December 5, 2011
Despite being a hardcore fly fisher, I’m completely aware the world offers a few fish that are unlikely to eat my fly. Giant Amazon catfish are one of these fish. Every trip to the Amazon I spend at least a few hours dunking piranha heads into the deep black water of the Amazon River system. In one of my fishing dreams I see myself straining to hold a true whiskered beast.
I encourage my guests to devote a little “catfish” time as well. I talked about catfishing well in advance for this trip knowing the high water would make fly fishing tough. To kick back and hold a bait rod while resting the casting arm can do even the most dedicated fly fisher a world of good. And catfishing isn’t like the bait fishing many of us are used to – catfishing in the Amazon is never boring.
My group this week is more excited to spend time chasing catfish than ever before. So today we all set out to chase catfish together. After the usual early breakfast we set off for the rich piranha grounds to catch as many of the toothy terrors as we could for catfish bait. We all began tossing the 6-weights with a chunk of wire and a red and white Clouser. This set up normally works great for piranha fly fishing, but this morning very few were caught on the fly. I landed only one small white piranha. However while trying for piranha I caught a heap of baby payara – a fish more toothy than piranha!
While the rest of us were struggling to catch piranha on fly our guides were reeling them in on bait. Before we knew it each boat was ready to dunk for cats. The only problem was we had a limited hook supply. Camp normally has catfish stuff around but for some reason there was hardly anything this week. They provided us light bait casting outfits and a very limited hook supply. Unfortunately due to snags and more piranhas biting off our hooks, most of us were out of hooks within an hour and catfishing was over. The only ones to continue were Mark and Linda. Mark was chopping up old flies in order to get more hooks.
Switching back to fly fishing for peacocks isn’t exactly heartbreaking. As always Matu took us off through the rainforest to another of his secret lagoons. Unlike previous days, the first stop produced a handful of small peacocks. Most of them were nice sized gray bars with a few speckled and three barred ones mixed in. I also landed one of the biggest jacunda I’ve ever seen. Jacunda are another of the many cichlid species of the Amazon drainage yet rarely get bigger than about a foot long. This one was a dandy!
Peacock fishing was the best it’s been. Becky, Matu and I chased after them till about 4 PM and caught a bunch. I snuck in another nice one about 7lbs. I really want Becky to get herself a good one but so far only the smaller ones are cooperating. At 4 we ran into Mark and Linda and they were still catfishing. They had found a spot with few hook stealing piranhas and less snags so they weren’t losing hooks like crazy. Best of all they had landed a nice redtail catfish about 20lbs and lost a big one they estimated to be around 50lbs. I got really excited hearing this and Matu decided to steal some hooks off an old plug he had in the boat. We were catfishing again.
We had one hour of catfishing. During that hour I had two cats eat my sunken piranha head. Unfortunately I blew the hook set on my first. And the second one was too big to handle. This fish scorched out about twenty feet of line and got hung in a snag. I could feel him thumping down there and we did everything we could to pull him loose. The beast would have none of it and finally broke me off. It’s amazing how strong Amazon catfish species are and now I’m just wondering how big he was. Damn!
We had a really fun night around camp. The staff fed us some piranha fingers that were scrumptious and I sucked a few Skol beers while everyone else indulged in strong caipirinhas. Tonight’s sunset was incredible like many sunsets in the Amazon are. We’re not even half way through the week and everyone is catching fish and having a great time.