Fishing for tigers

Fred Roumbanis with his latest catch — a South African Tiger fish
B.A.S.S.
Fred Roumbanis with his latest catch a South African Tiger fish.

Make no mistake: The bass is, as always, No. 1. But an African native commonly called the tiger fish now ranks as the No. 2 gamefish for both Fred Roumbanis and Derek Remitz.

Their taste for tiger fishing stems from an early December tour of South Africa. The two Bassmaster Elite Series pros were guests of their mutual sponsor, soft plastics maker El Grande Lures, which has offices in South Africa as well as in the United States.

During a span of eight days, the two pros traveled 1,500 miles across South Africa. On their trek, they encountered various big game, slept in luxury bush camps and resorts, were treated to several braai (barbecues) and met people they now consider good friends. But their sharpest shared memory was the time spent fishing at the Nkonkoni Tiger Fishing Camp on the Jozini Dam’s Lake Pongola.

The tiger fish’s reputation had both bass pros eager to lay eyes — and hooks — on one.

“A tiger fish has a body that looks like a striper’s, and a mouth like something you’ve never seen in your life,” Remitz described.

Roumbanis’ definition of tiger fish: “Piranha meets largemouth.”

The tiger fish is named, of course, for its ultra-sharp teeth. Picture the pointed fangs you’d see when a tiger yawns. Now imagine a full mouth, top and bottom, of those enameled knife points (albeit shorter teeth than a tiger’s long incisors). That’s a tiger fish. But formidable teeth are not the reason Remitz and Roumbanis wanted to face this tiger.

“They are tarpon on steroids,” Remitz said. “They hit so hard, then jump 6 feet out of the water and for 20 feet across the water.”

Braided steel leaders are standard tiger fish tackle. But other than that, Remitz and Roumbanis used bass tackle: medium-heavy casting outfits, 15-pound test fluorocarbon so they’d get some stretch, and jigs with soft-jerkbait trailers. Both said a trailer that worked consistently was the Boom R Ang, a 6-inch El Grande product that is a Roumbanis signature lure.

Good thing he can easily get more. When a tiger hits, it rips a lure apart, Roumbanis said.

“Their first hit is to bite the bait in half. Then they come back, and hit like a train. If you don’t hold on tight enough, the rod can come right out of your hand,” Roumbanis said. “Soon as you set the hook on them, they make their jump.”

That’s when the hook usually pops out. The hookup ratio is poor because the tiger has a mouth of hard bone.

“You get, maybe, 10 percent of what bites,” Remitz said. “Landing one is playing the odds.”

For those that were boated, it was catch-and-release.

“You have to be pretty careful,” Remitz laughed. “You net them, and there’s a certain way to grab them. Kind of like you’d handle Northern pike or muskie.”

The tiger fish they were into were not huge, but Roumbanis was justifiably proud of landing a 5-pounder. Remitz did as well, and almost had clear title to braggin’ rights.

“I lost one that was 10 to 12 pounds, a good-sized one,” Remitz.

They both watched that one as it went airborne. The fish tossed its head. Close to the boat, the bait popped out of its mouth. The lure sailed toward them with such speed that it hit Roumbanis before he could get out of the way. He said he felt the lure slam him on the back.

“That was pretty funny — the fish throwing the lure back at us,” he said.

For more information please visit El Grande Lures or Nkonkoni Tiger Fishing Camp. Then watch for next week’s Part 2 on how the two pros met what might be the world’s most avid anglers, as well as hippos and lions, among other African wonders. 

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