Agua Boa Amazon Lodge 2011
As our 767 climbs up through the layers of clouds covering Manaus and the wide waters of the Amazon, I am both a bit sad to be leaving Brazil and happy to be headed home to family and friends. Soon the Amazon River slips completely from view and I find myself reminiscing not only about our adventure this year, but also the many other great trips we’ve had to this area over the last seven years. We’ve had simply great trips and many anglers have returned again and again. This is the kind of fishing that gets in your blood.
Please see previous trip reports:
Click here to see the 2008 lodge article
Click here to see the 2010 lodge article
Click here to see the 2006 lodge article
Click here to see the 2009 houseboat article
So what makes this trip so great and why is peacock bass fishing so addictive? First of all, you are in the Amazon. The wildlife includes birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians and mammals straight out of the pages of Dr. Seuss... and the jungle is stunningly abundant and beautiful. Each day there is the possibility of seeing something truly amazing: from an 18 foot caiman to a 20 foot anaconda or from the bluest blue morpho butterfly to a jaguar or a tapir. The Amazon each and every day reminds you where you really are.
And of course, the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge is a great spot and the perfect place from which to explore the Amazon Basin. The staff and guides are very friendly and competent, the food tasty and plentiful and the lodging clean and spacious. Considering you are in one of the most unforgiving environments on the face of the earth, the worst you can expect to experience are a few bug bites and maybe some rainy days. The Agua Boa Amazon Lodge provides a level of comfort that allows you to enjoy the Amazon’s upside without experiencing its downside.
But this is not what makes this trip so great. Many lodges offer creature comforts in the middle of tough conditions. And, the Amazon is a very spectacular place with stunning flora and fauna... but we are above all else fisherman and any discussion about a destination’s merits must first center around the fishing and the fish being pursued. I have written much about peacock bass and I won’t go into as great a detail here. Please read the previous trip reports and you’ll get a better idea on what this fishery is all about. Suffice it to say, peacock bass are first of all, not a bass, they are a cichlid and they are awesome killing machines. They are built to run down their prey and engulf them in a cavernous mouths. On this trip, we saw a marauding pack of 10 plus lb. peacocks send shoals of saucer-sized baitfish spinning thru the air. At another time, we watched a huge peacock push baitfish onto dry land, then lay in wait as the beached bait flopped back in the water. For the angler, peacock takes can be slow and relaxed or savage and brutal. Strikes can occur at the boat or 2 inches off a brushy shore the moment a 5” fly hits the water. The fight of a big peacock can be on top and cover much water or doggedly down and dirty. If one successfully boats a big peacock, they have a chance to admire a stunningly beautiful creature. Blue dorsal fins, orange gill bellows, a green body with black stripes, a big red eye, and of course the signature eye spot on the massive tail all color one of the most beautiful gamefish in the world.
But I think what makes peacock angling so addicting is the quest, the hunt, the pursuit... whatever term you use to describe how you spend your day when peacock bass fishing. Peacock angling is a perfect balance of difficulty and ease, of scarcity and abundance and of skills rewarded and skills (or lack thereof) accepted.
Peacocks do not jump in the boat, although at times it can seem like it. Anglers must be persistent and guides observant. All likely spots must be probed and every spray of bait or flash of green must be inspected. A lack of diligence and patience usually means fewer fish, but having said that, you can be yabbering with your partner and paying no attention to your retrieve and suddenly find yourself attached to a 15 lb. monster. Yes, sometimes catching a peacock is easy, but most anglers have a slow day during their week. Russ Dilley and I boated only five fish one day, none over 6 pounds. The next day, Scott Sawtelle and I landed 50+ fish and lost three 15+ lb. fish. John Marlow caught a 10 lb. fish his first afternoon, and a 14 pounder the next day, yet experienced peacock anglers can go fishless for hours while another group can be knocking them dead a small distance away. It is this up and down, the ying and the yang that gets you hooked... that and one more thing...
While beginners always seem to catch fish, (there is just something about the peacock gods and their willingness to be kind towards neophytes), the persistent skilled angler wielding a precise cast is more often than not rewarded for his/her hard won mastery. Make a good sidearm cast between two logs under a tree and it just might be rewarded. Hit that bit of flashing neon green or quickly reload to hit a laid-up chunk of muscle and madness 20 feet off the boat’s bow and it just might work. Peacock fishing is intriguing fishing. It is shoulder burning, forearm aching and finger cramping to be sure. There will be snags hooked, lines fouled and fish missed. It is at times maddening, frustrating and patience testing, but ultimately exhilarating, very satisfying and all consuming... and yes, as cliched as it might sound, addicting.
From the small borboleta or butterfly peacocks (usually 2-5 lbs. with the 3 side spots) to the spotted peacocks (usually 5-10 lbs. they seem to be the strongest pound per pound of all the peacock species) to the 8-20 lb. temensis peacocks (the fish everyone sees in the photos), each and every peacock provides great sport. Fishing for peacocks is more like saltwater fishing. If the water is low and clear, poppers work well and if the water is high, sink tips or weighted flies on floating lines are the way to go. Whichever technique is used, fishing for peacocks seems like of branch of angling unto itself.
This year’s trip was wonderful. We had a great group and we caught lots of fish. The water was a bit high and we had some rainy days making it downright cool at times. In fact, it was the worst weather we’ve had in all the years we’ve been going to the Amazon... and still the fishing was great. Our biggest fish was 17 lbs., but we caught many in the 11-14 lb. range plus dozens and dozens of spotted and butterfly peacocks.
It had been raining all afternoon. This morning had been sunny and warm... normal weather for the Agua Boa River. We had caught scores of spotted and butterfly peacocks before lunch and had shots at some real monster temensis peacocks. We had fished one lagoon for much of the morning and when we first arrived, a band of capuchin monkeys had challenged us by breaking off dead branches and bashing them on tree limbs sending a banging sound echoing thru the jungle. At bit later, I had watched a black fish eagle follow a pack of big peacocks who were crashing smaller fish. The eagle made some attempts to grab the baitfish as it went airborn, but soon the big bird gave up at sat on a branch to watch the melee. We had one solid take from this group, but lost the fish to a concealed log.
Just before lunch, Scott Sawtelle was landing his umteenth 3-4 lb. butterfly when a small caiman charged our skiff hoping to help Scott with the release of his fish. A well-placed pole strike by our guide Neto, convinced the caiman to look elsewhere for an easy meal.
But now it was raining and had been for hours. We were wet, cold, tired and yet, we couldn’t quit. It was getting dark. We should have been high-tailing it for home, but we decided to check out “just one more spot”.
I soon lost a 10 plus pound fish and then rolled an even bigger peacock. Big temensis were crashing bait both upstream and downstream of our skiff. We could also see fish swarming over a white sand bar that led up into a small blackwater feeder channel. Scott had decided to pack it in for the day, but all this activity and my lost fish were just too much. He grabbed my second 8 wt. which Neto had pulled out and quickly made a cast up the channel. A big fish slammed his fly. This fish was certainly 12 pounds and maybe 15. Scott tried to pull him away from the log jam, but with the unfamiliar equipment and a reel that I had backed the drag off on, he was suddenly in a pickle. Scott tried to adjust the drag and in desperation, palmed the reel, but the big fish gave him no break. The peacock rocketed downstream threatening to backlash the reel’s line. We saw the fish clearly as he passed over a white sand bar and plowed downstream through shallow water. Soon the fish was off. Scott was pissed-off and frustrated. Mostly at himself for not checking the drag. I can’t blame him. I know the feeling. A casual “Oh, I’ll just make a cast” turns into a moment that requires everything being properly and precisely dialed-in. In these situations, it rarely turns out well and this was no exception.
Muttering to himself, Scott rallied quickly and grab his own rod. As we watched bait fly over the black waters of the feeder creek, we made a few more casts. No luck now it was it was absolutely time to quit. As we fired up the engine to head home, Scott was able to laugh about the whole affair. He was wet, cold and had just lost a true trophy. He was all bundled up against the downpour and his hood was pulled tight.
Although Scott could barely see though his rain stained glasses and was spitting rain when he talked, he excitedly whispered, “this is addicting fishing... I’m coming back”.
Now that is a true fisherman and that is what peacock fishing can do to an otherwise sane and stable person.
“Me too.” I thought, “ Me too!”
So to all of the members of this year’s trip: Warren White, Richard Reamer, John Marlow, John Cadle, Kevin Cadle, Scott Sawtelle and Russ Dilley thank you so much for the wonderful fishing days and the great conversations over dinner in the evening. I hope we ca do as we discussed and get this group together again, either on a saltwater trip or on a return adventure to the Agua Boa.
Written by Scott Heywood