Surviving an Exploratory Trip
While Filming a TV Show

Surviving an Amazon Exploratory Trip While
Filming a TV Fishing Show… by Steve Townson

Steve Townson with a Payara
Author, Steve Townson, and a toothy Rio Pacu friend.

Where do you start? Well, first you gotta have an outfitter worth his weight in gold. Then you have him find you a pristine, virgin bit of liquid in Brazil (that means a far-away river full of fish, not an unopened bottle of Brazilian Cachaça). Once this is set, you call up the big boys, the guys with budget sheets and storylines who then send in a man with cameras, lenses and tripods and all sorts of gizmos to start a real-live shoot in the Amazon. Hah, they won’t know what hit them when I finish with them!!

So with all this in mind, Acute Angling partners, Paul Reiss and Wellington Melo sorted us out a trip where we could find all of the above and perhaps even more. Off we went, out into the wilderness of the Northeastern frontier of the Amazon Basin, no holds barred. Now as a Brit, and as I want things to run smoothly on the production side, I wanted, no, I demanded another Brit as a cameraman. You know the sort, an understanding, calm, willing to go that extra yard type; won't mind the blood and snot and bugs sort of guy. Once James was on board, he set off to meet me. To say his trek was long is an understatement; leaving on a Saturday morning from London, to São Paulo via Madrid, Sunday on to Belem and then overnight in the Amazon town of Monte Dourado. I crossed my fingers in hopes of finding him in one piece on Monday, with all his cases and cameras waiting for me after over 50 hours of travelling.

Steve Townson on TV
Steve has joined us on many trips and filmed many shows with Acute Angling. He can be seen on TV as the “Fish Finder”

So it goes like this. Steve leaves Manaus with gang in a floatplane. Fly 2 1/2 hours, re-fuel in Santarem, then a 1 1/2 hour leg to the Pacu, drop off the remainder of the gang and supplies and then onwards, upwards to Monte Dourado to pick up James the cameraman and get back to camp.

On arrival at the empty airport, my man was not there, his UK cell number unobtainable and the woman I had arranged to pick him up the day before was not taking my calls. “Great” thought I, “Now what do I do?” After an eternity, Jimbo finally arrives in an old rust bucket of a car with two very classy looking chicks in high heels and a big smile on his face. "Explanations later please, c´mon let’s get started filming! First a quick PTC (that's ‘Piece To Camera’ to you not 'au fait' with TV jargon). then off we went skywards with piles of beer, soft drinks, food and supplies onto base camp one!

Now, anyone in the film industry knows, proper storylines must be strictly adhered to, right? UHuuuuuh, NOT HERE IN THE AMAZON! Things just don’t work out as one might plan. Day one and two brought fret and worry from James as the fish were just not playing ball. We thought surely to make a fishing show, we needed a few fish, right? Around every bend, in every eddy, behind every rock, fish were there for the taking … or were they??? Something just wasn't right. To the frustration from my cameraman, all I could do was joke, “Maybe we should have been here last week”!! “Not funny Steve” was the reply!! “You promised me fish and loads of ‘em and that's what I want”! Well, it took till day three, to understand the right catching methods and the wily ways of this distant river’s fish. We could finally see it in our grasp.

Not to be flummoxed, we and our motley crew set off miles upriver the morning of day four, where a temporary camp was set up to take us weary anglers in and feed and water us after a long day of travelling and fishing. This was home for the next two nights. Mile after mile was covered getting to this promised land. And we did it. We arrived. Hot, burnt, tired and with some fish under our belts. Great, the storyline was actually coming together, tales of far-flung, never- fished before waters, animals and all manner of beasts were all around us. The crazy thing was I caught most of my best fish within 200 yards of this camp!

Day five and even further upwards we went. We fished in some of the most beautiful surroundings and amazing mountainous backdrops I have ever seen. When some of the group started to catch Payaras immediately in one deep pool, I though surely I would too. I thrashed the water to a froth for what seemed like ages until finally I had one single hit. But this wasn’t an ordinary fish, oh no. This guy must have had two bowls of Cheerios for breakfast because he immediately stripped out over 150 yards of 65lbs line. Now, our ‘guide’ Raimundo (actually a “Brazil Nut” courier) decided the best thing was to follow the fish backwards in the boat! If you have never done this before in a rock-strewn river, then don’t! Although this might sound fun to most of you, well, you’ll end up in the drink, just like moi! The engine hit a rock (Really, how did that happen??) and in I went, radio mike and all. The end result was a cracking 20lb Payara and a very wet fishing show presenter. After all, we wanted good footage, right? Any Brit show-man would do the same surely for Queen and country?

Day six and off we set downriver and back to base camp. We fished all the way down and had plenty of action; Sorubim Catfish on lures and cut-baits, Peacock Bass on Spooks and jigs, Payara and Bicuda that stretched our arms and lines and Redtail Cats and other denizens of the deep on cut-baits. We even caught Pacu using Brazil nuts as bait. And how about that great shore lunch? Peacock and Piranha, yum. That evening, back at camp, our ‘guide’, with me having promised him ‘a little extra’ if he could wing it, seals the deal to have the mutually shared camp harpoon that night. The storyline would show us living off what we caught etc., showing that we don’t really need a rod and line to survive in the deep, dark, mysterious Amazon jungle. Well would you believe it, said harpoon suddenly got broken. “Don't worry, we'll do it “amanha, it'll be fixed by then”! Okkkkk, we'll see. Last night ... remember …. So our producer rewrites this into the storyline and all is set. Day seven and our last full day, we fish the lower reaches below base camp with some smaller Payaras and Bicudas being caught. While filming my attempts at fly fishing, I missed a huge Payara at my feet but was rewarded by a large Peacock Bass from the rapids below a beautiful waterfall setting. Another string to our bow, as it were. Oh, and I got a chunk taken out of the knuckle of my left index finger by being too smart with a Piranha. Loads of blood for the camera. Great stuff!! Right then, we got film, we got fish, we got ……. did I mention Raimundo, our Brazil nut courier as a 'guide'? Anyway, we finally had a storyline, what we now needed was more of the above to complete at least two episodes. How about that spearfishing we were promised, ? Hmmm.. . Unfortunately it never made film. Now a typical producer likes his t’s crossed and his i’s dotted so this just wouldn't do. “But James, this is South America” said I. “Too bad” says big Jim, “we have to do it, it’s in the storyline”.

So, in the morning, while we had three hours to wait for the plane to arrive, I said , “maybe we can fix the storyline with that one unusual fish that no one has probably ever seen on TV before? Let's give it a go, we’ve still got a few hours to go yet. Maybe a big ugly thing with fangs and whiskers and teeth and spikes and stuff, that farts and burps for the camera?” So we wended up river with a bag of 20 inch worms dug up from the deep South and cast out our lines. Literally with only 15 minutes to go before the bell went, my reel started singing. Not the usual slow taking of line but a furious zzzzrrr rrrrrr rrrrrr rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr that made me jump and grab the rod in a panic. Was this the one we needed? After 10 minutes I brought a magnificent Sawside Catfish or Cuiú to the boat. Weighing in at just over 25lbs I thought it was a good enough size to show off about. And I had never seen another on TV with its crazy side moon-shaped scales and sharp spikes, so I truly believed we had done it. Back to camp we went with a smile on our faces. I have since learnt that the World record for a Sawside Cat is 24.5lbs!! If only I knew that info before, I could have acted my shirt off, you know, played up to the camera a bit more, but then that wouldn't be real TV, would it?

SO folks, that’s a wrap, that's how you do it. Really easy, eh? Just grab a cameraman by the shorts, shoot realms of film and deal with it when you get home. Yeah right!! The hard work has only just begun. Now back to real life and the editing room in the UK. And we’ve still got the VOs to do, (that's Voice Overs to you)! …. By Steve Townson