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The Angler's Guide to Payara

A guide to the different species known as payara, their taxonomy, biology & how to catch them.

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PayaraHydrolycus armatus   — (Jardine & Schomburgk, 1841)

huge payara on the fly
A huge payara on the fly.

Hydrolycus armatus is the famed fanged monster of the Amazon, achieving sizes in excess of a meter (see the tape) and reaching almost 40 pounds. Although they may look like a nightmare come to life, they are really every fisherman's dream. They strike like a peacock bass, run like a tuna and cap it off with wild acrobatic leaps like a tarpon.

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

ID Key: Silvery, elongate body. Huge size. Wicked dentary (lower jaw) canines.

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Black spot in adipose fin, Black band in caudal and anal fins. Yellowish to reddish coloration on caudal fin Body and head silvery, darker dorsally. Adults: Exceed one meter in length and reach almost 40 pounds Enormous canines
121-154 lateral
line scales
large pectoral fins
H. tatauaia,
H. scomberoides
H. wallacei
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, , Columbia, Guyana, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco and Essequibo drainages.
Said to be migratory within freshwater systems, moving to high-gradient fast-water environments to spawn. Primarily occupies lotic (moving water) environments in highlands river systems. English: payara, dracula fish
Local: cachorra, pirangira, pirantera
39 pounds 4 oz.
Uraima Falls, Venezuela
1996

Fishing Tactics

Payara/Pirandira (Hydrolicus armatus) are ferocious gamefish. They are built somewhat like a large Atlantic salmon and share a similar metallic silver sheen. The mouth of the payara is what sets them apart from all other gamefish, as they sport an intimidating set of razor sharp fangs which protrude from the lower jaw like two glistening ivory framing nails and settle into openings in the upper jaw when the mouth is closed. A spare set of canines lies folded back in the lower jaw, presumably ready to move into place when a large canine tooth is lost.

Payara typically reside in high gradient rivers and often feed in extremely fast water. They will take both lures and flies with such savage force that one can easily rip the rod from your grasp if you are not paying close attention. Once hooked, a large payara in fast current can effortlessly peel off 100-yards of line or backing despite a thirty-pound leader, strong drag and stiff rod. Payara also make repeated salmon-style jumps, adding to the fish's sporting allure. Although payara receive much less press than peacock bass, there are anglers that feel they rate above peacocks in terms of both stamina and overall fighting ability (and that's saying something!)

Conventional gear for payara is virtually the same as that mentioned in the trophy peacock bass sections (but wire leader is essential). Payara are usually not surface oriented fish, so big Rapalas, 7-inch jerk baits, Rat-L-Trap type lures, spoons and jigs are most productive.

Payara are fly fished with a 9-10-weight fly rod and a sinking line from 300 to 500-grain, depending upon water conditions. They usually cannot be fished effectively with a full floating line, as they tend to be accessible mostly in deep, fast current. A heavy mono leader tipped with stout steel tippet is essential. Payara take a variety of large streamers, but prefer heavily-dressed Cloussers and Muddlers tied on a 5/0 heavy saltwater tarpon hook.

Many smaller species of payara/peixe-cachorro (Hydrolicus and Rhaphiodon Sp.) are found throughout South America. Although all are fast, vicious predators, most rarely exceed 5-pounds. One of the best places to catch giant trophy payara is on the Rio Travessao in Brazil.

References

Toledo-Piza, M. 2003. Cynodontidae (Cynodotids). p. 234-237. In: R.E. Reis, S.O. Kullander and C.J. Ferraris, Jr. (eds.) Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, Brasil.

Toledo-Piza, M., N.A. Menezes and G.M. Santos. 1999. Revision of the Neotropical fish genus Hydrolycus (Ostariophysi: Characiformes: Cynodontidae) with the description of two new species. Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters, 10 (3): 255-28

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