River Monsters: Discover the Largest Fish in the Congo River

Written by Megan Martin
Updated: September 15, 2023
© Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • The Congo River is one of the largest rivers in Africa and the entire world.
  • It is home to an impressive quantity of wildlife some of which are capable of weighing as much as 130lbs.
  • Some of these large denizens can be found elsewhere. However, others, such as the Goliath tigerfish can only be found in the Congo River Basin.

The mighty Congo River runs through west-central Africa. It passes through nine countries and impacts the lives of the over 75 million people who live near its banks. The Congo’s claim to fame includes being the deepest river in the world (up 720 feet in some sections) and the world’s second-longest river (exceeded only by the Nile).

At nearly 3,000 miles long, there’s no shortage of space for wildlife flourishing in the Congo River. That includes several unusually large species of fish that have earned the title of “river monster”.

Although these large fish may look frightening, they tend to be more frightening than dangerous. That, however, should not be taken to mean facing a creature with teeth like a great white shark head-on, is a great idea!

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If you’re interested in learning more about just a few of the river monsters found in the continent of Africa, keep reading to discover three of the Congo River’s largest fish.

The Congo River is a 2,920-mile-long fish paradise home to several “river monsters”

©iStock.com/Fanny Salmon

Nile Perch

The Nile perch can be found throughout the waters of Africa, not just in Egypt.

©Cheng Wei/Shutterstock.com

The Nile perch goes by many names: African snook, African barramundi , Giant lates, or the Victoria perch. However, some of its most common names are the Goliath perch or the Goliath barramundi. And there’s a good reason why. Growing to easily be hundreds of pounds heavy and several feet long, the Nile perch has rightfully earned the title of being one of the largest fish in the Congo River.

The Nile perch is able to grow so large because of its diverse and plentiful diet. As juveniles, they often eat animals that can’t fight back, such as zooplankton, crustaceans, shellfish, and insects. However, as they grow, so does their prey. An adult Nile perch can easily take on other fish – including those of the same species!

Although the Nile perch can be found in the Congo River, the largest one ever recorded was caught elsewhere. Instead, in 2000, William Toth caught the largest Nile perch ever right in Egypt – Lake Nasser to be exact. This whopping river monster weighed in at 230 pounds, the largest Nile perch to date. In 2019, Christopher Tan caught his own Nile perch river monster in Murchison Falls, Uganda. This catch was nearly 5 feet long.

Goliath Tigerfish

Hydrocynus goliath, the Goliath tigerfish, close up photo showing its large sharp teeth while swimming on a aquarium.
The goliath tigerfish has teeth comparable to great white sharks!

©Tatiana Belova/Shutterstock.com

Remember mentioning facing a fish with shark-like teeth? Many people have actually been in that situation before, and it’s all thanks to the Goliath tigerfish. Also known as the giant tigerfish or mbenga, the Goliath tigerfish is one freshwater predator you wouldn’t want to run into. They can grow to be nearly five feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. Their teeth are also similar to those of a great white shark in size.

Unlike some of the other largest fish in the Congo River that can be found throughout the continent, the Goliath tigerfish is typically found only in the Congo River basin. They’re also a bit more dangerous than other freshwater fish. There have been no reports of deaths caused by the Goliath tigerfish. However, they do pose a threat to small children and pets in the waters where they roam. Anglers are also at risk of losing a finger or two when they happen to hook (and thus have to unhook) one of these river monsters.

While the exact reports may vary, there is one confirmed case of a caught Goliath tigerfish weighing well over the expected maximum of 110 pounds. This river monster weighed in at around 154 pounds – around the weight of a filled stainless steel keg.

African Sharptooth Catfish

African sharptooth catfish
The African sharptooth catfish weighs more than 130 pounds on average.


The African sharptooth catfish is one of the many species in the the family Clariidae, the airbreathing catfishes. This means they have the ability to breathe air, like a few other unique types of fish, and thus live in more diverse habitats. Some of the areas you’ll find this large fish on in freshwater areas, such as the Congo River, but also in man-made habitats dotting Africa and the Middle East. When droughts come, they can crawl for short distances on land and survive in shallow mud holes.

These “river monsters” can reach lengths of up to nearly 6 feet, and they can weigh around 130 pounds on average. They like to make loud croaking sounds that are similar to the bellows of the cow – an interesting sound to hear late at night! Their large mouth is also good for swallowing prey whole, both dead and alive.

Unlike the Nile perch and the Goliath tigerfish, the African sharptooth catfish is a more common catch. It’s not unheard of to stumble across one of these supersized catfish during a regular fishing trip.

What Other Fish Live in the Congo River?

tilapia fish
The Nile tilapia is just one of the varieties of tilapia which live in the Congo river


In addition to these giants, this mighty river is also home to an impressive range of species. Some of the most well-known include: the African tilapia, Bulldog pike, Congo yellowfish, giraffe catfish, Kamba catfish,  Nile perch, and the Nile tilapia.

What Other Animals Live in and Around the Congo River?

Forest elephants also live in the environs of the Congo river


The Congo River is home to a wide variety of wildlife including crocodiles, hippopotami, river otters, and manatees.

There is also an abundance of water snakes as well as semi-aquatic tortoises.

Forest elephants, giant pangolins, gorillas, and okapi, can also be found in the river basin.

Summary of the Largest Fish in the Congo River

FishMax Weight
1Nile Perch440 lbs
2Goliath Tigerfish800 lbs
3African Sharptooth Catfish130 lbs

The Featured Image

The goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) is a very large African predatory freshwater fish of the family Alestidae. It is found in the Congo River Basin and Lake Tanganyika.
The goliath tigerfish (Hydrocynus goliath) is a very large African predatory freshwater fish of the family Alestidae. It is found in the Congo River Basin and Lake Tanganyika.
© Danny Ye/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm an animal enthusiast with a love for birds and a background in writing. I graduated from Wingate University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a double minor in biology and professional and technical writing. Mountain lions are my favorite animals. In my free time, I like to bird watch or spend time watching nature documentaries.

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