Flying for two hours north of Manaus, Brazil there was nothing but more trees, more water. No cities or even villages. No sign of inhabitation. Just winding rivers, lagoons, and a dense jungle canopy. Even for an adventurous outdoorsman a little unsettling, “Damn, I hope the wheels stay on this bus.”
Mine is a charmed life with over thirty years as a fly fishing guide on some of the nation’s finest trout streams. Not only am I able to spend over 150 days a year on Montana rivers, I’ve parlayed my good fortune into an ability to fish many destinations. Historically those trips focus on saltwater locals but for over 15 years, one freshwater region captivated me – the upper Amazon basin. Flying over the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Amazon with the morning sun angling across the cockpit illuminating our young pilots’ confidence it was a pinch me moment. “Holy shit! That’s actually the Amazon!” My dream of fishing for peacock bass was becoming a reality.
From our experience, rigging was most similar to those for redfish with a big game slant. Crisp rods ranging from 7wt – 10wt all performed well with 8’s and 9’s the sweet spot. Our group welded a variety of sticks. We were heavy on Orvis H3’s but Loomis NRX’s and Asquiths as well as some older model Sages worked well.
Reels need stopping power. True stopping power. My wife Terri used the Cheeky Limitless 425 on an 8wt everyday/all day with excellent results. Backing capacity is a non-issue as the peacocks pull super hard but in short bursts. In fact, I don’t think anyone in our party actually saw their backing all week but don’t let that fool you into thinking smaller is the way to go. Pick up speed is essential, so consider large arbors with full spools. To fill up those spools, our guides really pressed us to use intermediate lines despite only wanting our flies stripped back at easily attainable floating line depths of 2-3 feet. Even though I had very little experience with INT lines, it didn’t take long to understand the advantages of a direct tight connection from your hand to the business end of the line. Any line bounce exacerbates potential for missed opportunities.
Leaders? Not really. This is both feet on the brake pedal, full stop. Straight 50# fluorocarbon or hard mono was money. Such heavy terminal tippet requires a non-slip loop when attaching what are some of the flashiest, gaudy streamers you’ll ever fish. The box I assembled for the trip was simply my most exotic artful assortment to date. This from a guy who was lashing together articulated bunny sculpins long before it was hip. Although some were far more concerned about fly choice than others, generally the guides picked patterns with plenty of white, yellow, pink, or chartreuse and flash. All wanted a strong heavy wire hook with a broad gape. 2/0 was sufficient, 4/0 all the better.
Time to fish! Agua Boa Amazon Lodge manager and my new favorite person in the fly fishing community, Carlos, designed their fishing program such that each of the 6 guides each have their own beat. The guides are hardworking, with well-rounded knowledge and fishy.
On day one, our guide, Val, polled the boat up the bank and I started blind casting tight to the logs and pockets just as you would for trout or pike. About 15 mins in the line snapped tight with a vicious yank met with a reciprocal set and after a power tug of war my first ever peacock was in hand. A magnificent 4lb “temensis” peacock that could have just as easily come of the shelve of toy store. Brilliant yellows, greens, reds, and pinks highlighted by 3 coal-black, back to belly paint strokes and a Rorschach test cheek patch. And I thought cutties and browns were surreal!
The peacock bass tends to gather in groups of similar size class and often when you find one you find plenty of his pals. Several days we would hack our way up some “creek” and as soon as we hit the edge of open water it was a full-on fish rodeo. It was not uncommon to hook twenty, two to four pound “butterfly” peacocks from an area no bigger than dinning room table. They don’t get to double digits like their temensis cousins but they seem to always be on the prowl, hit hard and pull like a comparable smallmouth bass. The butterflies also thrash around on the surface a bunch alerting swampy jungle creatures that there’s a struggle going on. That surface struggle is the dinner bell for nearby caiman. This close relative of the alligator can reach lengths of 14’and have a bite force nearly 3 times that of a grizzly bear. As we witnessed firsthand, they can snap up a 4lb peacock like a kid crushing a tootsie pop. Oh ya, we are in the Amazon!
These boils and tail slaps also prompt the other bass into a tizz. In the Amazon, everything is on the hunt and also being hunted. When peacocks hear what they expect is another fish crushing bait, they often come to investigate. This phenomenon led to our witnessing a first for us – calling fish!
At first, I didn’t get what was happening. The guides are all expert at polling. Turns are smooth, speed adjustments effortless, positioning for the anglers spot on, and quiet as cat when we were close. So, the first time one missed a stroke making a big splash I expected to see him on the verge of coming off the platform. Not the case. With the river flooding further into the jungle each day we could hear big fish boiling back in the trees completely inaccessible. When they were under about 100’ away the guides would draw a tight “C” with the poll tip in the water, quick like a steelheader initiating the snap T two hand cast. The sound exactly mimicked the peacock boil on bait. And sure enough, multiple times shortly after we emitted the call, the next eruption was on the business end of our line. For the fervent hunter who relishes calling everything from big game to waterfowl this was a fantastic new tactic to witness.
Trip takeaways – peacock bass fishing and other Amazon piscivorous pursuits:
*Hire a professional travel agent who specializes in Brazil to book your airline reservations. You aren’t flying to Denver or Chicago – connections matter.
*There’s probably opportunity to DIY here but I would suggest connecting with an outfitter for the first time at least. The Agua Boa Amazon Lodge is pricey (though if you can afford it totally worth it) but there are more affordable options. Our team at BRO are working on hosting those trips as well. Stay tuned.
*Know how to cast an 8 or 9wt rod with a large wind resistant fly before you go! You don’t have to be a pro, but as in all of fly fishing, those who are more proficient with their tackle ultimately catch more fish. Period. If you can cast 45’ into a 4’ circle with floating, intermediate, and sinking tip lines you’ll be fine.
*Bring the right fly fishing equipment, at least 20 flies encompassing various colors and weights including a coupla poppers. You won’t lose many, but these fish will beat the life out of your patterns.
*We suggest packing some sort of Boga grip fish handler. They really do work and it’s cool to check the weight of these bruisers. You can lip them, but their abrasive teeth will quickly turn your thumb to mincemeat.
*Sun gloves are important not only for uv protection but also to minimize line burns from sudden bursts of powerful runs. We’ve been working with Wingo to get the sizing right on their super cool Peacock bass colored gloves (must have). We additionally taped up our two primary stripping fingers every morning. Be sure and get the self-gripping under wrap that doesn’t have any sort of adhesive. We used the wrong stuff first and soon our lines were gummy and cast like crap.
*It’s worth the time to clean and stretch your line each morning with a line cleaner for effortless casting and peacock bass fishing.
*A pair of fishing pliers are critical in cutting and to pull knots tight in 40-50# leader. The Cheeky 750 Pliers are perfect.
*Interested in joining us on a super fun hosted trip to the Amazon or multiple other destinations? We make the arrangements and accompany you on the trip at no additional charge to you. Check out Cheeky Fishing’s website under Hosted Trips https://blackfootriver.com/hosted-fly-fishing-trips/ for this year’s options then call or email the shop to make your reservation.