By Ed Stoddard
KOMATIPOORT, South Africa (Reuters) - You know the fishing is "not run of the mill" when your guide points to the path you're on and says "those are hippo tracks".
But if you are after tigerfish, you sometimes need to stray onto a hippo-beaten path. South African fishing guide Craig McLean calls it "extreme fishing".
I prefer fishing with a fly rod instead of bait, and this is a challenge when your quarry is the explosive "tiger", so named because of its black stripes and razor-sharp teeth.
A heavy rod is required and the large "flies" -- which resemble small fish -- are attached to a steel trace, as a tigerfish will bite through normal line.
When a tiger hits that fly, it launches into the air like a missile and pulls like a torpedo.
Getting to the fish can also be "extreme". Tigerfish share remote, tropical African rivers with hippos and crocodiles.
McLean is a guide on the Komati River, near South Africa's border with Mozambique and the Kruger National Park. This makes it 'big critter' country.
THE MOVING "ROCK"
While approaching one pool, McLean suddenly stopped.
"I've been walking this area for years, and don't recall seeing that rock," he said, pointing to a rock-like object on the shore about 30 meters (100 feet) ahead.
It had the darkish coloring of a hippo, but was immobile and there was a scorching sun overhead.
Hippos leave the water to feed at night but spend daylight hours submerged. So if this was hippo, it was highly unusual.
One other thing about hippos: they are exceptionally dangerous. A monster of an animal, it can attain a weight of three tonnes, and possesses a demonic streak. Hippos probably kill more people in Africa than any other mammal.
Suddenly, the 'rock' moved and hit the water.
McLean noticed it was scarred: a younger male that had probably been driven out of the water by a dominant bull.
We approached the river and the animal was in the water where we intended to fish. It didn't move, so eventually we went to fish elsewhere.
We were happy to drive to higher ground on the other side of the river, in a spot where you could cast while standing out of range of crocodiles or hippos.
Then, noticing some broken branches, McLean said: "The elephants have been eating around here."
It certainly focuses your attention: pursuing game fish while looking out for big game.
(Ed Stoddard is a Senior Correspondent for Reuters based in South Africa. The views expressed are his own.)
(Editing by Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones)