Monday, 10 March 2014

Tiger Fish in Zambezi

by Carolyn

Largest of the characins, the African Tigerfish is big, powerful, and well armed, thus making it among the worlds most sought after gamefish. It lives in the open rivers and streams of central and northern Africa. The impression one gets from viewing these fish, is one of awe, terror, and mystery, not unlike the feeling of watching a Great White Shark. This fish is basically an enlarged version of a tetra. All of the fins are pointed, there is an adipose fin, the scales are large for a characin, and the mouth and dentention are extremely well developed.
The teeth are designed and look like knives. Each tooth fits in a socket between each tooth, allowing the teeth to mesh like cutting sheers. All teeth are seen all the time even when the mouth is completely shut. The entire body is sleek and designed for speed.Horizontal unbroken black bands run along the entire body, hence the name tigerfish. The rest of the body is usually a silver-white-grey, however there is usually a metallic orange or yellow sheen. Many specimens have various blue to green pigmented scales.One of the most fearsome predators freshwater has ever known, the tigerfish has a viscious reputation. These fish hunt in large packs, just as their South American counterparts, the piranhas do. Prey consist primarily of other fish, but just about anything alive can fall prey to the tigerfish. Like the piranha, prey is eaten away bite by bite. Because they have razor sharp knife-like teeth, and extremely strong jaw muscles, they are among the few fish that can turn the tables on prey the same size or larger than themselves. There are unverified reports of attacks on humans.

My husband, Mark, eats no beef, chicken or pork and has spent years saving (rather than squishing) spiders, flies and sundry insects by carefully escorting them from inside the house to outside the house. This past weekend, he lost all this positive karma in a two-hour span of fishing on the Zambezi River near Mana Pools National Park in northern Zimbabwe. It was worth it.

Fishing is not a pastime that usually appeals to me, but that afternoon the river was particularly inviting and fishing seemed like a good way to experience it. Once afloat, we saw crocodiles and hippopotamuses plying the shoreline – the crocs impressing us with their stealth, their terror-inducing incisors, and their armor-like scales, and the hippos punctuating the stillness with a ruckus of guffaw-like honks. Saddle-bill storks waded in the tall grasses, white-fronted bee-eaters flitted in and out of their riverbank nests, and a fish eagle manned his treetop look-out. On the Zambian side of the river, this scene was framed by the Zambezi Escarpment, a picturesque row of small mountains.

Although neither of us had cast a line for many years, Mark hauled in two fish, including a tiger fish – one of the most sought-after catches in the Zambezi, largely because of the challenge of reeling it in. Tiger fish are fighters – once hooked, only one in ten are brought onto the boat. Mark and I had several “ones that got away” before he perfected the balance of pulling and reeling, and, in thirty seconds of action-packed drama, caught a four-pounder. The fish was silver, with dotted black lines down its body and a peach-colored tint to its fins and tail. Its sharp, fierce-looking teeth presented a very intimidating appearance. (The literal translation of the fish’s scientific name, Hydrocyon vittatus, is “striped water dog.”) For breeding purposes, female tiger fish are typically thrown back into the river, but Mark’s catch was male and sizeable enough to save for a pre-dinner snack.

Tiger fish is a white fish that tastes similar to bream (a.k.a. tilapia). It is much bonier than bream, however, which means it isn’t very conducive for serving whole or as a filet. The camp chef skillfully prepared Mark’s fish by cutting it into small boneless pieces and frying these pieces in a thick batter. He served the tiger fish nuggets on lettuce, with slices of lemon and tomato. They were gobbled up before I had the chance to take a photo. Apparently, tiger fish is also excellent when pickled.

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