peacock bass fishing peacock bass Brazil peacock bass by Paul ReissThe Luhr Jensen Woodchopper is almost seven inches long and looks like a little league baseball bat. When worked rapidly through the water it sounds like a poorly tuned outboard motor and it throws a roostertail up behind itself. What fish in its right mind would hit a giant noisemaker like this? As I worked my bait through the otherwise quiet water, a belligerent peacock bass left no doubt about the answer to my question as he smashed my lure five feet into the air. The bait no sooner hit the water than the fish slammed it again and took off. I leaned into my rod and set the hook and held on. A few minutes later I marveled at the beauty and muscular power of the glistening fourteen pound peacock finning at the side of the boat. Where in the world can you find this kind of fishing? In the Brazilian Amazon.
The Rio Matupiri
The Rio Matupiri is a tributary of the Rio Madeira which runs northward to empty into the Amazon east of Manaus. The Amazon basin's rivers typically fall into three categories, based on characteristics of the water. Black water rivers are tannin stained and acidic . Blue water rivers are clear. White water rivers are clouded with suspended particles and appear muddy. The Matupiri falls into the white water category. At this time of year, with the water very low, it looked as though I was floating on a river of 'cafe au lait'.
The Matupiri runs several hundred miles west from its confluence with the Rio Madeira. For the bulk of its downriver length it is bordered by large, convoluted lagoons, lining its flood plain. Peacock fishing is at its best when water levels are low enough to be contained by the lagoon banks and restrict the fish to a defined area. This year the area's dry season was so extreme that no rain fell on the watershed for six weeks. Fires burned unchecked in some areas due to the lack of rain. Some experts credit this to the effects of "El Nino" dominating weather conditions in the Pacific. The resulting low water left most lagoons dry, or so shallow that the fish retreated to the relative coolness and depth of the river.
River Plate Anglers, the outfitters hosting my trip, elected to move their camp upriver to optimize our access to the fish. Way upriver. We fished our way to the river's headwaters and covered a tremendous variety of terrain. Peacock bass in the river relate to structure differently than they do in lagoons. Areas of fast water, rocks or stream inlets provide the greatest fish attractors, so we cruised along, stopping at likely looking water and probing with a variety of lures and techniques. Each different type of river structure proved to be an individual challenge.
Early into our first day, my fishing partner and I motored past a large rock outcropping in our flat bottomed tunnel boat. Our guide maneuvered the boat so that we could fish the entire structure in a slow drift controlled by our electric trolling motor. I stood on the nose of the boat and started off by working a large Luhr Jensen "woodchopper" right up against the rocks. I dropped cast after cast along the outcropping without raising a single strike from the usually quick triggered peacocks I expected to find there. Well, it was time to try something different. I tied on a 1/2 ounce jig tied with a bucktail streamer. I like to work the jig by ripping it rapidly through the water, keeping it within several feet of the surface. As we drifted, I bounced the jig off the rocks and let it drop into the water. On the third cast, halfway back to the boat, as I pulled back to rip the jig, it hit what felt like a wall. The "wall" took off running, heading straight for the rocks and within seconds, I was reeling back the frayed end of my twenty pound test braided line. Fishing a jig in the rocks was going to be a challenge and I needed to come up with a different strategy.
Halfway down the rocky structure I hooked into a good one. I could feel the fish's power as it took the jig and ran upriver. It suddenly veered shoreward through a gap in the rock ledge into a shallow pool literally sitting on top of the rocks. The fish was contained in a twenty foot circle of water and had no place to go. So it went ballistic! It jumped!!.. it thrashed!!.. and it cleared half the water out of the pool before it settled down. The only thing I could do was to keep my rod tip high and the line tight and off the rocks. My guide had maneuvered our boat to the opening and as soon as the fish calmed, I eased it back into the river. It immediately took off downstream, stripping another fifty feet off the spool before settling into a steadily diminishing tug of war, which I finally won. Minutes later, my guide slipped the net under a beautiful ten pound blaze of color.
Fishing the river proved to be unpredictable. Each day was completely different from the day before. On our second day on the Matupiri we ran upriver from our camp. An hour or so upstream, the river became narrower and faster. Many stretches were no more than fifty feet across. We experienced some of the most beautiful scenery on the river in these upper reaches.
Peacock bass are a very different creature from anything I've fished for before. I've fished for tarpon, for trout, for bass, for salmon, for snook, for musky, for many species of wonderful game fish. I've loved catching them all, but none are quite the same as peacock bass. It is very true that some game fish make longer runs, some have more long term stamina and some are even more doggedly tenacious on the other end of the line. But nothing that I have ever caught displays anything like the sheer explosive power of the peacock bass. It's behavior and especially the ways in which it relates to structure have been likened to the largemouth bass. There is much validity to that comparison, at least until these creatures decide to strike a bait. The similarity ends right there unless you happen to know some largemouth bass who are on steroids and have a very bad attitude. The intensity of the strike and that first enraged run, when it realizes that something is not right, can be truly awe inspiring. It is completely out of proportion for their size and every time I experience it, I realize that it is totally inexplicable.
By the fourth day, I thought I had determined the pattern of the river and the fishing conditions. The river and the fish conspired to spring a total surprise on me. We headed downstream once again, fishing the same structure that we had worked so thoroughly the day before. This time, by early afternoon we had boated over 25 fish. Later that afternoon, I hooked up
The rest of the week saw a steady stream of beautiful peacocks testing our tackle, maintaining the unpredictable patterns of the first few days. On the afternoon of the last day, we fished our way further downstream, in order to rendezvous with the riverboat that would take us back to the town of Borba on the Rio Madeira, to meet our plane. The morning began disappointingly. We fished rocks, we fished stream inlets and we fished rapids, but when we stopped for lunch on a bluff overlooking a bend in the river, we had only a single fish to contemplate as we digested our meal. No one could have predicted the way things changed later that afternoon. As soon as we began fishing again, I hooked and landed a tough fifteen pounder on a jig, and minutes later a thirteen pounder burned my supply of adrenaline down even lower. It was only the beginning. We landed fish on woodchoppers, zara spooks, rattletraps, red fins and jigs at an increasingly rapid pace. The disappointing morning was quickly forgotten in this bonanza of peacocks. By late afternoon we had caught a good days worth of fish. When we saw the riverboat loom into view, steaming its way down river, I was pretty satisfied and ready to call it a day. My guide, however, said he had another spot we should try. So we blew right on by the riverboat and headed further downstream to a jagged rocky bank. The first cast brought a ten pounder to the boat and it didn't stop there. They pounded every bait we threw at them and when we reached the end of our drift and started again, they pounded us some more. Our peacock bonanza was turning into an absolute peacock blitz. As the sun went down and the riverboat once again loomed into view, we had caught an incredible total of forty six fish.
Copyright © 1997 Paul Reiss