Fly fishing for Catfish

Fly fishing for the Southern  African sharptooth catfish (Clarius Gariepinus) and the Vundu (heterobranchus longifilis ) in Zimbabwe and upwards could perhaps be the most underrated or should I say undiscovered fly fishing adventures especially for the big fish hunters. I would go further to say that it could be the most underrated or again undiscovered species (from an angling perspective) in the world taking in consideration its distribution, success as a species, totals and sizes as well as its fighting capabilities. These two species belong to the air breathing group (Clariidae)of catfishes.

There are various other groups such as the squeakers( beautiful group fishes) , mountain catfish, butter catfishes, sand catlet’s, rock catfishes, grunters, electric catfish etc. Some of them very endangered. 

Where to go for them

Sharptooth catfish (clarius gariepinus)  can be found in most waters and have unfortunately been translocated into areas unlawfully and can cause great damage to local rare and small indigenous species. (The most widely distributed fish species in Africa) The Vaal /Orange river catchment is probably the best and has the largest specimens. They can also be found in Israel, Lebanon and Turkey. Likes most habitats but are essentially river fish. The Vundu can be found from the Zambezi upwards into Egypt. In the larger sections of the Vaal and the Orange would be the best places to target them with the Orange without a doubt delivering the largest specimens. Not that there are not huge specimens lurking around in the Lower Vaal river.  

How to fish for them

The sharptooth catfish and Vunu are omnivorous and will eat basically anything. As a matter of fact they are highly cannibalistic and eat each other when only around 1 and a 1/2 centimetres long. Therefore one has to observe the habitat of the catfish you are targeting to see what its feeding on to present the food source during the time of fishing. Of course they will eat a range of other foods as well but can be extremely particular during certain phases or seasons. 

It is very important to know the anatomy of the Sharptooth catfish and Vundu catfish when targeting them. Their eye sight is not that developed due to very powerful lateral lines and capacity to smell food with about the same if not better than that of a shark. So they rely on smell and vibration. The flies must thus be plonked onto the water and /or moved within close proximity of the catfish. It must be mostly of large size as well.

Night fishing along the banks especially when the catfish hunt in large groups into baitfish along the banks is also a great adventure. 

What tackle to use

Depends on the size of the fish you are targeting . If smaller sizes in small farm dams are targeted use a rod and gear in relation to it, but when going to the suggested areas for specimen hunting you require at least a 10 weight to have any chance but 12-15 are better choices. 10 kilogram tippet the minimum and heavy duty hooks such as those used for large tiger fish or saltwater . Heavy saltwater outfits are thus the preferred tackle. Floating mostly , intermediate and sinking line in winter to get to the deep pools.

Successful fly patterns.

Mouse scorpion, lizard, Lady purple, Pink panther, CatfishJoe guinea fowl, heavy weighted flies to get to the bottom if you know where they are resting in the big holes. 

The fight

The fight of catfish could be the most energy sapping in your fly fishing career. Some idiot spread word that they are lazy fighters. A catfish of 27 kilograms would be a true test of an angler ...if he could land it, especially in the rivers and not a dam. Of course it is easier to catch and land them in dams due to the reduced amount of obstacles in the water. A large specimen would almost certainly cause the angler to jump into the river with the cat and flow downstream for quite a distance. If a large (strong) enough rod is not used it is very difficult to lift even tired fish from the bottom of a river seeing that the head of a catfish forms a natural Shute fighting vertical from the bottom upwards. Buddy casting on the same spot by two anglers repeatedly also works well especially below fresh nests of birds. Casting scorpion and mouse patterns onto a rock and pulling it slowly into the water also works well in the vicinity of large catfish.

Record sizes.

IGFA line class records. I have caught them well over 40 kilograms on conventional tackle but have not landed these sizes on fly fishing gear. It is our objective to now land them on fly fishing tackle (over 30 kilogrammers)


South African Sharptooth Catfish Fishing Tours & Adventures

Catfish Joe Productions put catfishing on the map in Southern Africa and we are without a doubt the most experienced outfitters in Southern Africa.

Our catfish hunting takes place in wilderness areas that are unequalled in scenic beauty, tranquillity and safety and are mostly  biodiversity hotspots. Specially designed rafts are used to drift down the wildest parts of our rivers and allow us to be self contained.


Chopper dropping or stationery fishing in river mobile camps or remote guest houses are other options. So whether you seek world class catfish records or the experience of a life time let us cater for all your needs. Catfish Kings in all respects. Catfish Joe links your fishing with photographic hotspots and Game reserves such as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier park or Gemsbok Park, Augrabies Falls, Botswana Parks, Riemvasmaak, Namaqualand floral kingdom, Kruger National Park, Sun City, Overberg area, Cedarberg mountains and many more.


Call us for an experience of a lifetime


Good flies