Fishing for Payara

You've got to love a face like this!

The fantastic dentures of the payara are a remarkable adaptation evolved to help it catch big, quick baitfish in fast-water jungle rivers. These powerful predators congregate in swirling eddies and rushing currents below waterfalls and rapids in South America's tropical, high-gradient rivers. Using their great hunting speed and power, payara strike a bait with amazing force and immediately take-off on line peeling, breathtaking runs punctuated by wild, acrobatic leaps. Explore this website and learn about this remarkable game fish's characteristics, taxonomy, fishing traits and how to catch them. And then call us. We know where to go and when to catch world-class payara. Contact us through this site to discuss or arrange the fishing trip of a lifetime.

Payara teeth
Payara teeth

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

Payara catch
A Payara from our Rio Travessao Multi-Species Variety trip

Explore below to learn more about payara:

  • The different species known as payara
  • Their taxonomy and biology
  • How to catch them
  • And how to arrange the fishing trip of a lifetime!
Huge Payara
Payara fangs
Huge Payara
A Huge Payara caught on a fly

Amazon Payara Taxonomy

Payara Classification Overview

Payara belong to the order Characiformes.

Together with the Catfishes (Order Siluriformes), the Characins account for almost 90% of the fish species diversity of the Amazon. And diverse is exactly what they are, both morphologically and ecologically. They range in size from minuscule 13mm long tetras to 80 pound plus tambaqui and meter long payara and trairao (wolfish). They range in shape from some of the roundest fish in the world to some of the most elongated. They include the curimatidae, bottom favoring detritus feeders with no teeth at all; to the piranhas, whose teeth we're all well aware of. They include a range of demeanors from some of the mildest mannered community dwellers and aquarium favorites to some of the fiercest and most exciting gamefish in the world.

Taxonomic Grouping Latin Descriptor English Translation
Kingdom Animalia animals
Phylum Chordata with spinal cords
Subphylum Vertebrata with back bones
Superclass Gnathostoma jawed vertebrates
Grade Osteichthes bony fishes
Class Actinopterygii ray-finned fishes
Division Teleostei completed bones
Subdivision Ostarioclupeiomorpha bone-shield-form
Superorder Ostariophysi bone-bladder
Series Otophysi ear-bladder
Order Characiformes Characins
Cynodontidae Psuedopimelodidae - Catfish Highlighted by the fantastic payara, this family is readily recognized by their oblique mouths, exaggerated canines and their well-developed pectoral fins. Several species are encountered by anglers. Within the genus Hydrolicus, anglers pursue the giant payara (H. armatus) primarily in fast-moving rivers. Anglers may also encounter the smaller H. scomberoides in lowlands rivers. Both are known as pirandira in Brazil. The more elongate and more widely distributed Rhaphiodon vulpinus is also sought by anglers. Called biara or chafalote, they provide excellent sport on light tackle.
Cynodontidae Subfamilies
Cynodontinae This subfamily of 8 species includes the genera Cynodon, Hydrolycus and Rhapiodon. These include the largest species and possess the longest canines of the family.
Roestinae This subfamily of 6 species includes the genera Gilbertolus and Roestes.

Preserved specimens photographed at INPA (National Institute of Amazon Research), Manaus, Brazil

References

Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2009. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, version (06/2009).

Géry, J. 1977. Characoids of the world. Tropical Fish Hobbyist Publications, Inc., Neptune City, NJ.

Mattox, G. M. T, Toledo-Piza, M., Oyakawa, O. T. and Armbruster, J. W., Taxonomic Study of Hoplias Aimara (Valenciennes, 1846) and Hoplias macrophthalmus (Pellegrin, 1907) (Ostariophysi, Characiformes, Erythrinidae), Copeia, 2006, 3, 516-528.

Nelson J, (2006) Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

Reis, R. E., S.O. Kullander, and C. J. Ferraris, Jr. (eds.) 2003. Check List of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America. Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS. Brasil. 620-621.

Payara World Records

World Records - If an outfitting company can be said to have a philosophy, Acute Angling's would go as follows; Since the traveling angler has selected an exotic fishing trip and not a stay at the Ritz-Carlton, it is reasonable to assume that what he most seeks is a great fishing experience, not a black-tie tourist extravaganza. Since it is our goal to satisfy our client's expectations, we believe it is appropriate for us to invest our energies and resources into providing the angler with safe and comfortable access to the best fishing that can be found, without concern for frills that do not serve either of those ends. As a result of this focus, Acute Angling has a long history of exploration and discovery. We constantly look for the road less traveled (or perhaps that should be water less paddled) in order to find that river that has never been fished or those fish that have never seen a lure. We don't really seek world records, just the waters where they might be found. The world records just follow naturally.

See a video montage about Russell Jensen's Amazon world records - caught with Acute Angling

Payara records with IGFA
Line Class Weight Angler Location Year Type Status
All Tackle 39 lb. 4 oz. Bill Keeley Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1996 AT* Current
2 lb. 7 lb. 2 oz. Capt. Kdu Magalhaes Xingu River, Brazil 2000 LC* Current
4 lb. 18 lb. 0 oz. Shoichiro Kawai Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1998 LC Current
6 lb. 18 lb. 8 oz. Carlos Barantes Araya Uraima Falls, Venezuela 2003 LC Current
8 lb. 23 lb. 0 oz. Lance Glaser Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1996 LC Current
12 lb. 32 lb. 0 oz. Lance Glaser Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1996 LC Current
16 lb. 32 lb. 8 oz. Lance Glaser Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1996 LC Current
20 lb. 33 lb. 8 oz. Bill Keeley Uraima Falls, Venezuela 1999 LC Current
* Note - A T = All Tackle Record LC = Line Class Record
Biara record with IGFA
Species Scientific Name Weight Angler Trip Year Type Status
Biara Rhapiodon vulpinus 4 lbs. 10 oz. Marcio Borges
de Oliveira
Xingu River, Brazil 2000 AT* Current
* Note - A T = All Tackle Record LC = Line Class Record

More Record-sized Amazon Exotics

Many of our anglers have caught world-record size fishes and have simply elected not to subject them to the extra handling and time necessitated by weighing and properly documenting their catch.

Acute Angling's Amazon Exotic Species records with IGFA
Species Scientific Name Weight Angler Trip Year Type Status
Pescada Plagioscion squamosissimus 11 lbs. 4 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Travessao 2009 AT* Current
Piranha Serrasalmus rhombeus 7 lb and up Russell Jensen Rio Travessao various AT Past
Piranha Serrasalmus rhombeus 8 lbs. 7 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Travessao 2008 AT Current
Apapa Pellona castelnaeana 7 lb. 0 oz. Paul Reiss Rio Caura 2003 LC* Past
* Note - A T = All Tackle Record LC = Line Class Record
Acute Angling's Amazon catfish records with IGFA
Species Scientific Name Weight Angler Trip Year Type Status
Piraiba Brachyplatystoma filamentosum 295 lb. 8 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Travessao 2007 AT* Current
Jau Zungaro zungaro 109 lb. Russell Jensen Rio Urariquera 2005 AT Current
Jundia Leiarius marmoratus 25 lb. 12 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Travessao 2008 AT Past
Jundia Leiarius marmoratus 28 lb. 11 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Travessao 2009 AT Current
Redtail Phractocephalus hemioliopterus 70 lb. 8 oz. Paul Reiss Rio Alegria 2003 LC* Past
Redtail Phractocephalus hemioliopterus 16 lb. 6 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Urariquera 2005 LC* Past
Jandi Rhamdia sebae 9 lb. 8 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Urariquera 2003 AT Current
* Note - A T = All Tackle Record LC = Line Class Record
Acute Angling's Amazon catfish record with the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame
Species Scientific Name Weight Angler Trip Year Status
Jundia Leiarius marmoratus 23 lb. 8 oz. Larry Larsen Rio Travessao 2008 Current

PayaraHydrolycus armatus — (Jardine & Schomburgk, 1841)

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.

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

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 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

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 or vampire fish
Local: cachorra, pirangira, pirantera
39 pounds 4 oz.
Uraima Falls, Venezuela
1996

PayaraHydrolycus scomberoides—(Cuvier, 1816)

Hydrolycus scomberoides, is readily distinguished from its congeners by 3 features. It possesses serrations on the exposed portion of its scales; It has a small black spot on the base of the innermost pectoral fin ray; The base of the pelvic fin is dorsal of the ventral profile of the body.

Hydrolycus scomberoides
Hydrolycus scomberoides

ID Key:

Silvery, elongate body. Unique black spot on pectoral fin base.

Fishing Tactics

If you have information. please contact us:

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Black spot on pectoral fin base. Dark blotch above pectoral fin. Adipose fin with dark pigmentation. Mostly silvery, darker dorsally, with dark pigmentation on anal and caudal fins. Adults: Museum specimens up to 300mm Black spot on pectoral fin.
93-106 lateral
line scales
Hydrolycus armatus
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, , Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon, above Tapajos and Rio Apure drainages.
If you have information. please contact us: If you have information. please contact us:    

PayaraHydrolycus tatauaia —(Toledo-Piza, 1999)

As with all members of the genus, H. tatauaia has a laterally compressed body. The greatest body depth occurs between the pectoral and pelvic fins. It's slightly concave head profile and curved predorsal body gives it a humped appearance. In life, H. tatauaia has distinct reddish-orange coloration on its tail.

payara - Hydrolycus tatauaia
Payara: Hydrolycus tatauaia - Photo from Toledo-Piza, 1999 (see below)

ID Key:

Silvery, elongate body.

Fishing Tactics

If you have information. please contact us:

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): 255-280

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Dark elongate blotch behind opercule. Reddish-orange caudal fin. Silvery body, darker along dorsal portion of head and body. Adults: museum specimens up to almost 1/2 meter (18 inches). 102 - 119 lateral
line scales
Hydrolycus armatus
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Guyana, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon, Madeira, Tapajos, Negro, Branco, Xingu, Orinoco, Essequibo and Rupununi drainages.
If you have information. please contact us: If you have information. please contact us: The scientific name is from the Tupi word meaning "fire tail".  

PayaraHydrolycus wallacei —(Toledo-Piza, 1999)

As with all members of the genus Hydrolycus, H. wallacei has a laterally compressed body. The greatest body depth occurs from the pectoral fin base and extends vertically. Body depth decreases posteriorly. Unlike other members of the genus, it has relatively smaller canines on the lower jaw and relatively larger scales along the lateral line.

Payara - Hydrolycus wallacei
Payara: Hydrolycus wallacei - Photo from Toledo-Piza, 1999 (see below)

ID Key:

Silvery, elongate body. Large pectoral fins, fleshy adipose fin and no scales on anal fin rays.

Fishing Tactics

If you have information. please contact us:

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

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Vertically elongate dark blotch on lateral surface of body. All fins black. Body and head coloration dark, more silvery on anterior portion of body. Adults: Museum specimens up to 335mm (about 14 inches) ateral line scales
approx. 95
H. tatauaia,
H. scomberoides
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela.

River Basins: Rio Negro, Rio Orinoco and Rio Casiquiare drainages.
If you have information. please contact us: If you have information. please contact us: Scientific name given after A. R. Wallace, an early Amazon explorer from the mid-1800's  

BiaraRhapiodon vulpinus—(Spix & Agassiz, 1829)

Rhapiodon is widely distributed throughout most of South America's major river basins. Looking like a stretch version of a payara (Hydrolycus spp.), the biara is a ready adversary for anglers, aggressively striking artificial lures often meant for other species. The specimen at right weighed 6 pounds and would have been a world record had we had solid ground to weigh it on. We've seen them even larger, exceeding 8 pounds.

biara
Biara caught on a recent Amazon fishing trip.

ID Key:

Silvery, elongate body. Unique ribbon-like whiskers.

Fishing Tactics

If you have information. please contact us:

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Occasional, irregular black or dark markings ventrally, otherwise fairly uniform coloration. Body silvery above. Abdomen white. Adults: Said to exceed one meter in length and reach 18 pounds Long, flat whiskers  
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco, Essequibo and Parana drainages.
Said to be migratory within freshwater systems. Primarily occupies lotic (moving water) environments in highlands river systems. English: Flatwhiskered catfish
Local: Barba-chata
16 pounds 15 oz.
Rio Xingu
2001

Other Payara—Family Cynodontidae

The family consists of 5 genera, with only 13 species recognized. Hydrolycus armatus is prized by sports fishermen and grows the largest, over 1 meter and almost 40 pounds. Rhaphiodon can reach 650 mm but is lighter bodied, reaching about 8 pounds. Other genera rarely exceed 300 mm and include; Roestes, Cynodon and Gilbertolus.

Roestes
Payara: Roestes

ID Key:

All species are recognizable as Cynodontidae by their oversized pectoral fins, oblique jaws and well-developed canines.

Fishing Tactics

The only species generally targeted is Hydrolycus armatus. For information on catching them see our menu above for more information. Other Cynodontidae are generally encountered by anglers pursuing peacock bass, giant payara or other larger Amazon predators.

If you'd like to share information photos or fishing experiences, please contact us:

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Varied within the family, however none of the 13 species possesses particulary noteworthy patterns or markings. Most have subtle dark patches, particularly on posterior fins. Mostly silvery fishes. Some coloration ranging from yellow to red on posterior fins. Adults: Ranging in size from over 1 meter (H. armatus) to less than 100mm (Gilbertolus alatus). Large canines
oblique jaws
laterally
compressed bodies
large pectoral fins
13 species in 5 genera.
2 subfamilies; Cynodontinae and Roestinae
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Venezuela. Argentina, Uruguay

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco, Essequibo, Uruguay and Parana drainages.
Most species live in mid to surface waters in rivers, lakes and flooded forests. They are predatory and mostly piscivorous. The most prized angling quarry, the giant payara, (Hydrolycus armatus) is typically pursued in fast water rivers and sometimes in their more lentic outflows. English: Most are called payara when encountered by anglers.
Local: An enormous variety of names, regionally applied and usually descriptive of their dentition and flat body shapes.