A Guide To Giant Peacock Bass Fly Fishing In The Amazon
By Octavio Campos Salles Araujo (BG)
There is a growing interest among fly fishermen in traveling to the Amazon, but many are discouraged by a series of doubts, like where and when to go, what fish species will be encountered, what tackle to use, what precautions to take, etc. We hope this two-part article will clear up this and other doubts about fly fishing in this fantastic region of the planet.
The Amazon Rainforest:
The Amazon is the biggest portion of Rainforest in the world, with over 6 millon square km, spreading through Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, French Guyana, Suriname and Peru. In this immense jungle you will find the biggest diversity of ethnical groups and Indian languages in the American Continent, the argest rivers in the world, the biggest and most varied biodiversity, etc. Just to give you an idea, in the Amazon Basin alone there are more fish species than in all the Atlantic Ocean, and there are still hundreds, maybe thousands of species yet to be discovered. The same holds true for insects, birds and amphibians.
The potential of both chemical compounds and gene compositions of plant and animal species yet to be discovered or studied can provide precious new sources of food, cures for diseases and many other benefits which are still unforeseen by Man. Many of these benefits are already known by indians. For instance there is an indian tribe who uses a certain species of ant to treat poisonous snake bites. They purposely put the ants over the wound and let them sting it, and that apparently cures the negative effects of the snake poison.
Underneath the Amazon there is also a countless wealth in the form of oil fields that together occupies an area the size of Europe. The oil is just now starting to be explored by the Brazilian Government and everyone hopes that this exploration will be done in an enviromentaly correct way.
The Amazon River is so huge in volume of water that 60 miles offshore from its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean you still navigate over fresh, muddy water. That is how the Amazon River was first identified by the spanish explorer Vicente Yanez Pinzon, who called it Mar Dulce (fresh water sea) in the 15th. century.
Contrary to what was believed back in the 70’s, the Amazon Rainforest is not the lung of the world, as it produces as much oxygen by photosynthesis as it absorbs. On the other hand the forest provides an invaluable service to the planet by regulating the amount of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the atmosphere as well as regulating the distribution of rain in half of Latin America. The build-up of carbon dioxide and monoxide on the atmosphere is the main cause of the increase in Earth’s temperature, so you can say that the Amazon is the “air conditioner” of the planet.
Traveling to the Amazon:
Traveling to the Brazilian Amazon from North America or Europe is pretty easy as there is a direct flight connection to Manaus from Miami. The Brazilian Government requires a tourist visa from Canadian and US citizens, as well as most European countries. The visa can be personally issued in any Brazilian Embassy, present in most big cities of North America. You may want to choose to fill-out the visa application form available to print from the internet and send it through regular mail. You can also contact your local travel agency and they should take care of the paperwork.
Most anglers coming to the Amazon for the first time are usually very worried about the dangers from the jungle. In reality the dark water rivers are a very safe region of the Amazon, tropical diseases are nearly non-existent and there is really no need to take precaution about that. The region is free of biting insects too, making for comfortable living conditions. The only thing you should worry about a little are stingrays, so when wading or taking a dip at the river be sure to shuffle your feet instead of stepping, just like the guys on the saltwater flats do. The sun can also offer some danger for very sun-sensitive persons, so it’s important to use strong sun screen and wear good quality tropical clothing.
The language spoken in Brazil is portuguese, but on a good trip option, your english speaking host will meet you at the airport and stay with you throughout the trip. Another good reason to look for trips with hosts that stays with the group during the whole trip, and not just while in the city.
Brazil is a country in relatively good economic and political stability. Its local people are very friendly toward tourists and always willing to share a bit of their rich culture.
Where to go:
The biggest peacock bass are not in every river of the Amazon, instead they can only be found in certain rivers mainly in central Amazon. These rivers are characterized by its dark, acid water and many marginal sloughts and lakes, the ideal habitat of Cichla temensis, the largest peacock bass species.
There are basically two main watersheds within the Amazon Basin where you can find this peacock bass, these are the Rio Negro to the north and the Rio Madeira to the south. The tributaries of these rivers is where the biggest peacock bass in the world comes from, specially from the Rio Negro watershed.
Rio Negro means “Dark River,” which is very aptly named. Its water is very dark in color and usually free of biting insects as they can not reproduce in the acid water. Manaus, the biggest city in the Brazilian Amazon and the gateway to peacock bass fishing in Brazil, is situated on its banks. The two main kinds of water from the Amazon can be observed when the Negro and Solimões Rivers meet to form the mighty Amazon River, only a few miles from Manaus. The Negro with its dark water and the Solimões with its muddy water. The two different waters don’t mix for 8 miles, running alongside like two different rivers within one huge river.
Unfortunately nearly all easily reached locations have been fished-out by either sport and commercial fishermen and that is why it is today very important to travel to very remote areas in search of unexplored rivers where big peacock bass are abundant and aggressive. These unexplored rivers usually have some kind of natural barrier that prevents easy navigation, like shallow rocky areas or rapids. Some are even too sinuous and this avoids access with float planes as they don’t have areas large enough to land.
The headwaters of the tributaries are usually the least known and explored areas, and that is where the most succesfull fishing trips happen today. For the fly fisherman these areas are also much better than the areas downriver because their lakes are shallower and smaller so the fish are more easily attracted to flies. Anglers can also sight-fish a lot of times in these areas.
Look for outfitters who provide trips to these remote locations if you are serious about catching big peacock bass on fly. Facilities may not be top-class but it’s perfectly suited for the angler with an exploring mind and spirit of adventure.
When to go:
Choosing the right time to go can mean the difference between success and total failure. Peacock bass fishing depends a lot on low water levels because during the flood season, when waters may rise over 40 feet, the baitfish swims into the flooded forest and the peacock bass follow them. Fishing during this time is completely unproductive.
The best outfitters carefully track and study weather patterns and changes when planning their fishing season in an effort to fish on the right places at the right time. It’s not always easy since it may vary significantly and there are many variations according to certain areas of the Amazon. Basically the dry season starts to the south of the Amazon River by June and goes on until October, moving slowly to the north until reaching the rivers north of the Amazon River from late August to March.
This means that the Rio Negro watershed, where the biggest peacocks come from, is generally fishable from September to March according to the specific region within this huge watershed.
Peacock Bass are the most abundant gamefish in the rivers of central Amazon. Even though there are other gamefish species in these rivers, the peacock bass is the focus of nearly all anglers coming to this area. They are not nearly remotely related to the largemouth bass of North America, instead they are cichlids, a huge family of fish species common in Latin America and Africa.
Speckled Peacock Bass: This is the largest of all peacock bass species, reaching sizes of nearly 30 pounds. Of course a fish of that size is very rare. On good, remote locations they average 10 to 18 pounds, with bigger fish always around. This is still under scientific discussion, but it’s generally accepted that females have spots and males have three distinct dark bars and a yellowish coloration, as well as a hump on top of the head during mating season. They are very aggressive and territorial and will strike topwater flies with a vengeance. Most people who have fished for it agrees that they show the most spectacular and ferocious topwater strike of all fish. Everyone who enjoys casting topwater flies among varied structure for big fish must go peacock bass fishing in the Amazon at least once in a lifetime. Their fight is brutal and they always seek structures to cut or wrap the line.
Butterfly Peacock Bass: This is a smaller peacock bass species, but very abundant. There are actually two species of what is wrongly called butterfly peacock bass. One of them is the true butterfly peacock bass, with three big blotches on the side, and another species, which shows dark uneven bars and a more yellowish coloration. Both are quite small on average, but may reach sizes up to 13 pounds.
Traira: A very aggressive fish with sharp teeth and a powerfull jaw. They strike just about anything that moves close enough to it and are very abundant on the shallow areas. They average 2 to 4 pounds and are fun on light rods, as well as an important food source for large peacock bass. These fish are very pre-hystoric looking and it is believed they come from ancient times.
Arawana: The arawana is a famous fish among aquarium hobbyists because of their unusual, snake-like appearance. They are quite aggressive and will strike a variety of patterns. Once hooked they put up a good fight, with jumps and runs. A TV documentary on a British channel became famous by showing the scene of an arawana jumping out of the water to get a bug on an overhanging three in the flooded forest. This shows that they have great eyesight.
Jacundá: This beautifull fish is known in the aquarium hobby as pike cichlid. Despite their small average size they are very strong and aggressive and very fun on light fly rods. They come in many varied colors.
Piranha: There are mainly two species of piranhas in the dark water rivers. The black and the silver. The black piranha is the biggest one, reaching 10 pounds or more. They can be aggressive but nearly never against people. There is a lot of myth around piranha attacks and it’s just not true. They can only be dangerous when locked in a small lagoon where no more food is available, otherwise they won’t bother with you at all and you can swim at the river without worrying. Catching them on flies is not the easiest thing, which is pretty good because they destroy the fly in a heartbeat with their sharp, scissors-like teeth.
There are many other fish species in the black water rivers, like oscar, apapa, bicuda, pacu, arapaima and giant catfish. ~ Octavio
Next time: Best spots and what equipment to bring.
Octavio Campos Salles Araujo organizes and hosts unique fly fishing trips to remote locations of the Brazilian Amazon, where the rivers are still uncharted and big fish are numerous. Check out his website at www.amazonflyfishing.com for more.