|The Third Timeâ€™s the Charm |
Peacock Bass in the Brazilian Jungle with River Plate
Well, it took two years after our original booking date to get there â€“ Where? The Brazilian jungle and peacock bass with world-renowned remote camp operator, River Plate. We had first scheduled a departure date in January of 2011 but were cancelled because the river banks were overflowing into the jungle a half mile from unprecedented rainfall. We rescheduled to March same year and again were cancelled the night before departure, bags packed, and drooling to get going â€“ high water again. River Plate gave us a full credit for the coming year. They are extremely honorable folks.
What a let down â€“ a serious heartbreaker for all in our group of eight anxious anglers. Only three of our group had ever fished the Amazon for peacock bass before; Keith Kaneko of Angling on the Fly travel and the Leonard boys â€“ father and son, John and Jon. Actually there would be five Johns in our camp when we finally made it there: John Waldum (JW); John Franzia (Franzia) and his wife Mary Lynne; John Leonard; Jon Leonard and our camp host, John Silvia. I called Jon Leonard â€œLittle Jonâ€ just to help keep things straight. JW just fit JW...
We had a wonderful group of people who all got along splendidly. It couldnâ€™t have been a better assembly if they had been picked by Dr. Phil.
The first leg
Our last and final re-booked date was to depart Miami International on TAM airways, January 13, 2012 (a Friday) â€“ good thing Iâ€™m not superstitious...
We arrived at the Manaus International airport right on schedule and after a slow time getting through immigration and customs, we were met by River Plate owner, Luis Brown and his superb transfer people. After introductions and a bit of a wait until all of us had our luggage and were re-grouped, we were transferred by van to the Five-Star, Cesar Hotel; and believe me, it was 5-star, with a marvelous staff, excellent rooms and a wonderful restaurant. The entire River Plate operation and its logistics is nothing but first class â€“ but I knew that already from reports Iâ€™d read; and from anglers Iâ€™d spoken with about their operation over the years. Now I was there with partner Bill Blanton to witness it first hand and to be able to heartily confirm that everything Iâ€™d heard and read about the operation was true.
As the old saying goes â€œThe third time is the charmâ€ and all went off with out a hitch this time â€“ well with almost no hitches â€“ nothing to obsess over anyhow.
Reports were that the water was still a bit high in the river system we were scheduled to fish; but with luck, it would drop and weâ€™d experience good opportunity; hopefully, good fishing. Suffice it to say:
We SLAMMED THEM!
About the fish and the fishing
As it turned out there were only 7 out of 8 scheduled people in our group since Keith Kaneko had to cancel for personal reasons. There was one couple with us, the Franziaâ€™s, John and Mary Lynne. Mary Lynne was our camp morale booster and official â€œhappeningsâ€ photographer. Mary Lynne didnâ€™t fish; which reduced our total rod-wavers to six. In just 6-1/2 days of hard-ass fly fishing, we landed more than 900 fish (the guides are required to keep accurate daily counts with clickers). My partner, Coz, Captain Bill Blanton and I landed more than 270 to 14 pounds with lots of 6- to 12-pounders in the mix; and we lost count of the 3- to 5- pounders and smaller, medium-all-purpose fish caught and released, keeping only a few daily to augment camp dinners. Billâ€™s largest Azul peacock was a bit over 10-pounds and I managed to best a 14-pound Azul. Of the four species of peacock bass: the Azul (or Assu), the Paca, the Butterfly and the Popoca, the Azul grows the largest â€“ but the Paca might be meaner for its size, somewhat like a smallmouth bass, often preferring moving water.
The largest fish of the week went to JW (John Waldum) with a 22-pounder; his second gargantuan, an 18-pounder. He also got his clock cleaned by a monster that got into his backing about a hundred yards breaking off his entire fly line around a bloody stump or something. There were certainly plenty of those around â€“ lots visible and many that werenâ€™t. We were fishing in hazardous conditions when it came to flies and lines. Everyone in our group though, managed to land double-digit fish, a few teeners.
Casting requirements and conditions (structure â€“ blow-downs, stumps, brush trees, you name it) demanded extreme accuracy, with both long and short casts and so many of them that we all developed several blisters on our casting hand within the first day-and-a-half. Thank God JW had brought a large bottle of squeeze, instant glue, and the perfect stuff for sealing blisters and cuts after proper cleaning. I had packed a bottle of brush-on Krazy Glue for that express purpose but it never made it to camp â€“ TSA? And, yes, we all wore Armara palmed Sun Gloves â€“ which didnâ€™t provide enough protection for our obviously tender casting hands. Thank God for Stripping Guards too â€“ lest we suffered sever finger line burns. Bottom line â€“ if you couldnâ€™t throw tight loops and lots of them, you had better have flies with good snag guards...
Our final destination
The river we fished was called the Xeriuni, a trib off the Rio Branco which branched from the Rio Negro. It took almost two hours in our charter plane, flying over jungle so thick you couldnâ€™t see through the canopy anywhere except when a decent-sized river cut a swath through it. The vastness of the Amazon is truly astounding and from high above it takes on the appearance of a thick, green, impenetrable carpet. We finally landed on a short, grass airstrip at the small village of Santa Maria. There we were met by our guides who led us to transport boats for another two hour ride down the Rio Branco to the Xeriuni and our floating, movable camp. I canâ€™t tell you how happy I was to see the water color change from red/brown to clear tannin and finally to glimpse the camp as we rounded a river bend. â€œIt wonâ€™t be long nowâ€, I thought. I didnâ€™t think I could get that excited about fishing anymore.
After a quick lunch, camp orientation and introduction to house staff and guides by host, John Silvia, we headed to our assigned cabins to unpack and rig gear.
Guides and gear
Our guide the first day was called â€œMoeâ€ and he was a BIG boy; head guide and ran the camp maintenance and overall operation. He was a superb guide and was incredibly fly-savvy. All the guides were. It didnâ€™t take Bill and me long to rig three rods each: a floater, intermediate and fast-sinker. The floaters and I-lines were Rio Tropical Outbound Short lines in 9- and 10-weights. Quigley twisted leaders were looped on the line-loop and a tippet of straight 40-pound about 4 feet long was decided best choice for surviving wood and other line-severing obstructions, plus twisted leaders provided stretch for shock absorption â€“ the hell with IGFA 20-pound...
I chose a TFO 10-weight Baby Blue for a primary rod although I brought along two 9-weight sticks: an Orvis Helios and one of Sea Level FlyFishingâ€™s new â€œStealthâ€ rods. After a half day of swinging the BB, developing several blisters on my casting hand and straightening three jig hooks on three bruiser fish, I made the switch to the Stealth 9 with a 435 grain intermediate and stayed with it the rest of the week. It cast, fished and fought those critters brilliantly; I fell in love with that rod. The reel happened to be a Sage 3400D but that was inconsequential â€“ we never played a single fish off the reel all week. There was no point in it once we hauled them out of the sticks; the fight was pretty much over by then.
In retrospect I wouldnâ€™t take any 10-weight rods for this fishing. Strong 9-weights with guts for pulling hard but with a tip for extremely accurate casting â€“ lots of casting from 40 to 80 feet â€“ will suffice; and you wonâ€™t destroy your hand, arm and rotator cuff. Some of our folks did break rods but all admitted to making angler errors, usually high-sticking. Bring at least three, better four rods if you make this trip. Reels should hold the appropriate line but should also be light. Beefy drags are not required from what I could tell; but one trip certainly doesnâ€™t make me an expert.
As for fly lines: from what I learned, I wouldnâ€™t even take a floating line next trip because I found I could cast both subsurface flies and poppers/sliders/darters and fish them properly with the ROS Tropical Intermediate. The big poppers and Pole Dancers could be cast much easier with the I-line, than with a fat floater â€“ just something to think about. I would take a fast-sinking line of some kind just in case although Bill and I never needed one.
The boats we fished from were well-appointed 21-foot, fairly narrow, aluminum John Boats powered by fast 35 hp outboards and controlled with good electric motors that always worked â€“ all day long! The skiffs felt a little tippy at first but you soon got your â€œlegsâ€. Wider boats wouldnâ€™t be able to snake through the many narrow, wood-choked creeks, water pathways to productive open bays and slow moving branches of the Xeriuni. The skiffs were fast, well-suited for the job and I found them perfect platforms. Bill and I would take turns fishing from the bow platform, alternating each day.
I got advice on all the hot peacock bass flies and I had the bases covered. Between Bill and me we could have supplied the entire camp with flies and a fly shop or two. I caught fish on every fly I showed them; but some did produce better than others. Pelado flies, sparse with a red tail worked very well as did any fly with lots of yellow/red/orange and orange/griz in it. Bill hammered them on a slim version of Rob Andersonâ€™s â€œReducerâ€ fly. Billâ€™s version was more â€œDeceiver-likeâ€ and not as full as Robâ€™s.
I did well on a red FT Pelado. They loved it; but so did the piranha, which chomped the Flashtail off; but not before I landed a good number of fish on one. I also slew them one afternoon on my old FT White Whistler Grizzly tied on a jig hook. Of course I just had to catch my first peacock bass on a Whistler and I did it with the classic FT red/white/griz. FT Clousers scored well too, especially in white/chart with a chartreuse pearl Flashtail. I tied some Pelado flies using yellow brush tails with a flame tip made for me by Pat Dunlap of Cascade Crest Tools. The big Peacocks loved those, including a couple of Faux Fur flies Pat sent me to try. Anyhow, they are not too particular if you can get the beef through the doorway and into the dining room.
Most of my flies were tied on 3/0 Targus 9413 jig hooks; some on the old EC413 and some were on 600s J hooks. I like the jig hooks better and the only three that opened on me were the ones I pried open using the beefy 10 with the electric motor in full reverse. Next time I might go with 4/0s.
Use strong hooks!
Overall, fishing for Amazon peacock bass with River Plate was a marvelous experience, one Iâ€™ll never regret having done. Iâ€™d do it again in a heartbeat! There is no other fish that hits a fly (except for maybe a New Guinea Bass) harder, faster, with more arm-jolting power than a big peacock bass. Itâ€™s a give-no-line contest which they often win if you donâ€™t know how to dance the â€œdown and dirtyâ€.
If you have been considering a trip to Brazil to fish for peacock bass I highly recommend youâ€™re not wasting more time thinking about it. Book it! Book it with Keith Kanekoâ€™s Angling on the Fly; and insist on River Plate Outfitters. You wonâ€™t be sorry â€“ but donâ€™t forget to bring the brush-on Krazy glue...
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