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Angler's Guide to Amazon Catfish

A central knowledge base about the catfish species encountered in our Amazon fishing trips

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PiraibaBrachyplaystoma filamentosum—(Lichtenstein, 1819)

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

Russell Jensen's world record piraiba catfish
At 295 pounds, this piraiba was 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

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