Peacock bass have made Venezuela's
Lake Guri their home - together with pugnacious payara, they've turned
it into a tough neighborhood.
Venezuela's Lake Guri Peacock Bass
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've stopped 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.
I looked out at the seemingly endless vista
of dark water studded with the grey skeletons of thousands of dead trees
and I could feel the pressing hugeness of the place. This was Lake
Guri in southeastern Venezuela, Estado Bolivar. The gigantic, manmade
impoundment is one of the only places outside of the Amazon basin to successfully
house fishable populations of Cichla temensis, the largest species
of peacock bass. I was going to have the pleasant task of fishing
it for the next few days to explore the possibility of creating a new fishing
package for my clients. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
The dark lake Guri water was surprisingly clear
under the wind-chopped surface. Our native guide, Frank, (yeah, I
know, not a very exotic name for a Spanish speaking, Venezuelan outdoorsman),
had stopped our boat just off a sharp point of land bisecting the
back end of a big cove. Frank took a look at the garishly colored
selection of rattling, clanking, propeller-driven lures I had brought with
me from Brazil and silently shook his head. He patiently explained
to me, in Spanish spoken slowly enough so that even I could understand,
that this wasn't exactly the best gear for Venezuela. Guri peacocks are
partial to whites, blues and silvers, to medium sized crankbaits, more
subtle surface lures and slowly
retrieved jigs. Well, I only had what I 'd brought and I'd have to
make the best of it. I picked up my lighter rig with a wild-looking
red and yellow streamer jig tied on and started fishing. Out of the
corner of my eye, I could see Frank wince.
On my second cast I felt the unmistakable 'whump' of a peacock
pounding my rapidly retrieved, shallow running jig. I missed it!
There went my chance of a quick redemption in Frank's eyes. Not only
did the foolish American bring the wrong gear, but he missed his
chance at hooking the one fish in the lake stupid enough to try to eating
the weird stuff. Surprisingly, though, I felt a little more hopeful
now. Whenever, you use a lure that you are very confident with, you
tend to work it a little harder, use it a little better and cast it a little
more accurately. With my confidence restored, I went to work, fanning
casts to the endless structure just off the point. Within minutes,
my jig was slammed by a heavy fish. This time I was right on him,
with a quick and solid hookset. I was instantly rewarded by a line
With some frenzied rod work and a lot of luck I
managed to lead the fish away from the forest of dead trees and into the
more or less open water paralleling the shore. By now Frank, and
my fishing partner Humberto were both shouting encouragement and entreating
me not to lose this big fish. As the fight went on, I wondered about
how differently this fish behaved compared to the Brazilian peacocks I
was used to. With a sudden reversal of direction, the fish crossed
in front of the
boat and headed
off to our starboard side. I caught a glint of silver and suddenly
this fish's atypical behavior started to make sense. "I think
it's a payara!" I shouted. Just then the fish changed direction again
and leaped three feet into the air. The silver body, forked black
tail and outrageous dentures left no doubt in anyone's mind that this was
indeed a hefty specimen of Venezuela's strange vampire fish. A few
minutes later we boated and released the beautiful 12 pounder.
Amazingly, its razor sharp teeth hadn't touched the 14 pound test line
attached to my jig, but had very effectively shredded away the bucktail
with which it had been adorned.
I had forgotten all about the payara in Lake Guri.
What a nice surprise. I can't think of a better incidental species
to hook up with in between peacocks. But it wasn't really in between,
was it? I had yet to catch my first peacock. The sun had not
risen above the treeline yet and the day was still young.
Lake Guri's vast size provides great cover
and habitat variety for peacock bass. They have a lot of room to
move, and they take advantage of it. Although sheltered coves consistently
produce well, there is an awful lot of water in between. Trolling
proved to be an effective way of combining travel with fish locating.
As we moved from one fishy cove to another we dragged Rattletraps or Rapalas
(I did manage to turn up a reasonably colored shad patterned example) behind
us. As the morning progressed, we located many fish-holding spots
in this manner. In one of these spots, we found what appeared to
be a street gang of teenage peacocks. They seemed to be competing
for who got the honor of trashing my Bomber Long A. Finally
a pair of them
settled on one hook apiece. What a strange fight they gave, pulling
in opposite directions. Every time we hooked up trolling, we'd stop
and work the area casting. It usually produced another fish or two.
When we'd reach a sheltered area where the wind couldn't churn up the surface,
I'd reach for my topwater lures.
I love catching peacock bass on the surface.
The nerve-jarring strikes are ample reward for patiently threading a popper
or a walker or a woodchopper through the skeletal flooded jungle.
The afternoon proved quiet and windfree, so I happily put my Super Spook
to work. Frank approved of my sedately marked grey and white pattern
and guided us to a favorite cove of his. We slowly worked our way around
a grass bordered island and it wasn't long before Humberto and I were each
treated to some surface action. As Humberto boated a beautiful 6
pounder, I made the acquaintance of a remarkably aggressive 8 pounder.
He crashed my bait three times before getting it firmly in his bony jaws.
In no time at all he definitively proved that Guri peacocks are just as
crazy as their Brazilian counterparts, with wrenching head-jerking runs
and a showy gill-rattling jump.
As I'm sure everyone knows, all this fishing
research is hard work. So, as the shadows got longer in the afternoon,
Frank headed us back to the lodge. As I enjoyed a beer on the run
back, I considered my tally of 12
peacocks and 2 payara (I got another one trolling later on in the day).
All in all, a very good day. But the wackiest fish of the trip
was still to come.
Back at the lodge we enjoyed tasty appetizers
and liberal helpings of Humberto's favorite 21 year old scotch while we
relaxed before dinner. A young three-toed sloth was currently calling
the thatched roof of the dining room home. We chatted and followed
his ponderous meanderings around the roof. By the time the heaping
platters of delicious Venezuelan steaks were served, I was certain that
the sloth was starting to pick up speed. After dessert, while we
chatted, Humberto kept filling my glass and the sloth began to look like
a sprinter. By the time I was ready for bed, he was moving too fast
for me to follow.
Peacock Bay Lodge, the brainchild of owner, Harley
Lezama, is an elegant and comfortable haven on the southern shores of Lake
Guri. The clean and spacious rooms, complete with private bathrooms
and hot showers are a far cry from some of the primitive jungle accommodations
I've sampled over the years. Harley has put together a fine staff,
with exemplary service. The lodge's lakeside location allows quick
access to the fish and structure-rich southern coves. That means
that anglers can spend all of their time on the water fishing, not running
for hours to reach the fish. Anglers fish two to a boat with
a native guide at the controls. Lake Guri provides productive and
accessible fishing from September through March, with peacocks, payara,
piranha and morocoto (a hefty pacu-like fish that greedily strikes small
sub-surface baits) providing ample entertainment for anglers.
The next morning, as I attempted to shake
the cobwebs of Humberto's cocktails out of my brain and get my gear together,
Frank told us we would try a few other places that day. Trolling
our way eastward, I promptly boated, first a 10 and then a 12 pound peacock
to start off my day. A quiet cove yielded a few small peacocks who
just couldn't lay off my newly retied red and yellow jig. And yet
another cove introduced me to morocoto. These pugnacious, dish-shaped
characins can grow as large as 20 pounds.
Trolling a medium sized rapala, I hooked what at first felt like a giant,
crazed piranha. When we swung it aboard in the net, Frank explained
that the brightly colored silver, black and red battler was a morocoto,
much more delicious than a piranha and without the razor sharp teeth.
I eagerly tied my smallest rattletrap on my light rod and settled back
to have some fun. Sure enough, we promptly caught several of the
3 and 4 pounders that were populating the shallow back end of the cove.
Two of them went into the fish box for a meal later on.
After relaxing awhile with our boxed lunch
of sandwiches and a delicious sliced frittata, we headed off for another
cove that Frank promised held big peacocks, ripe for the taking with a
surface lure. We motored our way into a cove that looked as big as
San Francisco Bay. This wasn't a cozy little backwater, this big
cove was intimidating. The landscape of dead trees stood like ominous
sentinels stretching into the distance. With just one cast per tree,
we could be here for hours.
By the time the back shore came into view, we had
been there for hours. Almost two hours of casting into what looked
like "fish-city" hadn't yielded a single strike. By then, I was casting
and retrieving mechanically, my mind having long since shut down.
Of course this is when "it" (whatever "it" may be) always happens.
Sure enough, as I was staring into the water, watching mindlessly while
I lifted my lure for another cast, a huge peacock broke the surface right
under my nose, in a last second rush at the
departing lure. A split second later he streaked off under the boat,
frustrated by the disappearing bait. I had wound it almost to the
tip of my rod ready to cast again, so that I couldn't even swirl it around
for him. I did the next best thing. I just let it drop back
into the water. With a lunge and a huge swirl, the maniacal fish
came out from under the boat, grabbed the Super Spook and headed for the
hills. With my thumb controlling the spool, I let him freely take
line, while I lifted my rod tip, cranked the reel handle over and lowered
the rod back down. When it all came tight, I leaned back and set
the hook. The fish went nuts!
There was something strange about hooking a fish
right at the boat and then watching him run, jump and rattle his gills
off into the distance. It felt like a backward version of every other
fish I had ever tangled with. It didn't take him long to take me
all the way back to the base of the big, dead tree that I had originally
cast to. Now the fight turned around again, and things started to
work the way they should have from the beginning. When this fearless
ambusher finally got back to the boat, he was tired and slipped easily
into the net. We weighed and released a fat, 14-pound male peacock
with a crazy look in his eye. I guess he figured that our boat, sitting
so conveniently in his territory, made perfectly good structure.
Add this to your fishing information file - the next strike might just
be right under your boat.
in the fierce fishes of South America
us to fish for trophy class peacock bass,
and more in the incredible Amazon.
We are pleased
to be able to arrange trips to the right place at the right time, anywhere
in the world, with the most reputable, professional outfitters. References
are available upon request.
Paul Reiss at (866) 832-2987 - E-Mail
Paul Reiss, or:
Garry Reiss at (866) 431-1668 - E-Mail