When my pals from ‘up North’ said they’d found the best peacock bass fishing in Brazil, they immediately got my attention. They told me they were planning a trip to the Amazon, where it’s possible to catch literally hundreds of bass on fly, and would I be interested in joining them? It must have taken me all of ten seconds to decide that indeed I would!
I won’t bore you with the build-up or the long, uncomfortable and tiring journey but, as with all these things, one minute you are saying to yourself: “only six weeks from now we’ll be up the Amazon”, and the next thing you know, you’re loading into the light aircraft bound for no-man’s-land! Having said that, I do distinctly remember looking enviously at those spacious, fully-reclining seats in the virtually empty business class section, whilst heading for cattle class and a sleepless twelve hours over the Atlantic. One day, Rodney…
Anyway such things were soon forgotten as we flew over 150 miles of solid rainforest to our destination – Santa Maria. It sounds pretty romantic but the reality is far from it, and as we went over a narrow strip of grass between the trees, I remember thinking to myself, “I hope that’s not where we are going to land!”. Of course it was, and we got down safely – good pilot skills!!
From there it was on to the skiffs that we would later be fishing from, and a further one and a half hours at 20 knots up-river to the mobile camp. Considering the remoteness, the air-conditioned floating cabins were more than adequate, and the food, drinks and general service were first-class – a great credit to the staff. Best of all, the evening temperature was very pleasant with a marked lack of biting insects, or any other unwanted nasty creatures!
Breakfast was served at 6.30am and we were away in the skiffs soon afterwards, when they picked us up right from the side of our cabins at 7am sharp.
The basic fishing plan was to cast our flies as close to the shore as possible, sometimes under over-hanging vegetation, and to rip them back at speed. On the whole, the bass were eager to cooperate – beautiful-looking fish, which took like tigers and really fought their weight.
A good 90% of the fish were ‘butterfly peacocks’, the smallest strain of the species, which tend to be between 2 and 5lbs. They were beautiful fish but, unfortunately for them, we were kitted out for their bigger cousins. On heavy rods and strong leaders, the small fish really didn’t have much of a chance.
In contrast, when we hooked the ‘pakas’ or speckled peacocks (my favourites) and the ‘azuls’ (which are the ones with marked stripes, a bit like huge perch), we’d find ourselves attached to something much bigger and much more able to test our tackle. If we weren’t careful, these bigger fish would dive into the foliage and snag you, so the fights were usually quite frantic and heart-in-mouth exciting!
Our guides kept us on the move. Some areas proved hard work, while others seemed to be heaving with fish and I lost count of the number of times that we had double hook-ups. At times we would be fishing the main river, then we would wind our way through seemingly impenetrable channels to find shallow lagoons of varying sizes, most of which were well-populated with ready-taking fish. Lovely!
As well as bass, all sorts of different fish responded to our flies, including jacundas (sporting an attractive red spot on their flanks), jacudas (a sort of freshwater barracuda), tilapia, trieedas (fearsome-looking wolf fish), and of course the inevitable piranhas, which seemed to be almost everywhere! Avoiding the piranhas was a bit of an art form: allowing our flies to fish deeper than a couple of feet was in general a big mistake, resulting in sharp ‘taps’ and a fly that looked as if it had been cut in half with scissors! They’re not that big but they have ultra-sharp teeth and are eager to use them. We caught some piranhas and many wolf fish, but generally we only landed these fish when they were lip-hooked and the 40lb fluorocarbon avoided the gnashing teeth! Wire traces were of course an option, but definitely seemed to put off the Peacocks slightly, so most of us discarded them.
In one lagoon I spotted a substantial ‘rise’ behind the boat and cast to it – resulting in an instant take by something big. I remarked to Peter, my boat-partner for the day, that it felt like a decent one, and noticed that our normally placid guide, Carlinho, was getting a bit excited. I was expecting a double-figure bass and was astounded when a huge fish of about 6-feet long and possibly 150lbs launched itself 3 or 4 feet into the air, shaking its head and throwing the hook in the process! I seem to recall being slightly relieved at the time, thinking it to have been a large catfish, but back at camp later we learned through an interpreter that it had in fact been a large arapaima. From what I have seen on the TV, it was probably just as well that it came off, as they can put up one hell of a fight!
For the duration of our stay I was one of the few fishermen in camp not to see any alligators, caiman or giant otters. My pal, Ricky, managed to get the latter on film, and he said they seemed unperturbed by the boat. I did see the slightly bizarre pink dolphins, freshwater stingrays and many birds of all shapes and sizes including hundreds of parrots.
Before turning in at night I had much pleasure in sitting on the narrow rear-deck of our cabin, soaking up the evening glow, smoking a Cuban cigar and listening to the numerous and fascinating sounds of the jungle. It really was quite an experience!
Results-wise the four of us caught something approaching 800 fish during the six ten-hour days of fishing – a fantastic result we all agreed. Peacocks over 8lbs are considered to be specimens, and I am happy to report that we all had doubles, so we were more than pleased. I was lucky enough to land two 8s, a 9, a ten and a belter of 15lbs – the second largest of the trip. The largest was a twenty pounder caught by Charlie – one of our American colleagues. A real beauty!
A special mention should be made of Ricky – paralysed from the waist down for many years and permanently in a wheelchair, but a terrific fisherman and fly-tying expert. He makes nothing of his disability and is a pleasure to fish with. On one occasion, while we fished together, he lost a brake from his chair and took a dive into the river! The tough-guy that he is, he was soon back in the skiff, making nothing of it and leathering out the fish again!!
Anyone wanting to pursue peacock bass would do well to follow in our footsteps. I’d be happy to provide the name of the operator, or to answer any questions you might have. If you really want a big one, I’d suggest using jerk/swim baits of 8 to 10” in length and heavy gear, although, if you do so, you should know that you’ll be missing out on a lot of fun with the smaller fish. And what fun it was!
As my son James used to say as a youngster: “Another good likkle memory!”