Lake Guri Peacock Bass
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Venezuela's Lake Guri Peacock Bass
by Paul Reiss
A Trip From the Past
Although we no longer offer the trip described in this article, the stories are still interesting and remain available for your information and enjoyment. Over the last two decades, Acute Angling has focused on owning, operating, outfitting and organizing its own vertically integrated trips. We have painstakingly evolved and perfected our trips to provide you with the broadest range of options and access to peacock bass and Amazon exotics in a dependable, carefully controlled manner. As the Amazon’s premiere fishing operators, we provide “turn-key”, “all-inclusive” trip packages in our polished accommodations, delivered with first-class service. That success mandates that we no longer offer trips operated by others. Trips owned or operated by someone other than the entity outfitting and ooffering the trip creates multiple layers of responsibility. We offer only trips that we ourselves operate, where we have total control over how your trip is delivered. One responsible entity, no excuses, no unpleasant surprises.
We offer stories in this archive for your enjoyment and to provide insights into how our operating philosophy and our trips have evolved over the years. Mostly, they're here because some are fun and interesting to read. As for the trips themselves, we've moved on. In some cases the fisheries described have been depleted, in others, access to the region is no longer available and in a few, current governments have made travel less attractive. The fish, however, always remain interesting, so read and learn about them and the fishing experience they provided. Who knows, governments may change, conservation practices may improve and rivers may reopen. We just might end up returning there, or someplace like it, in the future.
I looked out at the seemingly endless vista of dark water studded with the grey skeletons of thousands of dead trees and I could feel the pressing hugeness of the place. This was Lake Guri in southeastern Venezuela, Estado Bolivar. The gigantic, manmade impoundment is one of the only places outside of the Amazon basin to successfully house fishable populations of Cichla temensis, the largest species of peacock bass. I was going to have the pleasant task of fishing it for the next few days to explore the possibility of creating a new fishing package for my clients. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.
The dark lake Guri water was surprisingly clearunder the wind-chopped surface. Our native guide, Frank, (yeah, I know, not a very exotic name for a Spanish speaking, Venezuelan outdoorsman), had stopped our boat just off a sharp point of land bisecting the back end of a big cove. Frank took a look at the garishly colored selection of rattling, clanking, propeller-driven lures I had brought with me from Brazil and silently shook his head. He patiently explained to me, in Spanish spoken slowly enough so that even I could understand, that this wasn't exactly the best gear for Venezuela. Guri peacocks are partial to whites, blues and silvers, to medium sized crankbaits, more subtle surface lures and slowly retrieved jigs. Well, I only had what I 'd brought and I'd have to make the best of it. I picked up my lighter rig with a wild-looking red and yellow streamer jig tied on and started fishing. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Frank wince.
On my second cast I felt the unmistakable 'whump' of a peacock pounding my rapidly retrieved, shallow running jig. I missed it! There went my chance of a quick redemption in Frank's eyes. Not only did the foolish American bring the wrong gear, but he missed his chance at hooking the one fish in the lake stupid enough to try to eating the weird stuff. Surprisingly, though, I felt a little more hopeful now. Whenever, you use a lure that you are very confident with, you tend to work it a little harder, use it a little better and cast it a little more accurately. With my confidence restored, I went to work, fanning casts to the endless structure just off the point. Within minutes, my jig was slammed by a heavy fish. This time I was right on him, with a quick and solid hookset. I was instantly rewarded by a line stripping run.
With some frenzied rod work and a lot of luck I managed to lead the fish away from the forest of dead trees and into the more or less open water paralleling the shore. By now Frank, and my fishing partner Humberto were both shouting encouragement and entreating me not to lose this big fish. As the fight went on, I wondered about how differently this fish behaved compared to the Brazilian peacocks I was used to. With a sudden reversal of direction, the fish crossed in front of the boat and headed off to our starboard side. I caught a glint of silver and suddenly this fish's atypical behavior started to make sense. "I think it's a payara!" I shouted. Just then the fish changed direction again and leaped three feet into the air. The silver body, forked black tail and outrageous dentures left no doubt in anyone's mind that this was indeed a hefty specimen of Venezuela's strange vampire fish. A few minutes later we boated and released the beautiful 12 pounder. Amazingly, its razor sharp teeth hadn't touched the 14 pound test line attached to my jig, but had very effectively shredded away the bucktail with which it had been adorned.
I had forgotten all about the payara in Lake Guri. What a nice surprise. I can't think of a better incidental species to hook up with in between peacocks. But it wasn't really in between, was it? I had yet to catch my first peacock. The sun had not risen above the treeline yet and the day was still young.
Lake Guri's vast size provides great cover and habitat variety for peacock bass. They have a lot of room to move, and they take advantage of it. Although sheltered coves consistently produce well, there is an awful lot of water in between. Trolling proved to be an effective way of combining travel with fish locating. As we moved from one fishy cove to another we dragged Rattletraps or Rapalas (I did manage to turn up a reasonably colored shad patterned example) behind us. As the morning progressed, we located many fish-holding spots in this manner. In one of these spots, we found what appeared to be a street gang of teenage peacocks. They seemed to be competing for who got the honor of trashing my Bomber Long A. Finally a pair of them settled on one hook apiece. What a strange fight they gave, pulling in opposite directions. Every time we hooked up trolling, we'd stop and work the area casting. It usually produced another fish or two. When we'd reach a sheltered area where the wind couldn't churn up the surface, I'd reach for my topwater lures.
I love catching peacock bass on the surface. The nerve-jarring strikes are ample reward for patiently threading a popper or a walker or a woodchopper through the skeletal flooded jungle. The afternoon proved quiet and windfree, so I happily put my Super Spook to work. Frank approved of my sedately marked grey and white pattern and guided us to a favorite cove of his. We slowly worked our way around a grass bordered island and it wasn't long before Humberto and I were each treated to some surface action. As Humberto boated a beautiful 6 pounder, I made the acquaintance of a remarkably aggressive 8 pounder. He crashed my bait three times before getting it firmly in his bony jaws. In no time at all he definitively proved that Guri peacocks are just as crazy as their Brazilian counterparts, with wrenching head-jerking runs and a showy gill-rattling jump.
As I'm sure everyone knows, all this fishing research is hard work. So, as the shadows got longer in the afternoon, Frank headed us back to the lodge. As I enjoyed a beer on the run back, I considered my tally of 12 peacocks and 2 payara (I got another one trolling later on in the day). All in all, a very good day. But the wackiest fish of the trip was still to come.
Back at the lodge we enjoyed tasty appetizers and liberal helpings of Humberto's favorite 21 year old scotch while we relaxed before dinner. A young three-toed sloth was currently calling the thatched roof of the dining room home. We chatted and followed his ponderous meanderings around the roof. By the time the heaping platters of delicious Venezuelan steaks were served, I was certain that the sloth was starting to pick up speed. After dessert, while we chatted, Humberto kept filling my glass and the sloth began to look like a sprinter. By the time I was ready for bed, he was moving too fast for me to follow.
Peacock Bay Lodge, the brainchild of owner, Harley Lezama, is an elegant and comfortable haven on the southern shores of Lake Guri. The clean and spacious rooms, complete with private bathrooms and hot showers are a far cry from some of the primitive jungle accommodations I've sampled over the years. Harley has put together a fine staff, with exemplary service. The lodge's lakeside location allows quick access to the fish and structure-rich southern coves. That means that anglers can spend all of their time on the water fishing, not running for hours to reach the fish. Anglers fish two to a boat with a native guide at the controls. Lake Guri provides productive and accessible fishing from September through March, with peacocks, payara, piranha and morocoto (a hefty pacu-like fish that greedily strikes small sub-surface baits) providing ample entertainment for anglers.
The next morning, as I attempted to shake the cobwebs of Humberto's cocktails out of my brain and get my gear together, Frank told us we would try a few other places that day. Trolling our way eastward, I promptly boated, first a 10 and then a 12 pound peacock to start off my day. A quiet cove yielded a few small peacocks who just couldn't lay off my newly retied red and yellow jig. And yet another cove introduced me to morocoto. These pugnacious, dish-shaped characins can grow as large as 20 pounds. Trolling a medium sized rapala, I hooked what at first felt like a giant, crazed piranha. When we swung it aboard in the net, Frank explained that the brightly colored silver, black and red battler was a morocoto, much more delicious than a piranha and without the razor sharp teeth. I eagerly tied my smallest rattletrap on my light rod and settled back to have some fun. Sure enough, we promptly caught several of the 3 and 4 pounders that were populating the shallow back end of the cove. Two of them went into the fish box for a meal later on.
After relaxing awhile with our boxed lunch of sandwiches and a delicious sliced frittata, we headed off for another cove that Frank promised held big peacocks, ripe for the taking with a surface lure. We motored our way into a cove that looked as big as San Francisco Bay. This wasn't a cozy little backwater, this big cove was intimidating. The landscape of dead trees stood like ominous sentinels stretching into the distance. With just one cast per tree, we could be here for hours.
By the time the back shore came into view, we had been there for hours. Almost two hours of casting into what looked like "fish-city" hadn't yielded a single strike. By then, I was casting and retrieving mechanically, my mind having long since shut down. Of course this is when "it" (whatever "it" may be) always happens. Sure enough, as I was staring into the water, watching mindlessly while I lifted my lure for another cast, a huge peacock broke the surface right under my nose, in a last second rush at the departing lure. A split second later he streaked off under the boat, frustrated by the disappearing bait. I had wound it almost to the tip of my rod ready to cast again, so that I couldn't even swirl it around for him. I did the next best thing. I just let it drop back into the water. With a lunge and a huge swirl, the maniacal fish came out from under the boat, grabbed the Super Spook and headed for the hills. With my thumb controlling the spool, I let him freely take line, while I lifted my rod tip, cranked the reel handle over and lowered the rod back down. When it all came tight, I leaned back and set the hook. The fish went nuts!
There was something strange about hooking a fish right at the boat and then watching him run, jump and rattle his gills off into the distance. It felt like a backward version of every other fish I had ever tangled with. It didn't take him long to take me all the way back to the base of the big, dead tree that I had originally cast to. Now the fight turned around again, and things started to work the way they should have from the beginning. When this fearless ambusher finally got back to the boat, he was tired and slipped easily into the net. We weighed and released a fat, 14-pound male peacock with a crazy look in his eye. I guess he figured that our boat, sitting so conveniently in his territory, made perfectly good structure. Add this to your fishing information file - the next strike might just be right under your boat.
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Lake Guri Peacock Bass:
Venezuela's gigantic man-made fishery