Fish of Kariba: Bream and Tilapia

Changa Safari Camp • 28 June 2017

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Wild Zambezi is delighted to share this informative Guest Blog from Changa Safari Camp, about the delicious bream and tilapia to be caught while fishing off shore of the camp in Lake Kariba.   The chef at Changa will even serve up the fruits of your labours as a tasty bar-snack or delicious, fresh-cooked meal!

"Lake Kariba is certainly one of Africa’s best, and prettiest, lakes to fish in. Over 40 different fish species call the lake home from shoals of kapenta to the fighting tigerfish.

Fishing is one of the favorite activities guests can do when at Changa Safari Camp, so take some time to learn about what types of fish you might catch (and eat) on your next trip here.

Did you know that bream and tilapia are actually two different species? They are very similar though, in both appearance (and taste), and  are all classified under one family of the Cichlids.  The tilapia fish are chiefly plant or sediment feeders whereas the bream tend to be predators.   Bream eat small fish, crabs, prawns and worms and other small animals that depend on healthy river systems to flourish.

The young tilapia fish have a dark eye spot at the base of the soft dorsal fin, called the “tilapia spot”.  An adult bream usually has a series of clear spots or ocelli (“egg spots”) on the anal fin. Tilapia have very low levels of mercury, as they are fast-growing, lean and short-lived, with a primarily vegetarian diet, so do not accumulate mercury found in prey.

(1) Rainbow Bream
Colour: Juveniles, silvery green with dark grey centres to the body scales and about 8 vertical body bars, fins greyish green with deep grey spots and sooty margins.
Adults are olive green with dark-bordered scales giving  mesh effect, fins deep olive with sooty pink spots in rows along the membranes; anal fin spots pink-orange, the pelvics sooty.
Biology and Ecology: Prefers deeper permanent floodplain channels and lagoons, with sandy bottom and vegetation.  Feeds on aquatic insects, crustaceans and snails.

(2) Green Bream
Colour : Juveniles and non-breeding adults grey to olive green, with rusty red spots at the base of the body scales.  Breeding males dark olive green to black, Kafue population with yellowish underparts, dorsal and anal fins with red margins, dorsal and caudal fins with deep red or maroon spots; light red spots on the anal.
Biology and Ecology: Prefers deep, quiet water, slow-flowing channels and floodplain lagoons.  Feeds on waterlily seeds, small snails, bivalves and aquatic insects.

(3) Pink Bream
Colour: Juveniles olive green with yellowish chest deep greenish black fins and 6-7 dark vertical bars.  Adults, greyish green head and dorsal surface, flanks and underparts creamy yellow, fins dark grey with red margins and dark red spots, anal fin with rows of bright yellow orange-centered ocelli along the membranes.  Largest specimens come from upper Zambezi flood-plains.
Biology and Ecology: Prefers deep main river channels and floodplain lagoons with sandy bottoms.  Feeds primarily on snails, bivalves and insect larvae, breeds in early summer, a female mouthbrooder.

(1) Kariba Tilapia

Colour: The body is iridescent olive blue or bronze with the throat dusky green or black.  Mature males develop a concave head profile.
Biology and Ecology: Thrives in quiet waters of large rivers.  Feeds on algae, especially diatoms, and detritus and on plants, insects and zoo-plankton.

(2) Three-spot Tilapia
Colour: Juveniles silvery with 8-9 irregular thin bars on body and 3-4 mid-lateral spots.  Adults blue grey with light scales borders giving mesh effect, fins blue-grey with light spots on spots on soft dorsal and anal bright red.  Breeding males blue –black with silvery mesh, maroon flush on top of the head, outer dorsal and caudal fins intense red.
Biology and Ecology: Little is known about the habits of this species.  Found in well-vegetated, sheltered habitats in margins of mainstreams, in floodplain lagoons and coastal lakes.

(3) Nile Tilapia
Colour: Caudal fin distinctly stripped.  Breeding males with red flush to head lower body, dorsal and caudal fins.

(4) Banded Tilapia
Colour: Variable, predominantly deep olive green with 8-9 dark vertical bars on body , 2 bars between the eyes, and a well-developed “tilapia spot”, a dark spot on gill cove surrounded by iridescent green or blue scales, iridescent blue along the lower jaw.  Breeding males have a bright red margin to the dorsal and caudal fin and a grey –black throat and chest.  Juveniles with characteristic light “bubbles” behind the tilapia mark on the soft dorsal fin.
Biology and Ecology : Tolerant of wide range of habitats but prefers quiet or standing waters with submerged or emergent vegetation.  An omnivore, feeding on available foods including algae, soft plants, small invertebrates such as insects and even small fish.

If you are looking for some fishing tips, truth be told…catching fish is a tricky business where patience is the first skill you can master! Fortunately at Changa Safari Camp we have some excellent guides who will take the guesswork out of fishing, and find the perfect spot for you."

Comments (2)

Thank you for this information, I did not realise there were so many different types of bream and tilapia. Best wishes

Cheryl22 August 2020

Beautiful presentation of bream and tilapia and an eye opener too

ezra musauki12 July 2018
Thanks, Ezra! And thanks to Changa Safari Camp for the interesting article. Wild Zambezi

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