Giant Catfish Safaris - A Short History
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 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.