After a number of previous trips to the Brazilian Amazon during our winter months, my group and I were intrigued to fish the Amazon during the earlier part of the season. We had always heard of anglers fishing in the early season in the southern region of the Amazon basin. As I would find out, venturing to this remote region would be an exciting and different experience than our previous trips. And last season, Anglers Inn International of Mexico extended their presence with this Peacock Bass program in the Amazon. Anglers Inn has raised the bar on the mobile camp concept in the Amazon with much improved living quarters, dining facilities, and overall service. My group and I have fished with Anglers Inn in Mexico for years and can attest to their high level of service, hospitality and quality operations. And, we were happy to have this same level of quality on this trip. Even more, we were fortunate to have Anglers Inn International owner, Billy Chapman, Jr., host our camp for the week.
As we flew southward by floatplane from Manaus, I peered at the jungle below and noticed it looked different than the region north of Manaus along the Rio Negro. I saw an incredibly dense forest canopy that showed no signs of stark white sand that anglers often hope to see when flying along the Rio Negro. It was explained that this region did not have the sand bars like in the north. The rivers ran deeper, with steeper banks and lighter colored water. We were headed for the Matupiri River, which is a tributary to the Madeira River drainage. Upon approaching our landing run, we circled the camp before touching down gently on the river. As we slowed, the guides and staff approached in their boats. I immediately saw familiar faces. Yes, during this week we would be fortunate to have some of our favorite guides from past trips. Guides Caju, Renaldo, and Carlos’ faces lit up when they recognized us. It was a great reunion from a few years ago when we fished with them on the Tapera River.
The Matupiri is relatively deep in the main river. It was explained that this river was unique because even at its lowest levels, the large supply boats that draft a great deal of water can easily tow the camp. Also, this depth allows the float plane to land on almost any section of the Matupiri. In geologic terms, the Matupiri was a very young river with incomplete rock formation making the river color somewhat turbid from dirt on the banks and deeper because of the lack of sand. Whereas, the Rio Negro drainage is an older river and thus has extensive influx and movement of sand flowing down its tributaries.
This trip would be marked with a myriad of memories that went beyond fishing. The flora, fauna, and entire ecosystem were different than we had ever seen before. Even more, we quickly noticed that we were able to get closer to wildlife in this part of the Amazon. It was explained that this part of the Amazon basin was one of the most remote regions of the Amazon from the perspective of native population and tourism. In the north along the Rio Negro region, wildlife is much more impacted by the presence of human population because of the numerous native villages and the subsistence fishing activities. We observed a wide array of avian wildlife such as osprey, egrets, macaws, parakeets, kingfishers, and many other colorful birds. A most memorable sighting was when we heard the defining screech of a bird of prey. As we rounded the corner, we came upon a large raptor perched on a tree along the shore. This amazing animal showed no signs of fear and actually showed interest in our poppers that we fished beneath its perch. During our viewing, it would make a series of short flights back and forth from one tree to the next. It gave us an incredible view of this awesome bird of prey as it stretched its wings and made flight. It was the closest encounter I have ever had with a raptor in its natural environment.
During our week, Jim and I were continually amazed at how the wildlife seemed to accept our presence. On numerous occasions, a butterfly would perch on us allowing us the opportunity to photograph their beautiful colors. We also saw otters, caiman, birds of prey, and a variety of other wildlife during our week. What was quite interesting and welcomed was the absence of any biting pests. Mosquitoes and sand flies were non-existent on this trip. It was explained that it was acidity of the water from leaf decay in the forest and the lack of sand that creates an environment where these pests can not thrive.
One of the most amazing moments on this trip was a firsthand encounter with the Amazon’s most intelligent species of wildlife, the freshwater dolphin. Many of us had seen dolphin from afar during many of our past trips in the northern basin. However, the dolphins in the north would tend to stay quite far from the boat and would only show themselves briefly before disappearing below. Well, on this trip we would have quite a different experience. I had just hooked and landed a tough 5-pound Paca that Caju put on the boga. Suddenly, Caju begins to laugh and point at the water. Jim and I were shocked to see a 6-foot long dolphin at the boat-side looking at Caju and the fish he had on the boga. It looked like a scene out of Flipper, as Caju enticed the dolphin to repeatedly come to the boat in hopes of an easy meal. The dolphin was gorgeous, and it was the first time I ever got a chance to see this unique species of dolphin close up. It was light grey in color, had a flexible neck, enlarged pectoral fins, and a stubbed dorsal fin. On a previous trip, it was explained to us that these bodily characteristics were adaptations to the jungle environ over eons of time. A flexible neck and lack of a dorsal fin allows them to slither through the dense jungle forest and feed when the high water season arrives. It was certainly a special moment to see such a beautiful animal up close. After a few minutes of engaging the dolphin, Caju motored toward the shore and released the fish in shallow water and away from the reach of the dolphin.
On this trip, Jim and I would learn a great deal from our guide Caju. His instruction would help confirm many of the fishing facts that were shared with us on past trips. In general, his English was quite limited but effective enough to communicate many fishing strategies. One of his guiding comments was “big tree, big Peacock…” Often, Caju would have Jim and I direct our casts around the base of large trees that were submerged in 3 – 6 feet of water. Caju would also say “big Peacocks on the point.” He would get especially excited if there was a large tree on the point of a lagoon entrance. On many occasions, we would hook large Peacock Bass in these areas. This confirmed that Peacock Bass are ambush predators and can be structure oriented when there is water depth as the base of trees. On another instance, we pulled up to a point and on the first cast I land a mini Azul Peacock of about 3 pounds. I didn’t think much of this small Azul, but Caju’s face lit up and his eyes got wide. He said “big Peacocks on the point!” Jim and I were certainly not going to doubt him or question what he “saw”, so we launched our streamers toward the point. Immediately, Jim hooked up on a ‘grande’. I kept stripping while I watched the commotion as Jim laid the heat on his fish. Then, I came tight on a trophy Peacock too. We had an epic double battle ensuing. Thankfully, we were able to coordinate the landing of both jumbo Peacocks. After Jim and I released our fish, we just glanced over at Caju in awe of his instinct. We began to discuss what just happened here and we came to a realization. Caju said, “small Azul, big Peacocks on the point.” He then gestured with his arms and said, “familia”. This confirmed a fact that was shared with us on a previous trip. Peacock bass will sometimes congregate by family structure with small Azuls mixing with larger ones. The Peacock Bass are an extremely adaptive species and some generation classes will evolve to reach maturity at a relatively smaller size class. This adaptation occurs when conditions in the Amazon change and affect spawning cycles. It is nature’s way of ensuring that the Peacock Bass will survive during drought years. And these various sizes of mature Azuls will congregate and feed as a family unit. It is with this knowledge that Caju knew that there were larger Azuls in the area. Simply amazing…
Another highly effective strategy was to arrive at a new spot and begin with topwater. Often, one might question why a guide would encourage us to fish topwater in the middle of the day with the sun high above. Any experienced angler knows that bright conditions are the worst for topwater fishing. Well, we would learn soon enough that it was all a part of Caju’s master plan to get us into a hot bite. We would not always raise fish to our topwater flies. However, the poppers would call the fish out of the structure and Caju would then have us switch over to fishing streamers deep. On most occasions, this strategy paid off with good numbers of fish being hooked subsurface.
Due to the deeper characteristics of the Matupiri River, we needed to sometimes fish fast sinking lines of 300 – 400 grains (RIO Deep Sea or Leviathan). Tropical rated lines were essential because of the intensity of the sun. We fished a variety of streamers this week with great success. My most productive flies were Bisharat’s Airhead (3/0 red/yellow), Thalken’s Cruiser (3/0 Peacock), Anderson’s Reducer (3/0 Night Rider), and UFM H20 Cut Bait (3/0). Throughout its length, the Matupiri has a series of shallow lagoons that would branch off the main river. It was in these areas where an intermediate line was highly effective too.
Another interesting encounter on this trip was the Popoca Peacock Bass. This smaller species of Peacock Bass is common in this part of the southern Amazon. Its behavior was somewhat akin to the Butterfly Peacock that is so prevalent in the northern basin. Here, these crazed Popoca Peacocks would run around like packs of wolves corralling their prey. In some lagoons, these feisty fish would bust bait with a fury. Albeit relatively small (1 – 3 pounds), these fish would still slam a fly with a vengeance and put up a great fight. It was yet another reminder that we were in a different realm of the Amazon.
Without a doubt, Jim and I concurred that this trip yielded the most incredible topwater fishing we have ever experienced in our fishing careers. We had countless episodes of pure mayhem. The heart-pounding event of having your 3/0 popper flushed as if a 16 pound bowling ball was dropped on your fly was epic. It is simply amazing to see the amount of water a double-digit sized Peacock Bass will move. Often, the water would explode around the popper, only to have the fish miss or slap the fly on the first pass. Then, if your nerves allowed you to not lift the rod and keep stripping, the behemoth Peacock Bass would come back around and absolutely kill the fly. It was amazing to see how committed these trophy fish were to our topwater offerings. Often, the fish would not be lip-hooked, but rather deep in its mouth. This was confirmation that these fish intended to fully consume our flies.
Jim and I worked a coordinated tag-team effort on topwater hot spots. As soon as one of us would hook up on a grande, the other would quickly deliver a cast adjacent to the hooked fished. On many occasions, this strategy would yield what we coined as a double-double (double fish-on of double digit size),… or in reality “double trouble”. Nothing is more exciting than trying to simultaneously battle dual trophy Peacocks on one boat. Needless to say there was a lot of clearing lines, yelling, and, of course, laughing going on.
Throughout the week, Caju imparted his fishing knowledge with us. After a few days of epic topwater fishing, I began to see a pattern regarding the type of water we were fishing. I noticed that our best topwater sessions happened to always be around a particular cluster of shrub. We would cast in and around the openings in this structure and jumbo Peacocks would surge out of these opening and crush our topwater offerings. Caju communicated that this shrub was called Karasu. He said, “Big Peacocks sleep in Karasu. Popper wake up big Peacocks!” In many areas where there was about 3 foot of water depth at the base of Karasu there was excellent topwater action to be had. Here was yet another lesson in successful fishing for trophy Peacock Bass.
My most memorable fishing moment from the trip was being an observer to Jim’s battle with a massive Azul. We had just accomplished another double-double on topwater and celebrated with a high five and a few photos. We quickly got back to fishing, as we knew there were more trophy Peacocks in this spot because we saw these other fish following our hooked fish during the battle. Jim laid out a cast next to the Karasu and, half way back to the boat, a huge explosion of water erupted from beneath the fly. Jim gave a hard strip set, but did not connect. Then, as if time had been turned to slow motion, I saw the explosive wakes behind Jim’s fly clear and saw a massive Azul with its fins flared and colors lit up. Next,… a scene that I will never forget. Jim gave his popper another hard strip. The Azul surged forward with all its might, opened its bucket sized mouth, and completely annihilated Jim’s fly with fury. Jim came tight on the fish and this fish arched its body across the surface. Caju screamed, “GRANDE! 19 POUNDS!” Then, I heard Jim yell “OUCH!” as the massive fish ripped off line and burned his finger as it ran for cover. Suddenly, the line went limp and we were left speechless and in awe. What just happened? When Jim retrieved his fly line, we stood staring at a cleanly cut fly line. UGH! The chance for the fish-of-the-trip was trumped by some toothy critter that probably joined in on the feeding frenzy during the excitement of the battle. Whatever it was, it cleanly severed Jim’s fly line 10 feet up from the tip. This entire event was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen.
Our go-to topwater fly was the Umpqua H20 Master Jack Popper in blue or yellow. We would affix this fly with a loop knot to 6 feet of level 50# RIO Max PLUS mono. The most ideal line for hurling this setup was with RIO Tropical Outbound Short floating lines. Jim used his Sage TCX #10, while I fished my Sage ONE and TCX #9.
Trophy Peacock Bass command respect from an angling perspective. It is incredible to hear the fury that a large Peacock will unleash on its prey. The jungle is a relatively serene environ, with the soft sounds of birds chirping, insects buzzing, and breeze blowing through trees. Then, this calmness will be shattered with the explosion of water and baitfish as a behemoth Peacock Bass kills its prey. It is this strength and fury that make this species command respect when hooked. My group and I each had our own encounters with the power of this species. Line burned fingers, broken fly lines and leaders, and long distance releases. I had one incident in particular that was a reminder that the Peacock Bass in the king of its piscatorial domain. Jim had just hooked up on a trophy Peacock Bass and he said to cast near his fish because there were other grande Peacocks swimming with it. I presented my fly and immediately came tight. Jim’s fish was pulling away from the bow, while my fish thrashed. Caju yelled, “GRANDE!” Then, my fish made a powerful run past the back of the boat. It was headed for the partly submerged grove of trees 100 feet away. My trophy fish ran between two trees and just stopped as I leaned into this fish. My rod was bent to the cork as I tried to move this fish back out between these two trees. It was a momentary standoff as I wondered if my rod was going to blow up from the pressure. I could not move this fish as it just held there in the shallows near the trees. Then, this behemoth fish, in an explosion of water, surged with all its might and broke my freshly tied 52 pound test leader. I stood there in awe… and just looked at Caju with a look of shock. The immense power of trophy Peacocks is amazing. Jim and I recounted once again, that before we ever made our first trip to the Amazon, we did not think it was possible for a fish of this size to break 50 pound leader. Well, this event was, yet again, another reminder that Peacock Bass are an amazing game fish that command respect.
At the end of the week, everyone in our group landed trophy teener-sized Peacock Bass. We finished the week with an impressive fish-count of almost 1,400 Peacock Bass landed between 7 anglers. On one day, Jim and I landed more than 100 Peacocks. Even more impressive was the number of trophies landed on this trip. Our group finished the week with 53 trophy Peacock Bass of 10 pounds or more, with more than half being landed on topwater.
In final, this trip was such an amazing experience in many ways. Certainly, the fishing was incredible with the epic topwater bite. But also, the entire experience was a different adventure in terms of the jungle landscape and the wildlife we encountered. It was just a reminder of how vast and diverse the Amazon environ is. Without a doubt, I will soon return to this region again to experience this different personality of the Amazon. Fish On!
Keith’s Tackle Notes:
· UFM H20 Master Jack Popper (3/0 blue or yellow)
· Bisharat’s AirHead (3/0 red/yellow)
· Thalken’s Cruiser (3/0 baby peacock)
· Anderson’s Reducer (3/0 baby peacock or night rider)
· UFM H20 Cut Bait
· Fuch’s Peacock Deception (3/0)
(CLICK HERE for the complete trip slideshow)