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Brazil: Peacock Bass 03-31-2007

On March 28th, I woke up to a driving blizzard. Although I wasn't scheduled to depart until the following afternoon, I immediately tried to get to Denver on a local commuter and when the airport closed, I switched gears and tried to drive to Casper to meet Jim Dean and Chuck Williams. I made it 20 miles south of Sheridan before I was turned back by a Wyoming Department of Transportation snowplow that was protecting a jack-knifed semi and two snowbound passenger cars. I barely made it home and it was white knuckle all the way in 50 mph winds and whiteout conditions. Over the next two days, I tried various ways to get out of town, but they were all fruitless. Instead, I worked, paced, and watched as 30 inches of snow was blown into 6 foot drifts that eventually became enough to cover our windows and doors and bring our little town to a standstill. It was tough to miss this trip... I missed seeing old friends, wished I had been in the incredible Amazon and need my peacock bass fix so I am already planning another trip for next winter. Here is the trip report from Jim Dean. I thank him for graciously accepting my duties and taking on the responsibilities of trip host... Scott Heywood

We came in hot and on instruments... we had departed Manaus airport in a rainstorm and had been flying for the last l ? hours in clouds and driving rain. As a result, we could only occasionally spot the rainforest and meandering stream channels from the small windows of our twin-engine charter plane. After a hard left bank, we broke through the overcast, and then lined up with the runway that seemed to be only a hundred feet below us. Soon, we touched down smoothly and the pilots hit the reverse pitch and applied the brakes as we neared the end of what seemed to be a short runway. I'm quite sure that Ray, our greeter, interpreter and guide from Manaus now had misgivings about his decision to ride into the lodge with us. Ray and I were sitting right behind the pilots and had a very vivid view of the turn maneuver and landing. The doors swung open and we were met and greeted by Carlos our Amazon Lodge host and Charlie an American guide and co-host at the lodge.

We had finally arrived. We had all traveled long distances from both coasts and the Idaho/Wyoming area of the U. S. Unfortunately, due to a massive storm in the Sheridan, Wyoming area, our trip host and intrepid traveler/fisherman Scott Heywood could not join us.

Chuck Williams and I had originally planned to drive to Denver on the 29th of March and catch the early morning flight out of DIA to Miami. On the morning of the 28th, Chuck called me from Gillette, WY and said there was a lot of snowfall and that slush was accumulating on the roads and that he was headed back to Casper, WY. He suggested we might want to drive down a day early to miss the storm. I readily agreed and told him that I was going to call Scott and inform him of our change in plans. Scott was also quite concerned about the storm and was preparing to leave early. In the face of the storm, he was changing his plans and would now drive to Casper and then ride on to Denver with us. However, this was not to be as he was unable to get very far out of town before the roads were closed.

With the prospect of a leaderless group, Scott demoted me to trip host and we formed up at the Miami terminal. Having lost our common denominator in Scott, we recognized one another by our rod cases and attire and that certain but indescribable persona that dedicated fly fishermen seem to have about them as they anticipate upcoming events.

We had all heard and read about this Amazonian adventure and also knew that no matter how much information you accumulate, you have to experience it up close and personal to really appreciate it. I had been in rainforests before on other trips to Costa Rica and also Belize, but never so far back into the jungle. The Royal Amazon Lodge is located in one of the most biodiverse and still pristine areas of the world and the variety of wildlife both in and out of the water is awesome. Targeted species on this trip were the three peacocks: butterfly, spotted and temensis with the last two being the largest. Arowana were also on the list of targeted quarry and although I saw quite a few and had "shots" at them, they would sometimes follow the fly, but would not eat it. I was told that this was the spawning season for arowana and that they were probably carrying their young in their mouths. Other species were the pacu on one end of the scale at about 5 pounds and the pirarucu the big boys of the Amazon who can reach weights in excess of 200 pounds, however none of the later were caught on this trip. Everyone in the group caught double digit "peacocks" and also many of the other species available including piranha. One of the teams (Chuck and Dr. Mike) even caught a catfish and a ray. The coloration on the "bass" fish is brilliant and hard for me to understand how it could be conducive to any form of concealment weather you are the pursued or the pursuee. In the case of the false eyes, I guess it is better to have the predator chasing your rear end than coming at you from the front. Now that I mention this, I recall catching a very colorful smaller fish with a bright red spot on the shoulder area; this brings into question the "eye" theory. I believe this fish was called a jacunda.

Our days were wild and exciting... my fishing partner "J. P." even caught a cayman! JP was attempting to show me the crocodilian he had spotted submerged in front of the boat and made too accurate a cast as he hooked this 5 footer in the back. Our guide fortuitously managed to release the toothy critter after a run of about 10 feet. Every day was filled with anticipation about what species we would spot and attempt to catch and what forms of wildlife we would see along the shoreline. Some of our group even spotted and took pictures of jaguars next to the waters edge.

One of the reasons that fishing was so good was the low, clear water condition. This low clear water combined with the light colored sandy bottoms lead to some great sight fishing. Spotting and casting to large peacocks and seeing the aggressive take and the subsequent charging, heavy, pulling run was enough to put your heart in your throat. Seeing these same fish charge bait so aggressively that the prey would jump out of the water and into the streamside vegetation was a reminder of what an aggressive predator we were hunting.

At this point, I will quote from some of my notes I jotted down in the evening after each days activities.

Sat.,Mar 31st fishing beat #5 with guide named Juarez. Room assignments put me in cabin #5 which was named Pirarucu. Fishing partner was J.P.; his 2nd peacock bass was a 13 pounder on boga grip. I fished using a white bunny w/ red collar; piranha chewed off bunny (they like bunny) still caught fish with nothing on hook but red collar. I even caught a fish with red collar fly when it had moss on it... Now that's aggression.

Sun., Apr 1st fishing beat # 6 with guide named Pedro. J.P. and I fished with a guide named Pedro and did very well. Steady rain for most of day, no big fish but a lot of them. Again they were keying on a white fly w/ red collar (small Stu Apt Tarpon fly in size #2). Also caught a least 6 fish on a Sar-Mul-Mac fly in size #3.

Mon., Apr 2nd fishing beat #1 with guide named Marcelo. Great day! Started catching fish right away using red/white (rojo/blanco) later tried Sar-Mul-Mac & did well with that also. No big fish landed, but did have a nice one break me off. He came off after he tied a nice tight knot in my 8 wt. line because I didn't get it cleared properly during his long run. I had to damage the line covering just to get the knot untied. We walked into a laguna & after all three of us bailed out the boat, we had our most prolific afternoon catching and releasing fish after fish by sight casting to groups of 3 to 4 pounders. I was using red/white and J.P. was using a popper. Probably over 30 fish each in two hours.

Tue., Apr 3rd fishing beat #2 with guide named Rubens. Slowest day yet: Partly cloudy with some wind which made a lot of noise as waves hit boat. I noticed we caught more fish in areas protected from wind. Sar-Mul-Mac again worked well. (Sounds like a plug for Dan Blanton). In the evening at the dock got to see Rex feed [ Rex is an 18 foot cayman. ED.]; Carlos called him right in by calling his name and slapping a fish against the bank.

Wed., Apr 4th fishing beat #3 with guide named Bacaba. Started out at the "honey hole" located by a large sign; we caught at least 3 spotted peacocks each and then went back into a laguna. Caught an 8 pound peacock and later a 7 pound spotty.

Thu, Mar 5th fishing beat #4 with guide named Joseph. Slowest day yet only caught 6 fish, but one was a 12 pound peacock; J.P. caught a 12 pound spotted peacock. We tried a lot of different flies and color combos, but the guide commented several times that the fish were not hungry.

Fri., Mar 6th fishing beat #5 with Juarez. Last day we will repeat beat #5, the one we started on. We didn't go very far from the lodge but did go to some "new water" as the river had come up between 3 and 4 feet since we arrived making more side channels available. We again caught fish all day. J.P. got another double digit peacock of 13 pounds.

A typical day started around 6 a.m. with breakfast at around 7 a.m. and we were usually on the river at 8 a.m., returning in the evening to arrive back at the lodge by 5 p.m.

The river was divided up into 6 beats. Beat one was the furthermost down river and beat six was the furthermost up river, with beat three being directly down river from the lodge.The guides were great. Even though we spoke different languages, we managed to "converse" and you could tell they wanted you to catch fish. The boats were in good shape and were kept very clean... no sand or mud or water sloshing around. Every laguna we walked back into had a small boat stashed and although they were motorless, the guides paddled or poled them all around the lake.

The accommodations were outstanding especially considering the lodge's location. Several trip members commented on the logistics involved in getting the materials on location just to construct the facility. Carlos and Charlie capably supervised the staff, including the guides. Carlos also served as my interpreter during my "levitation demonstration" on Wednesday evening and also for the finale on Friday evening when I showed everyone the new "Hazel nut" being grown in Montana.

I never heard a discouraging word from anyone about this trip even though we fished on one rainy day and also on a day that was very warm. We all had the normal line burns and some cuts, blisters and bug bites, but we were forewarned and came prepared. One of the guys even developed a bad back from a fall in the boat, but there was never any complaining... everyone was having too much fun and besides the Caipirinha's (Brazil's national drink made of cane sugar alcohol and limes) helped take away the discomfort. This was a very compatible group! For example, when one of the boats left without some necessary gear they were helped out on the river by one of the compatriot's boats that were more than willing to share the needed gear. I also need to mention the two father/son combos that were along. It was heart warming to see the interaction in these obviously close relationships.

My thanks to Angling Destinations for putting this trip and group together and my thanks and appreciation for the camaraderie and friendship of: Bob Hartmann and his son Kurt, Dick Wilson and his son Mark, Kirk Bannerman and his fishing buddy Dick Recchia, Mike Turner MD and his fishing buddy Chuck Williams (who also drove us to Denver) and last my suffering fishing buddy J.P. Albrecht (who also was my victim for the evening entertainment). It was my great pleasure to meet and get to know you and I would be honored and humbled to be able to travel and hopefully get to fish with any one of you again.

Jim Dean April 9, 2007. Royal Amazon Lodge- March/April 2007

...and J.P. Albrecht who also took the great photos for this story, added his impressions after the first day...

An unexpected spring snowstorm prevents our fearless leader, Scott, from joining a team of 10 anglers on a trip to the heart of Brazil's Amazon. Large peacock bass on the fly will soon be center stage. The waters of the Agua Boa are clear and sight fishing for the big boys is the target. Sharing center stage will also be the anticipation of what the jungles of the Amazon might unveil along the way. Could the mystery, romance and wild nature of the Amazon described in books and portrayed on TV possibly be true? This team of anglers is hours away from finding out. Next stop Miami International.

Many of the anglers in this group don't know each other, but identifying one another is easy. Each angler is catching the same flight out of Miami. Arriving at the TAM airline gate with rod cases in hand or wearing a favorite fishing shirt is a dead give away. We are excited to meet one another. The exchange of names and pleasantries is genuine and quickly evolves into the swapping of fishing tales. The art of 'truth management' has begun. The adventure is beginning. Next stop Manaus, Brazil.

The flight from Miami to Manaus is smooth and provides an excellent opportunity for rest. As expected, Ray meets us at the airport. He answers our questions in perfect English and arranges for us to relax at the Tropical Hotel for a few hours before boarding our private charter before dawn. The decision to resist airline movies and to rest on the plane ride over to Brazil proves wise. There would be little sleep this night, and soon the jungle and the opportunity to fish would present itself. Next stop the Aqua Boa and the Royal Amazon Lodge.

Once at the Lodge, sensory overload and sheer excitement takes over. At this point, sleep is merely an option that no one considers. The 1 ? hour flight into the Amazon gets us to the lodge in time for a short breakfast and orientation. Breakfast is now over, the orientation complete and the charter gone. By 9:15A each set of anglers are dressed, rigged and in their boats (with guide) ready to see what the day has in store.

My fishing partner and I are on the river. We met roughly 12 hours ago and it is quickly becoming evident that we are going to get along great. He is a true gem of a person and is a fine fly fisherman. We are in a wild place that is very different from anywhere we have been before. The sights, sounds, smells and wildlife are each unique. Our senses are completely engulfed by our new surroundings. Then the guide stops the boat. It is time. We grab our fly rods.

The first big peacock is sighted. It is big and waiting to ambush. Are our flies any good? They look good to us and we tied many of them, but what do we know? Neither one of us had ever fished for peacocks before. The angler casting to the peacock hopes not to blow this opportunity. The guide and new fishing partner quietly assess the offer, knowing that the fish may not be around for a second chance.

The cast proves sufficient and results in a strike. There is a tremendous splash in the water. Red gills flare as the fish goes airborne. The commotion results in other large fish crashing the scene to see what else might be around to eat. This is truly an "eat or be eaten" environment. This fish is unstoppable and it goes where it likes. The fly line digs its way into the angler's thumb and finger. The lucky angler and guide are doing their best to keep the fish from wrapping the leader or fly line around a log or some other structure. There is also a chance that a nearby piranha might decide to sever the leader. This struggle continues. All ends well. The first peacock is landed.

Unbridled energy temporarily gives way to peaceful calm. Genuine smiles between new friends are shared. A photograph of this exotically beautiful brute is taken. Things are great. The tranquility ends when this bully tail slaps the water upon release. The anglers are reminded that this is the peacock's home court and the peacock tail slap throws a parting punch as it swims away. Day 1 is only beginning, with 6 more days on the river to follow. Spectacular!

That night at dinner each angler shares stories of their day. Numerous fish were caught, and several bird, reptile and wildlife sightings were shared. No doubt we are off the beaten path and in a place like no other. It seems the mystery, romance and wild nature of the Amazon described in books and portrayed on TV may actually only scratch the surface of this magical place. We have 6 more days to experience any other mysteries the Amazon cares to share. We are lucky.

There is much to fly fishing that I love that doesn't even involve fish, but without fish I wouldn't love fly fishing.

Written by J.P. Albrecht








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