The Okavango River is home to over 80 species of fish of which only a select percentage are considered angling species.
The Okavango River has its origins deep in central Angola and flows basically eastwards to disappear underground in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. While in Namibia it forms the meandering border with Angola. It has extremely diverse habitat including vast expanses of reed/papyrus flood plains that offer rich breeding grounds for the fish population and the birdlife that feeds on them. It is a relatively narrow, fast-flowing river with clear water conditions for most of the year. Although well-populated along its Namibian banks the water quality remains surprisingly unpolluted.
The Okavango River is one of the very few rivers worldwide with no exotic or introduced fish species.
What to catch with predatory tackle? The prime target angling fish are Tigerfish (Hydrocynus Vittatus) which occur throughout the river system.
These energetic, fighting fish will test any angler’s tenacity and experience. They are considered the most challenging freshwater fighting fish and have incredibly bony mouths lined with razor-sharp teeth. This, coupled with their habit of jumping out of the water when hooked – dislodging most hooks with head-shaking acrobatics, makes them exceptionally difficult to hook and retrieve.
Our Tigerfish are not as heavy as those from the neighbouring Zambezi River system which have similar lengths but larger bellies. They are notably sleeker and more muscled than their Zambezi counterparts probably because our currents are stronger and require more muscle to endure. A 2kg fish can be considered a worthwhile trophy and anything up to 6-7kg the ultimate.
Nembwe (Serranochromis Robustus) are a bream species that occur throughout the main river system. A predatory fish using ambush tactics, it can be lured and hooked with relative ease in the right conditions and give the angler a memorable fight. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful of the freshwater angling species, and tasty with succulent flesh. A 2kg Nembwe in our river is considered excellent.
Three-Spot Tilapia (Oreochromis Andersonii) is an algae and vegetation feeding bream species that can sometimes be caught when they go through a predatory phase for some months of the year. They are as tenacious as Tigerfish and give the angler a similar heart-stopping fight. What they lack in colour they make up for in fighting ability. They are also good to eat and very seldom get bigger than 2.5kg in our river system.
Thin-faced Largemouth (Serranochromis Angusticeps) and Humpback Largemouth (Serranochromis Altus) are two similar predatory bream species that fall to the angler’s guile but don’t come easily. When hooked they fight like the bulldogs they look like. Not a pretty fish, they are good table fare and often grow to a large 3.5kg in our river system.
Sharp-tooth and Blunt-tooth Catfish (Clarias Gariepinus & Ngamensis) are generally bottom-feeders but are occasionally hooked by anglers with predatory tackle. Typical of most Catfish they rely on their bulk and the angler is guaranteed a long haul, especially when hooking into the average 6-10kg fish commonly found on our river.
African Pike (Hepsetus Odoe) are not commonly hooked by anglers on our river, although the local people quite commonly net these little predatory fish. When they are caught they present the same challenges as do Tigerfish of similar size.
Greenhead Tilapia (Oreochromis Macrochir) and Redbreast Tilapia (Tilapia rendalli) are not generally predatory fish and therefore must be taken using other baits such as earthworms. Both species reach reasonable sizes of 1 – 2 kg in this river and can, therefore, offer a significant fight to the persistent angler.
Purpleface Largemouth (Serranochromis Macrocephalus) can also occasionally be hooked using earthworm bait but are the exception rather than the rule in our river.
How and when to catch fish?
Predatory tackle (spinning tackle) seems to be the preferred option of most anglers on this river system. A steel trace to any tackle is essential as Tigerfish will be around anywhere. Crank bait lures and spinners seem to have the most success throughout the year when the water is clear. However, during the rainy season (November through to February) the influx of water from the Angolan catchment area makes the water quite murky. During these times “drift bait” or live bait fishing can produce better results. During this time the water level of the river rises to flow into the surrounding flood plains where the fish feed and the most concentrations of fish are therefore no longer in the main river system. For this reason during this time the fishing is generally not so good as the fish are more dispersed and not easily accessible to the angler. However, when the waters recede out of the flood plains, during March to May, the fishing generally picks up. This is when the predatory fishes start feeding on the newly hatched small fry migrating back into the river from their floodplain breeding grounds.
The best times for most bream species are the colder months of June to August when the river water level is also getting progressively lower. These conditions are highly variable from year to year and are directly influenced by the rainfall periods, amount of rainfall, flooding cycles and climatic conditions in our immediate area as well as in the Angolan catchment regions.
Where to catch fish?
Tigerfish occupy all habitats of this river system being the top apex predator. They can be caught near the banks as well as in the centre of the river. There are, however, preferred places such as above and below rapids, over shallower stretches of rocks and sandbank drop-offs. We seldom have “feeding frenzies” of Tigerfish feeding on shoals of baitfish as happens in the Zambezi system. The medium-sized Tigerfish do, however, tend to move in feeding groups which patrol stretches of the river and when encountered these groups can give the angler some continuous heart-stopping action. Spinning tackle and light rods are preferable. Light line of not more than 15lb on small rods of up to 7ft length is adequate.
Fly-fishing equipment on a #9 fly rod should give the avid fly fisherman a good chance against our fighting fish. Most predatory bream species tend to prefer the banks of the river where overhanging vegetation and inlets (“garages”) offer ambush opportunities. Three Spot Tilapia seem to lurk in lily pad covered backwaters with the Greenhead and Redbreast Tilapia.
The general policy is to return all fish to the river, however, if guests wish to keep a trophy fish we do offer freezer space to store the fish and can advise on professional taxidermist services available in Namibia.