A scheduled flight is a scheduled flight unless you leave the
big cities of Manaus and Belém trying to reach a fishing lodge
in the Amazon. Then, a scheduled flight takes a totally
different meaning. Departure is at the scheduled time plus
or minus 24 hours. It might be the heat, most likely economics,
but we experienced it both times, from Belém to Altamira in the
Xingu River and back. We had been planning this fishing trip
in late December 2001 for the best part of a month. After leaving
the overwhelming city of Sao Paulo, the trip to Belem was refreshing.
My team of fishing buddies was my family, that is, my wife Marta and
our six-year-old son Sebastian. Our final destination was the
Pousada Belomonte (Belomonte Lodge), sixty miles upriver from the
jungle town of Altamira by 4WD. The lodge is not too far from
where Electronorte, the big Brazilian power company is planning
to built the largest, fully Brazilian, hydroelectric power plant.
We wanted to fish the place before the potential debacle. After
an eleven hour delay, we boarded our twin engine Banderante,
for the one-hour flight to Altamira, arriving by 9 PM. Our
apprehension turned into joy, when we noticed that Claudomiro,
the owner of the lodge was waiting for us. Finally, a trip of
two more hours over the bumpy, hard dirt, Trans-Amazon road
would take us to the Pousada. We were so impressed by the amount
of traffic, mostly trailer-tractors rigs traveling at high speed
hat late at night.
The lodge main building was impressive, large, and modern, and so
elegantly placed on top of a hill overlooking the Xingu River. The
Xingu, which according to our guide Manasei means God's house, is
one of the main affluents of the Amazon. It extends from north of
Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso state and across almost all the
state of Par, joining the Amazon about a hundred miles west of Belem.
After a comfortable night in one of the lodge large and well-appointed
air-conditioned rooms we were ready for action. Once we finished
breakfast, our son was really interested in exploring the lodge
surroundings and the multiplicity of insect life crawling around
the main building. In particular, the oversize (and for mom, kind
of scary) four inch long rhino-beetles. From the front porch we
had the most wonderful view of the Xingu River. We noticed how
wide the river and how fast was the current, so we asked the
lodge owner if we were indeed in the low water conditions advertised
by the booking agency.
"Sorry my friend," was his quick answer, "the river has been raising
for the last two weeks and now is two meters over low water conditions."
Of course we knew what that means in terms of fishing, the game fish
are all scattered in the flooded vegetation. Nevertheless, we where
committed, so we had to take it philosophically and try our best
to enjoy the "wilderness experience" combined with the potentially
"Manasei Aranha is my name and I will be your guide."
" Aranha?" my son reacted (aranha is spider in Portuguese, and my
son loves insects and spiders!)
"Yes," he replied with a grin!
Manasei is one of the nicest guides I have ever done business
with. He treated us like his family and was particularly pleasant
with our son, catering to his continuous burst of energy, answering
his questions and helping him with his incipient fishing. We were
using a 17 feet long, very narrow beam aluminum "voadeira" (flying
boat) with a 25 hp outboard engine. Manasei could take that boat
anywhere. Multiple times we were impressed by his skills as he went
"uphill" by more than a foot, as we move up-river through those
ever-present affluent of the Xingu.
My son and fishing buddy Sebastian, with one of the few peacock bass
with stripes we found on that part of Xingu River, (Photo left).
Tucunaré (peacock bass) was our desired quarry. It has the most
impressive strike of any fish I know and it is a common fish in
these waters during the low water period. Manasei took us to
the most attractive places for peacock bass. In rivers, this
fish tend to relate to stone and stones structures, and these
rivers have plenty of beautiful large red boulders everywhere.
Immediately we got into some action with peacocks, mostly two
and three pounders (according to my boga grip). One of my big
surprises was catching peacocks in very strong current, and that
was a new experience for me. But the action slowed and Manasei
proposed to move to his "special" place for bicudas. He took
the "voadeira" up current through many rapids for about half
an hour and we reached Mecca. The place was called "o furo
das antas" the tapirs hole, and it was gorgeous! In front of
us a six foot waterfall at the head of a two-acre pool. Rocks
all around and intense current seams were everywhere.
You could see bait fish being scattered everywhere by the bicudas.
They are the freshwater equivalent of the barracudas, with the
same form and size, and they jump, man, do they ever jump. They
clear the water by several times their length, and the large ones
(more than a few pounds) are strong, and can peel your line to
the backing several times before you land them. In the same pool
with the bicudas we caught several peacocks, and also one of the
most interested beasts, the cachorra (literary translated, dog,
also known in Venezuela and Colombia as payara). They lie in
the softer current seam, strike like a locomotive and jump. You
can clearly recognize them by their huge front teeth in the lower
jaw. These two fellows, the bicuda and cachorra are definitely
two of the most underrated game fish in the Amazon and anywhere.
For these beasts, I have been using eight and nine weight rods
with bonefish taper slow sinking lines. It is a great line for
the tropics and cast like a breeze. For the peacocks, we use
streamers with white in combination with any other color, but
white must be the main color. Clouser deep minnows and deceivers
mostly, with 1/0 stainless hooks. Poppers with the same size hooks
in any color or shape will do, with a bass taper floating line.
For the bicudas a sinking line is preferred.
Since we were in the Amazon, you may ask, what about the piranhas.
Well they are everywhere and they are a great game on light tackle.
Some of them are beautiful fishes (the camari), some of them are
large (the black piranha often top four pounds), and mostly they
take streamers like mice take cheese, with gusto and energy.
They may save a fish-less morning with their willingness to take
streamers and their ever presence.
There were other potential quarries, the giant catfishes, and
several species of Pacu. The catfishes dwell too deep for a
fly line in these currents (although I have caught pintados
and palmitos, two midsize predatory catfishes with streamers).
The pacu is like an oversize bluegill (they are related to the
piranha, but they are mostly vegetarians). They take poppers
if you strike the water hard; so, it must be a noisy affair.
I have caught them (more than a decade ago) on yellow poppers
in the Pantanal (Paraguay River watershed, close to the town
of Porto Murtinho, Mato Grosso do sul). This time, although
we saw them active and close to the lodge, we never went for
them. We felt we could use the time attempting a more exciting
quarry like the peacocks and bicudas.
The week passed very quickly and we enjoyed the fishing, but the
total experience was far more exciting and instructive than mere
fishing. We took advantage of the collective wisdom of the
"Caboclos" (river people) in the person of Manasei. He could
navigate the aluminum boat through those waters like a fish,
and identify the wildlife (we saw giant river otters, alligators,
monkeys, all kind of birds, lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises),
trees and insects. He could also recognize the parrots and macaws
flying half a kilometer away and better yet, he could call them to
fly towards us for a better look. It was such a delight sharing
with Manasei. One day he took us for a walk in the jungle and to
my son's standards, that was the best part of the week.
The last two days we concentrated on peacocks, and we caught a bunch,
the largest of about ten and a half pounds as weighted on my boga
grip. It was a beautiful animal with none of the common three
black bands on the yellow background, this one was all bright
yellow, and of course with the typical black spot or "eye" on
the tail. Overall, we had a great week. All members of the
family were happy, and even when the fishing was marginal
according to the usual criteria of number and sizes), we had
a satisfying experience. We highly recommend the place to
other fly fisherman and their families. But just wait for
the low waters (from August to November). ~ Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles