Giant Catfish of the Amazon

Amazon Catfish Central - Knowledge Base

The Amazon is the catfish capitol of the world! No river system, anywhere in the world, is as rich in catfish species as the Amazon basin. There are over 3000 different species of fish that occur in the Amazon. Amazingly, almost half of them are catfish! The order Siluriformes, or catfish, (along with the Characiformes) are the most diverse order of Amazon fishes and probably the most spectacular. With 15 families, including over 1300 species, Amazon catfish not only dominate the Amazon's aquatic diversity, but they account for almost half of all the catfish species in the world. Ranging in size from tiny, 5mm candiru to the gigantic, three meter long Brachyplatystoma filamentosum, or 'piraiba', these fishes occupy tremendously diverse ecological niches. Some are bottom dwellers, some nocturnal. Some are parasites and some are roving predators. Some are completely smooth while others are heavily covered with bony armor plates.

The dense, inaccessible Amazon jungles have kept many species from the prying eyes and curious observation of man, leaving the biological and ecological aspects of many of these Siluriformes poorly known. There are certainly species yet to be discovered. Meanwhile, the worldwide angling community has, until recently, seen nothing like these catfish. Room had to be made in the record books for a half-dozen Brazilian species ranging up to and well over the 100 pound plus category. These giants belong to the large and diverse Family, Pimelodidae. Acute Angling's clientele has already set new all-tackle world records for the piraiba, with a 295 pound monster, for the jau with a 109 pound specimen, and twice for the jundira, in several high gradient Amazon rivers. There are many angling records waiting to be set in Brazil and, as big as these behemoths get, they won't be set by "noodlers"!

Giant Catfish
Three of our guides lift a 109 pound Jau, a world-record Giant Amazon Catfish
Piraba Giant Amazon Catfish
At 295 lbs, this piraiba when caught was the largest verified catfish ever caught on rod and reel. The record today has reached over 350 pounds!

Amazon Catfish Taxonomy - Catfish Classification Overview

The Catfish Order (Siluriformes)

All species of catfish belong to the order Siluriformes, within the grade Osteichthes or bony fishes. Catfish are found the world over with approximately 2,900 species known. They are among the most successful of Amazon fish orders with approximately 1300 Neotropical species, accounting for almost half of all the world's catfish species and almost half of Amazonia's enormous overall fish diversity.

Amazon catfish have long had great commercial importance as food fish, aquarium fish and more recently as some of the world's most exciting sportfish. Although many are bottom-dwellers (benthic), there are also a great number of predatory, pelagic (open-water) feeders, with a free-swimming (and free-fighting) habit. This, coupled with their sheer size has brought them to the attention of anglers and created new recognition of their exciting sporting potential.

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 Siluriformes catfishes

Catfish - General Characteristics

Catfish do not possess scales and they range from entirely smooth-skinned species to groups of fishes almost entirely covered by bony plates. Like the rest of the fishes in the series Otophysi, catfish possess a series of bones called the Weberian apparatus that connects their swim bladders with their inner ears for the transmission of sound. Unlike peacock bass (and other Perciforme fishes), catfish jaws are not protrusible. They generally possess small, rasp-like teeth (although there are exceptions with complex dental apparatus) and most species possess up to 4 pairs of barbels. Species with bony fin rays have the unique ability to lock the the spiny second ray of their pectoral and dorsal fins, as many anglers who've ever handled (or mishandled) a bullhead probably know painfully well. A well-developed adipose fin is usually present.

Most Siluriformes possess various adaptations associated with a benthic habitat. Some may have a vertically compressed form, like the redtail (or pirarara), while others may possess a reduced swim bladder. Their association with deep holes or nocturnal feeding habits has led to great dependence on and development of sensory organs other than sight. Many species have highly developed olfactory (smell) or chemical sense receptors, allowing them to find food in the relatively low light conditions associated with their habitat. Many benthic catfish have reduced visual acuity.

Catfish - Variability and Specializations

In spite of their overall similarities, Amazon catfish possess an incredible range of variation in form, behavior, habitat, feeding habits and specializations. They have adapted to every available ecological niche in Amazonia. There are species that feed on plankton, species that are piscivorous (fish eating) and even groups of parasitic species. There are broadly built species, long, thin species and species ranging from some of the world's smallest to some of the world's largest freshwater fishes.

Like many other Amazon fishes, catfish taxonomy has been somewhat problematic due to the great difficulty of thoroughly exploring and sampling this enormous region. Due to a constant stream of newly discovered species, catfish taxonomy has undergone many recent updates and revisions. Currently, scientists recognize 15 families of Amazon catfish, with several other families represented elsewhere in South America.

References

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

Lundberg, J. G., and M. W. Littmann. 2003. Family Pimelodidae. in CLOFFSCA: Check List of Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America.

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

Stiassney M, et al (1996) Interrelationships of Fishes. Academic Press. San Diego, Califórnia, USA

Rapp Py-Daniel, L, (2007) Classification of Fishes, Graduate Course; coursework, reference material and lectures, INPA (National Institute of Amazon Research), Manaus, Brazil

Neotropical and South American Catfish Families
Diplomystidae Called " Velvet Catfishes", their skin is entirely covered with papillae. Considered to be the most primitive of Siluriforme families, they lack some of the characters shared by other families. Found in small waters (typically at high altitudes) in Argentina and Chile. No species of angling interest
Cetopsidae Cetopsidae - catfishSmooth bodied catfishes with an absence of spines. Their dorsal fin is placed unusually forward on their bodies. Known as whale-like catfishes due to their shape (not their size). Amazonian, but not of angling interest, some species are notorious for attacking and damaging live fishes in nets. A number of undiscovered and undescribed species may yet remain in this family.
Helogenidae Helogenidae - catfishSmooth bodied catfishes with an absence of spines, their dorsal fin is placed posterior (rearward) on their bodies. Well developed barbels. Amazonian but not of angling interest. This Family was combined with Cetopsidae in a recent redescription.
Aspredinidae banjo catfish Known as banjo catfish due to their unique shape. There are 12 genera in the family, occurring primarily in Amazonia. Characterized by rows of tubercules and a flattened anterior (front) body, these catfishes lack an adipose fin and have a very small gill slit. Small-sized catfishes, typically less than 12 inches in length. None are of angling interest, however they are popular in the aquarium trade.
Nematogeneidae Mountain catfishes of central Chile. Elongated and entirely smooth bodied, they possess three pairs of barbels and lack adipose fins. This family currently includes only one known species, Nematogenys inermes. Not of interest to anglers.
Trichomycteridae TRichomyteridae - Catfish With over 200 species, this family includes parasitic species of which legends are made, notably the infamous "Candiru", known to enter the cloaca and sometimes urethra of living animals. There are species that feed on blood from host fishes gills and others that specialize in parasitizing body mucous. With many specialized anatomical features, the naked and elongate Trichomycteridae could easily have been the inspiration for the chest-bursting creature made famous by the movie "Alien". In spite of these biological horror models, most species in the family feed on small invertebrates. No species of angling interest.
Callichthyidae Callichthyidae - Catfish This large family is comprised of armored catfishes with two rows of overlapping bony plates extending along their sides. They have strong locking spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins. Their small, downward facing mouth has one or two pairs of barbels. They are obligatory air breathers. Callichthyidae utilize atmospheric air to augment the oxygen supply available through their gills. They engulf and swallow air at the surface while gas exchange takes place in their stomachs. The family includes the popular "Corydoras", ubiquitous in home aquaria. Although several larger species are occasionally caught on rod and reel, and some are popular baits, none are of significant interest to anglers.
Scoloplacidae Containing one genus with 4 known species, this family of very small fishes is not of interest to anglers. They possess two rows of bony plates with tooth-like projections on their bodies, hence the name spiny dwarf catfishes. They lack an adipose fin.
Astroblepidae Found in fast-water Andean streams, the generally small fishes in this family have disc-shaped ventral, sucker mouths and unique adaptations to their pelvic musculature. They are well-designed for their high altitude, fast current existence, but not of interest as a sportfish.
Loricariidae Loricaridae - Catfish The largest family of catfishes with almost 700 species, they are covered with up to five rows of bony plates. Their ventral, disc-like sucker mouths help identify this family which includes several species widely-known as "plecostumus", popular aquarium favorites. Although barbels are not always predominant, their lower lips are often edged with papillae (fleshy protuberances).
Pseudopimelodidae Psuedopimelodidae - Catfish Called bumble-bee catfishes, this family, until recently, was considered a subfamily of Pimelodidae. The Pseudopimelodidae is comprised of 26 species in 5 genera. Characterized by wide mouths, short barbels and small eyes. Some species have contrasting coloration with attractive patterns and are of interest to aquarists.
Heptapteridae These poorly-known, generally small, naked catfishes were also at one time considered a subfamily of Pimelodidae. With 13 genera, these fishes comprise a species-rich family, with many species probably yet to be described. A few species, including Rhamdia quelen (sebae), are of angling interest.
Pimelodidae Pimelodidae - Catfish This family is characterized by naked bodies, a well-developed adipose fin and three pairs of relatively long barbels. Ranging from very small to the most enormous of all Amazon catfishes, Pimelodidae contains many of the species most desired by anglers. Among their diverse members are the gigantic piraiba, the powerful jau, the speedy suribim and the big and prolific redtail.
Hypopthalmidae Hypopthalmidae - Catfish With eyes placed laterally and visible from below, they are called lookdown or loweye catfishes. This family of four species is distinguished by its exceptionally long anal fin. Taxonomists have reclassified Hypopthalmidae and now consider it to be included in the family Pimelodidae.
Ariidae These medium to large sized, world-wide, marine catfishes are parental caregivers, with males commonly protecting eggs and young in their mouths. Although some species move into brackish or fresh waters, they are absent from the fisheries generally of interest to Amazon anglers.
Doradidae Doradidae - Catfish Known as the thorny catfishes, these bottom dwellers possess bony plates and generally well-developed spines. Although ranging from small to quite large, they are not generally of interest to anglers. An exception is the cuiu-cuiu, or ripsaw catfish (Oxydoras niger) which can exceed 20 pounds and a meter in length and is often sought by anglers.
Auchenipteridae Known as the driftwood catfishes, these nocturnal catfishes are distributed in 20 genera with approximately 100 species. Known for their sexual dimorphism and internal insemination (males and females may differ greatly in size) they are not of interest to anglers.
Ageneiosidae Aegeneiosidae - Catfish With an extremely flattened head and a rapidly thickening midsection, these fishes have a unique appearance, prompting the name "bottlenose catfishes". Their laterally positioned eyes can see downward. This previously recognized family is now included in Auchenipteridae.
  Preserved specimens photographed at INPA (National Institute of Amazon Research), Manaus, Brazil

Catfish World Records

World Records - If any fishing trip operating 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.

Jenny Reiss with a Giant Amazon Catfish
Jenny Reiss holds on to a giant Amazon Catfish
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* Past
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
Redtail Phractocephalus hemioliopterus Line Class Vicki Martin Rio Travessao 2017 LC* Current
Jandi Rhamdia sebae 9 lb. 8 oz. Russell Jensen Rio Urariquera 2003 AT Current
Sorubim Psuedoplatystoma tigrinum Line Class Vicki Martin Rio Travessao 2017 LC* 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

More Record-sized Catfish

Many of our anglers have caught world-record size catfishes and have simply elected not to subject them to the extra handling and time necessitated by weighing and properly documenting their catch. Read about some of the other record-sized catches our anglers have experienced.

It Started with a Snail by Anthony Williams

Giant Amazon Catfish by Paul Reiss

PiraibaBrachyplaystoma filamentosum—(Lichtenstein, 1819)

The largest of the Amazon catfish, piraiba have been described as attaining weights in excess of 450 pounds. Interestingly, for such a large catfish they are very athletic and readily venture into open, running water. Overnight campers on riverbanks have been shocked awake at the crashing racket occurring when 200 or more pounds of leaping piraiba slams back into the water after a nighttime aerial exploit. No apparent reason, just seemingly airing it out! Even wilder is the sight of several of these beasts chasing a pack of 15 lb. wolfish through shallow water. Who’s bait now?

Piraiba - Giant Amazon Catfish
Piraiba - The Largest of the Giant Amazon Catfish Species

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

ID Key:

Distinctive red markings on the lips and it's enormous size makes ID of adult specimens obvious.

Fishing Tactics

One of the favorite methods of experienced catfishermen is to catch a small piranha to provide live or cut bait. Using a large (14/0) circle hook haywire twisted to 12 to 18 inches of strong (120 lb. test or greater ) wire then twisted to a heavy (180 lb. test) swivel creates an easily made, replaceable rig. A 2 ounce (or heavier - as current demands) egg sinker is allowed to run freely on heavy (80 pound or greater) braided line. This wire reinforced "Amazon" rig helps keep piranha away from the actual running line and minimizes the loss of hook, line and sinker. Correctly selecting a hole that holds a piraiba is not a given. Anglers will typically try likely spots that provide some turbulence or back current over a deep hole. Generally, if other, smaller, non-benthic catfish like jundira are present, you probably haven't found the monster's home. Enjoy the smaller but spunky, and superbly tasty jundira and then move on to the next hole.

Once the behemoth's home is found, the "take" will often be surprisingly subtle, not screaming like a redtail and not readily distinguishable from its smaller brethren. With an open bail (or clicker on) allow line to be taken until you're certain the fish is moving away from you and has had a chance to engulf the bait. Point the rod tip upward, engage your reel and allow the rod to be pulled downward until it points at the fish. With resistance occurring, the fish will usually react by running away from the direction of pressure, thus hooking itself with the circle hook. This method is highly recommended because it will unfailingly result in a safe hookset in the corner of the fish's mouth, never in its gullet or stomach. Once the fight is on, the rest is up to the angler, because with fish this large and this agile, the rest is unpredictable. Their speed belies their great size, while their power is is even greater than you expect. A big piraiba is perfectly capable of spooling you if you don't get your boat’s motor running quickly.

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
None, body relatively uniform and free of any clearly visible markings. Silvery gray on lateral body, dorsally slightly darker. Abdomen white. Reddish markings on lips. Juveniles: Called "filhote", up to 100 pounds

Adults: up to about 450 lbs.
Length: up to over 3 meters

Weight: up to 450 lbs.
Several species of Brachyplatystoma as well as other Pimelodidae resemble piraiba, however none approaches it's size.
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana.

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco and Essequibo drainages
Mature piraiba tend to frequent locations in which a combination of water movement, depth and food availability makes life simple for these large, opportunistic carnivores. Primarily occupies deep holes in lotic (fast water) environments in highlands river systems. English: Goliath Catfish

Brazil: Piraiba, Filhote (juveniles).

Other: Lau-Lau
295 pounds, caught by Russell Jensen of Bronx, NY on an Acute Angling trip. A new record has since been set at 355 lbs.

Until Recently, The Largest Catfish Ever Recorded on Rod and Reel

In February 2007, Russell Jensen of the Bronx, New York, traveled with Acute Angling to the Rio Travessao in the Amazon jungles of Brazil to catch a 295-pound specimen of the piraiba (or lau-lau), known to science as Brachyplatystome filamentosum.

This fish is found throughout the Amazon basin, ranging from the estuary in Northeastern Brazil upstream to the mountainous tributaries of Bolivia and Peru. Juveniles are primarily found in lowlands waters while the mature behemoths seek the faster waters of highlands rivers. Jensen battled the giant for 90 minutes on a Daiwa rod and Penn reel spooled with 80 pound-test Power Pro braided line.

This catch, was confirmed by the IGFA as the all-tackle record for the species, making it, at the time, the largest catfish ever caught on rod and reel and verified. The previous world-record piraiba of 256 pounds was caught in Brazil's Solimoes river in 1981.

The Mekong catfish, an endangered species, is known to grow larger, such as the 646 pound fish caught in 2005, but that fish and many other huge ones were caught in nets. The rod and reel record for that species is 138 pounds 14 ounces.

Updated from an article by Steve Quinn

Russell Jensen's world record piraiba catfish
At 295 pounds, this piraiba was the largest
catfish ever recorded on rod and reel.

JauZungaro zungaro—(Humboldt, 1821)

The Jau is one of the Amazon's largest catfish. More benthic in habit and less agile than the piraiba, its mode of battle is the application of sheer power and its prodigious weight. Although widely distributed, it is not uniformly distributed. Jau may be present in a certain river and may be completely absent in a neighboring one. The 109 pound world record was caught on an Acute Angling exploratory trip in 2005. We know there are larger fish out there, we’ve seen them.

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

ID Key:

Thicker bodied and less elongate than the piraiba. Jau has a large adipose fin and heavily boned pectorals.

Jau - Giant Amazon Catfish
Jau - Giant Amazon Catfish
Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Adults are marked with a regular pattern of closely spaced small maroon to black spots, more distinct in smaller specimens. Body a dark olive on dorsum and sides, shading to off-white on the abdomen Lower fins darker with distinct patterning. Adults: may reach sizes of 1.4 meters, possibly exceeding 200 pounds.    
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Guyana, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon and Orinoco basins.
Ventures well upstream in high gradient rivers. Is said to migrate in pursuit of migrating baitfish. Primarily occupies deep holes and still pools in lotic (fast water) environments in high gradient river systems. Pacamao
Toruno
109 pounds, caught by Russell Jensen of Bronx, NY on an Acute Angling trip.

Redtail CatfishPhractocephalus hemioliopterus —Bloch & Schneider, 1801

The redtail catfish, known as pirarara in Brazil, is one of the most ubiquitous of the giant cats. It appears to have very few habitat limitations, just as happily living in acidic, blackwater lowlands streams as it is in alkaline highlands rivers. An extremely powerful fighter, redtails are known for a sustained, line-peeling initial run and the ability to find a tangle of submerged logs at the end. Their unique markings and bright coloration makes them unerringly easy to identify and their seemingly endless appetite makes them easy for anglers to engage.

Redtail Catfish
Redtail Catfish (Known as Pirarara in Brazil) - Giant Amazon Catfish

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip, Floating Bungalow trip

ID Key:

The bright tail is an instant giveaway.

Fishing Tactics

Probably the most readily caught of the Amazon giants, redtails have been landed on everything anglers use, ranging from free-swimming live bait to a Wooly Bugger fly. For practical purposes, cut bait is the easiest. Start your redtail fishing session off by landing a small fish, most preferably a traira (easily caught on small walking stick baits like a Zara Spook, fished slowly in very shallow edge waters). A piranha makes a good second choice. A durable and very quickly accepted bait is the entire head of a traira on your circle hook. Using an "Amazon rig", configured as follows;

Amazon Catfish Rig - For Redtail Catfish; a large (14/0) circle hook haywire twisted to 12 to 18 inches of strong (120 - 220 lb. test) wire then twisted to a heavy (180 lb. test swivel. A two ounce (or heavier - as current demands) egg sinker is allowed to run freely on heavy line (50 pound or greater) braided line. This wire reinforced "Amazon" rig helps keep piranha away from the actual running line and minimizes the loss of hook, line and sinker.

Set up your rod according to your preferences. If you're casually taking a break from peacock bass fishing, use your woodchopper rod (medium-heavy baitcaster or spinner) spooled with heavy braid (50 to 65 pound test). You'll lose some and win some, but its truly a blast tussling with a big beast on this relatively light tackle. Unlike piraiba or jau, redtails are amazingly durable and will not be adversely affected by an extended fight. They are readily released afterwards, none the worse for wear and impervious to the depredations of piranha.

Several types of water are usually productive. In a river without a lot of features, a curve will often suffice. Drop the bait into the deeper, channel side. If deep pools with eddying water are available, select these types of water. Often, piranha activity on the bait is followed quickly by a take from a big cat. Perhaps the activity summons the redtail. In any case the traira head is a great bait even when almost entirely denuded. Let the piranha have their way and wait for your quarry. If there is a redtail there, you'll usually meet up within fifteen minutes. If not, move on.

 

To succeed with this tackle, you must survive the first run. Make sure your boat is ready to move upon the hookup. The "take" is usually a no-doubter, redtails grab forcefully and move on. With an open bail (or clicker on) allow line to be taken until you're certain the fish is moving away from you and has had a chance to engulf the bait. Point the rod tip upward, engage your reel and allow the rod to be pulled downward until it points at the fish. With resistance occurring, a redtail will usually react with a screaming run, hooking himself with the circle hook in the process. This method is highly recommended because it will unfailingly result in a safe hookset in the corner of the fish's mouth, never in its gullet or stomach.

Depending on the size of the fish and the underwater structure, anglers with light tackle can be spooled on the first run. Make sure the boat stays with the fish and you keep a reasonable reserve of line. Don't try to stop him with a thumb or a tightened drag - you'll probably just break him off. Let him burn off that first blast and then you can start to fight back. The key to landing a big redtail on light tackle is to get him off the bottom. If possible, get nearly over him, but offset at an angle, and work him upwards. If you can lever him into the water column, you gain the tactical and mechanical advantage and can probably land the fish quickly. If he is able to remain on the bottom, he will seek cover or structure and even though you may have survived the difficult first run, you can still lose him to an unforgiving snag. Once at the boat, redtails can be easily lifted from the water by their heavily boned pectoral fins. He'll talk to you the entire time you take your pictures. Put him back to fight again.

If you're record hunting or simply want to land the highest possible percentage, a heavier rig (i.e. - an Ambassador 7000 sized reel with a stiff, short and heavy Ugly Stick rod) can be used with line up to 100 lb. test. This is enough to slow down the runs and then muscle all but the biggest redtails off the bottom, the key to landing them.

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
The dark upper body contrasts sharply with a cream to white segment below the lateral line posteriorly. The mix of contrasting colors highlited with red makes the pirarara one of the most striking of the big cats. Body dark olive to shiny black on dorsum. Abdomen white. Lower fins red. Dorsal fin and adipose fin fringed with red Adults: up to 60 inches and over 100 pounds. bright red tail
Broad, shallow-domed bony head.
 
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil

River Basins: Amazon
Omnivorous. Feeds on fish, detritus, crabs and fruit (we've actually caught them on watermelon pieces)! Seems to have few limitations. Is found in all parts of clear (blue) water, blackwater and whitewater (sediment carrying) rivers, including small tributary streams. English: Redtail Catfish

Local: Pirarara
113 lbs.
9 oz.
Rio Negro
 
Giant Redtail Catfish
An Acute Angler holds up a big Redtail Catfish caught on our Multi-species trip.
 

SorubimPsuedoplatystoma tigrinum—Valenciennes, 1840

If a catfish can be called beautiful, this is the one. Sorubim boast an elegant pattern composed of hieroglyphic black markings on a silver gray background dorsally and stark white ventrally. The common name sorubim is used for several similarly shaped species in the genus. Body markings, typical habitat and maximum size differ. P. tigrinum (shown above) is commonly encountered by anglers in Amazon lowland and Guyana shield highland fisheries.

Barred Sorubim - Giant Amazon Catfish
Barred Sorubim - Giant Amazon Catfish

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip, Floating Bungalow trip

ID Key:

Flattened head, elongate body and large terminal mouth as in other Sorubim. Silvery gray upper body with heiroglyphic markings dorsally, and tiger stripes laterally.

Fishing Tactics

In addition to being a great angler's target, the barred sorubim is a pleasant adjunct to any fishery. Its habit of attacking artificial lures and then fighting like whiskered tuna, makes it endearing to peacock bass anglers and catfishermen alike. In most high gradient fisheries sorubim can be targeted by anglers at evening time. They tend to congregate and forage at the edges of shallow beaches with nearby drop-offs to deeper water. Small live bait or pieces of cut bait are equally effective when cast onto the beach and allowed to drift naturally to the nearby drop-off. An effective rig consists of a 10/0 to 14/0 circle hook (or smaller J hook) with a wire leader and relatively light sinker (approx. 1 oz.), enough to keep it down while still allowing the current to slowly carry it. The take is usually quite forceful. Once hooked, sorubim will fight in open water with strong runs and surprising stamina.

Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
A beautiful catfish uniquely patterned with heiroglyphic black markings dorsally, blending into black tiger stripes laterally. Fin markings continue from body, evolving into spots toward margins. Body silver gray on dorsum, changing abruptly to white on ventral sides. Abdomen white. Adults: specimens up to 1 meter in length have been reported. Flattened head
"Heiroglyphic" markings
The genus contains eight recognized species, Although all are similarly elongate, many are uniquely marked and have separate ranges.
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Guyana, Ecuador, Bolivia, Suriname, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco, Essequibo, Corantijn, and Parana drainages
Primarily feeding on fishes, P. fasciatum is readily encountered with cut bait on shallow sandbars in river channels. Although mostly an evening and nocturnal feeder, anglers are often surprised by large sorubim attacking artificial lures in open water at any time of day. Primarily occupies lotic (moving water) environments in blackwater river systems. English: Barred or tiger Shovelnose

Local: Sorubim, suribim, cachara

Other: Bagre rayado
35 lbs. 10 oz.

Other Sorubim

Sorubim Pintado
Pintado - Psuedoplatystoma corruscans - up to 1.5 meter
This larger catfish is found outside the Amazon in the Pantanal and the Sao Francisco and Parana river basins
(Illustration from "Peixes do Pantanal" - Embrapa - poster)
Sorubim
 

JundiaLeiarius marmoratus—Gill, 1870

The jundira is not an Amazon giant, however it's a very attractive target for anglers because of its accessibilty and excellent fighting characteristics. As an added bonus, these prolific cats are among the Amazon's most delicious catfish.

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

ID Key:

Has up to 8 dark bars along the body. Mid-body has a long dark stripe.

Jundira - Amazon Catfish
Jundira - Amazon Catfish
Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Marbled upper body. Olive to brown, outlined with gold. Body olive on dorsum, with gold-edged marbling on sides. Abdomen shading to white. Fins reddish, echoing body patterning Adults: said to reach almost 2/3 of a meter in length
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Bilivia, Columbia, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon and Orinoco drainages
Appears to forage in structure-rich edges of river eddies or beaches near deep holes. Primarily occupies lotic (moving water) environments in high gradient river systems. English: Sailfin Pimeloid.
Leopard catfish
Brazil: Jundia, Jundira

Other: Ashara.
28.5 pounds, caught by Russell Jensen of Bronx, NY on an Acute Angling trip.

BarbaChata Pinirampus pirinampu—Spix & Agassiz 1847

Another of the Amazon's sporting mid-size catfish, the barba-chata is a strong adversary and can reach over 15 pounds in weight. The name means flat-whiskered catfish in English, and the long, ribbon-like barbels attest to the accuracy of the name.

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip

ID Key:

Silvery, elongate body. Unique ribbon-like whiskers.

Fishing Tactics

In highlands rivers, often caught while targeting jundira.

Larry Larsen with a barba-chata catfish
Larry Larsen with a barba-chata catfish caught on one of our Amazon fishing trips
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

DouradoBrachyplatystoma rousseauxii—Castelnau, 1855

The dourado or gilded catfish is an open-water predator. Highly desired as a food fish, it is pursued and harvested by netters in the main-stem of the Amazon River.

ID Key: Golden in color with deeply forked tail.

Dourado catfish
Dourado catfish
Identification Keys
Bars and Markings Colors Size Key Characters Similar Species
Dark bands dorsally. Golden yellow in color. Adults: Known to reach over 1.5 meters and over 100 pounds. Deeply Forked tail
Golden color short barbels
 
Angler's Summary
Known Range Behavior Notes Habitat Common Names IGFA records
Countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, French Guiana, Ecuador, Venezuela.

River Basins: Amazon, Orinoco and French Guiana river drainages
Known to spawn when current flow is at a minimum Found in Amazon basin locations with medium to strong current flow. English: Gilded catfish

Local: Dourado
85 lb. 8 oz.
Amazon river 1986
Gilberto Fernandes

Giant Catfish Safaris - A Short History

Where to catch: Rio Travessao Multi-Species trip, Floating Bungalow trip

More and Bigger

One of the nicest things I've found about fishing, is that there are more species and types of fishing than one can ever master in a lifetime. Over the years, no matter what type of fishing I've been doing, I've always looked for more and bigger. Decades ago, I happily discovered the excitement of fishing for giant catfish; So what better place to seek them than the Amazon where there are far more species, and far bigger sporting catfish than anywhere else in the world.

Acute Angling began its pursuit of Amazon catfish by organizing a giant catfish safari to the Rio Solimoes, Amazonia, Brazil, almost two decades ago. We started out with some general knowledge and lots of enthusiam. But we didn't have a whisker of giant catfish experience, so it was strictly an exploratory trip, seeking the big cats in what had been described as the heart of their natural territory. The trip was designed to develop a guided catfish trip for future anglers, but our individual goals were pure and simple; to catch fish. We went during the rainy season, not the most attractive of times to be in the rain forest, but until we learned better, it appeared to be the best time to find giant cats. We headed for the Rio Solimoes, the main trunk of the Amazon, an enormous, complex and brawny river. We went with scales and tapes and cameras because we were pursuing species of catfish that hadn't even been listed in the record books yet. It was planned as a trip for the dedicated, die-hard fisherman, not the casual tourist.

We weren't uncomfortable, however. We ate and slept and traveled aboard an 85 foot yacht with air-conditioned cabins, bathrooms and a fully enclosed, air-conditioned dining room and bar. The fully equipped kitchen provided delicious and satisfying meals. Our experienced peacock bass fishing staff and guides were aboard to ensure our effectiveness, convenience and safety. We were comfortable, well fed and fully supplied with everything we needed in a relaxed and friendly environment. We fished in stable, 16 foot aluminum fishing boats, equipped with 40 hp Yamaha outboards and trolling motors. With two anglers and a guide per boat, we ranged up and down the river and its many tributaries in search of giant cats (and other exotic fish) while the yacht cruised on. We roamed several hundred miles up the Solimoes.

The results of this first exploration were equivocal at best. We landed a few, we hooked even more and we lost a monster on 5/0 stand-up gear, 45 minutes into a fight. But it wasn't what we hoped for. We shared the waters with commercial anglers, the weather was wet and humid and we just didn't produce in a way that would justify a regularly scheduled adventure. We weren't willing to add it to the Acute Angling catalog, so we moved on. We knew we needed more knowledge and more experience. We explored and roamed and experimented, finally finding a world-class catfish mecca in the highlands of the Guyana Shield region of northern Brazil (see giant catfish exploratory articles).

Today, we have just as much enthusiasm as we started with, but we've added a decade and a half of knowledge and experience. Our unparalleled catfish trips are operated in pristine, untouched waters with an abundance of extraordinary monsters. Anglers can often encounter dozens of big catfish on their trips and they routinely land monsters over 100, 200 and even 300 pounds. We and our clients have set record after record, including the largest officially recorded catfish ever caught on rod and reel. There is nothing like it anywhere else.

The Quarry

The biggest catfish in the Amazon is the piraiba (Brachyplatystoma filamentosum). It is said that these monsters can exceed 450 pounds and 9 feet in length. Commercially caught specimens have exceeded 350 pounds and Acute Angling client, Russell Jensen, long held the rod and reel record at 295 pounds, caught on our Rio Travessao trip. Piraiba are so huge that a separate name is given to the more commonly caught specimens under 50 kilos (110 pounds). Their smaller offspring are called filhote (youngster in English). Imagine referring to a 100 pound plus fish as a baby! Piraiba are one of the main focal points of our trips and we fish right where they live. Although it's the giant 'Grandpa' that we all seek, even the big bouncing babies will give any fisherman an experience to remember.

Several other giant species inhabit these waters. The Jau (Zungaro zungaro) is a giant of the deeper waters. Said to attaining weights in excess of 200 pounds, this heavy-bodied catfish requires some bottom-fishing techniques as well as stout tackle. Acute Angler Russell Jenbsen, currently holds the world record for this species. Big pirarara or red-tailed catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus), was already represented in IGFA record books in 1988 with a 97 pound specimen caught by Gilberto Fernandes. Just last year (2015), one of our anglers landed a 145 pound specimen. These are terrific fighters and can be found in varying water depths. Tiger shovelnoses, or sorubim (Psuedoplatystoma fasciatum), are the speed merchants of the catfish clan. Aggressively striking artificial baits, they commonly take off on high speed runs. Several other smaller but still impressive species such as piramutaba (Brachyplatystoma vaillantii), bandeira (Goslinia platynema) and piranambu (Pinirampus pinirampu) help keep anglers busily fighting the great variety of whiskered Amazon adversaries.

Piraiba - Giant Amazon Catfish
The giant piraiba
Jau - Giant Amazon Catfish
A nice Jau catfish
redtailed catfish - pirarara
A big red-tailed cat.