of fishing rods and tackle for hire.

The rates include boat hire, guide and one tank of fuel.

  • 21 ft Flymaster, Max 6 fishermen, Min 2, not exclusive Half Day Minimum: R1725 or R695per person, R570 p/child
  • Rod Hire: R140 per rod (Lost or damaged tackle to be replaced)
  • Bait: Sardines @ R 90 per kg

Summer time is regarded as September to April.
Winter time is regarded as May to August.

The Parksboard officials have instituted the policy that all fishing above the Railway Bridge is prohibited to protect the breeding sanctuary.

Tiger Fishing Terms and Conditions

Bookings and Confirmations

Tiger fishing trips which are booked in advance require a full prepayment as confirmation


Please note last minute cancellations will not be refunded and you are liable for the number of anglers pre booked.


If weather conditions do not permit us to go fishing, we can either re-schedule. If this is not possible Shayamoya will issue a refund.

Departure Times
We only operate during our scheduled departure hours unless alternative arrangements have been discussed. We travel via open Landcruiser from the Lodge through the Phongolo Nature Reserve to the Shayamoya jetty which is a 10km route.

Departing the Lodge at 5:30am or 2pm in Summer and 8am in Winter.

Rods up at 10am, 12am or 6pm to allow for the return transfer to the Lodge.

Alcohol beverages

It is law that alcohol is not permitted to be consumed on the boats.

Captain has the final say

The skipper is responsible for your lives and he has the final say in any situation.

The Pongolapoort Lake

Also known as Jozini, is situated in the North Eastern KwaZulu Natal, bordering Southern Swaziland. It is the southern most extremity of the infamous Tiger Fish population (Hyrocynus Vittatus) due to our hot Summer temperatures and moderate Winter climate, and it is the only waters in South Africa home to the tiger fish. We support CAR!The lake covers +/- 16 000 hectares, with a river stretch of approximately 5 km. It is set against the backdrop of the Lebombo Mountain range, giving the eastern shores deep basaltic drop offs ideal for tiger fish. The ’Poort’ or Gorge, is a 7km stretch leading to the dam wall, with crystal clear waters of 60 meters deep and overhanging cycads. The western shores are mainly mud flats with the odd underwater islands ideal for breeding baitfish including two species of Tilapia, catfish, carp, mudfish and a large variety of smaller fish. The Phongolo River feeds the lake and this stretch is made up of both of the above conditions, with old submerged trees making up most of the tiger fish hideouts. The Northern tip stretches into Swaziland itself however we are not permitted to fish here. The other area fishing is prohibited, is from the railway bridge upstream which is a breeding sanctuary area. Fishing takes place from boats as the shoreline is crowded with semi-submerged trees and not to mention the large population of hippos and crocodiles on the water.

The tiger or striped water dog occurs in all rivers flowing eastwards in most of Africa, so they have occurred here naturally for centuries. Their cousin is the Goliath tiger, which grow up to 50kg’s in the Congo. The tiger fish population here is ever growing with decent specimens only starting to appear in the early nineties. Our record specimen was caught in 1998 weighing 8,3kg and some in the 5-7kg ranges are still being caught. Average size is still under a kilo and specimens up to 4kg are quite possible in a 3 day fishing tour. The locals reckon the dam is overstocked, and maybe when competition is not as high as at present the average size of the tiger will increase.

One never tires trying to tackle the tiger, be it the hard bony jaws, big teeth, sheer cunningness or remote areas. Their fantastic skill to bite through a lure/bait is what makes them such an exciting fish to catch. An average of 4:1 is expected when fishing for tigers. They attack from the side, then turn their bait around and swallow it headfirst. Tigers have been recorded to hit their prey at 50km/hr! They have 20 conical teeth that are extremely sharp and covered with an anti coagulant. Whole sets of teeth are continually replaced during their lifetime. On average, they gain one kg a year and the life span is about 8 years.

Tiger-fish occur in schools and are cannibalistic. The juveniles stay close to any structures in their first year where they can take cover. They are pelagic which means feeding and living in the top reaches of the water and going down to deeper water when light intensity increases and in the evening. This allows them to take cover from any predators during the warmer parts of the day and then again feeding in the late afternoon. 

They are ferocious feeders, competing for food continually. Their diet is made up many species of fish, sardines, chicken livers, squid they eat just about anything. They are fast learners and vary their diet considerably. Tigers inhabit waters close to the side of the lake or around suitable structures. They are not generally open water feeders and we target them in depths from 4m to 10 meters. Depending on the season, water temperatures and available food, depths vary, but it is not uncommon to find them in 30 meters of water.


Conventional Tackle

Rods: Any firm 6 foot stick (10 to 20 lb) will do for the tiger, finding most bass sticks appropriate. A lighter flick stick for spinning smaller rapalas and spinners is also a must.
Reels: Here a good reel is important to handle short fast hard runs; a good drag system. Good coffee grinders or bait casters that can hold +/- 120m of line is imperative.
Line: High abrasive line is a must as most of the fishing or fish land up dashing for structure where they are able to hang you up. A good 12 – 15 lb breaking strain is sufficient. ‘Fireline’, a very strong light line allows for good accuracy and strength.
Hooks: Chemically sharpened hooks allow for better penetration, and I believe good line and hooks is the key to successful tiger fishing. Any size from a 1/0 to 6/0 are most commonly used e.g. Mustad, Daichi, Kamakatsu.
Steel Trace: Nylon or normal steel trace of about 30cm in length is the ideal although the latter is preferred as a lot of rigs are snapped up and would take time to dislodge or rust away. 25 lb steel trace is thin and flexible and the most practical to use.
Artificials: A variety of spinners, spoons, rapalas and spinner baits should make up your tackle box. Red, silver and bronze spinners and spoons work best, ranging from 4g – 12g. The rapala range is up to your own disgression due to their price, but a couple of deep runners for trawling can be brought along. Red and white and natural colors tend to be the best. A suggestion would be changing most of the above to single hooks as it allows better penetration and does not damage the fish as much as treble hooks. 3 Tips: The brighter the sun the brighter the lure; use shallow to medium depth lures for early morning or late aternoon fishing; let your lure out as far as you can when trawling on a still day and closer to the boat on windy days. When spinning, start off with a fast retrieve. If this doesn’t work, all the lure to drop a bit deeper and try the same retrieve, then slow the retrieve down. If they still don’t take, upsize or downsize the lure, and last of all change the lure. But don’t over-fish an area, rather come back later as tiger fish are easily spooked off by too much presence.
Live Bait: Small Tilapia, 5-12cm in size, fished with a float or free swimming. Corks are set at 2m seem to work throughout the day. Leave it on a loose drag and when the tiger bites, allow it to run at least 3-5 seconds before striking. The free swimming live bait have always been effective. Run the hook through the skin close to the dorsal fin, cast gently, don’t retrieve too often, set a loose drag, and allow the tiger fish to hit it and swallow it before striking.
Other Bait Sardines are very effective and rigged up the same way as you would use them for the saltwater fishing. The more blood the better, so use half a sardine, and we fish them inside out. Fished with a sinker, on or without a drift. Ensure the hook is concealed yet the point is out. The same tactic is used as in live bait fishing, although a direct strike approach also works when fishing around a structure. When using tiger fillets, a cast and retrieve approach is used or drifting. Tie fillet onto the back of a spinner to increase the strike rate.

Two important tips when tiger fishing: When to strike – free spooling is the most common tactic, but there are takes when you have to strike right away, set the hook once and allow the fish to have some drag. If the fish is swimming away and peeling off your line, put some pressure on to keep the hook set and only re-strike when the fish has turned. Keep the rod tips down – The whole fight, the rod tip should be down. The tiger gives you about 3 seconds before his first jump when he will take advantage of the slack in your line, so automatically drop the tip.

Circle Hooks for Tiger Fish

When fishing for tiger fish with bait, live or dead, one of the most effective methods is using a circle hook. These hooks ensure a good hookset, and also enable fish to be released in good shape after the fight.

How Circle Hooks Work:

Circle hooks look odd, with the point facing inwards, and for this reason many people are not that keen to try them out. They are designed to hook fish on the way out of the mouth, after the bait has been swallowed, and line tension pulls the hook back out of the mouth from the throat of the fish. The in bent point prevents the hook from hooking the fish in the throat, gills or stomach, but swivels into place and penetrates the fishes jaw as it exits the mouth. This is illustrated in the image supplied, titled “Circle Hook”.

Choosing the right circle hook:

Using the correct circle hook for the job is the first step. I recommend a circle hook that has its point in line with the shank of the hook, as opposed to offset. Also the hook should be strong while being made from a light gauge wire, ensuring good penetration. The best hooks for the job in my opinion are the VMC Tournament Circle hooks in size 4/0. Others that will also do the job well are Gamakatsu Nautilus circle hooks while Eagle Claw, Mustad and Owner all make good hooks as well, as long as they fit in with the above criteria.

Rigging Circle Hooks:

The best way to rig a circle hook for tiger fishing, is to do so using knottable wire of 40lb. Any Nylon coated or carbon coated wire can be used for this job, as well as uncoated knottable wire. Piano wire is not ideal for use on circle hooks. The best way to join the hook to the wire is by snelling it on, with the trace coming into the eye of the hook from the point side. See pic supplied titled “snelled”. There is a video tutorial on snelling hooks on www.fishtube.tv under tackle box, conventional tackle tutorial videos. Or click on this link. It is best to use quite a long trace for circle hook fishing, so make the length of the wire around 50cm long, with a power swivel attached to the other end.

Baiting circle hooks:

The important thing when baiting a circle hook is to not choke the gape of the hook. For this reason you want the bait to simply hang off the hook, leaving the hook gape open. Live bait can simply be hooked through the top lip and out between the nostrils, while fillets and dead bait should be hooked on similarly, so that the bait hangs from the hook. While this does not look pretty, it is effective. The pic supplied titled “Baited circle hook” shows a piece of squid baited on a circle hook. A fish fillet can be put on the same way. Another option for rigging livebait is to attach a small J-Hook to the circle hook, using soft wire and hook the livebait with the small hook, as illustrated in the pic.

How to use the circle hook:

The two most important points when using circle hooks are firstly to allow the fish to swallow the bait before attempting to set the hook. The hook and bait need to have been swallowed for it to work. The second important point is not to strike at all, but to allow the line to tighten and the hook to be pulled into place by the line tightening. Striking will most often simply pull the hook and bait out of the fishes mouth, while a gradual tightening of the line will allow the hook to swivel into place naturally. Once the line is tight, and the fish is on, then you can further set the hook by giving the rod a couple of firm nods.

Therefore once the bait has been picked up by a fish you should allow it sufficient time to eat the bait properly while the reel is giving line freely. Once you decide that the bait has been swallowed, then tighten up and only give a couple of firm nods to the rod once the line is properly tight and the fish is pulling hard on the other end. Simple!

By using circle hooks you will seldom gut hook, or throat hook fish, and the chances of your fish surviving the experience is so much better than using any other method of bait fishing. Also, because the hook will not set in the guts, you can allow it to feed a bit longer before deciding to set the hook without concern that it is going to be hooked to deep. This cuts out some of the anxiety of striking too soon which can happen when fishing with conventional J-hooks and not wanting to kill the fish.

A fly fishing experience with professional guides!

The aim of these trips are to equip fly-fishers with skills and knowledge required to successfully catch Tigerfish on fly.

Wayne Sinclair and Francois Botha from SAGF have over 40 years of tigerfishing experience between them and Francois has a REFFIS SA accreditation.

Fly Tackle

Most anglers wanting to tackle the tiger on fly would have at some time or another tried saltwater fly-fishing. The rod, reel, line leaders and flies are ideally suited for the tiger fish.

Rods: A 9ft AFTM 7-9 weight rod with good butt power is a norm when fishing for tigers. These rods allow for turning tigers when necessary, setting hooks into the bony jaws and allowing easier casting when conditions are unfavorable.
Reels: A good disc drag system with a fair amount of 12-15kg Dacron backing should be used. Tiger generally fight hard and fast, so the drag is often tested to the maximum, especially when trying to stop them going into structure.
Lines: Intermediate and fast sinking line is the best especially when trying to get the fly down to the bigger hens. Catching them on popper is great fun, but limited fishing occurs when fishing on floating line.
Leaders: Due to heavy design of most tiger and saltwater flies, no tapered leaders are required, just a short leader, shock tippet and steel trace. Use a 30cm piece of 20lb line as a butt section to turn over the flies, tied to a 1,5m length of 0,4mm Maxima line joined to 50cm of 0,32mm line. This leader is then connected to a swivel on a short steel trace.
Flies: Most saltwater flies are adequate to entice the tiger fish to take. Flies are tied with weighted eyes onto chemically sharpened hooks, and its necessary to bring a couple of your favorite patters as these teethy critters destroy ones flies quite easily. A few different flies are successful are:Clouser minnows – Red & White; Pink & White; Chartreuse & White; Yellow & BlackLeftys deceivers – Same colors as aboveStreamers – Same colors as aboveZonkers – Black, Natural colorsMrs. Simpson’s – Tied in 3/0 – 5/0

Some smaller flies are also necessary especially when fishing for the more active smaller tigers that will quite readily take a bigger fly but trying to set the hook is a bit more difficult.

Other Equipment

Polaroid sunglasses, light weight shirts and long trousers, a wide brim hat and sun block Factor 30+

Tigers are predatory fish preferring warm clear waters, aiding their hunting and feeding instincts. The ideal times to pursue them would be most of our summer months.

When to Catch Tiger Fish

Firstly September through to November is their spawning months, and like many other fish species, they tend to spawn in fast flowing waters up stream. 

They are stimulated to breed when temperatures go over 20 degrees and this coincides with our rains. This is an ideal time to try and tackle the bigger spawning females on their way up to their breeding sanctuaries. 

December to February is when the weather is at its hottest in the area, and although fishing is still excellent, fishing days consists of short sessions being early morning and late afternoon. 

From March to May tigers are generally fattening up for the winter months and also a good time of the year to seek them out. 

June to August also produces fish although it all depends on the climate, as a drop in temperature can put them off the bite for a couple of days.

General principles of locating and catching Tigers

The Pongolapoort Lake is comparable to Kariba where most of the fishing is done in still water, a depth or fish finder is an important part of ones equipment when trying to locate possible tiger hangouts.

Important points to look out for:

Underwater features:

(i) Drop offs

(ii) Old river courses

(iii) Underwater islands/holes

Drop offs

Generally where there is a constant depth for a while e.g. 4m and then suddenly drops off to say 9/10 m. Often the smaller tigers or bait fish are hanging around these drops, where weeds or old tree stands occur. The larger tigers patrol these areas and come up from the depths to feed. These are good areas to fish, positioning the boat on either side of the drop. It is important to make sure your bait is not lying on the bottom. It is a good idea to work the bait, be it fillet or tilapia, by tossing and retrieving the bait around the drop. Using a float set at the right depth is another possibility. The same applies to working a lure; work it so that you are either bringing the lure up the drop or across the drop. It is important to know the depth of your different lures when working them as a lot of casts are wasted by not retrieving them in the proper zone i.e. catching lots of smaller tigers and nothing big. By knowing the depth you can use the correct rigs.

Old river courses

These can be seen above water by following the rocky cliffs found on Pongolapoort. Once part of the course is identified, the fish finder comes in handy. By trawling up and down these areas in a zigzag pattern one tends to find where the course continues. Tigers tend to follow these courses and are often included in their patrolled areas. Here again look for good drops, old islands or holes. By trawling, one tends to cover more area, get used to the underwater courses and have a good chance of catching one as well. It is necessary to trawl in both directions, as a lot of the time tigers will only take in the one direction and not in the other. Bubbles rising up also normally indicates a slow movement of water found on old river courses. Normally early morning and late afternoon they tend to be feeding in the top four meters of the water. “Patience wins the day” is the motto when fishing these deeper waters, especially during the heat of the day.

Underwater islands and holes

Very similar to drops, yet found in deeper waters. After a tigers first year in life, they tend to move away from protective shelters and form schools protecting themselves in numbers from larger tigers. So these islands allow for good weed growth where baitfish tend to occur. Tigers are cannibalistic (diet been made up of tigers 40% of their size and up to 60% of their diet) and these areas are frequented by the larger ones. These areas should be fished the same as the drop offs casting at the top of the island and working the bait or artificial down the side, allowing the bait/artificial to sink every now and then before continuing to retrieve. Alternatively casting on either side of the island, letting the bait/artificial to sink deep initially and picking up to retrieve the closer one gets to the island. This gives it a bit of a chase effect, which entices the tiger to take. Work on 8 casts to a specific area, irritating the tiger if it is there.

The hole is normally only where one big tiger resides, and she normally waits in ambush for a decent meal. They are very territorial and if one persists, a good-sized tiger can be pulled out from these holes. Live bait dropped to the right depth normally works the best. The local fishermen sit in these positions for 2 days before they pull out the big one, and it is worth it when she peels that line off and heads for the horizon. Alternatively trawling up and down over the same spot with different artificial’s also works. It is normally a case of finding out when they actually feed. This obviously takes time, but due to the history of tiger fishing, 80% of anglers will return to try their luck again.

Above water identification

(i) Tree stands/ weed beds

(ii) Points

(iii) Rising fish

For those first time visitors, top water features will be the areas to target, especially if no fish finder is available. The above three points will give one a general idea where to target tigers.

Tree stands / weed beds: – To the beginner or lure collector, it is a bit of a nightmare due to the amount of underwater structure that is not visible when fishing around these tree stands. Unfortunately to them, these are prime areas to target the smaller tigers and every now and then a big tiger will pick you up as well. These areas are abundant throughout the lake and it is a case of finding the correct tree stand. The best way is to work on eight casts around these structures and if there is no action, move onto the next clump of trees. There are plenty of small tigers in the dam, and one should find a school of tigers almost every 10 minutes or 200 m around these tree stands. For those who have a fish finder, locating them will be a lot easier and the ideal depth around these stands should be about 3-5m. It is always important to have casts into the deeper water while fishing around these tree stands as a lot of bigger tigers are patrolling these areas. Try leave live bait out there while working artificial’s in the trees. Once you have located these schools, it is important to work the exact area as quickly as possible before they move off/go off the bite. Get everyone on the boat to cast into the school and its quite possible to take 5 fish, losing just as many. Don’t over fishing the area. Rather come back later for more action. Move into deeper water and give the bigger tigers a go, as they will also be patrolling these waters for food. Also keep an eye out for kingfishers and cormorants as they will be feeding on baitfish so the tigers will also be close by.

Points: – The points are easy to identify by looking at the terrain, especially where there is a sudden drop. Trawling in a tight loop past these points often results in a strike and if so target the area around the point, by either trawling over it again or by stopping and casting. These areas can also be very quiet but if there is a lot of activity on the fish finder it is worth sitting it out a bit especially if fishing is quiet in other areas. The ideal points to look for is when there is either a weed bed or a couple of trees around the point. Other points are visible from the terrain but often are very shallow, it is then necessary to move back until the water depth increases. Still leave a line in the shallows, but it is definitely more productive in the deeper water especially when water visibility is good, as the tigers need cover from fish eagles and to be able to dart into the shallows when a school of baitfish comes around.

Rising fish

Always a pleasure to see fish rising, yet sometimes very frustrating when nothing wants to take what ever you are throwing at them. Generally fish are rising or jumping for a couple of reasons and not necessarily feeding. They could be trying to get rid of parasites, spawning or even jumping for joy, or they are feeding. Easy ways of identifying tigers are normally their red fins that break the surface, secondly they tend to clear the water more than other fish species and no gulping sound, which your catfish often does. Their active times are early morning and late afternoon in the summer months and in winter, generally during the warmer parts of the day. Always scan the water while fishing and try an area that is producing this type of activity. Prevent getting too close to rising fish and be as quiet as possible when coming into the area. Initially work the top couple of meters as this is where they are feeding, and if they are, it will be one of the most exciting times of your trip. You will find as quick as they take your lure and spit you out, another will pick you up and it is quit possible to get strikes right up to your boat. Get everyone to work the area as quickly as possible, and you will also find you will get cut off by other tigers trying to compete with the one that has your lure already. Also try and let your lure/bait get into the deeper water by casting way over the area and retrieving so that the smaller tigers do not get the chance of taking it. There are always bigger tigers deeper down in situations like this and the smaller ones prevent you getting into the bigger ones. When activity slows down, try changing your artificial’s or putting on bigger ones as the bigger tigers have chased the school away and will still be lurking in the area.

Areas of the lake to fish

(i) River

(ii) Dam (a) Eastern Shores / (b) Western Shores

(iii) LebomboGorge

(a) Eastern shores: Deep channels, rocky bottoms and lots of structure abound on these shores. A favorite area to fish when dirty water spoils the fishing in the river. Territories/ home ranges are bigger in this area and a lot more searching is needed. Due to the amount of structure a lot of tackle and fish are lost, and trawling is recommend at least 50 m away from the bank to prevent such hang-ups. Finding drops or holes for the bigger tigers take a while, but by trawling and keeping and eye on the fish finder one will pick them up. Smaller tigers can be found in the endless bays stretching down to the southern part of the lake. Do not be afraid of fishing in water exceeding 15 m, just make sure you allow enough line and time for your bait or artificial to get down there. Your retrieve rate should also be slower to keep one in the target zone, and when coming to artificial’s a rattling lure or something that makes a noise is going to increase your chances of success.

(b) Western shores: Muddy banks, shallow waters and lots of structure make up this part of the lake. When the lake is above 90 % it is a good area for fishing, but as soon as the water level drops one has to go out at least 200 m to get any fishing done. Weed beds are the only real cover for tiger and this is where you should target them. Otherwise trawling is a good means of finding schools if you are unsuccessful around the weed beds. The further south one goes the deeper the water gets and a lot of fever trees on the bank will give you an indication of this area. This part is relatively unfished due to the distance involved and the likelihood of the wind picking up.

The Lebombo Gorge

Deep crystal clear waters, lots of side structure and deep drops prevail. It is a beautiful setting with cycads, indigenous ferns and prolific bird life. An area is that is protected from the wind but can be extremely hot in summer. It is necessary to check the main lake every couple of hours to make sure the wind has not picked up. It is a difficult area to fish and after a couple of outings one gets an idea of where to fish. Main areas to target here are points where there is structure, right in the corner of the bays and the entrance to the gorge. Due to the clear waters it is necessary to stay quit a distance away from where you are fishing otherwise you tend to scare the fish away. Long casts and deep settings on your live bait float is the norm here. The artificial’s working here tend to be a lot brighter than the ones used in the river or main lake. On the fish finder there is a lot of movement of fish up to 40 m, so it is necessary to put weights on when trying to get down there. A good way to cover larger areas besides from trawling is to go on the drift when there is a breeze. You will find that if your motor is positioned correctly, your boat will automatically drift down the side of these bays. Try live bait on a cork for the area closest to the trees, second bait without a cork a little further out and lastly strip bait in the deeper water. Make sure again, that they are a fair distance from the boat to get depth and for the tigers not to associate the bait with the boat. One can also spin at the same time, keeping an eye out for your bait rods. This is effective, as one will know if a school is coming up and can get ready with the bait rods. It sounds quite tactical but fishing can be very slow.

Other Species

Certainly the Pongolapoort Lake has a greater variety of species than any other body of fresh water in the country. It is not only because floods released exotic species such as black bass and carp into the lake but also because the lake sub-tropical positioning thus home to species normally found only in Central Africa. Aswell as tiger, there are blue kurper (Oreochromis mossambicus), red-breasted kurper (Tilapia rendalli), huge catfish, yellowfish, red-nosed mudfish, silver and butter barbell, a dozen species of barbs and minnows including the silver robber or dwarf tigerfish (Micralested acutidens). Even tiny freshwater gobies are present which have adapted from marine lifestyle.


There are 2 national tiger fishing competitions annually. The major Sodwana Bay Angling Club’s competition takes place the long weekend in September, has Captain Morgan as a major sponsor, attracts up to 300 boats with the prizes getting bigger and bigger each year. The local Jozini Angling Club hold their competition in December.