TAMING THE TIGER TROUT Another landbased tiger trout pulled out of the reeds.Josiah Atkinson has spent considerable time searching for the rare tiger trout, and not without success. He shares some of his hard-earned lessons on how to tame the tiger…If you’re an avid trout fisher, you would have heard whispers about the “tiger trout”. For those that don’t know, the tiger trout (Salmo trutta × Salvelinus fontinalis ) is a sterile, hybrid of the brown trout (Salmo trutta) and the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), and in my opinion, is the most elusive trout that can be targeted in the country. They are golden in colour and also have tiger-like stripes which give off a holographic look. 

The tiger trout can only be found in one place in NZ. Luckily, I live just 20 minutes away from this North Island location. However, there are rumours that tigers live amongst browns and brooks in a stream and couple of lakes in the South Island – but this is something I can’t confirm. browns and brooks in a stream and couple of lakes in the South Island – but this is something I can’t confirm.

A small netted tiger showing all his stripes.
It’s been a long and hard winter but luckily this is one of the better times of the year to catch a tiger. The “open season” has been well and truly closed for some time and winter has been its cold and damp self. With spring upon us and the itch to feel a tight line for us trout fishos becoming ever so agitating, the time is now to target a tiger!

I’m unsure why tigers seem to be more easily targeted around this time of year. I can only guess that the rainbow trout have moved into recovery mode, which lets the tigers roam free. But this is only a guess. Tigers are a sterile breed, so don’t feed up large in March to late May in preparation for spawning like rainbows do.
I have been targeting tiger trout for two years now and have only landed a handful, with the most successful outings happening recently. I’ve put this down to the limitations that come with being a purely landbased fisherman. Targeting tigers from a boat seems to be generally more effective. The lake is quite difficult to fish from the edge as there is a lot of either vegetation or steep cliff. A small boat or kayak is very super beneficial to your success-rate when targeting this species.

I’ve found that habitat is also critical to tiger trout. They are somewhat of an ambush predator. They lie and wait in oxygen weed, reeds, fallen trees and anything else that gives them a good place to hide. 
That’s when having a small vessel is great as you can reach all the nooks and crannies that these fish seem to wait in. 

My first tiger trout shot out of the reeds to hit my fly and I can remember as clear as day the trout swiping at my fly and missing, and then proceeding to swim directly back into the same reed it came out of. This process repeated until he finally committed to the fourth or fifth cast, and it was all on!

When it comes to your weapon of choice, I only have experience in
I'VE FOUND
THAT HABITAT
IS ALSO
CRITICAL TO
TIGER TROUT.
THEY ARE
SOMEWHAT OF
AN AMBUSH
PREDATOR.
catching tigers by fly fishing, so if you’re a specialist spin fisherman, I don’t have a lot of advice for you – although a lot of the principles I am about to discuss will still be relevant to targeting tigers, whatever your specialist technique.

After a lot of trial and error, I’ve found that my six weight Maxcatch Sky Gold rod and Sparta reel, used with an eight weight intermediate sinking line, has been by far my most successful setup. I’ve also found that having a heavier line weight helps punch the line further and also helps when the wind is up and casting is difficult. 

Because tigers are ambush predators, the sinking line is essential. Getting the fly close to the trout’s face will increase the strike rate. I’ve found the intermediate sinking line is perfect as it doesn’t sink so quickly that you’re catching the bottom all the time, but still fast enough to get the fly down the water column and in the “strike zone”.
Fly (or lure) selection is always vital to hooking up to any fish species. With tigers, I have surprisingly caught them on all types of flies. Big and small, both bright and dark – tigers seem to hit anything! My go to is a brown Wooly Bugger as I’ve had my most hook-ups on that particular fly. It is the perfect small fish imitation which these tigers seem to love. In saying that, I’ve also caught fish on a very large pink smelt fly and in all my years swimming, diving and fishing the lake, I’ve never seen any pink fish! It really is a lucky dip when fishing for tigers, which is why I would put more emphasis on fly presentation and where the fly sits in the water column.
My go to is a brown Wooly Bugger as I’ve had my most hook-ups on that particular fly
All I can say is good luck in attempting to catch one of these special fish. Don’t be discouraged if it takes more than one, two or even three years to hook a tiger. It’s so important to learn from each trip, thinking about habitat, the water column, fly depth and the strike zone. All of these aspects will help you get into battle with a tiger and hopefully tame one!

This tiger trout was caught on Lake Rotoma and wieghed in at 3lb.  The writer with his first tiger trout – note the large pink smelt fly!