When your name is Goliath, you'd better be one humongous, ferocious creature, and the Goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) definitely lives up to its moniker. A native of the Congo River basin, the Lualaba River, Lake Upemba and Lake Tanganyika in Africa, it's the largest member of the tigerfish clan, a genus of fierce predators with protruding, daggerlike teeth. The biggest one on record was nearly 5 feet long and weighed 154 pounds, the equivalent of a super-welterweight prizefighter. And it outclasses other African game fish in speed and power.
Locals say it's the only fish that doesn't fear the crocodile and that it actually eats smaller ones. It's also been known to attack humans in rare instances. It's so lightning quick and forceful that not only will it snap an angler's line, but it will sometimes make off with his or her tackle. No wonder one fishing safari promoter requires clients read a cautionary treatise on the Goliath before agreeing to a fishing trip.
Bully of the Congo Basin
The Goliath tigerfish has an olive-colored back and a silvery underbelly. But if you see one, what you'll remember is its mouthful of 32 jagged, razorlike teeth. Each tooth can be up to one inch long. The Goliath's teeth are set at the edge of the jaw -- the monster has barely any lips. And when those teeth slam down on prey, it's a clean, almost surgical cut. Those attributes, combined with its muscular physique, make the Goliath a state-of-the-art mayhem machine.
It likes turbulent waters, where fish who are less powerful swimmers struggle against the current, rendering them vulnerable to attack. It has excellent eyesight and the ability to sense low-frequency vibrations emitted by prey. It generally circles the unlucky fish before striking with the brutality of a piranha. The Goliath has been known to pounce on a 60-pound catfish and literally slice it in half. Scary, huh? The Goliath's lifespan in the wild is uncertain, but they've lasted 10 to 15 years in captivity.
Catching a Goliath
The Goliath is a tough fish to catch, but it can be done, provided you've got heavy-duty gear, a sharp enough hook and you're willing to remain vigilant for long stretches. They'll strike either lures or live bait. If you have good fortune, your hook will set deep enough in the mouth that it will survive the Goliath's head-thrashing. When the Goliath jumps, be sure to lower the rod tip to reduce shock against the line. This is a fish that won't allow you to make any mistakes.
Why You Should Throw It Back
The Goliath tigerfish puts more energy into killing than breeding. It can take a local population between five and 14 years to double in size. Ergo, every one you release helps ensure that the monsters remain in adequate numbers to keep the ecosystem in stasis.