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'Blackwater' Peacock Bass

by Paul Reiss

After spending a week fishing for peacock bass on a beautiful river in Amazonia, what could I do to follow up? Simple, go fish another one! I spent my first week of October exploring the headwaters of the Rio Matupiri. The fishing on the Matupiri was great, but a week later, I had to call the fishing on the Rio Caures incredible. We caught some of the biggest peacocks I have ever seen. After leaving the Matupiri, I headed off to Barcellos, to make my way to the Rio Caures. (Pronounce it "cow-race".) Barcellos is an attractive, prosperous river town known for its importance in the worldwide tropical fish trade. Yes, those beautiful aquarium fish we've all seen in the pet shops come from many of the same waters we fish for peacock bass. We even, on occasion, hook up with larger specimens of some of the aquarium favorites, such as aruana (sometimes labeled as arrowana) and collossoma. Quiet sections of river, late at night, when probed with a spotlight, will often become a collecting area for dozens, even hundreds of varieties of brilliantly colored aquarium jewels. Just dipping a net into these waters will often yield beautiful specimens of discus, tetras and other exotic fish.

peacock bass fishing - doubleheader
My Fishing Buddy, Joe Fanelli (left) and I hold up a doubleheader.

One of the most exciting aspects of fishing for peacock bass is the incredible intensity of the strike. Coupled with an angler's high level of anticipation, it can often provoke surprising reactions. When a large and powerful fish causes a ruckus while striking your bait, the first reaction is often to yank it away, either in excitement or panic. Peacock fishermen learn that the best plan is to relax, keep the lure moving, speed it up a bit if it's missed, and set the hook when you feel the fish tighten the line. Sounds great, but just try to keep your head when some finned maniac pops your lure six feet into the air. I lose my cool almost every time.

That's why I was so pleased with myself when my biggest fish of the trip came around. My partner and I had begun fishing a very shallow and unlikely looking lagoon in late morning. Things had gotten quiet and we weren't expecting too much from this spot. Three casts into the lagoon, a fourteen pounder exploded all over my woodchopper. I set the hook and squared myself to do battle. My partner began reeling his lure in to give me room and to avoid any snafus. As he cranked in the last few feet of line, an eight pounder nailed his bait right next to the boat. So much for obstacle free fishing! These guys were going to challenge both of us at the same time. After a lot of "Uh Ohs" and "Watch Outs" (and even one or two "Oh Shits") we managed to boat both ends of our doubleheader. Well, this unlikely looking lagoon was going to come alive after all.

We fished our way to the end of the lagoon where the water began to get really shallow, less than two feet deep in places. We each caught several more nice peacocks along the way. At the very end, I expected at best a small peacock or perhaps a trieda, a bowfin-like denizen of the shallows. I switched over to a "zara spook" in order to rest my weary arms and hands. It was tied onto a Loomis fast-action, medium light baitcaster with a Calcutta 251 reel. In order to maximize my lure "feel" and to easily walk the spook, I was rigged with 20lb. test Fireline. The light rig with its relatively slow retrieve was an effortless tool compared to slinging the heavy rods and baits I had been using earlier.

peacock bass
The author and a beautiful 21pound peacock. Note the hump on top of the fish's head and the Zara Spook hanging from his lip.

I began to work my spook along the shoreline. I had probed about one fourth of the way around the curved end of the lagoon when a fish swirled behind my spook. I guess I was thinking small, so I reacted calmly and actually followed my premeditated plan. I increased the pace of the spook from a steady swish-a-swish, swish-a-swish to a quicker swish-swish, swish-swish. A big vee rose from the surface, curved around behind the spook and whacked it forward a good yard. Surprisingly my head stayed attached, I stayed calm and cranked the lure's speed up to a fast swic, swic, swic. A wall of water formed behind the bait and I watched as a monster peacock inhaled my spook and ran. I let my line tighten and then jammed the hooks home. It wasn't until that moment that I realized just how big a fish I had.

As soon as the fish felt the hooks, it took off at an angle to the boat and quickly stripped 100 feet of line off my relatively lightly set drag. The shallow water and the fairly featureless round end of the lagoon gave me all the tactical advantages. There was no real cover in reach for the big peacock, so I let it run and worked it back and let it run again without concern for losing the fish. I felt it would be a better strategy than to try to put pressure on him and risk straightening the hooks on the Zara Spook. After half a dozen runs the big fish tired enough so that we could slip him into the net and bring him into the boat.

When I hoisted the big fellow up on my Bogagrip scale, we all whistled at the reading of 21 pounds. A quick tape
measurement showed a length of 37 inches and a girth of 21? . The fully developed hump on the fish's head told us that this was a big male in spawning condition. At another time in the spawning cycle, this fish could easily have carried up to 24 pounds on his frame with a girth of 24 inches. What a beauty! We snapped off a few photos and then lowered the big fish back into the water. The Bogagrip's holding mechanism doesn't puncture the fish's jaw, so my trophy had nothing worse than a sore spot on his lip to recover from. He finned for a few moments and then, with a single flick of his broad tail he headed back toward the bank he came from. Moments as exhilarating and satisfying as this make lifelong memories. The image of the big peacock gracefully leaving will stay in my mind for ever. Boy, was I going to brag when we got back to camp!

peacock bass
My fishing partner with a twenty pounder.

As it turned out, there was a lot of bragging going on that evening. It seems that our successful day was shared by all our fellow anglers in the camp. The first few days of fishing the Caures had been very good for almost everyone, but this day seemed to be a peacock holiday. Every evening, when the boats return, we sit and relax together at twilight enjoying appetizers and drinks. It's a chance for the anglers to compare notes and socialize a bit before dinner. This time, as the fishermen returned from their day's adventures, most brought tales of catches of more than 30 fish per angler. There was a 20 pounder, an 18 and a half, and several between 15 and 17 pounds. I had been sure that I would be the only boaster. Well, at least my 21 pounder squeezed by as the biggest of the day. It's a real nice feeling when a whole camp of fisherpersons can spend the evening together, basking in the glow of their successes.

The week on the Rio Caures continued as it had begun, with great fishing on an almost daily basis. It seemed that the fish had some sort of schedule of their own, turning on at one time on one day and at a completely different time on another. On one day a certain lagoon would produce twenty fish and on the next day none, but almost automatically, another lagoon would take its place as the hot spot. The week continued to produce huge fish including a 20 pounder for my fishing partner, Joe. It was his biggest peacock ever.

We had great days fishing on the Caures and we had great evenings back at camp too. Every night brought a wonderful meal cooked and served by the camp's expert staff. The meals always began with a unique and delicious soup and a fresh salad. Each dinner featured several excellent main dishes, including steaks, pasta, chicken and a wide sampling of the local fish. Meals ended with delicious and unusual Brazilian desertsand were accompanied by Cokes, Pepsis, local beers and imported wines. It's easy to forget that you're in the middle of the jungle, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, when you sit down to such a sumptuous meal every evening. Jungle life has it's perks!

No trip to the Amazon is complete without a spotlighting adventure. Vast numbers of Amazon wildlife species are nocturnal. A great way to see some of the rare and secretive creatures of the river at night is to drift quietly in a fishing boat equipped with a high powered spotlight. The light will attract many species of small, brilliantly colored tropical fishes right to the boat. I find it amazing to be able to dip a net into the river water and scoop up spectacular specimens of discus as though you were netting in an aquarium. Some of the more acrobatic species of fish will often jump right into the boat. Shining the spotlight along the banks sometimes illuminates one of the many terrestrial denizens of the river environment, such as tapirs, capybaras, pacas, deer and if you are extremely lucky, one of the three species of big cats native to the Amazon, the ocelot, puma and jaguar.

caiman
The mighty spotlighting crew and their hapless prey.

Playing the light along the surface of the waters will always turn up specimens of the two more common native species of caiman. The spectacled and black caiman, together with their smaller neotropical relatives and the American alligator, form the family Alligatoridae. These Amazon reptiles feed mainly on fish, small mammals and birds, which they capture primarily in the water. They are very rarely aggressive toward humans, but the sheer size of larger specimens makes respectful caution a good idea. But not for our rambunctious group! A little specimen was quickly grabbed while the light held him mesmerized. This just whetted the appetite of our Brazilian guides and a few of our more insane fishermen. A few minutes later we entranced a six foot specimen with our light. You need to catch these fellows from behind, making sure that you clamp their jaws shut in the process. As our motley crew of mighty hunters tried to sneak around behind this caiman in the shallow waters, a thought blossomed somewhere in his reptilian brain and suggested that this might be a good time to head for the hills. With a lunge and a great splash, the caiman turned and scrambled right past his stalkers. He didn't run far, however. Just a few feet up the bank, he buried his head in a tangle of branches and like the proverbial ostrich, left the rest of his body out in plain sight. Our intrepid reptile chasers went splashing through shallows carrying the spotlight and the car battery that powered it right up to our quarry's ineffective refuge. They made short work of dragging it out and hauling it back to the boat. After ferrying our captives back to camp for a photo session, we released them on the shoreline. It took them a few moments to gather their wits and go splashing off. I think they're still wondering what that whole thing was all about.

When the fantastic week on the Caures came to a close, we motored our way back to Barcellos to meet the charter flight returning us to Manaus. The men and women in our group had such a great week together, that we spent our day in Manaus as a group, sightseeing, dining and partying till it was time to fly back to the states. I hated to see my October in Amazonia come to a close after my great trip to the Matupiri and the Caures, but I missed my family and it was, after all, time to head home. Besides, I'll be back in Brazil again in February!

FYI

Guided peacock bass trips are available throughout most of September, October, November, December, January and February. For more information on booking a Peacock Bass fishing adventure, contact:
Paul Reiss at (866) 832-2987
E-Mail Paul Reiss, or:
Garry Reiss at (866) 431-1668
E-Mail Garry Reiss

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