Freshwater Dorado in the Ibera Marsh
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Freshwater Dorado in the Ibera Marsh
Sometimes it's difficult to do the simplest math. For example, there are cases where one and one just don't add up. Consider this…
Fact: The dorado is one of the greatest fighting gamefish in the entire world. This extraordinary jumper combines the swimming habits of a salmon with the ferocity and predatory instincts of a tiger shark. It violently hammers lures and flies, then immediately explodes out of the water in a series of outrageous leaps and line stripping runs.
Fact: The Ibera' Marsh, one of the most beautiful, pristine wildernesses in the world, is loaded with some of the largest dorado in existence. Big golden breeders migrate up the Corrientes river and spend December thru March deep in the heart of the gigantic Ibera'.
Assumption: Any fisherman who can add would simply take these facts and conclude that one can simply go to the heart of the Ibera? if one wants to catch big dorado. Nice reasoning, but in this case one and one don't simply make two. The problem with this equation is that, until now, you just couldn't get there from here.
People have long fished the rivers that drain the marsh as well as its outer fringes. In fact, those areas get a fair bit of pressure.
But until now, the only way to get into the heart of this country-sized wilderness was to grab a sleeping bag and a tent and hack and haul your way in. Not so simple! Not nearly as simple as the two basic facts make it seem. That's where we come in; Think of us as the fishing math police. Our job is to find a solution to this problem and make this equation add up. So we reached into our collection of fishing tactics and pulled out a technique that has been serving us very well for many years in the heart of Brazil's Amazon wilderness. In conjunction with River Plate Anglers, we dropped a fully equipped, fully staffed safari-style bungalow camp right down in the middle of the marsh. For the first time, anglers can get into these virgin waters without the hardships of the past. The comfortable camps provide excellent home-cooked meals and give us a secure base right in the heart of the dorado's innermost stronghold. We now have easy access to the most remote waters, where other anglers simply can't reach. The myriad channels, braids and lagoons form a network of beautiful, fishable dorado habitat. And our catch and release policy will ensure that we help to preserve this remarkable fishery for the future. They just happen to be one of the best fighting fish in the world!
While the beautiful and powerful freshwater dorado has long been one of the most admired fish in the southern portion of South America, it is almost completely unknown in the rest of the world. The largest species, Salminus brasilensis (a recent name change from Salminus maxillosus), is found mainly in Argentina, Bolivia, Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. Referring to its earlier name, ichthyologists had given the beautiful golden dorado an unusually appropriate moniler; Salminus, meaning salmon-like, and maxillosus, describing the fish's immensely-powerful jaws.
Outside of South America, the dorado suffers an identity crisis. Many anglers confuse this distinct migratory gamefish with other, generally less voracious, species. Although its migratory behavior and its body are reminiscent of the salmon, it is not at all related. The dorado does not die after spawning and never swims in the ocean. And while its common name is similar, the dorado is a freshwater gamefish and not to be confused with the saltwater "dolphin" fish (called 'el dorado' in many Spanish-speaking countries). One hook-up will quickly dispel any question about their ancestry!
Dorado are exceptionally strong swimmers. They typically range in size from 5 to 10 pounds. In some fisheries, twenty pounders are common. Although the current IGFA all-tackle record is over 50 pounds, giants of up to 70 pounds have been recorded. Their intense, almost radiant, golden color is marked with holographic black horizontal stripes. This patterning, coupled with their powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth have earned the dorado the sobriquet "River Tiger" in Argentina.
These steel-jawed hunters are strongly piscivorous and feed primarily on a mullet-like fish called sabalo, A big dorado will happily feed on any size sabalo - ranging from two-inches to two-pounds. Anglers have excellent success with lures and flies that can imitate this favorite food. The dorado is a great jumper and a prodigious fighter. Once fooled with a bait, their arm-wrenching strike is a testament to their aggressiveness and ferocity. As soon as an angler sets the hook, these wild leapers explode out of the water in a series of outrageous jumps.
Conventional gear for big dorado is virtually the same as that used for trophy peacock bass (although a wire leader is essential). 7-inch jerk baits, Rattle Trap-type lures, spoons and jigs are very productive. In the clear water of the Iber? Marsh, one of the more effective dorado lures is a gold colored, 1 and 1/8 ounce Johnson's "Silver Minnow". These relatively light baits allow anglers to fish for dorado with light to medium spinning or bait-casting tackle. Watching one of these big, golden aerialists cartwheel its way across the water on the business end of what is essentially a largemouth bass rod is incredibly exciting. Bringing it to the boat on such light gear is doubly gratifying.
Fly fishermen are best equipped with an 8-9-weight fly rod and either a 200 to 300 grain, 24-foot sink tip line or a full floating line depending upon water conditions. A heavy steel leader is a must, as these fish will chew through any kind of monofilament as though it were sewing thread! Dorado take a variety of streamers, sliders and even Atlantic salmon-style Bombers during ideal conditions (tied on 3/0 to 6/0, heavy, long shank hooks).
Because of the crystalline water clarity of the Ibera Marsh and the manner in which they forage, cruising dorado can often be seen feeding along the water's edge. This allows for some excellent sight casting opportunities. Accurately throwing big streamer flies or casting flashy lures is often rewarded by a fast and intense new relationship with one of the most beautiful but obstinate fish you'll ever meet.
As the world continues to become smaller, people are increasingly encroaching upon its innermost hidden places. Development and environmental change follow close on their heels, leaving fewer and fewer of the planet's natural ecosystems intact. Only through extreme inaccessibility or overt human intervention can a natural area remain pristine. The Ibera' Marsh of northern Argentina, one of the world's most beautiful fishing destinations, has survived and thrives because it combines both of these protective factors.
The Corrientes River drains an area of crystal clear up-welling water larger than the state of Delaware, that comprises the Ibera' Marsh. This huge, remote marshy-land area and its internal lagoons form one of Argentina's most important biological areas and most valuable regional assets. In order to preserve the natural resources of this ecosystem, its huge complex of wetlands and its high diversity of animal and plant species, Argentina created the "Ibera' Reserve" by law, on April 15, 1983.
Ancient river beds form the underlying geological basis for the area's mixture of swampland, marsh, lagoons, sloughs and mutating braids and streams. Evaporation and transpiration provide and recycle the bulk of the marsh's rainfall, only a quarter of which is drained by its river exit. The Ibera's changeable geography and its water retention characteristics make it a highly specialized environment. Much of its uniqueness derives from the great mass of vegetation it contains. Huge, intertwined mats of floating water hyacinths capture particles deposited by the wind and the water, forming soil layers that permit the rooting and growth of a variety of plants and trees. Over time, these have evolved into true 'floating coasts'. Loose segments migrate through the marsh as 'floating islands'. Directed by the wind and currents, they form the system's changeable network of fishable water .
The Ibera's massive interlaced complex of plant roots, stems and leaves serves to create the effect of a giant biofilter. Coupled with the marsh's up-welling source, its water is consistently crystal clear. The marsh contains a maze of channels, lagoons, bays and tributaries seemingly coming from every direction. As sparkling river channels braid themselves, deep holes and riffles form an anglers dream vista of perfect holding water for giant Dorado. Conditions at the beginning and end of the Ibera's summer (our winter) become optimal for encountering (and sight-fishing) big breeder dorado whether fly-fishing or casting.
An amazing abundance of wildlife calls the reserve home, including over 350 species of birds, 85 species of mammals, and more than 70 reptiles and amphibians. Anglers can see abundant caiman and majestic marsh deer and hear a constant cacophony of birds. An amateur naturalist carrying a bird guide of the region will soon have its pages stained and dog-eared.
One interesting and important Marsh denizen is the capybara (carpincho). Known as the world's largest rodent, this semi-aquatic creature depends on the marsh for food, shelter and water. Like all rodents, the capybara has continuous-growth incisors. Mainly herbivorous, small herds of this exclusively South American species graze on the marsh's succulent water plants from mid-afternoon till late at night. Attaining sizes of over 120 pounds, the capybara once provided sustenance for the marsh's original Indian population. Today, it is raised commercially as a source of the region's famed leather goods.
Between the spectacular vistas, the incredible fishing and the proliferation of wildlife, entering this rich ecosystem conjures up visions of what America's Everglades might have been like in centuries past. It will make you feel as though you've stepped into another time.
This year our featured trips in the Iber? Marsh will be operated in conjunction with River Plate Anglers. As the popularity of dorado fishing has begun to grow among American anglers, we became concerned that the growing pressure from existing lodges at the marsh's southern end would begin to adversely impact the fishery. With up to a dozen boats fishing the same water on any given day, the fishing and the aesthetic quality of the overall experience might be significantly affected.
As a result, we spent last year's dorado season working with River Plate to develop a mechanism to access the immense and virtually untouched northeastern quadrant of the Ibera' Marsh. Using safari camps similar to those we use in the Brazilian Amazon, River Plate has created a comfortable base of operations in this pristine region, far from the overcrowded waters at the marsh's southern exit into the Corrientes River. The new camp's strategic location allows for shorter boat rides and the ability to access prime fishing water earlier in the morning and later in the day to coincide with prime dorado feeding periods.
River Plate's guides are among the most knowledgeable warm water experts in South America and are well accustomed to fishing with spin, casting, and fly anglers alike. We will fish from 16-foot Jon-style boats with 15HP outboards and electric trolling motors. The new camp's accommodations are very comfortable, spacious, double occupancy "bungalows", each with its own individual shower and toilet facility, wood floor, running water, lights and fans over each bed.
Anglers will arrive at Buenos Aires where they'll board our charter flight to the camp. Five and a half days of the best dorado fishing in the world while exploring the marsh's spectacular environment are accompanied by sumptuous, gourmet quality meals. At week's end, anglers will board the charter to return to Buenos Aires and continue their journey home.