There are countless species of catfish throughout the Amazon basin (actually, about 1300). They range in size from the diabolical candirú (Trichomycteridae), a tiny parasitic catfish that lodges itself in the urethral openings of other fish or animals (or occasionally, even humans) to the monstrous piraiba (Brachyplatystoma filamentosum), which has been reported to grow over 10-feet long and weigh in excess of 450-pounds).
Among the most pursued of the giants (above) is the brutish jau (Zungaro zungaro). A heavy bodied linebacker of a fish, the jau is surprisingly mobile (it is a common migrator) and agile (wait till you've got one on the end of your rod). These bareknuckle fighters have been estimated to exceed 200 lbs. and will wear the arms off of even the most determined anglers. They are experts at utilizing current and will lead anglers on a merry chase through rapids and waterfalls before giving you the satisfaction of bringing them to the boat.
The aforementioned piraiba is bigger yet. Longer, slimmer and more acrobatic than the jau, they have been known to jump; a very un-catfishlike behavior. Imagine 7-foot of catfish launching itself into the air! These creatures are not easy to bring to the boat.
Pirarara (Phractocephalus hemeliopteris) is an extremely husky catfish characterized by its striking black, white and red coloration. Its bony head and forequarters allows it to dominate river bottoms with no fear of predation. Although not an athletic performer on rod and reel, it is a tough bulldog-like fighter that doesn't quit until it's exhausted enough to have to leave the bottom. The question is, will you have enough stamina to fight it out.
Cut or whole bait, fished deep on a 14/0 circle hook is deadly for all three of these giant species. A stout rod/reel combo spooled with heavy braid is recommended. These monsters can literally tow a 16-foot boat upstream!
There are even several Amazonian catfish that have been known to take a fly, including several species collectively called sorubim (Pseudoplatystoma sp.). It is important to note that these catfish are nothing like our local 'cats' which tend to be bottom-feeding and rather lethargic. Many of the larger species of Amazonian catfish are migratory, extremely active and aggressive predators that live in fast water and actively feed with the other previously-mentioned gamefish. Pound for pound, these 'cats' are as strong - if not stronger - than any other fish you'll encounter on a rod and reel.
For much more information about these big cats,
see our new and expanded Angler's Guide to Amazon Catfish
Over 3000 species of fish occur in the Amazon. The order Siluriformes (catfish) is the most diverse and probably the most spectacular group of Amazon fishes. With 15 families, including over 1300 species, the Amazon accounts for almost half of all the catfish species in the world. Anglers pursue giant species of the Family Pimelodidae.
Although catfish have a very low mortality rate when caught with circle hooks, they must still be carefully resuscitated on release.
When do we say “fish” and when do we say “fishes”?
It seems confusing at first glance, but it’s really pretty simple. When you refer to more than one fish of the same species, the plural is still “fish”. For example, if you caught 10 peacock bass today, you caught 10 “fish”. When you refer to more than one species, the plural becomes “fishes”, as in in the “Fierce fishes of the Amazon”.