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Brazil: Agua Boa Houseboat 03-22-2009

Angling Destinations has been sending anglers to the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge for years. In addition, we have hosted a group at the lodge in late March/early April for the last four years. These have been great trips and a highlight in the angling careers of all that have participated. This year, we decided to forego the incredible comforts of the lodge and give the houseboat a try. The houseboat is moored approximately 40 miles upstream from the lodge and fishes an entirely different section of the Agua Boa River. While this trip report focuses on the houseboat, we would encourage you to read our previous trip reports on the lodge if you are trying to decide which option is best for you. It will be a tough decision!

Dawn had come quickly. On the equator, it only takes a moment to go from tar black to first blush to full sun. On this our second morning, I was sipping a cup of strong Brazilian coffee from the bow of our double-decker houseboat, the Arowana. Just off the end of the sand bar, to which we were tied-off to two large trees, a white heron chased baitfish. Above the heron, a tern hovered beak-down and periodically dropped in to get its fair share. Closer to my position on the bow of the houseboat, a pygmy kingfisher, no bigger than the palm of my hand, repeatedly launched himself from a dead branch to deftly grab inch-long fish in the waters bordering the bar. I figured he was batting about .800 and more than once came up with two fish at the same time.

As a few sunbeams began to peek through the rain forest's canopy, Fatima, our superb cook, leaned over the boat's railing to toss the dregs from last night's cake pan overboard. Almost immediately, six-inch baitfish rolled on the scraps. This activity soon attracted piranha. These six-inch killers slammed over and over into the cake nibblers. Just on the edge of the main current and 20 feet from the piranha, a 12-foot caiman slowly pushed in. He was barely visible in the low morning light. With his eye on both the pastry and the piranha, he eventually took the lazy route and chose a hunk of cake, which he delicately picked up with his huge yellow teeth and gently tossed into his cavernous white mouth. Everything in front of me was eating, waiting to eat or waiting to be eaten.

In a scene that I would repeat for the next twelve mornings, I stood up, tossed the grounds from my coffee cup into the dark waters of the Agua Boa River and walked into the salon. It was 7:00 AM and time for breakfast.

I was hosting two consecutive weeks of six anglers onboard the Arowana. It didn't take long each week for anglers to quickly fall into a comfortable rhythm: up at dawn, shuffle from our air-conditioned rooms to the salon for an eye-opening cup of coffee, a quick breakfast of fresh fruits and traditional American fare and then choose partners and guides for the day. By 7:30 AM we were off and motoring upstream in the cool morning air.

Our days were spectacular. We had come all this way to catch big peacock bass on fly rods and this we did each and every day. We caught peacocks from 3-18 lbs. literally until our arms ached. But to say that the fishing was great minimizes the stunning quality of this experience. One soon learns that a trip to the Agua Boa River reveals so much more than just its fishing opportunities. We were visiting one of the world's most spectacular wild places and fishing was only part of an intoxicating mix of raw nature and stunning natural beauty. We fished from dawn until almost dusk. We arrived back at the houseboat, usually in the stifling heat of late afternoon, elated yet often totally toasted from our "busy" day. It was exhausting having this much fun and each evening, each boat had many a story to tell. The sights and sounds... and the fishing were relentless. It seemed difficult to absorb it all... almost impossible to soak in where you were and what you were seeing. Try this:

Scott Sawtelle hooked five big peacocks, all over eight pounds, on his first five casts one day and caught a 13 lb. peacock his first afternoon. He said, " I could go home right now and be happy." We wouldn't let him and he had to suffer through the remainder of the week with the rest of us.

Doug Jeffries and Jim Woollett were floating along when they saw an ear twitch on shore. The ear would soon be shown to belong to a big, NFL linebacker-sized male jaguar. From their boat, they watched the big cat stand up from his day bed and confidently amble away. He stopped a few times to gaze back nonchalantly over his shoulder until he disappeared into the dappled understory light some ten minutes later.

Chad Olsen and I spent the better part of an afternoon catching 3-5 lb. butterfly peacocks, which we then fed to a 10 foot black caiman we eventually came to call "Bob". Bob followed us like a huge black lab looking for table scraps. We dangled the peacocks on a cord in front of Bob until he attacked our offering sending a shower of cooling water and fish scales our way. We laughed and cheered like schoolboys.

We fished for Arowana with foam tarpon toads and floating deer hair bass flies. Elegantly attired in subtle greens and pinks, arowana belong to an ancient order of fish. These snake-like fish are often sold in the states for home aquariums, but are rarely seen longer than a few inches. We caught specimens of up to 10 lbs. Arowana are all tail, very smart and difficult to catch. These fish are a true trophy and require a careful presentation and a slow, enticing strip. One day, when casting to a pod of arowana, a pirarucu rolled near our boat. Pirarucu are the larger cousins of the arowana and can grow to a staggering 400 lbs. and 15 feet long. Pirarucu crush their prey against the roof of their mouth using abrasive 6-8 inch long plates that natives cut out and use to grate coconuts. To be casting to a 5-10 lb. arowana when a 150 lb., 6 foot monster rolls near your fly is a heart-stopping moment.

At lunch, we often hid from the sun next to shore where the rain forest canopy stretched out over the water. Here, each tree was competing for precious sunbeams, but this meant nothing more than a cool respite to us. Here in the cool shade, we put our trashed 4/0 hooks to good use. We pierced a big hunk of piranha or borboleta and lobbed the whole mess out into the channel. If the piranha didn't get the bait first, we were rewarded with a 20-30 lb. prize. Our most prized catch was a surubim catfish. With a shovel for a nose, stripes like a tiger, long whiskers and vicious barbed fins, these guys spiced-up lunch and were in return, expertly seasoned by our cook Fatima for dinner that night. We also caught red-tailed catfish up to 25 lbs. that were equally beautiful and when hoisted onto the deck for photos, made the loudest and best farting sounds imaginable.

Daily we were surrounded by the exotic and the surreal. Absurdly loud macaws squawked overhead and toucans flew with their peculiar loping style as if their huge bills were pulling them back to earth between each wing stroke. Hawks, eagles, hot-rod blue morpho butterflies and a thousand other weird birds and insects, some surely designed by Dr. Seuss himself, passed in front of us like a parade. We heard and saw tapir, peccary, capybara, giant otters, pink dolphin and of course, jaguar.

We sightfished to bigger spotted and temensis peacocks next to tangled lagoon shores and on long white sand bars. We cast long and stripped fast for these big boys and came to treat the smaller borboleta (butterfly) peacocks as an annoyance. At times you could catch a 3-5 lb. butterfly on almost every cast. You know the fishing is good when you find a 5 lb. dazzlingly beautiful fish annoying!

On this morning, a mist hung over the river as we made our way down a small backwater taking potshots behind every log and root ball next to shore. We caught so many 3-5 lb. borboleta (butterfly in Portugese) peacock bass that we eventually changed to larger flies both in hopes of enticing larger temensis peacocks and as a way to dissuade these smaller butterfly peacocks. Just as the last of the mist burned off, Jim Dean hooked yet another butterfly that he quickly hauled to the boat. As I reached to unhook his fish, I admired its brilliant markings and the three bright eyespots that often look like Chinese writing. Just then, a large shape flashed amber and black beneath the hooked fish.

We both smiled and I quickly released the fish. Jim took a deep breath and sent a cast just short of a large root complex next to shore. He let the fly sink to a five count. One... two... three... four... five, then he stripped fast. Almost immediately, he came tight with the familiar "thunk" of a big fish. He stripped twice before the big peacock took off searing two burn lines in his nylon stripping guards. Over the next few minutes, he worked to get the fish on the reel then worked to get his head up. Soon the fish came into view. Dark yellow body with three black stripes and a big black eye spot on its tail. Its dorsal fin was blue and its throat orange. Big green lips led to a cavernous white mouth that now concealed his 6-inch fly.

Jim eventually got the bruiser to the boat and I slipped a boga grip over those big lips. Before I hoisted the peacock into the boat, we all guessed his weight. Jim said 12 lbs., Preto guessed 13 lbs. and I said 14... the boga said 12.5 lbs. We snapped a few photos, lowered the big tucanare peacock back into the tea-colored waters and unclipped the boga. The fish immediately finned off . We glanced ahead scanning for the next root ball!

We expected our houseboat to be adequate, but certainly nothing more than that. We would gladly suffer through a Spartan experience in exchange for remote fishing. We were prepared for basic food, cramped quarters and B-team guides. What we got was individual, immaculately clean, air-conditioned cabins, tremendous food and enthusiastic and highly proficient guides. For meals, fresh fruit including watermelon, mango, papaya and pineapple started out breakfast while dinners began with a homemade soup (served elegantly from a tureen by Josue our host) and ended with a chocolate flan or some other sweet goodie. In between, a buffet offered more choices (including always a beef, chicken and locally caught fish entree) than one could possibly consume.

Our guides, Preto, Macella and Pedro, were always gassed up and ready-to-roll at 7:30 AM. Coolers were packed to the brim with sodas, beer and plenty of bottled water. We tossed our Tupperware boxes containing sandwiches and homemade cake slices to the guides who slid them into the coolers and we were off.

Each day we fished until almost dark and were met by Josue with hors d'oeurve and the libation of our choice on a silver tray. Most of us chose the national drink of Brazil, a refreshing caipirinha ([Kai-Pee-REEN-Yah] consisting of lime, sugar, ice and potent cachaca... sugar cane liquor), which was like a cooling balm in the suffocating heat of a late afternoon in the Amazon. Then it was off to our cabins for cool showers and a recuperative few moments in our cabin's A/C before dinner. Yes, we were roughing it to be sure.

Our guides usually took a well-deserved break at mid-day. Often all three boats met in some lagoon to wolf down sandwiches and cool off with a beer or a soda. While we relaxed, our guides spent this free time as their personalities dictated. Preto, at 29, often took a short siesta or fished with one of our fly rods. Pedro, the elder statesman, studied his English or worked on his motor always with a hand-rolled cigarette dangling, as if glued, from his lower lip. Macella, at 23, never stopped moving. He caught catfish with us, laughed with Preto or Pedro or called back to tapir or toucans. Once he chased down a small caiman on a white sand bar. He bobbed and weaved and eventually came up dripping wet with the reptile pinched just behind its head. These knowledgeable guides couldn't have been more fun or hard working. Obrigado gentlemen!

This was simply an amazing and spectacular adventure. If you love great fishing while sampling some of the best wilderness on our big blue ball, this trip is a must do.

I want to thank all the guys that participated. To Scott Sawtelle, Jim Musil, Steve Peskoe (who took home top honors with a 14lb. peacock!) and Jim Dean... you made Week 1 a pure pleasure. And to Jim Woollett, Doug Jeffries, Chad Olsen, Jim Dean and Jay Hillerson, my only regret is you didn't get to fish with the guys from the first week because you were all cut from the same cloth. Enthusiastic, easy to be with, entertaining and incredibly generous to each other... I would, as I wrote to Jay Hillerson in an e-mail after the trip... "Go anywhere, any time, any place with you guys" Thank You!!

Written by Scott Heywood








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