December 3, 2011
Last night Becky and I rolled into the Tropical Hotel in Manaus, Brazil at about 11:30 PM absolutely exhausted from the long two days of travel from the States. Our overnight at this hotel was the last leg of the journey before heading to the Amazon today. Most of my seven guests arrived on earlier flights and were sound asleep, all but my buddy Steve Berry from Phoenix who was in the bar waiting for us. Once Becky and I checked in we joined him for one late night brew.
During our brew I was quickly informed that our flight into camp was leaving at 5 AM sharp. In past trips we’ve never left for the Amazon before about 1 PM. The early departure was great news however here we were tired as can be having a midnight beer. We pounded the Brahma fast and headed to the room for the short sleep.
As expected the 4 AM wake up call came quick but we bounced from bed and headed for the lobby for a snack and coffee. Before we knew it we were at the Manaus domestic airport weighing our gear to prove we were light enough to board our amphibian Caravan plane. Once that was done we were on our way. I couldn’t believe we got this early of a start!
The flight into camp on the Xeurini River takes about 11/2 hour. We hit some huge pockets of rain and dodged some massive thunderheads but soon I looked below and saw camp. After a sound water landing we were greeted by fishing guides in their boats and were hustled into camp where we met camp manager John. John gave us a short orientation and then a rundown on the fishing. The water is higher than high and fishing will be tough. Tougher than tough actually, and he made it very clear fly fishing may not prove successful at all.
The camp I use for this trip is operated by River Plate Outfitters. I book the famous “floating tent camp” for eight anglers. Most those in this trip are friends however on some years I am short a few and offer the trip to anyone. If you love cool fish in an adventurous environment this is the trip and you can contact me to see if I have room for next year.
“Fly Fishing may not prove successful” are tough words for me to swallow. Evidently they are tough words for my group to swallow as well for not one of them flinched or showed any fear towards the camp manager John’s statement. They simply let John finish his spiel and then headed to their tents to unpack and rig the fly rods.
All eight of us were fishing before 9 AM. Becky and I fished with a local guide named Matu. Matu doesn’t speak a lick of English and hardly any Spanish. In fact, I’m not even sure he speaks Portuguese, the language of Brazil, and therefore he is extremely hard to communicate with. Nevertheless, Matu can run the River Plate fishing boat and knows where the fish are.
This is only my third trip to the Xeurini River yet it didn’t take much for me to realize just how high the water was. It’s literally about six feet above the banks. And sure enough at the first place we stopped we were casting into deeply submerged trees. The problem with high water is that the peacock bass can swim far back into the forest where the boat can’t go. The jungle is basically flooded. No matter how close you cast to the structure, the fish could be another 100yds further back into the trees and never see your fly. At the first spot we stopped Becky and I cast relentlessly for over an hour and saw nothing. Not only did we go fishless but I shattered my 8-weight in the middle of a cast. The very rod that performed so well on the Wisconsin musky trip last month. I’m not sure why it broke but I do know this was a very bad start!
I had several other back up rods on board so by the time we got to Matu’s next fishing spot Becky and I were ready. We’d driven, paddled and macheted through about a mile of tropical rain forest to get to this place and because we were so far back the depth was relatively shallow. It would be hard for peacock bass to hide from us here. The only problem was you could hardly cast because of all the overhanging trees and dangling vines. This kind of fishing is all new to Becky so I sort of stayed back and watched her get familiar with the tight casting. Also, Becky has never chucked a big stick before so the 8-weight took some getting used to as well. Like most first timers to peacock fishing she spent a fair amount of time tangling in the overhead trees and snagging on sunken logs. This is always entertaining because most trees have a few sleeping bats and Becky was waking them up left and right!
Meanwhile I was still a little ticked about breaking a rod in the first hour. I bring a bunch of extras expecting a few rod fatalities amongst my group but not this soon and not without a fish. But gradually the broken rod frustration faded and I started nailing some decent casts to where fish just had to live. Soon enough I nailed my first peacock of the trip – a very encouraging sign.
Our day improved from there. Becky and I ended up catching ten peacocks today. Becky got her first two and really learned a lot and fine tuned her casting. The peacocks we caught consisted of a mostly what is called the gray bar or fire belly. These are beautifully colored peacocks usually glowing in orange around the gill flaps and then have a gray smudged bar above the belly. Then they have a few spots along the back. They are one of the smaller peacock species and rarely get more than 3lbs.
Today was a great day to start the trip. Everyone in my group except for Ken caught fish. The wildness of the Amazon was evident with all the gorgeous birds and we saw a ton of the famous freshwater dolphins. The high water is a threat but it appears we may be able to work through it. Now the biggest fear we have is that the water may come up more. We experienced some heavy rains several times today. The rain felt good because it cooled us down in the steamy jungle but we don’t want the water to rise anymore.
I’m really exhausted now and its time to score the first decent sleep since I left Victor. Hopefully tomorrow we can get into some of the larger peacock bass species and the water doesn’t rise. Stay tuned.