The Rio Caura features Sardinata,
the "Golden Tarpon of the Amazon"..... where Giant Payara are the ultimate
Sardinata - The "Golden Tarpon of Amazonia"
by Paul Reiss
A Trip From the Past
Although we are not currently offering
the trip described in this article, the stories remain available for your
information and enjoyment. We stop running certain trips for a variety
of reasons. In some cases the fisheries have been depleted, in others,
the facilities have gone out of business and in a few, current governments
have made travel less attractive. The fish, however, always remain
interesting, so why not read and learn about them and the fishing experience
they provide. Who knows, governments may change, conservation practices
may improve and facilities may reopen. We just might end up returning
there, or someplace like it, in the future. Call us for more information.
The leaping antics of Sardinata make
them a fly-rod favorite
"We already have some of the world's greatest destinations for peacock
bass, and how can you beat the size and numbers on our payara trips?
Besides, how could we possibly fit another trip into our schedule, anyway?"
That was my very sensible first response when my partner Garrett VeneKlasen
suggested a visit to a newly opened fishing lodge on Venezuela's Caura
River. He paused a moment before responding. "Sardinata", he
said, "Whole migrating schools of them chasing baitfish through a hundred
miles of unexploited, fishable waters". I could feel my sensible
first response drift away like smoke while my mouth uttered it's usual,
completely impractical, second response, "OK, when do you want to leave."
It was all downhill from there. A new species of gamefish in a new
location!...I get hooked more easily than the fish. I had been hearing
great things about Sardinata for years now, and I couldn't resist.
A week later we arrived in Caracas, on our way to Caurama Lodge.
Carlos Aristeguieta, owner, founder and outfitter
of the newly minted fishing operation at Caurama Lodge met us at the airport
and immediately proceeded to regale us with tales of the fishing potential,
the characteristics, and the variety of the Caura River. Conditions
become optimal during the months of October and November as water levels
drop and baitfish begin to move into the Caura from the Orinoco.
In this fishery, Sardinata, the exciting, surface feeding, freshwater relative
of the tarpon that I had come to Venezuela to experience, begin to stage
in massive schools where the Caura meets the Orinoco. Once the baitfish
begin to move, the sardinata take off in hot pursuit, feeding on the huge
schools of bait as they ascend the Caura, providing great fishing through
December and into early January. I guess Carlos didn't know I was
already hooked, so he kept dangling more bait in front of me. And
I kept on eating it up, hooked or not.
The next morning found us cruising eastward and
by 8 AM, we began to descend toward the Lodge in our comfortable
twin-engine Piper. Years of fishing in Brazil has helped to greatly improve
my reasonably useful Portuguese language capabilities, but it has done
absolutely nothing for my Spanish. In spite of this, I could readily
discern the discomfiture in Carlos' voice as he conversed with the pilot.
Although I knew instinctively that it had nothing to do with our flight
(it couldn't have been smoother), my antennae immediately went up.
Sure enough, a moment later Carlos turned toward us and said, "Well guys,
it looks like it's been raining pretty heavily here". Fishing South
American equatorial rivers has sensitized me to the vagaries of water levels
and the huge effect they have on the fishing. In my head, I quickly
translated this to mean, "Crap! The river's way up and the fish are probably
not going to show". Well, I was a little bit right, but mostly wrong.
The result of our whirlwind three-day trip to Caurama wasn't exactly what
we planned or expected, but it couldn't have turned out too much better,
no matter what our plans were.
Aggressive Rio Caura Payara readily take
After we landed, unloaded our gear and had a quick
breakfast, we hopped into one of the Lodge's Toyota Land Cruisers and headed
for the river. The axle-deep, acre-wide puddles attested to just
how heavily it had rained. Pulling up to the riverbank, the swollen
waters swirled around our waiting boat. My apprehension levels began
to increase. "Well", I thought, "we'll find out soon". I began
to assemble my fishing tackle as we headed downriver to start our pursuit
of the elegant and elusive Sardinata. Also known as the Amazon pellona,
the Sardinata is an exceptional, yet little-known migratory gamefish closely
related to tarpon. The fish averages about 8-pounds, but can grow
upwards of 20-pounds. Like their silvery saltwater cousins, Sardinata
take to the air immediately upon being hooked. Their gill-rattling
leaps and long, fast runs make for great exitement on light tackle.
If the Tarpon is known as the "Silver King", then we probably should be
calling the Sardinata the "Golden Prince" because it is surely the freshwater
heir to the tarpon's royal legacy.
Carlos' experienced eye quickly told him that the
baitfish weren't yet in the river, and that very likely the Sardinata wouldn't
be either. He quickly told me. He explained that he had been
at the Lodge a week earlier and that water levels had been falling at a
rate that would make our trip perfectly timed. Unfortunately, since
then it had rained.... and rained.... and rained. And as we looked
upriver, to the North, we could see that it was about to rain again...and
Our rain-suited ride downriver continued with us
all hunched over in our seats as the rain pelted down on us. It always
amazes me how cold you can feel in the tropics in a fast moving boat in
the rain. No bait, no sardinata, cold and wet, what were we going
to do now. We talked about what our fishing options would be and
agreed that it would be worthwhile to cruise the 35 miles to the Orinoco
to see if we could find the Sardinata holding in the great river, near
the mouth of the Caura. The rain didn't look as though it would let
up any time soon and we might as well use the downtime to try to find the
fish. No such luck. An hour later, as we surveyed the equally
swollen Orinoco, no trace of Sardinata, or even baitfish, could be found.
Carlos apologized for our bad luck, but it wasn't necessary. We understood
that we were on a fishing trip and no one, not even the detail oriented
Carlos could control the weather, much less the fishing. "How about
trying for some payara after lunch", he suggested. We might find
some holding along the banks or in the faster current back in the Caura.
A half hour's run back upriver put us into
a long, steep curving bank, pocked with eddies and littered with deadfall
and submerged branches. This looked a little bit like a wider, faster-moving
version of some of the peacock bass terrain that I was familiar with.
With rain still sputtering from the skies, I started off casting a deep-running
Rapala CD-14 at the structure along the bank, looking for a fish's response
through the confusing pull the fast water was putting on my bait.
I began to think about a fishing strategy and a pattern that might work
in this new environment. While I was deep within my technical reverie,
both Carlos and Garrett coolly and calmly hooked up with big, fast-running
payara. I reeled in quickly to avoid the lines zinging on both sides
of me and sat back to listen to the music of whirring drags and the now
shouting fishermen. Our guide maneuvered to keep the boat positioned
so that both fish could be landed without tangling. Laughing now,
the two fishermen proudly hefted their fanged doubleheader a few minutes
later. So much for my technical theories.
When the fish are biting, the same cold and annoying
rain that one otherwisde finds so uncomfortable, recedes into the background.
By the time I noticed that it had stopped, I had landed several powerful
payara, averaging right around 15-pounds. These were big by any standards
and they fought in classical payara style; a bone-jarring subsurface strike,
a moment's hesitation while the fish realizes something is wrong with the
bait and then a long, line-peeling run, culminating in repeated three foot
leaps. Even though we didn't find the Sardinata, we had a heck of
consolation prize to keep us chattering and comparing notes all the way
back to the lodge.
Caurama's typically-Venezuelan estancia/ranch
Caurama Lodge has facilities for 8 anglers in comfortable and
clean double rooms, each with a fully equipped bathroom, including flush
toilets and hot showers. After our long, wet day on the river, it
was a pleasure to be able to clean up and relax in our rooms for awhile.
Freshly showered, I lay back on my bed and started to read. For me,
cracking a book on a fishing trip is generally about equal to taking a
dose of sleeping pills. I rarely last more than ten minutes.
Just as I began to doze off, Carlos' cheerful yell brought me back to the
present. "Dinner is ready, guys! Come and get it!" Right
about then I noticed that my stomach was entirely in agreement with Carlos.
I went off eagerly to see what the kitchen had wrought.
The rooms are arranged in groups around three sides
of a square, central garden - with the kitchen, dining room and bar area
occupying the fourth side. By the time I closed my room door behind
me, my nose had located my destination...and looking up, I noticed that
Garrett's feet had already gotten him there. I followed right behind.
If dinner tasted half as good as it smelled, it was going to be a feast.
Arranged in front of me as I sat down was a table loaded with plates of
pasta, fresh vegetables, bread, beans and rice and the biggest, best looking
ribs I had ever seen. Garrett told our host we could n't possibly eat all
of this, "why there's enough ribs there to feed an army". Half an
hour later we proved that we were in fact a small army. As we pushed
back from the table, completely stuffed, all that remained was a scene
of total dietary devastation. Empty plates and sparkling clean rib
bones attested to the terrific meal we had enjoyed.
The lodges' dining room also doubles as a natural
history museum of the area. Jean Posner, the lodge's resident biologist/ornithologist
and ecotour guide has assembled an excellent collection of carefulley labeled
artifacts, skeletons and items of interest from the surrounding llanos,
jungles and river. A small library of pertinent books and texts line
the shelves. I know of no other fishing destination that offers such
a detailed information resource about the surrounding ecosystem.
Fishing clients can arrange for non-fishing travel partners to tour the
area to birdwatch, photograph and just plain enjoy their surroundings.
It's a great solution for fishermen who might like to take a day off as
Average sizes are excellent
After a some conversation and a few after-dinner
drinks, Carlos hustled us off to his "special fisherman's room".
Situated behind the lodge proper stood pair of thatch roofed, connected,
circular structures. Carlos beckoned us inside what proved to a true
fisherman's den. Couches and chairs were spread throughout the area.
Fish mounts, fish pictures, trophies and a slew of IGFA record certificates
lined the walls. Furnishings included a fly-tying table, gear racks,
fishing videos...... even a fish napkin holder. Heck, I didn't have
one of those. This guy is an even bigger fishing nut than I am.
Carlos promptly took this opportunity to have Garrett demonstrate some
of his fly-tying specialties, while Carlos tied along with him. I
watched the proceedings. While bucktails and feathers flew, I began
to doze. Finally, I struggled out of my chair, passing through what
now looked like a Perdue chicken processing plant that had been invaded
by brightly colored deer, and headed off to bed. We still had
a lot of fishing to do.
Dawn brought more rain. This definitely
wasn't going to help me hook up with my first sardinata. Carlos suggested
we head off upriver to see some of the beautiful terrain surrounding the
Caura and to fish the rapids further upstream. He wasn't kidding
about the area's natural beauty. We passed through gorgeous forested
regions and striking vistas of fast-water, cascading through giant boulders
strewn about the river. Here and there we stopped in some promising
waters, drifting through the cascades or parking on the rocks and casting
into the current. Both techniques proved productive and we landed
more of the surprisingly hefty payara. Carlos indicated, that as
the water levels dropped, these areas would also produce good numbers of
morocoto ( a Venezuelan version of the pacu, reaching up to 20-pounds)
and the related bocon, a fish known for smashing topwater plugs with gusto.
This area is also home to four species of giant catfish (redtail, yellow,
laulao amd tiger), any of which can reach well over 100 pounds. Along
the Caura, many lagoons and effluents hold peacock (butterfly and speckled)
reaching over 12-pounds. Further upriver, in the mainstream Caura,
the beautiful, royal peacock (Cichla nigrolineatus) can be caught.
Rarely seen elsewhere, this black-striped peacock is a smaller, fast-water
version of the famous, big, tackle-busters. That's a heck of a line-up
of incidental species!
By late afternoon the rain had subsided and we settled
into working another long, steep curving bank, complete with swirling eddies
and fish-holding structure. Garrett, Carlos and I had arranged ourselves
into a workable three-man casting setup on the lodge's 16-foot, 40 hp boat.
All of us were more accustomed to fishing two to a boat, but it seemed
silly for us to break-up into two boats when there was plenty of room available
with the big stable casting platforms built-into the boat. Besides,
we'd miss the constant irritating banter, boasting and baiting that went
on between us. On our first drift through the area, Carlos and I
used conventional tackle, while Garrett expertly dropped a blue ------
fly into the tangle of deadfall, stripping it rapidly back toward the boat.
While we were commenting on the fly's great looking action, a huge silver
slab of a payara rose, turned and inhaled the fly not more that twenty
feet from our watching eyes. Stunned, we held our breath as Garrett,
keeping his wits about him, set the hook, got the fish on the reel and
braced himself for the fish's run. And run it did! Line screamed
off the 8-weight reel as the fish took off downriver at blistering speed.
Finally, more than 100 yards into the backing the big fish stopped and
took to the air in a, spectacular, gill-rattling leap. And then,
agonizingly, Garrett groaned as the line went slack, the fly settling back
onto the water in the big payara's wake.
The silence didn't last long. As the initial
disappointment subsided, we realized that we had been treated to a fantastic
sight. The 20-plus pound payara had given us clear evidence of it's speed,
power and persistence as it deservingly won the battle. And Garrett
had experienced it hands-on with a light fly rod. Neat! We
quickly headed back to the start of the action for another drift and attacked
the structure with renewed vigor. Maybe another 20 pound beast would
Actually, it didn't take long. We caught several
fish ranging from from 7 to 16-pounds on the next few drifts. Then
we anchored next to a productive eddy so that Garrett and Carlos, both
now using fly rods, could easily access the optimal current eddies.
Suddenly, not more than a half hour later, my big CD22 rapala was slammed
in a rod-pounding strike. I braced myself, because I knew what was
coming next. The fish took off downriver like a runaway train.
I knew right away that this one was big. Line peeled off my reel
so fast that I was afraid the drag would overheat and seize. At least
a hundred and fifty yards of line had been stripped off my Daiwa SS1600
reel, leaving me to worry about how much more was left. Finally,
with the spool at an alarminly low level, the run stopped. A moment
later, so did my heart. A huge payara began turning tumblesaults
in the air. Leaping repeatedly, I could hear the slap of it's slab-sided
body resounding across the water at each landing. When the fish sounded
again, the fight broke down into an extended pulling and tugging match,
with the payara using its broad body and the force of the current, while
I countered with the pressure of my rod. The momentum was now on
my side and after a prolonged subsurface struggle, the fish was mine.
As Carlos slipped the Bogagrip into the exhausted monsters jaw, we hoisted
him over the side into the boat. Bone weary and soaked in sweat,
I broke into a big grin.
Giant payara challenge an angler's tackle
While Señor Payara posed for a brace of pictures,
we admired the big fish's powerful, streamlined silver body, wicked teeth
and perfect functionality. After holding him in the current for several
minutes reoxygenating his gills, I could feel the strength returning to
his body. I slipped open the Bogagrip's jaws and after a few tentative
strokes, the big fish left in a reassuring boil. Just a hair under
27 pounds, it was my biggest payara ever. What was that other fish
we were looking for?
Once again we happily chattered and compared notes
on the ride back to the lodge. We had all had a terrific day with
the payara. With the wisdom of all Monday morning quarterbacks, Garrett
casually mentioned that he was wondering why I didn't ask to pull the anchor
during the fight with my big payara. Dumbfounded, it dawned on me
just how lucky I was to have landed the fish! What was I thinking?
I was so involved in the fight that it never occurred to me to take advantage
of what the river was offering. Score one for brute force and dumb
Our final day at Caurama dawned in a bright
and cloudless sky. Finally, we were going to have nice weather.
Carlos suggested we try to find the Sardinata one last time and so we headed
back downriver to the Orinoco. Still no sign of them, so once again
we took out our frustrations on the payara. And the payara fought
back hard. Anchored in a narrow rip of fast water, both Garrett and
I broke rods during a morning of fighting our fanged opponents. With
discarded tackle littering the boat and the sun pounding down on us, we
decided to break for lunch. We settled the boat into a jumble of
shoreline boulders, and relaxed in the shade with our sandwiches.
As often occurs with fishing nuts after a shore lunch,
we all drifted off in different directions to fool with our tackle or fish
from the shore. Mourning for my broken medium baitcaster, I began
assembling a tiny ultralight rig, to see what sort of little fish I could
catch around the rocks. Suddenly Carlos began yelling and pointing
to a stretch of slick water between points of the rocks. "Sardinata!
Cast in there! Let's catch some!" A fusillade of lures from
three different directions quickly converged on the small group of staging
fish. Carlos walked a Zara Spook, Garrett stripped a big popping
bug through the water and I was skipping a new Rapala Skitterpop lure along.
For the most part, the Sardinata ignored us. Occasionaly a fish would
swirl or slap at one of our baits to show their disdain for our offerings,
but they weren't eating. We couldn't hook up and slowly, after a
half hour of frustration, we returned to our previous activities.
I sat down in the shade and fiddled with my ultralight, studying the Skitterpop's
action and wondering how I might apply it to peacock bass fishing.
Garrett was catching small payara on the surface and Carlos went off in
search of the long-awaited baitfish.
Sardinata....the beautiful golden tarpon.
I drifted into a relaxed state, flicking the Skitterpop
into the water and daydreaming. In the middle of one of my unconscious,
mechanical retrieves, a sardinata, with a business-like sucking swirl inhaled
my lure and took off running. By the time I had gotten to my feet,
the fish was hooked and heading for the Caribbean and points east.
My little Daiwa, loaded with four pound test was no match for this fish.
I couldn't apply any serious pressure, so I just tried to keep contact
with the fish when he ran and to take away any pressure when he jumped,
and jumped, and jumped. The Caura was beginning to seem more
like a home for hyperactive rabbits and kangaroos than a medium for water-bound
fish. Nothing here seemed to be able to stay in the water.
In keeping with the stretch of good luck I was enjoying, my little rod
and it's threadlike line stayed intact. The beautiful, golden Sardinata
slowly tired and after twenty minutes, Carlos slipped him into the net.
My skitterpop was in pieces. The fish, with a split ring somehow
piercing its lip, looked like one of today's trendy teens. My bogagrip
showed 7 and 1/2 pounds.
Well, I had caught a Sardinata after all. And
on a rig a little on the light side for farm pond sunnies! Could
it get any better? Well, actually it could. Carlos, who just
happens to be the regional IGFA representative, said "I think you just
caught a line class record. Let's get it weighed and measured and
check the books." With a flurry of scales and tapes and photos we
forever enshrined the Sardinata's vital statistics and headed back upriver.
For more information about this fishing adventure, to speak with
us, or to book a trip, contact:
Paul Reiss at (866) 832-2987
E-Mail Paul Reiss,
Garry Reiss at (866) 431-1668
E-Mail Garry Reiss
That evening, with applications filled out and sent
off, we all agreed that we needed to do this again and soon. With
the river finally getting set to fall, we knew the Sardinata would be turning
on and moving in earnest. I was heading off to Brazil for my fall
trips, so Garrett, always the self-sacrificing fellow, volunteered to take
the heinous assignment. We all recited in unison, "It's a tough job,
but someboy's got to do it to". If the fishing gets any better than
this, we're going to find out soon.
Note - We both returned a few weeks
later. Sure enough, the sardinata were there and in great numbers.
They proved to be great topwater fun for plug-casters and an absolutely
super fly-rod adversary. They take baits with slashing attacks and
launch themselves into the air the minute they're hooked.
For more information
about fishing for exotic species, worldwide, contact us, Toll-Free, at;
- 866 832-2987 - E-Mail Paul Reiss-
- 866 431-1668 - E- Mail Garry Reiss
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All Rights Reserved