Charged by the Hippos
The group of hippos frolicking along the shallows of Lake Jozini didn’t seem to notice our approach on two small AquaQuad boats.
We watched their ears and eyes bob along as they moved along the shoreline we were fishing. They seemed unaware of our presence — or so we thought.
Then, three of the eight hippos turned toward our personal water craft and raised their heads.
They ducked under the water, and then came up snorting and blowing water from their noses.
“Be ready. They may charge!” my friend Hayne yelled at me from his boat.
Sure enough, the three giant hippos went under and moved toward us again blowing harder than before.
Hayne had told me prior to launching the small boat that the hippos would tell us when we were fishing too close to them and we would then have to back off 100 feet or more.
It’s Time to Attack
“When a hippo charges, he runs under water,” he had warned. “He walks on the bottom and can launch underneath you and destroy the boat and you.
You can see the bubble trail but that’s a delayed reaction. If you see bubbles coming at you, just put the rod in the rod holder and start the motor and move away.”
“It’s time to move … now!” Hayne shouted as the three loudly snorted spitting water and then roared in anger before disappearing underwater about 150 feet away from our two boats.
We cranked our outboards and quickly moved a couple hundred yards away.
I looked back to see that the hippos had continued their charge all the way out to where we had been.
The African Hippo
The African hippo is the most dangerous encounter that we expected during our fishing trip to the lake in KwaZulu Natal and our boats of choice, the AquaQuad CLXs, were small enough to bolster an irritated hippo’s confidence.
The one-man pontoon boats designed for fishing and fun on the water are made in Durban, South Africa, and fortunately they are nimble.
Although they look something like a wide jet ski to many, the CLX boats weigh about half as much, are much more stable and offer casting platforms to fish from.
Chasing the Tiger Fish
We were in Zululand, South Africa, chasing the notorious tiger fish, a species that has the dentures to destroy lures, bait or your hand if you get too close.
Like most avid fishermen, the tiger fish was on my “bucket list,” and Hayne Clark, who guides on those waters and also works for the boat manufacturer, offered to show me safely around.
Lake Jozini is the southernmost indigenous area for the ferocious tigerfish.
We stayed at the comfortable Shayamoya Tiger Fishing and Game Lodge about four miles from the lake, but it was the final two miles of road right through the Phongolo Wildlife Reserve that got my adrenalin pumping each morning and afternoon trip.
Animals could be found along the road at all times.
Giraffes were always curious when we slowly motored by. Herds of impalas played with zebra in many locations. Wart hogs and bush pigs were in the scrub everywhere.
Water buck and reed buck deer as well as wildebeest and monkeys were throughout the reserve’s scattered forest and along the lakeshore.
Discovering the Bird Life
Bird life included ostrich, Egyptian geese, hornbill, guinea fowl and fish eagles. All over the lake were freshwater crocs, but they were not overly aggressive like the “salties” of Australia’s Northern Territory.
On each of our half day trips on Jozini, between one and eight rhinos would be cavorting in the mud at the edge of the water just a few hundred yards from our launch site.
Of course, we motored by them with careful respect.
We cast from the forward deck of the AquaQuads and did further wild game viewing.
We noticed a variety of other animals along the shore and only had one other “animal-understanding” encounter.
Hayne and I drove our AquaQuads into a wind-protected cove and got just a little too close to a herd of about 50 Cape buffalo grazing on shoreline grass.
Three of the bulls turned to square off and confront us.
We motored away from our potential encounter and found another area to fish.
Hayne had told me that while extremely dangerous and protective of their herd on land, the Cape buffalo would stay on shore and not move into the water after us.
We cast both artificial lures and cut bait on wire leaders for the tiger fish and were successful with each.
The menacing-looking fish up to about 6 pounds ate chunks of frozen pilchards (called “sardines” by locals), and small tiger fish fished on the lake’s bottom along a rocky shoreline.
We also caught tiger fish on soft-plastic paddletail minnow baits, lipped crank baits and topwater plugs from several locations.
We motored into coves and through channels staying away from the stumps and rock piles that were scattered around Jozini’s shallows.
Fishing in the Old Submerged Village
We even fished around an old submerged village on the lake bottom that was just discovered recently during very low water levels.
We did not have one of the 50-fish days that Hayne had described as “very possible” nor did we catch any giants but we did have lots of fun with the AquaQuads and the smaller tiger fish.
The winds had roiled the waters, and grass patches were difficult to fish for the 10- to 12- pounders that are numerous in these waters.
The Lake Jozini record is said to be just over 18 pounds, and my partner has heard of bigger fish up to 22 pounds caught there.
I guess that I will have to go back again for a monster tiger fish and to see the elephant herd that had moved several miles down the lake!
If You Go
Tiger Fishing in KwaZulu Natal:
1) You may want to spend a day in Durban acclimating significant time changes. The Elangeni Sun Hotel on Snell Parade (+27 31 362 1300) offers convenient and very comfortable accommodations with a great restaurant.
For a cultural and game park experience nearby, visit the pheZulu Safari Park (www.phezulusafaripark.com.za)
2) Plan on taking plenty of wildlife photos (and filling several camera memory cards) because the game is everywhere along the short Jozini Lake road through the Pongola Nature Reserve.
AquaQuad Boats, phone +27 31 701 6106 (or US phone: 1-352-216-1902), www.aquaquad.com or Email: [email protected].
Shayamoya Tiger Fishing & Game Lodge, phone +27 034 435 1110, www.shayamoya.co.za or Email: [email protected].
About the author: Larry Larsen is freelance outdoors travel writer, photographer and author who has travelled extensively to many remote parts of the world, including the Australian Outback, South America’s Amazon Basin and Africa’s Zululand. He is the author of 21 books including four on the Amazon.