Responsible fishing at Wildtracks

The Lower Zambezi is a spectacular fishing destination and every year sees more and more visitors coming to the valley to try their hand a catching a tigerfish for the first time, beat their record from last year, or chase that elusive monster that ran off half a spool of line before spitting that lure right back at the boat.

While sport fishing is a great way to get out into wild places like the Zambezi, increasing  pressure on fishing areas, more traffic and boat traffic and the effects of increasing development on the river banks, are threatening the very resources that fishermen come to the valley to enjoy.  At Wildtracks we believe that as a general principle, fishing guides and recreational anglers should aim to minimize their impact on the environment. This entails fishing in an ethical and responsible fashion and ensuring we create minimal disturbance and avoid interfering with the natural behaviour of animals around them. Fishing,  is by nature a consumptive activity that is at odds with this principal of minimal disturbance. In order to get around this dilemma, catch-and-release fishing has become more popular as a means of enjoying fishing as a sport, without removing fish from the population. Catch-and-release is considered to be an environmentally friendly option and is promoted as a conservation measure for protected areas around the world.

We practice catch-and-release fishing on our boats and encourage all our guests to fish on a strictly catch-and-release basis. There is more however to catch-and-release than just throwing a fish back into the water. The key assumption of catch-and-release is that a released fish will survive after being released.  This is based on the observation that released fish usually swim away, apparently unharmed. Research has found however, that fish mortality mostly occurs some time after release, as injuries or distress caused by catch and release only become apparent some time later. It is important to understand that there will always be some mortality associated with catch and release fishing. A recent review across many species found average mortality to be around 16 percent, but this figure varies and can be much higher for certain species.  Keeping this mortality to a minimum depends largely on factors that the angler can control – the tackle used,  the length of time that the fish is played, minimising the amount of time that the fish spends out of the water and how the fish is handled during the release. Despite the issue of post-release mortality, catch-and-release, if practiced properly, can minimize the negative impacts of recreational angling and should be encouraged.

It was with this in mind that the Lower Zambezi Catch & Release Initiative (LZCRI) came into being. As responsible anglers we have an obligation to protect the fish resources of the Zambezi. If we want to continue to enjoy fishing on the Zambezi, we need to ensure that we not only mitigate the negative impacts of our activities, but actually make a positive impact. In addition to reducing the number of fish removed from the population, catch-and-release can also be a valuable tool for conservation management and research in terms of the large amount of information about angler behaviour, and the effects of recreational fishing on fish and fish populations that can be gathered if these releases are recorded.

The vision of the LZCRI is based upon three central tenets as a model for responsible fishing:

Respect  – This is a respect for every single fish we catch and the environment in which we catch them. We need to consider the welfare of every single fish caught.

Record – Keeping catch records should be part and parcel of responsible angling.  Not only can keeping records be personally rewarding, and the information collected can be used for monitoring and conservation planning.

Release – Catch-and-release can be an effective tool to minimise the impact of recreational angling. To ensure the survival of released fish, it is important that anglers are aware of and follow the latest best-practice in catch-and-release

See our factsheets and guides for more useful catch-and-release information

So far the LZCRI has been well received in the valley. As most of the lodges in the GMA and the national park already practice catch-and-release, they are keen to be involved in the initiative. Sven Vrdoljak, who is running the LZCRI from Wildtracks, has given lectures on catch-and-release at this year’s guides training and has also visited several lodges to talk to guides and distribute logbooks for fishing guides to record their catches on a daily basis. It has been very encouraging that the guides are keen to learn about the principles behind catch and release, as well as share their own experience and expertise. By sharing information in this way, we can improve the already high standards of guiding in the area. Lodge managers have been very supportive of the programme and have been more than willing to take on the task of keeping catch records. As the programme develops we hope to continue to expand our support base, with an aim to getting all of the lodges and anglers recording and submitting catch records.

The LZCRI will be publishing more guidelines and information sheets on catch-and-release, incorporating international standards with local knowledge from Lower Zambezi guides. The growing library of information will be a useful reference for lodges, guides and visitors to ensure that everyone who fishes in the Zambezi valley is equipped to do so in a responsible and environmentally friendly way. We are s also exploring other ways to facilitate the collection of fishing data and catch records, including the development of a customised Cybertracker routine to record catches on handheld devices (see the Cybertracker website for more information on their software).  As the project progresses, there will be regular updates on the LZCRI page on the Wildtracks website. This is where all the LZCRI guidelines and other information and resources will be available for download. The LZCRI is a collaborative project and will only work with the participation and support from operators the sport fishing community who enjoy the premier fishing that the Lower Zambezi still has to offer.

The initial development of the LZCRI has been funded by a grant from the Rufford Small Grants Foundation, but will need further funding as it develops. If you would like to find out more about the LZCRI, get involved or offer support, please contact Sven Vrdoljak using the LZCRI contact form, or phone +26097 486 1752  for further information. The  LZCRI would like to thank all the lodges and managers who have committed to join the initiative so far and hope to see lots of good catch records coming in as the fishing season progresses.

Good baseline data is essential for the management and conservation of recreational fisheries

Fish-friendly competitions: doing more than just catch-and-release

Valley ClassicIn November 2013, just before the close of fishing for the year we held our annual end of season event: The Valley Classic. What started out  is an annual informal fishing competition held among the  guides, managers and owners of Lower Zambezi Lodges has evolved into a great opportunity for the valley community of guides and managers to give something back and contribute to the protection of the amazing place that they live and work in. Each year we are amazed by the generosity of those who attend and this year we raised a staggering $10 000 for Conservation Lower Zambezi.

In 2013 the LZCRI also used the competition to demonstrate some principles for the design of more fish-friendly competition formats that integrate data collection and reduced impact on fish populations, yet still remain challenging and fun. We tested this at the competition, which in a single day of fishing added over 100 more catch records to the LZCRI catch database and showed that it’s not always about chasing the biggest tigerfish as competitors chased down as many species as possible in a challenging multi-species format.

Download the full report here or click on the link at the end of the post to find out more about how we went about designing a more fish-friendly format and also how collecting the right information in the right way can not only make for easier admin at the end of the day, but also provide valuable fishing intel for organisers, anglers and conservation.

(All Valley Classic proceeds were donated to Conservation Lower Zambezi. Thanks to all the lodge managers, guides and owners who participated in the 2014 Valley Classic and donated generously to conservation in the Lower Zambezi. Special thanks to the staff and management of Wildtracks Lodge for organising and hosting the event, Fringilla Farm for providing meat, Gwabi River Lodge for providing refreshments and Wildfly for sponsoring some of the prizes.)

REPORT – Fish-friendly competitions: doing more than just catch and release


During the 2012 fishing season the LZCRI designed and tested tools for recording fishing activity and logging the details of fish caught and released during trips on the Zambezi River. These included simple and hi-tech options. Pen and paper remains a simple, affordable and reliable option that is very quick to implement. We designed . . . → Read More: TigerTracker

Tigers without teeth

Tigerfish are well equipped for their predatory lifestyle with an impressive set of sharp, prominent teeth

Tigerfish have a fearsome reputation as predators and fighting game fish. Their scientific name Hydrocynus vittatus means ‘striped water dog’ in reference to their dark lateral stripes and impressive set of sharp teeth.  Yet tigerfish are not . . . → Read More: Tigers without teeth

Winter invitational weekend: big fish and big hearts

Winter is not generally regarded as the best time for fishing in the valley. The water is colder and fish are not feeding as aggressively as in the warmer months. This makes the fishing tougher and you have to work much harder the find the bites. On the second weekend in July, we proved . . . → Read More: Winter invitational weekend: big fish and big hearts

And… we’re back!

The rainy season seems to have flown by and March is just a few days away which means that it’s time to dust off those fishing rods and get back out on the river. We’ve been working hard to get Wildtracks ship-shape and ready for the 2012 season. Our bookings sheet . . . → Read More: And… we’re back!

Another classic weekend at Wildtracks

Another busy season has come to a close in the valley, which for lodge managers and guides in the valley means it’s time to kick back, have one final fling before the rains set in. Not to forget, also doing some good for conservation in the Lower Zambezi. How do we manage this all . . . → Read More: Another classic weekend at Wildtracks

We’re taking a break

The rains have arrived, and so has Zambia’s annual fishing ban. That means the tigerfish get a chance to get their breeding on until the 1st of March 2012. We’ll also be taking a break until then so Wildtracks will be closed for the next couple of months so that we can gear up . . . → Read More: We’re taking a break

Wildtracks Lodge

Looking for a destination on the Lower Zambezi? Wildtracks Lodge offers self catering accommodation and more. Browse our website to find out more about who we are, where we are and what we have to offer. You can also contact us, or check our bookings calendar for availability.

Check the weather in the . . . → Read More: Wildtracks Lodge

High Water

Kariba Dam on the 3rd of February with three floodgates open

At noon on the 22nd of January, the Zambezi River Authority (ZAHARO)opened the floodgates at Kariba Dam to keep the level of the lake within operational levels. The decision to open the gates was made in response to large inflows from the . . . → Read More: High Water