World Wide Fishing!

The longboat ìvoadeiraî stops in a Xingu beach for a quick 'dip' to cool off.

The Upper Xingu River in Brazil (Brasil)
a Pristine Place for the Nature Lover and the Fly Fisherman

By Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles

Regional map
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 marginal fishing.

"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.

Jorge and Bicuda

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.

A nice Xingu river peacock, note the total absence of the typical stripes. Could it be a different specie? 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.

Now is my wife's turn, look, no stripes!
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.

Here is Sebastian giving daddy a hand with his ten pounder, it was such a pleasurable 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

More South American Fly Fishing:

Peacock Bass in Brazil (Brasil)
Dorados in Argentina
Argentine Patagonia - Introduction
Argentine Patagonia - Part 2
Argentine Patagonia - Part 3
Argentine Patagonia - Part 4
Argentine Patagonia - Part 5
Argentine Patagonia - Part 6
A True Chilean Adventure
Futaleufu, Chile, Part 1
Futaleufu, Chile, Part 2

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