Peacock Bass in Brazil (Brasil)
By Octavio Araujo (B.G.)
Our trip started in the city of Manaus, Brazil, the "capital"
of the Amazon where progress and new technology directly
confront and mix with the jungle. You can see a tent near the
docks selling cellular phones together with the most varied fruits
and herbs. People carrying huge wooden boxes loaded with fish,
fruits, salt, farinha, stereo sets, up and down the almost vertical
stairs to the docks. Nearby a salesman offers the most famous watches,
like Rolex, but for half the regular price, all of this happening
under a hot sun and the high humidity coming from the jungle. It's
a tropical chaos.
We load our baggage into the boat that will be our home for the
next 10 days and depart the docks, leaving the chaos in our trail
and entering the oppressive serenity of the jungle. We'll go up
the Rio Negro, then up the Rio Unini, to finally arrive at our
destination, a small tributary of the Rio Unini, a trip that will
take 3 days. We sleep in hammocks as the landscape goes by, at
times I can't see the other margin of the river. The distance
between the margins of the Rio Negro at some places is of 25 miles.
It's almost an inland sea of freshwater.
We're going to a point where no one has fished in the last 8 years.
Although the Amazon is huge, almost as large as continental USA, the
big Peacock Bass are not everywhere. They are extremelly sensitive
to any fishing pressure, so we must go very far away from the cities
and famous fishing areas to find good numbers of large fish. Plus
the truly big Peacock Bass can only be found in black water rivers,
and these rivers are mainly in Central Amazon of Brazil and some
parts of Venezuela.
After 3 days we finally arrive in the afternoon at the mouth of this
small tributary. Our anticipation to fish is high so we immediately
put the jon boats on the water and go after our prize. We have only
2 hours to fish before the sun sets. On my second cast I have a feisty
4 pound Peacock Bass at the end of my line, and then another one on
the next cast, a few casts later we have the first action of big fish,
but he missed the attack. That's when I realized the place had an
incredible number of Peacock Bass. We came back to our "house boat"
and started to make plans for the next day. It was decided that
my boat would go up the tributary for about an hour, to fish a
I know I will hook my monster the next day, so I check my tackle
all over again. I'm using 8 and 10 wt. fast action rods with disc
drag reels loaded with floating lines. It's wise to use short-headed
lines, with harder cores and coatings, so that they can stand the
tropical heat and cast large flies easier. I also carry a few fast
sinking lines, just in case if the bigger fish are found deeper.
As for leaders, nothing too much complicated. A heavy butt
looped to about 17 inches of 20 pound mono, knotted to 12 inches
of 60 or 70 pound mono or fluorocarbon as a shock tippet. The
overall length of the leader is of 6 or 7 feet. Some people
simply use a single piece of heavy mono, but since I prefer
to follow IGFA rules I use the 20 pound tippet. You might
loose some fish, but you´ll gain in sportsmanship and who
knows . . . you might even catch the next world record!
We lay in our hammocks and start to chat a little about the
fishing. Peacock Bass, called Tucunaré in Brazil, are cichlids.
There are many species of them, but the one that draws most
attention is the big Temensis, our goal in this trip. They
eat almost exclusively smaller fishes and they usually prefer
to ambush their prey, hiding among structures. But at times
they actively corral and chase passing schools of baitfish.
They have a spot at the base of their tail, this is to simulate
an eye and its main function is probably to confuse predators
and/or to confuse baitfish. A baitfish might see the false
eye at the tail and run to the other direction, right toward
the mouth of the Peacock Bass.
Today most waters reached by the larger commercial and sport
fishing boats are over fished. Peacock Bass are extremely
sensitive to any fishing pressure and this explains why we
have to travel so far. Only the smaller regional boats can
reach the remote headwaters of the rivers, and the long
"expedition" style trip is worth it, because we know that
at the end we'll find what every tropical fishermen dreams
of: lakes that were never fished before and obviously full
of large Tucunaré!
We finally manage to sleep, listening to the mysterious sounds
of the jungle at night. It's strange to think that you're right
in the middle of a remote area of the Amazon, 2 days from the
nearest telephone. This is not a place to make mistakes.
I'm awakened by the loud sounds of a group of macaws nearby, it's
5:45 AM as we quickly eat something before going out for our first
full day of fishing. As we enter the lake I can almost feel the
presence of big fish. Soon we see action, as a pair of large
Peacock Bass corral and attack a school of baitfish. The baitfish
gets so panicked that some even jump out onto dry land! It's a
world of eat or be eaten.
We approach the area carefully and I cast my 10 inch 4/0 diver
near a fallen tree, stripping it fast. Peacock Bass are used to
chase their prey, so be sure to strip yours flies fast. I strip
it a second time and then this big fish comes from under the tree
and smashes my fly as it dives. I strike hard to the side, already
trying to pull the fish away from the tree. The 20 pound tippet
is forced to the max as the fish pulls it the opposite way. We
know it's a big fish but we only get the idea of it's size when
it completely jumps outside the water. It looks huge! When the
fish is away from the bank I start to fight him from the reel,
I can bring him close to the boat but he always runs again toward
the bank, taking off several feet of line, despite the heavy drag
pressure. After about 10 minutes the fish is excused near the boat,
but he manages to violently dive under it in a last desperate try
to escape. We finally land it, the fish is incredibly beautiful.
I remove the fly, which is all the way down it's throat and release
it back to his lake. The 3 day trip is worth every minute, I think.
You can and should keep a few Peacock Bass if you're not coming back
to the main boat for lunch, but never keep a large fish. The largest
fish are always the best spawners and must be kept alive. At midday
we usually cook some fish in one of the several white sand beaches
of the area, and swim at the river to refresh from the intense heat.
There is no danger of Piranhas, since they are only dangerous in
locked lagoons, but you should always shuffle your feet instead
of stepping, to avoid Stingrays. But probably the most dangerous
thing in Amazon to fishermen is the sun and heat. Always use sun
protection, drink plenty of water and avoid fishing during midday.
There are very few biting mosquitoes in these black water rivers
due to the high acidity of its water, which prevents successful
reproduction of these insects.
There are some items that you must bring on a fishing trip in the
Amazon, like a Boga Grip. This is for sure the easiest and safest
way to land and handle Peacock Bass and other Amazon fish. Also
very important is a long nosed pliers to remove the hook from
the fish. Even small Peacock Bass can swallow a large fly, plus
there are plenty of toothy fish around, and you don't want your
fingers too close to their mouths. Another very important item
is a finger guard to protect against line burns and cuts. You
can make one by cutting the finger off a glove or simply wrapping
waterproof tape on your finger.
The right fly selection is extremely important if you want to
catch a nice fish. Large Peacock Bass eat some pretty large
baitfish, so you must use very large flies. Avoid using anything
smaller than 6 or 7 inches, otherwise you'll probably just hook
small fish. Personally I like streamers and divers over 8 inches
in length tied on strong 3/0 to 5/0 hooks. They don't care much
about colors, just be sure to bring plenty of white and dark
shaded flies. Noisy divers are great and provoke amazing attacks,
but sometimes streamers that push a lot of water catch more fish.
The water in these rivers is dark colored due to the decomposing
of leaves that fall from the jungle, especially during the rainy
season, when waters can rise to over 20 feet above its normal
level. Fishing during this time is totally unproductive, because
the baitfish flee into the flooded jungle, and Peacock Bass follow
them. That's why it's extremely important to carefully schedule
your trip and always have a second plan in case the water level
in the area you intend to fish in is too high or so low that
you can't reach it.
A fishing trip to the Amazon is an unforgettable experience:
meeting the friendly local people, seeing the wild life, fish
in never-before fished waters, but especially... feeling the
brutal power of a large Peacock Bass at the end of your line.
That's why Peacock Bass fishing is such an addiction among
baitcasters . . . and now is the time for fly fishers to move
onto the scene. ~ Octavio Araujo (B.G.)
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