Tigerfish can refer to fish from various families, and derives from official and colloquial associations of these with the tiger (Panthera tigris). However, the primary species designated by the name “tigerfish” are African and belong to the family Alestidae.
In the western game fishing world, Hydrocynus vittatus is considered Africa’s equivalent of the South American piranha, though it belongs to a completely different zoological family. Like the piranha, tigerfish have interlocking, razor-sharp teeth, along with streamlined, muscular bodies, and are extremely aggressive and capable predators. The mouth on a tigerfish is similar to that of a tarpon and is extremely difficult to penetrate with your fly hook.
The African tigerfish is the first freshwater fish recorded and confirmed to attack and catch birds in flight. Much like bass and other predatory species, they tend to wait for their prey in areas with structure and ambush points. Many have scars and/or missing parts of their tails from cannibalism.
The tigerfish is quite possibly the hardest hitting freshwater fish targeted by fly fishermen. The ferocity with which they take a fly will rip the rod right out of your hands, so hold on tight and be ready with each strip of your fly. Once hooked they will often leap into the air in an attempt to spit the fly and free themselves.