I had wanted to catch one big dorado on this trip. By big, I meant a fish over 10lbs. At 10 lbs., a dorado begins to take on a new look. A certain malevolence creeps in and skews their typically piscine dimensions. These big boys get shoulders and a head that appears to be disproportionately large... the same way a Rottweilers' head looks a bit too large for the rest of its body.
As the days drifted pleasurably by, I was catching plenty of 6, 7 and 8 lb. fish, but I just couldn't seem to get hooked-up to one of the elusive 10 pounders. Finally, on the fourth day, as a bright orange sun slinked low on the horizon and bathed the marsh in a rich gold light, I found my dorado.
He sucked in my fly gently, only revealing his true size when he jumped far away from the boat dragging my line upward in a shower of molten light.
"Maybe 8 lbs." Ramiro said as the dorado jumped again, dripping amber light off his gold body.
I pumped line. The fish jumped again and again until he was much closer.
"No, no, much bigger" Ramiro intoned in his rich Castilian brogue.
The drama played out and suddenly it was over. With the rich evening light saturating the scene, we took many photos. El dorado was a beautiful fish with a powerful menacing jaw in his huge diabolical head. His scales were deep gold with dramatic black flecks giving him a holographic, almost 3-dimensional, appearance. His tail and fins were edged in a rich, wine red and at the base of his tail was a broad black stripe. Glowing golden rays stretched outward from his cold, efficient black eye into his heavily armored cheek plate. These bright streaks protected his gills and jaw. He was 11.5 lbs. of molten wildness and muscled beauty. Chunks of bite-size meat had been harvested from his tail... probably by Piranha. We had tried to catch a piranha earlier in the day, but a small 3 lb. dorado had bitten our "bait", a 12 inch San Antonio fish, in half. This fish lolling in my hands could have bitten that 3 lb. dorado in half and by the look of him, would have gladly done so.
When we released him, we could see how perfectly camouflaged he was for the river flora he hunts in and among. It seems incongruous how anything this bright could be so well camouflaged. Sort of like a rooster pheasant... gaudy and bright, but somehow it works and both animals. The dorado, like the pheasant, disappears in a heartbeat.
Once we released my fish, I reeled in and sat down, now truly satisfied, I muttered as I rubbed my forearm, "I'm done."
At Pira Lodge, you'll head out into the Ibera Marsh twice each day. In the morning, after a delicious breakfast, anglers usually get organized and off by around 8:00 A.M. You'll fish till a bit after noon, then return to the lodge for cool drinks and fresh fruit on the veranda. This is followed by a three-course lunch, perhaps a swim in the 20-meter pool, and in my case, always a short siesta. At 3:30 P.M., rested, rehydrated and relaxed, you'll head back into the heat of the day for your second foray into the marsh. You won't return until dark.
The guides call these daily trips "sessions". There is a morning session and an evening session. By organizing it this way, not only do you miss the brutally hot part of the day, but you also get to fish the most productive and beautiful times in the marsh ñ the morning and the evening.
"Sessions" seems like a funny term... perhaps a bit out of place when used with fishing. "Sessions" is a word we often associate with psychotherapy and the search for mental health. On second thought, perhaps it is appropriate to use the term "sessions" at Pira. For these morning and evening sessions do promote mental health and they are indeed therapeutic. It's just that at Pira Lodge, the psychoanalyst's couch is a Hell's Bay Skiff and a knowledgeable guide replaces the psychotherapist. Over the course of a week, you'll get six days of fishing and therefore, twelve sessions. If your overall mental health hasn't improved drastically by the end of your week, perhaps you should consider institutionalization or at the very least, another sport.
We chose our week to coincide with what head guide, Noel Pollak, thought was the best weather and the best fishing. To be accurate, Noel said all of January, February and most of March offer excellent fishing for dorado. But we figured let's pick the peak of the bell curve which must be late January or early February. And besides, that's when winters get really old up north! Our fishing went from superb to good to mediocre to drop-dead great... sometimes all in the same day! Our weather went from perfect with no wind to sunny and breezy to overcast and windy. We lost one morning to rain... more specifically lightening. On that supercharged morning, it just seemed stupid to go out. There had been three weeks of very hot weather with no rain prior to our arrival. Our weather was much more mixed, but we had many hot afternoons... good dorado weather!
A typical day was 5 to 12 dorado landed with the majority in the 4 to 5 lb. range. We caught many fish in the 6 to 7 lb. range. Everyone caught an 8 to 10 lb. fish and the biggest fish caught on our trip was 11.5 lbs. We latched on to some real monsters, but somehow managed to always come unbuttoned. I had one 12 to 15 lb. fish attack a big deceiver that I was stripping back from the bank. That fish took like a big brown trout and will always haunt me!
In our group of eight, we had two couples, six old friends and two new members. Two of us had gone the year before. I think it is safe to say that we were thrilled with everything from the fishery to the fishing, from the unspoiled beauty of the marsh to the quality of the guides, from the gourmet meals to the wonderful cocktail hours and from our beautiful air-conditioned accommodations to the service of the staff. Pira Lodge is a great experience and the perfect place from which to launch a daily pursuit of one of the world's best game fish, the freshwater dorado.
None of us will ever forget the thuggish strikes, the brutish battles or the stunning acrobatic jumps of this apex predator. Dorado antics translate to a thorough mugging on an 8 weight. To see a 5 to 10 lb. dorado jump in the last light of the day is reason enough to make the long journey from the States to Argentina. As Dr. Steve Peskoe said on day one after landing his first ever dorado, "I would have gone home happy after that first fish." It should be noted that Dr. Peskoe's first fish was indeed a 9 1/2 lb. firecracker that jumped like a tarpon and looked like a psychotic largemouth bass that had been dipped in molten gold leaf. Not a bad way to start a trip!
Our guides, Santiago, Ramiro, Tito and of course, Noel, were knowledgeable, enthusiastic, funny, dedicated and hard working. Thank you guys! And thanks for joining us for cocktails each evening... it was great fun! We'll be back!
Our meals lived up to the advanced billing generated by those of us that made the journey last year. In short, they were simply fantastic, healthy and plentiful. We had a great time at meals with laughter, fine food (including lots of fresh vegetables and fruits), delicious Argentine wines and demented, diet-destroying desserts. Each evening a sated crew retired to the living room for after-dinner coffee. But soon enough, we poured ourselves into bed, tired, but eager to fish again in the morning.
Should you go to Pira? Absolutely... don't miss it! Go for the fish. The dorado is a nasty customer and certainly one of the world's best gamefish. Just imagine a cross between a tarpon, a big rainbow trout and an alley cat (with a little bit of rabid bulldog thrown in) and you've got the idea. Or go for the pristine, crystal clear waters of the marsh with its birds, capybara and caiman. Or just go for the food and the friends you'll make at the lodge. Whatever your reason, just go!
If you do go to Pira, here's what you'll need:
An 8-weight rod (yes, a 7 or 9 will work, but dorado were made for an 8 weight), a good reel with a smooth drag (dorado are not big, long distance fighters, but with the biggest fish caught at the lodge being 24 lbs., you'll need a reel that can hold at least 100 yards of 20 lb. backing). You'll need a floating line designed for warm water use like a bonefish or tarpon taper (coldwater lines get soft and gummy and are a pain to cast on a 90 degree afternoon). You'll also need something like a T-200 or T-300 or comparable sink tip line (in addition, we took a T-500 and used it when the fishing turned slow. It was great for dredging the big boys off the bottom.).
While the freshwater dorado isn't particularly leader shy, reasonable stealth should be balanced against a leaders ability to turn over a big 1/0 to 4/0 wind resistant fly. Heavy butts are important. Your mono should include stiff butt sections and 40 lb., 30 lb., 20 lb., 16 lb. and 12 lb. spools. If you have these spools of mono, you can build anything. The guides, by the way, are superb at building leaders... so don't worry! For floating lines, 7 to 9 foot leaders are plenty, while sinking lines work best in the 3 to 7 foot leader range.
A wire bite tippet is absolutely essential for dorado. Bring 15 to 20 lb. spools. Malin Boa, titanium and American Fishing Wire in camo are excellent choices. These new knottable wires work great. Use an Albright Knot to connect wire to mono and a Perfecta Loop (or your favorite knot) to connect fly to bite tippet. We can tell you about flies when you plan your trip, but generally 4 to 5 inch 3/0 deceiver-like flies in black and red work great.
So here's our recommendation on Pira Lodge... pack your bag, grab a couple of 8 weight rods and get to the Ibera Marsh in northern Argentina as soon as possible. This is one special experience!