IMPROVED water levels, additional houseboats, increased number of participating teams and high morale characterised the 57th edition of the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fishing Tournament (KITFT).
The number of teams that took part in the just ended prestigious competition stands at 79, up from 56 in the previous year. This development comes as a result of an improved business environment that has been created by the new political dispensation.
Last year, KITFT hit an all-time low in terms of registration and participation of teams with organisers attributing the scenario to a number of factors. Chief among cited drawbacks was heavy police presence on the roads, high ZimParks fees and immigration challenges.
However, most of the challenges have been addressed as Zimbabwe continues to show that it is indeed open for business. For instance, The Sunday Mail Society crew that travelled for the tournament from Harare only came across two roadblocks, compared to more than eight in 2017.
ZimParks fees have also been reviewed downwards following fruitful engagements between the two stakeholders. ZimParks are custodians of the tiger fish.
KITFT director Rod Bennet confirmed the event has improved this year, although he notes more still needs to be done for the event to further regain lost ground. At its peak, KITFT would attract at least 250 participating teams.
“We have 79 participating teams this year, which is better than last year and we want the figure to continue growing,” said Bennet.
Last year, the fish did not bite, but there were high hopes among anglers this time around. Dried-up parts of Lake Kariba had water, which in turn broadened the catchment area.
Accordingly, most of the anglers believed a catch of 10kg-plus to land the grand prize of a brand new Isuzu KB250 Fleetside truck was possible.
But the required grand prize catch had not come through by the time of going to print, which was end of the second day of the tournament. The closest bite weighed 9,4kg, followed by another one from Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) team, weighing 8,4kg.
“I’m disappointed we have narrowly missed the grand prize although I remain hopeful that we will walk away with the truck by end of this tournament,” said AFZ captain, Master Sgt Kelvin Manyangadze.
Organisers installed trackers on participants’ boats to avoid cheating. There were cases of teams that used to get their catch close to the Lake Harvest Breeding Site, which is against the competition rule that stipulates that anglers must operate at least 100m away from the breeding area.
Participating teams included locals and those drawn from different parts of the world.
Increased air connectivity to Kariba could help boost interest in the tournament.
Government has already indicated that it intends to expand Kariba Airport so that it matches international standards and is able to attract reputable airlines to the destination. Zimbabwe is currently experiencing renewed interests in tourism, especially from traditional source markets like Britain, Japan, Germany and the United States.
However, it is Victoria Falls that has received a huge chunk of the tourists due to easy accessibility (through air), although destinations like Kariba arguably have more to offer in terms of tourism.
KITFT, which is one of Zimbabwe’s largest private sector-driven tourism window, has been instrumental in keeping Kariba on tourism limelight over the years. Hotel and lodge occupancy during the tournament is usually full to capacity.
“We are a wholly owned Government parastatal but we are not getting funding from the fiscus. Events like KITFT help us generate revenue over the three-day period. There is also what they call pre-event baiting in which participants pay while others will extend their stay after the tournament.
“Most of the teams that come for the tournament bring their families and they end up doing activities like boat cruise and game viewing. By popularising the event through the media, the event promotes the destination for domestic and foreign tourism,” noted ZimParks marketing executive Peter Dhlula.
Fuel challenges that have been created in most parts of the country due to panic buying by motorists and illegal fuel dealers did not dull the tiger fishing tournament.
In fact, the Charara Campsite, where the annual fishing tournament is held, had enough fuel supply for participants and the general public that attended the event.
“There is no need to panic. We have enough stock for everyone for the duration of the tournament. We have been open for business since the tournament started and there has been no shortages of fuel. All forms of payment are being accepted,” said one of the site service station attendants.