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Articles: Amazonas 2009 (Abril 2009)

by: John Neaves

I am back from the Amazon alive and well - not eaten by an anaconda, jaguar or even a mosquito. We did see a jaguar swimming across the river in front of us and got to within three meters of it before it bounded out of the water, looked at us and disappeared into the jungle. We also got bitten by a few no see ums but let me start at the beginning.

About a year ago and after returning from Cuba, Garth Wellman and I decided to go fishing somewhere different. We decided to fish for a freshwater species and after considering Argentina, Mongolia, India and New Zealand decided to venture into the Amazon to fish for Peacock Bass. This fish is legendary for its vicious take of the fly and the strong and aggressive fight. Our research told us that we could expect to target many different species. We could expect to catch some smaller fish including piranha but also some larger specimens with weird shapes, colors and teeth- every fish is after something to eat and this includes insects, rodents and of course other fish. You will see the wonderful colors of the peacock in the pictures including vivid red, orange, yellows and greens. Many of the fish have an eye on the tail, which, I understand, is also a defense mechanism against other fish, which attack from behind. The piranha is particularly prone to doing this and will strip a fly in a few seconds especially a fly carefully made with natural fibers and feathers. They will also bite lines and leaders indiscriminately. This often results in one having to replace Amazonas

a whole fly line, leader and tippet a frustrating exercise if the fish are feeding all around you.

Once we decided to go to the Amazon, I was overtaken by events which meant that that fishing and the trip seemed insignificant and unimportant. In the period leading up to the trip I had not tied the number of flies I usually would have; I had not done the research nor practiced my casting for the trip. It was with some trepidation that I left accompanied by a fly fisherman who is a much better caster than me and with whom I would share a boat for 7 days. On the positive side I had taken the time to learn how to use Ritchie´s cameras and took them with me. I am so pleased that I did as we took wonderful pictures but I also spent time reflecting how Ritchie would have seen things and often felt his presence when I opened the camera case to use his equipment. I have created an album of pictures which I trust does justice to him.

We traveled to Sao Paolo in Brazil and then on to Manaus, which is the place where the Amazon joins the Rio Negro. The Rio Negro is a black river which is the result of tannin from leaves and debris falling into the water. We were to fish a tributary of the Rio Negro, which has its advantages in that the black water is also acid rich. This prevents mosquitoes and promotes fish growth. The water while black is still clean and clear and we found that after a few days we could see the fish that we were fishing for quite clearly. The picture shows the black water but also gives an indication of the size of the river and the boats and planes, which enjoy the water. We had a most pleasant stay in Manaus and did the usual touristy things. The hotel was superb with Prince Charles Amazonasand Camilla booking in on the night that we returned. We had some fun in the art shop posing with a wonderful piece of art to cover the eventuality that we did not catch any thing like it!

The following morning we left for our destination in the jungle- The Ague Boa lodge that is about two and a half hours into the jungle traveling by small plane. There is nothing for hundreds of miles. We received an extremely warm welcome but were keen to go fishing so did not linger over breakfast. We were on our way by ten am and spent a full day fishing. What a day it was. Within a few casts we had each caught a number of Butterfly peacocks. We had smiles all over our faces. These fish are absolutely stunning and grow upto 5-6lbs. We fished for them most of the day and caught almost as many as we desired. We soon worked out that they liked to hug the bank and a cast to within three feet of the bank would immediately elicit a boil and a strike.

We soon started experimenting and later in the afternoon I was using a floating fly when there was a huge boil and a peacock smashed the fly. I was on to a lovely spotted peacock of about ten pounds. We then saw another following and trying to take the fly from the hooked fish. Garth cast to the following fish and hooked it. For a brief while we were both onto to two lovely fish but then mine came loose. Garth landed magnificent fish but that is where my exasperation began. Shortly thereafter another large barred peacock took my fly only to come off after a brief tussle. I ended he first day tired and elated. We had cast our arms off with long and accurate casts but I was also little disappointed at loosing the two good fish of the day especially the fish we had chosen to target. On arrival back at the lodge we were welcomed back by Hess,

the local 18 ft caiman (croc). Hess is ugly and intimidating to say the least and I could tell you a whole long story about him but this would take too long.

The short story is that Hess has only one eye. This happened after the pet piglet of one of our guides, Boro, decided to swim after when he left the dock for a days guiding.Amazonas He had not got far when Hess came up from under the dock and ate him in one fell swoop. Boro was furious to say the least and that night got hold of the camp gun (used to keep the jaguars at bay in emergency) and shot him in the eye. Hess survived but is no doubt pissed off so- I give him a wide berth!! Just look into the water behind and you will appreciate the size of the dear fellow.
And we went into the second and third days fishing; each day catching many different species and each day getting bigger and better size fish but I enjoyed the longer boat rides when you could just absorb the beauty the diversity of the river and jungle. We saw all the birds that I expected to see including macaws and toucans making noises along the bank and in the trees. We saw the anaconda holes in the banks of the river as well as families of giant otter playing in the water. I never saw anything that scared me but I have no doubt that a lot happens which is quite scary. We saw big blue butterflies (morphs), which Garth wanted to catch but would have ended up in jail, so did not. I never saw the monkeys but heard many.

What I enjoyed immensely were the treks into the inland lakes that are formed as the river recedes. We would have to maneuver Amazonasthe boat through little passes in the jungle sometimes dragging the boat over fallen trees to reach the lake deep in the jungle. In these lakes any thing could and did happen big fish may be trapped!!

The fishing during the entire week was magnificent and numbers of fish caught were never an issue. I cannot count numbers of fish caught beyond three but I noticed that the guides did keep a tally and one day towards the end of the week when I was fishing slowly and selectively, the guide counted 55 caught and landed. However I was not there for the numbers and had set my sights on double figured spotted and three barred peacocks. After the fourth and fifth days, I had caught a number of good of single figure fish but no doubles and my frustration was mounting because Garth had had such success. I decided that I needed time out and that I would probably do better fishing on my own in a less competitive environment. I discussed this with Garth and then arranged my own boat with my own guide. My fortunes changed immediatelyand this raises the interesting question of whether one should fish from a boat in pairs or Amazonaswhether one should fish singly. Obviously it is cheaper and more companiable to fish with a friend but I have seen that slow fishing and sight fishing in pairs is not conducive to success especially when both of you have spent a lot of time and money getting to a destination and one person has to stand down when the other fishes. When I was in Belize I spent 7 hours on the front of the boat without casting once but was eventually rewarded with a magnificent tarpon of 120lbs. The other guys fishing in pairs did not have the patience to stand and watch for more than 15 minutes before the person sitting down wanted to get up and fish. Needless to say they did not enjoy the success that I did. I am convinced that it is better to have your own boat and guide even if more expensive.
On my last day I was sent off with Boro (he with the small pig and poor eyesight). Boro is reputed to want numbers and not big fish so I was a little disappointed. Garth went off with Daniel who had a secret hole with big fish! Anyway it as raining cats and dogs when Boro pulled up alongside an innocuous looking bank and suggested that I should start casting, I looked at him in disbelief and said "Grande" meaning "big fish I do not want more butterflies". He gave be a blank stare-he didn´t speak a Amazonasword of English so I started casting and soon caught a few butterflies. I was warming to the task when we started to catch bigger fish and then caught an 8 lb spotted peacock. All of a sudden Boro and I were talking and understanding each other like old friends.

We then had an incredible session when we saw a number of boils about 100 meters from the shore. Soon fish started flying as predators started hitting the baitfish. Piranhas joined in for the leftovers and a number of caiman cruised in to check the action. I put a cast into the melee and was soon hooked into something substantial- but the piranhas scored again.

We then moved off to another spot when I was soon rewarded with a 12lb spotted- now we were happy. I took a whole series of photos with Boro and the fish because I had noticed that he did could not see through the eyepiece. After that I knew that we were on a roll so I persuaded Boro to move to the main channel to sight fish over the sand banks. We drifted for quite a distance when I saw a large Peacock chasing something. I put in a good cast to watch as the fish that I had cast to miss the fly but another come speeding in to swallow the offering the rest is history. Boro claimed it at 17lbs but I think that he misread the scale. I did not check the scale but we have accepted it at 15lbs. I had achieved what I came for and retired happily at 10.30am to join my mexican companions who were fishing for piranhas. Next year Alaska!!!

I´m thankful to FlyFishingCaribe for organizing the trip.


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