Tuesday, March 28, 2017

+20 lbs Giant Peacock Bass - welcome to the Club!

Third day we were assigned to Paulo the head guide of the team. All of us headed up the main river Rio Marié as Untamed Amazon would follow us during the day. What did we do? Fishing! Casting, casting, casting, … 


To shorten the day a little: Once of a sudden close to noon I had a strong pull on my line. I was always wondering how it would be to be connected to one of those realt big GPBs. I was expecting not to be able to stop such a +20lbs Asu/ GPB as the much smaller Butterfly Bass were so strong. Now I was attached to a good fish on my line (a 300 grain sink tip), it was strong but far from unstoppable, it was not such a freight train I would have expected. 

On 60lbs tippet and a 9# rod you can pretty much hold the fish on a short line and it might do several darts but a long run in to your backing is not the norm. After a few hard but kind of short pulls that fish was safely landed. Compared to the normal behavior of a fish of that size I must have caught it in its siesta. 

Weighting on IGFA approved scales showed 23lbs and 84cm. Yahoo! I was in the +20lbs Giant Peacock Bass Club, the community most of the serious GPB-fishermen seek to be part of. Did it make a difference? At that very moment yes. To illustrate the quality of Marié and the chance to catch a +20lba GPB: this very day two other GPBs beyond that magical mark were caught. The largest was 24lbs.


What kind of flies did we use? Barbless, strictly barbless, as only barbless fish count and as barbless is the way to treat the fish in the best possible way. Assuming that you are a good fisherman, the likelihood to lose a decent fish due to barbless is very low.

Again, what kind of flies did we use? Pretty much anything that can be tied. Mostly we fished deceiver stile flies with sinking line (WF-8/9 300-350 Grain due to the rather high water, later in the season intermediate tip might be the appropriate) in yellow, green, orange and even white/blue. Some flash is good. Not much action on surface flies as water level was rather high in our last week of September 2016. I tied a lot of flies and some big poppers before the trip and only used them very little. Later in the season popper and poledancer are said to be the way to go. We lost very few flies, less than three to five per week. As long as your line, connection and leader are 100% good there is only the chance to lose a fly to one of the odd Piranhas or on a snack that cannot be retrieved. In case you need some, the lodge has some flies as backup to buy.





Besides the once in a while Giant Peacock Bass - that was introduced to us by Paulo on the first evening with this comment “you will have zero to two chances a day to catch a Giant Peacock Bass” (he was right with that) – you and your fishing partner in the boat might catch anything between zero and fifty Butterfly Bass during a day. These fish in the range of 2-7 lbs fight the best pound by pound of all the fish in the river. They will keep you motivated and make your fingers wet once in a while. If your fishing buddy catches one of these, cast close to that spot as you might catch another Butterfly or even a GPB, as they tend to follow the action. Besides fighting well the Butterflies look really awesome. Nice colors!

Weather during the day was slightly different every day. Sometimes we got just a short spell, sometimes a thunderstorm in the afternoon, some days just heat and melting in the sun. It is obvious to cover your skin by appropriate clothes and to use sun blocker for face, hands and in case you fish barefoot (which is the best way) a heavy layer of sunscreen on your feet. Stripping guards (take one backup!) or gloves are mandatory! The constant stripping and the fight will cut and shred your fingers in no time.

In case you handle limes for alcoholic drinks (better stay to lots of water and soft drinks!) or the once in a while fish barbecue, take very good care not to spill any lime juice drops on your skin and clean possible areas after lunch thoroughly with water. Otherwise you will experience what lime juice and sun can do: it will just burn your skin to stage 2 or even 3 injuries!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Let’s start fishing!

Lodge aka Untamed Amazon schedule is: 7am breakfast (with your likes of eggs, fruits and toast), 8am to around 5:30pm fishing, 7pm appetizers, 8pm dinner – in between fishing till the line would break – that for six days in a row!

As we were altogether five boats with two fishermen each and five guides but six days to fish, the first two days all of us were assigned to one guide. After that the guides would be rotated daily. Thus everybody would have at least one day with each of the guides. 

For the first two days we were assigned to a young guide that did one of its first seasons. We fished up Turi River a large tributary of Rio Marié, as the main river was still rather high on water level that was a good option. High water level means that the wetland (medium sized trees and bushes) would still be partially flooded thus the Peacock Bass would be in these areas and close to impossible to catch. Thus lower or low water is what you want. The group in the week before us had pretty high water and a tough week, we experienced slowly dropping water. Possibly the best season in terms of water level would be October to November – heavy rain might change that, as it does to many fishing plans (see above about Tsimane and the day off due to flooding).  


We caught several colorful Butterfly Bass that did fight like hell. Hooking such a Butterfly of around four lbs makes you wonder if you just hooked a 15lbs Dorado before you realize that it is just a small Butterfly Bass. Breno caught a very nice Paca (non spawning color of the GPB) of around 9lbs (4kg) with a beautiful bronze color. He and I caught a couple of Butterflies to keep us motivated but nothing of special relevance took our fly besides the Paca. 

To cover the water thoroughly and to improve chances to catch one of the big ones, the guide might cast teaser lures (without a hook) that make big noise to attract the fish. He only does that when the clients want it. We used it sporadically to check for fish and to wake some up. Sometimes it seemed to work sometimes not. I got the impression that it attracts fish that are active anyway but on days with low activity it did not add anything.

Second day we were on the boat with Everton again. Breno landed a 7kg or 15,5lbs Assu GPB that showed a crazy run of around twenty meters and provided a good fight. I caught a mixed bag of Butterflies again. Honestly this kind of fishing started to bore me. I do not like to blind fish with a streamer the whole day. The visual aspect of SI NZ trout fishing is so much more pleasing to me. For GBP it is fishing in dark tea colored water, casting towards structure, ever and ever again. Hundreds of casts a day. The climate is hot and humid, not a problem if you drink plenty of water and if you are fit and used to do silly stuff such as pumping your heart up to the max going up a steep track with your mountain bike. Still, tossing a streamer the whole day is not the most preferred activity for my taste. Once in a while there is some action by the other species such as the mentioned strong fighting Butterfly Bass. Don’t get me wrong, I am writing and commenting the style of fishing from my humble and highly personal perspective!

As I am far away from being a GBP-addicted fisher, these first two days overall had very little appeal to me from the fishing aspect. I was really not overly happy about that stile of fishing. Blind casting the whole day to more or less likely structure. But if you are in GBP-fishing and know about the quality of such a fish beyond the magic 20lbs mark the motivation is likely very high. Besides that, the place, the Untamed Amazon, casting to fish with the fly that most likely never had seen a fly before, in the middle of remote Amazon, at a place that might be one of the very last far away from any street or man-made structure on this tortured planed – all this adds to a whole thing that is far beyond fishing! And the sum of all that makes Rio Marié venue such unique place and destination! 

Only a very stubborn will not love that place. It is far beyond fly fishing. During the day the next cast and the hundreds to come dominate your mind. It is kind of ZEN, thus it is best to focus on the single parts of the cast, the next point to land the fly, let the fly sink to the according depth and strip it back highly concentrated in the most appropriate manner you are able to. Doing every single step in the best possible way – that is ZEN. Sometimes slow sometimes fast and change your retrieve in between for one or two strips as GPB might likely follow your fly but have to be triggered to inhale it. 


At night time, the crew, the mates, the dinner, the cigar and the one or other glass of Whisky ad so much to the whole experience. It is not just the fishing. It is definitely the whole package, being there, experiencing the atmosphere, being at a place that very few humans have been before. Just Wow!

Second day at around 3:30-4:00pm we were fishing around and hour upstream by the skiff from Untamed Amazon (thus around 40km) as a storm with heavy rain hit the area. We got in our rain jackets and started our way downriver. One hour with some 50km/h and the cold rain hitting our faces like thousand needles, made us freeze to the bones. Advice: Do not go to any jungle destination with a good three layer hard-shell – you might not need it, but if you need it you will be thankful! And take one warm jacket, it might not get really cold, but even humid 15°C might feel like winter close to the equator! The thunderstorm was kind of behind us. I hate thunderstorms when I am in the open wild. No way to control them. We reached the lodge totally wet but safe.

One word about our Russian friends, they were not of that cliché kind prejudice might have expected them to be. They were all avid fly fisher and they did not drink all night long. Except for the first two evenings they went to bed very early and did not vaporize boxes of vodka every night. Their tactic was more to start drinking before lunch and combine that with intensive fishing and early rest at night.

Stay tuned! More to come ...

Friday, February 3, 2017

Arrival at Rio Mariè - Realm of Cichla Temensis Rex

Breno and I took the second plane for the flight from Manaus in northwesterly direction towards Saint Gabriel de Cochuella. The plane was a two engine with six seats. We shared the space only with the pilot, some Russian luggage and a 150kg generator that I was supposed to hold with my feet during takeoff and landing and possible turbulences. The Russian group was on their direct way towards the mother ship Untamed Amazon with the jet engine powered float plane. It is good for two pilots and 8 passengers. From Saint Gabriel we would fly the last 40 minutes to the ship with the float plane as well. The newly introduced float-plane access made the long boat transfer of the first season obsolete. 

At take-off in Manaus it had a sweating 40°C, no need for any warm clothes. Our small plane took off and gained altitude up to around 7.000 feet. After a while that was kind of chilly and I started to freeze badly in my shirt and shorts. Luckily I had a thin IceBreaker with me. So the cold was not so bad. After flying some time - which in my opinion was close to several hours - my bladder did send some signals that a soon relief would be highly welcomed. It was more than that, it was more like an emergency call from a soon to burst holding device. Asking about the remaining flight time the answer was kind of shocking: One hour and ten more minutes remaining flight time! I probably would not stand that and would cause some spillage. Thus my brain started to find an appropriate work-around. I had bottles on hand, but their opening was much too small to do the procedure without a mess. And as I had no knife I could not cut one in half to produce a funnel. Doing it directly into the ice chest? No way. But I had juice tetra packs that would provide as a funnel as they could be modified by ripping them. And there was the important missing link: I had tape in my back pack I had access to. With and accordingly prepared juice tetra pack, a 0,33l bottle, some tape and a M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering I produced my device for relief. The last problem was to do it seated and concealed from the pilot and Breno because if they would get notice of my maneuver, they would immediately have started to laugh so much that the plane would be in great danger. With all tricks available I managed the procedure and the bottle was full to the neck within seconds containing some characteristic colored fluid.

The last hour of the flight went smoothly circumnavigating some big clouds, passing the erratic and impressive granite mountains near Saint Gabriel and touch down at the air strip in Saint Gabriel. After that the running joke was: “Did I mention that I peed on the plane?”

Saint Gabriel is a very basic and remote airport with probably less than five plane movements a day. Reloading to the much bigger jet turbine powered floatplane (including the payload of 150kg generator) and we were on our last 40 minutes flight towards Untamed Amazon. Very smooth touch down on Rio Negro and taxiing to Untamed Amazon – the impressive boat was reality! No fake! I already knew it from the ship yard a year before. In August 2015 before the exploratory trip with Breno to Kendjam (see according blog posts for that adventure) we visited the ship yard. Back then the construction was in its last steps and we saw the plans of the finished ship. But now I could see it in reality, beautiful and impressive at the same time: Untamed Amazon.







We reached the landing stage on the stern of Untamed Amazon and set step on our home for the next week. Breno and I made home base in the right front cabin, lacking one of the huge panorama windows that are typical for the six main guest rooms, but cooler and les noisy at night. In addition we had our own porch, as we could step outside and had direct access to the small platform at the bow of the ship. As the solar power plant on the ship’s roof, supposed to charge the batteries in its hull during day and powering the ship during night, did not yet work, the generator would have to run 24/7. Making the whole ship sounding with a background noise, not to bad but not exactly silent. In the basement where the ship crew had their rooms it was definitely kind of noisy. Besides that minor and soon to be solved issue, the guest rooms are just perfect.

The ship crew is a special topic for itself. To do them justice I will start with them. First and foremost there are two persons that are the good soul of the ship: Manuela a truly wonderful, charming, friendly, beautiful and heart breaking hostess. A hostess every lodge owner or camp manager could only dare to have! She is an avid fly fisher as well. And there is Leandro the chef/ cook that made and exceptional good job, avid fisherman as well; he managed to surprise us every single day. Main course and desert were always a delight, wine and alcohol were plenty and good as well. Besides his task behind the fire, Leandro is the boat manager and in charge of keeping the mood on this vessel at an acceptable level. A task that at times is far from easy.

Besides these two crew members there is Maria Paula the very friendly assistant hostess and the guide team of five avid guides (Agustin, Everton, Marcos, Nico, Pablo (head guide)). During the day on the 20-foot skiffs (very well made, perfect boats! Equipped with bow mounted Minn Kota motors to maneuver and drift the boat silently while fishing) the guides are supported by a local “boatman” as an assistant local guide that knows the river and the fish very well. Untamed Amazon is piloted by Orleans who does an exceptional job as well. One evening Breno and I were lucky to follow a difficult landing maneuver during a pitch black night directly from the bridge. Imagine a totally dark bridge, outside nothing but stars, every now and then a bright light beam was turned on to scan the surrounding and the distance to the banks, the ship moving upstream with around 9 km/h, only few words on the otherwise silent bridge. Decelerating and approaching the beach determined for night-anchorage, very carefully, meter by meter, with that big vessel in the middle of Rio Negro, very gentle contact to the beach and there we were at our spot for the night to come. I was in awe of Orleans.

Next day (post) fishing will start.... stay tuned and share if you like it.