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Gamefish of the Amazon Basin

Amazon Gamefish Encyclopedia: A compendium of scientific and angling information for the fisherman - to help you better understand your quarry.

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Apapa (Sardinata) and Pescada - Saltwater Adaptees

Ever catch a violent, top-water-blasting SARDINE? Probably not, unless you’ve explored the Amazon. Apapá, (Pellona castelnaeana), also known as sardinata and as the Amazon pellona in the IGFA record book, is an exceptional, yet little-known migratory Amazon gamefish that strikes aggressively and fights like a miniature tarpon. A clupeid fish (think sardines, anchovies and herring), they average about 4 to 10-pounds, but can attain upwards of 16-pounds. Apapá look a bit like American shad, except that they’re way bigger and sport a brilliant golden holographic coloration. These 'golden freshwater sardines' typically reside in very specific rivers during the low water season and when found there will take both flies and lures with reckless abandon. During high water seasons, they will form gigantic migratory schools. Stumbling across such an aggregation of these fish can be an anglers dream. Apapá are extremely topwater oriented and actually prefer to take noisy surface flies and lures over subsurface alternatives. Zara spooks and popping-type surface baits are great for these scrappers.

Fly casters have the best luck throwing 2/0 Gaine's-style poppers on an 8-weight rod spooled with a weight-forward floating line. The strike of an apapá is nearly as violent as that of the ferocious peacock bass, and once hooked, these fish run and jump repeatedly just like a saltwater, silver-sided tarpon. Because they are a schooling fish, once one is located, more strikes are sure to follow. Apapá have been somewhat difficult to encounter on organized fishing trips because of their transient habits, however, recent exploratory trips have enabled Acute Angling to establish a productive sportfishery for these great fighters. See our Variety Floating Bungalow Trip. 

The pescada, also known as corvina (Plagioscion squamosissimus) is a freshwater croaker closely related to saltwater drum (including black drum and redfish). This fish is considered an 'incidental' species that is sometimes taken on deep-diving crank baits, jigs and/or streamers fished deep for other river oriented species. Once hooked, they'll fight surprisingly like a largemouth bass. Specimens up to 14-pounds have been taken. Like their better known saltwater brethren, pescada are a valued food fish in the Amazon.


The family Clupeidae includes herring, sardines and shad. Although mostly a marine family, the Amazon has more than ten species of these freshwater adapted schooling fishes. Aggressively predatory apapá are the largest. These surface-oriented piscivores have a mouth structure reminiscent of the tarpon, designed perfectly for attacking small insectivorous Amazon fishes.

Amazon gamefish species sardinata - apapa

Their jaw opens immediately in front of their eyes and is canted at approximately a 30-degree angle from the water's surface. Apapá attack in zig-zagging rushes, scooping their prey into the gaping mouth. Possessed with only a few small teeth, they depend on their speed and running-back agility to outmaneuver the baitfish on which they feed.

Migratory in nature, apapá move in medium to large schools close on the heels of huge baitfish migrations. It's an incredible sight to witness a wave form itself in perfectly still water and realize its made up entirely of fleeing silvery baitfish bodies. The bait, panicked by the slashing attack of a school of apapá sound like a rainstorm moving across the river.

Why marine fishes in fresh-water?

The Amazon today is a river flowing east that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. This wasn't always so.

Amazon pellona
Apapa or Amazon Pellona

Geological evidence suggests that tens of millions of years ago, the Amazon Basin was a huge Pacific ocean bay. When the Andes mountains pushed their way toward the sky, the Basin and its waters were permanently cut off from the Pacific.


Many marine animals, trapped into a now disconnected bay by the rising mountains, slowly adapted as the waters changed. Rainwater gradually freshened the system and ancestral rays, drums and other marine fishes gave rise to today's Amazonian freshwater versions.The waters ultimately forced their way through the eastern lowlands and found their way to the Atlantic, creating a complex river system with an array of adaptees from saltwater. 

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