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Brazil: The Agua Boa River 03-28-2008

In case it slips your mind, there are constant reminders: a pair of blue and yellow macaws belt out their nails-on-a-blackboard call, a hot-rod blue morpho butterfly flits in the dappled understory light, the silhouette of a black caiman slides off a sand bar, a howler booms an ear-shattering signal to his monkey mates. These and countless other stunning moments remind anyone visiting the Agua Boa River that they are in one of the most pristine tracts of neotropical rainforest in the world. See your first tapir or an 80 lb. giant Amazon otter and you know you're a long way from home. It is clear this is not anywhere in the U.S. and it sure as hell is not Switzerland for this is no neutral state. Here, war is waged daily both on land and in the sea. Weapons of choice are commonly tooth and claw... tactics are speed and guile. Some combatants are not above using chemical and biological weapons. There are no rules, there is no Geneva Convention, invent a weapon and give it a try. If it works, use it. For noncombatants, you had better be able to hide really well, look like something more dangerous or taste really bad. Of course, some of the most lethal participants in this deadly game have it all. The jaguar is big, fast, impossible to see and very well armed. The fer-de-lance pit viper is superbly camouflaged, very aggressive and uses a toxic cocktail to take down his prey. And then there is the peacock bass...

How a fish this brightly colored can be a successful hunter seems absurd, but kill they do... and daily. Peacock bass are one of the Amazon Basin's apex predators with a temperament geared for a fight. They accelerate their harlequin-colored bodies at shoals of baitfish and don't quit until they are fed or they fail. Peacocks are pursuit predators and unlike an ambush predator, which lies in wait (like a barracuda), a peacock is unrelenting. A big peacock uses its full speed and agility, like a big cat, to overtake its prey. To see a big peacock charge a school of baitfish is an awesome and not too soon finished event. A peacock will charge through the shallows and into and through brush piles and logjams after its quarry. Eventually the baitfish will take to the air sometimes choosing to beach themselves on shore rather than disappearing into the massive maw of a peacock bass.

And we were in this magnificent jungle to exploit the peacock's murderous tendencies. Our weapons of choice were fly rods and flies... big flies to be exact... 4-5 inches of reds, yellows, greens and oranges. These big flies use wads of deer hair and feathers to cover big hooks. Our flies were designed to convince a big peacock bass to take just one more bite. And luckily for us, a fly fisherman can find no better spot than the Agua Boa River in north central Brazil. With over 100 miles of protected, catch and release water out our front door, we were where we should be.

On the Agua Boa River, three major species of peacock bass hunt their prey: the borboleta or butterfly peacock grows to 10 lbs. and provides the "quantity" for visiting anglers. The spotted and temensis peacocks provide the "quality" big fish. A spotted peacock will reach 20 lbs. on the Agua Boa while the tucanare or temensis is the fish you see in all the pictures. A temensis can reach 25, even 30 lbs. on the Agua Boa. Peacocks are strong dogged fighters and truly one of the world's greatest gamefish.

On our trip, we all caught peacock bass over 10 lbs., many in the 12-15 lb. range and a few in the 15-18 lb. range. The biggest peacock caught this season on the Agua Boa River was 23 lbs. We used T-200 sink tips with feathered streamers and floating lines armed with poppin' bugs, crease poppers and deer-haired frog patterns.

One day, we motored over 20 miles upstream. We were with Pedro, my favorite guide from our trip two years ago. We spent the morning exploring. In between fish, we spotted some otters, many large caiman, and hundreds of exotic birds. Just before lunch, we zoomed up a small channel. We ducked under branches and laughed as we made our way up the shallow and overgrown channel on a plane. The channel ended in a small lagoon. We pulled under a tree and shut down the outboard enjoying both the quiet and the cool shade. We ate our sandwiches as Pedro sucked on bones from some spicy stew he had brought for his lunch. He spit the bones overboard where thousands of small fish attacked his offering. Eventually, piranha showed up eager to get their fair share.

Occasionally, Pedro would stop eating to ask us the pronunciation of some English word. He was reading from a small laminated card that had the translations of a few words and key phrases from Portuguese to English.
"Branco," He would say for example and show us the word.
"White," We would reply slowly.
"Whit," He would give it try.
"Wh-Wh- Wheyete," we would say.
Pedro would smile with his glasses way down on his nose Ben Franklin style and try again.

It wasn't long before Pedro put down his reading and pointed to the lagoon's outlet into the channel. There at the opening, not more than 15-20 feet away, a large peacock had recently taken up residence no doubt hoping to wreak havoc on some unsuspecting baitfish caught up by the sudden current. I immediately grabbed a rod and crawled to the back of the skiff. I climbed up onto the poling platform and flicked my first of many very short casts to the fish. Initially, the peacock followed my fly. Eventually, he either ignored it completely or just looked at it as it passed his nose.

Jim and Pedro enjoyed my antics. It was a great, if seemingly unproductive, way to spend our siesta time. On cast 101, Bob, our peacock, (I felt I knew him well enough by now to be on a first name basis) scooted towards the fly that had literally slid off his nose and was now suspended perhaps 6 inches from his cavernous mouth. Maybe Bob had just had enough with this intruder, but whatever caused his sudden interest, he opened up wide and ate my fly.

I stuck the fly in his upper jaw. I could see the fly dangling there before he bolted and ran straight for the boat. The fish went under two logs and a few sticks on his way to the far side of our skiff. Jim and Pedro leaned out to see the fish but unfortunately, I was facing the opposite direction wincing as I watched my rod bend at a stomach-turning angle. "Great," I thought. "Screwing around like an idiot and now I'm gonna break my rod." Just when I was sure the next sound would be my rod snapping in two, the friction of all the line against the twigs and logs stopped the fish in his tracks. I didn't move. I carefully loosened the drag and Pedro launched into action. He scurried to my side of the boat and quickly disassembled the logjam. We pulled and coaxed the line free until I was able to bring the rod around to the side of the boat where Jim was watching the fish. I leaned back on the rod and the fish made a few short runs. Then we lifted the fish into the boat for photos. Bob was 11 lbs. and provided possibly the silliest (and most entertaining) lunchtime in my angling career.

A visit to the Agua Boa River is a must-do for any fly fisherman who loves exotic locales and strong fish. If you have an abiding love of nature and an addiction to fishing, this part of the Amazon is just about as close to heaven as you can get. In our group, we saw tapirs, otters, a jaguar, capybara, caiman, 4 species of monkeys and 1235 species of birds... just kidding; I have no idea how many species... somewhere between goo-gobs and a plethora. The Agua Boa is an enthralling place. Huge trees grow skyward forming a dense canopy over the forest floor. This canopy is layered in lianas and vines. Orchids bedazzle the eye 50 feet off the jungle floor. One fellow on our trip said " I could spend a week here and never wet a line."

But make no mistake, we were here to fish and we were attending the angling world's monster truck rally. Under the hood, these fish are all souped-up, supercharged and ready to rumble. Dripping in colors and detailed in candy apple red, iridescent blue and lime green, these fish are hot rods. Some of the gaudy gamefish that await anglers include matrichan (incredibly strong and jump like a Kamchatka rainbow), characin pike (bulldogs with a grill made for chomping and holding), pirarucu (the tarpon of the Amazon these denizens get to 200 lbs.), pacu (the silver dollar fish that grow to 5 lbs. and readily take dry flies), piranha (delicious as it turns out!), jacunda (little fish with a big attitude), bicuda (red-nosed gar-like critters), caracu (the Oscars in our fish tanks) and arowana...

Arowana deserve special attention. This exotic fish is often seen in aquariums in the U.S. Who would suspect that this 4-6" pet could grow to be 15-20 lbs. in the Amazon Basin. Arowana have huge scales, are air breathers, have tremendous vision and jump like a tarpon. Arowana are one of the true trophies on the Agua Boa River. Arowana are spooky and difficult to hook and land. They have a split eye that allows them to see above and below the water line. As a result, they are very aware of false casting or movement. The best way to hook an arowana is to cast a light deceiver-like fly close to one and then strip very slowly watching carefully for the take. Arowana have a huge hinged jaw similar to a tarpon and require a hard strip strike. They are all tail and with a good hookset difficult to achieve, they often come unbuttoned while making one of their legendary 6-foot jumps. Arowana average 6-7 lbs, but specimens of up to 15-20 lbs. are often seen on the river.

Each day at noon, with the hot Amazon sun perched directly overhead, we would motor to shore to take our lunch in the cool shade of a massive canopy tree. After sandwiches and chocolate cake, and after sodas and cookies, the guide would rig a big hammock where we would siesta for a half hour or so... a very civilized routine indeed! On this day, I dozed only briefly, as I was plotting to catch an arowana. Beautiful and prehistoric, arowana are a big tail connected to a big, snake-like mouth. Everything in between is muscle and huge scales. Arowana are sheathed in pale green with pink accents. I love 'em. They are kinda creepy, very cool and epitomize the exotic nature of the Amazon. They are tough to hook and tougher to land. For me, they occupy the niche in my mind in freshwater that permit occupy in the salt... everyone caught is a rare event and a cause for celebration.

So there was excitement in the air as we slid from the cool bank and out into main river channel that was now being blasted by the equatorial sun. We motored quickly upstream, then killed the engine at the top of a long pale sand flat that was laced with deeper dark channels. Bacaba, our guide, poled from the platform while Jim Dean and I searched with floating lines tipped with 1/0 green and white deceivers.

We saw many arowana. Some were in pairs, others in schools of 6-8. We had some follows, but no takes. Bacaba urged me to strip even more slowly than I was. I followed his orders and it wasn't long before one good fish peeled out of a group to follow my fly. I saw his huge mouth gape open behind my fly. I struck him hard and he was on. The fish ran from the flats toward the main channel then made a series of spectacular jumps. After some nervous moments, eventually we boated our prize. Photos and more photos followed... it was a great moment! Jim hooked another one that afternoon which threw his hook after a BIG jump. We caught no more, but saw many fish. It was just like fishing for bonefish in the Bahamas. Sightfishing on pale sand flats for slinky powerful fish. It just doesn't get any better than this!!

I could go on and on about the fishing opportunities on the Agua Boa, but suffice it to say that our trip was great with everyone catching dozens, if not scores of butterfly peacocks and good numbers of 10-18 lb. spotted and temensis peacocks every day. There is no question in my mind that the Agua Boa offers the best opportunity to fly fish for peacock bass in the Amazon Basin. Spectacular fishing, a pristine jungle, prolific wildlife... all good, but perhaps the big story here is the lodge. Carved out of the jungle in 2002, the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge offers a level of elegance, comfort and service that is amazing especially considering that you are in one of the most remote and pristine spots in the world. From the moment you arrive at the lodge and two lovely young ladies greet you with a cold glass of champagne, you want for nothing. Each of six private bungalows offers a view of the river from the front porch and the jungle out the rear door. Rooms are air-conditioned, spacious and offer separate bathroom and shower facilities. The beds are comfortable with fresh monogrammed linens and plump pillows. Rooms come complete with a mini-fridge stocked with water, sodas and beer... all at no extra charge. Free laundry service is offered daily just set your fishing clothes on a chair by the back door and they will be clean and folded by the next day. The main lodge is a spacious facility with a large dining room and a separate bar and gameroom complete with DVD player and satellite TV.

The food and service is excellent. After a shower from a 10" showerhead, it's off for cocktails by the pool. The dinner bell rings at 7:15. Upon arrival, the staff fills your wine glass elegantly. Then a delicious soup with homemade croutons begins your evening meal. After this warm-up, you grab your plate and head to the buffet for ribs, steaks, chicken or fish (yes, piranha and they are EXCELLENT!) and more accompanying dishes than your diet will allow. Desserts are homemade and include flan, chocolate cake, fresh fruits and fig custard.

Breakfast begins at 6:30 A.M. and is traditional with eggs, ham, bacon, pancakes and lots of fresh pineapple, papaya, and melon all washed down with freshly squeezed juices and strong hot Brazilian coffee. Then before you head off to the boats, you take a moment to make your own lunch consisting of various sandwich options, desserts, and a host of other goodies. (I always grabbed a few slices of meat to feed the piranhas at lunch.) Now it's off to fish!

The guides carry rods and gear from your bungalow down to the boats, which wait in the cool morning air at the floating dock. The six guides each have a beat and anglers get to experience much of the entire Agua Boa River during their 7 days on the water. The boats are shallow draft John boats with well-maintained 40 hp. motors. Dozens of other John boats are stashed in various lagoons up and down the river. Theses lagoons vary in distance from the main river. Some are only 100 yards away while others require a 1/4-mile hike. These hikes offer stunning glimpses into the world that exists under the canopy. The guides are all pleasant, knowledgeable fellows that put in long days and work hard to get you into fish. After working out on peacocks all day, it's back to the dock by 6:00 P.M. Here, you are met by the lovely Audi who has waiting for you your libation of choice on a silver tray.

Now at this point, some of us chose a dip in the pool or headed off for showers, but for me I had other business to first attend to. The drill was this:

1.) Take a cool sip of your caiparinha to lubricate the vocal cords.

2.) Yell "Rex" loudly while slapping a piranha you caught that day on the sandy shore next to the dock.

3.) As you are waiting for Rex to appear, set the piranha, the little legendary meat cleaver you hold in your hand, about five feet from the water's edge.

4.) Grab you camera.

5.) Back up a safe distance, (maybe do that before you grab your camera).

6.) Wait....

It won't be long until Rex parks his or her (Rexette?) massive head on the shore then stares at the piranha until some atavistic impulse commands her to push forward up onto the beach. She then twists her massive head sideways to delicately pick up the piranha between a few of her huge stained teeth. She then furtively slides back into the Agua Boa before pointing her head skyward and tossing the piranha into her gullet. She takes her piranha whole. Now Rex is an 18-foot, 7 - 800 lb, 60-65 year old, black caiman. This is an awesome sight in the true sense of the word and just another reason to visit the Agua Boa River.

Now it's time for a shower...

These days on the Agua Boa are perfect. I don't honestly know what could be better. To my mind, this is one of the great fishing destinations in the world on a par with the Seychelles or Alaska. The Agua Boa Amazon Lodge offers quite simply the finest facility in the peacock bass world. When you combine the accommodations and amenities with the small capacity (12 guests per week) you will not find a lodge that offers more. One final note... there are relatively few insects on the Agua Boa due to the acidic tannins from leaf material in the water. There are some no-see-ums morning and evening, but a bit of DEET and long pants solves that problem. Mosquitoes are rarely if ever a problem. This was simply a great trip with a great group. Thank you one and all!

I got to meet a few of our clients that I had known for many years, but only by phone. It was great to meet Ken and Marietta Alexander. Ken caught the big fish for the week at 18 lbs. Congratulations Ken!! Marietta fished hard and was a true pleasure. The Alexander's got some great photos of a tapir and numerous spectacular photos of caiman.

Anna and John Riggs saw a jaguar and did very well in the fish-catching department. One that John caught bottomed out a 15 lb. Boga Grip! Thanks to you two for making the trip so much fun!!

Jim Musil, great to finally meet you after what... 10 years? Jim is my kind of fishermen. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, Jim fished a lot with John Rodelli. The two of then caught a lot of peacocks and got some incredible photos of everything from fire engine red caterpillars to big peacock bass. John's luggage arrived late in Manaus, but he never skipped a beat. He just borrowed clothes and gear and carried on!! Thanks John and Jim!!

John Cooper and Hardy Winburn wreaked havoc on big peacocks. They fished hard and each day caught lots of butterfly peacocks and good numbers of big temensis peacocks up to 15-16 lbs. You guys were a lot of fun and thanks for all the humor and good stories you brought to the cocktail hour!

Jim Dean and I were the fellows from Wyoming. Thanks Jim, wonderful to get to fish the Agua Boa with you! We caught our fair share, took lots of photos and had a great time. We are already planning our trip for next year. We have the same week reserved so give us a call if interested.

Written by Scott Heywood


Next year, we will be offering a houseboat option on the upper Agua Boa River. The boat will be anchored 50 miles upriver from the lodge so it will fish entirely new and different waters. The Agua Boa is smaller in this upper part of the river. There should be tremendous wading and sightfishing opportunities for not only big peacock bass, but also all the other colorful characters that we have enjoyed hunting so much from the lodge. The houseboat will be limited to only 6 anglers per week. The food will be as great as you would expect from anything associated with the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge. Boats, motors, guides will be the same high quality as with the lodge. All rooms on the houseboat are air-conditioned. There is a comfortable dining area and some good spots to enjoy an evening cocktail while you watch the stars and listen to a jaguar roar off in the distance. There will be incredible opportunities for wildlife viewing in the upper river as this area sees very few visitors and is as pristine as it gets anywhere in the Amazon. We expect this to be a very special angling experience. We will schedule trips on the houseboat from November thru early April. These spots will sell out quickly, so if you are up for something truly unique, give us a call today to reserve your spot!!








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