Rio Travessao Memories
by Steve Townson
To say I was privileged to fish on the Rio Travessão this season is an understatement. This has to be the most gorgeous river I have ever fished with its stunning, natural beauty and its seemingly hypnotic, spiritual energy. I am always thrilled to just travel along its length, through its braids and fast currents, over the endless cascades and waterfalls, never mind the fishing! Surrounded by tall jungle on all sides, brim-full with wildlife and fish, it is a true joy just to be there. It is a higher altitude river full of rocks and boulders, some the size of big trucks, and it varies in depth from sandy beaches and shallow stretches, roaring waterfalls and fast currents to huge, slow, deep pools filled with 'denizens of the deep'.
Due to some heavy rain in the mountains further upstream a few weeks before we arrived, the water levels were higher than expected, with the clarity slightly more stained than I remembered on my last visit. This made lure fishing slower than normal. However nothing could dampen our team's ardour one bit. Armed to the teeth with an array of fishing rods, reels, lures, hooks and sinkers, off we went to explore this amazing waterway.
I was lucky to have with me the very able John Dunford, a young cameraman from London, UK, who was filming for what we hoped would make three episodes for our new TV series 'Welcome to the Jungle'.
The Peacocks and Trairão played ball on nearly every cast with salt-water Spooks to eddies, quiet water behind rocks, laydowns and bushes along the banks, along sand bars, even in faster water, but casting accuracy had to be good. I also caught some using shallow-running Rapalas and Yozuri Crystal minnows and even with deep divers under waterfalls and in the deeper pools.
We filmed some of the most exciting, topwater action I have ever experienced on lures. I'm talking mega-explosive strikes here, massive blowups, loads of noise, especially from one very memorable 15 pound Trairão which bullied a big Peacock out of the way to get at the Spook first. We all talk about Peacock Bass and how they blast a lure, well, if you haven't tried it on with a big Trairão before, I dare you to!! It will attempt to bust your lure into a million pieces. Unlike big Peacocks, they have extremely sharp, destructive teeth and with their exciting, aerial antics, this lunker lump of a fish will eventually give you your lure back as though it was run over by a tractor. You need at least a 9" wire leader for this sort of fishing or you will lose a lot of gear and your humour! The Trairão is a very dark-colored fish; similar to the usual Traira found in lowland lagoons and rivers, and with its more black/dark blue hue, it is even more sinister-looking. It has an enormous, spotted, paint brush tail and big fins, and with a flatter head, all this makes the Trairão the perfect ambush predator. And these guys can grow to 40 pounds!! All hooks and split rings must be upgraded to the real thing when fishing for these brutes or it's all over before it's even started.
The Travessão Peacocks have to be some of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen. They are a much shorter and stockier fish than we're used too on the Negro or Madeira watersheds and the wider girth seems to give them more stamina and makes them fight harder in the current. The females were nearly all a lighter to darker shade of silver/gray/green, while the big buck males had the most spectacular gold/yellow hue to them, with three flank markings cross-between elongated rosettes and short bars, vivid blue dorsal fins, lighter blue/gray fins below the body and big spawning humps on their heads. These males would literally streak across shallow water creating a big V-wake to get at the lures. Exciting stuff and definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Lure action for the powerful Payara we knew were in there was slow, although some fish were caught on minnow baits and deep divers. Most Payara were caught, surprisingly, on cut baits, with the largest for the week, a 21 pound beauty coming from Larry Larsen of PBA fame. My largest was an 18 pound silver missile enticed by a strip of Piranha, although I got broken off by two much larger fish which simply sliced through my 50 pound test leaders like thread! They are such acrobatic fish in every sense, leaping way out of the water and cart wheeling at every opportunity. When these incredible beasts strike a lure or cut bait, they hit and run without stopping. Try that at 30 mph and see how your arms (and your heart) stand up to it, one minute sedately reeling in or just watching your line, the next having line stripped off at a crazy pace. A bit like hooking into an express train, just faster.
Big Bicuda were few and far between this time, but I did get stuck into a few and lost most. My biggest weighed in at a respectful 12 pounds, caught on a bright orange Rapala minnow bait, a monster Bicuda by any standards.
And we all caught the infamous big Black Piranhas, either on deep divers, minnow baits or cut bait. My biggest was 8 pounds and had really bad breath to go with it. I pulled out an 8 inch lump of fresh red meat from its throat with my pliers. I won't even hazard a guess where this came from, but it definitely wasn't from a fish. As always, packs of these marauding, roving, mean eating-machines are around every bend and in every hole, waiting for an opportunity to raid anything in the near vicinity. These guys are so ferocious, I definitely won't be swimming in this river anytime soon. Once you've seen how many of these big slabs there are here, you'd think twice about it too. Even my cameraman had a blast catching a few. A glittery 10" long red and yellow 1oz jig that I had made up for Payara was reduced to a 1/2" stub by a 7 pound whopper in just one swallow! For that he ended up as Catfish bait!
With all these huge Piranhas, cut bait was readily available and all of us tried our hand for the famous Cats that inhabit this river. We all caught a real mixed bag of cats, with the rare Bocão Catfish (which looks very like a Cobia and doesn't have a single whisker on his head), Mingá cats, Flat-whiskered Cats, Redtails and a few Surubim Cats, along with some others I just can't remember the names of. Everyone else but me caught some big, beautifully spotted Jundira Cats to 25 pounds. I admit I failed miserably even though they were in every hole on every bend. Unfortunately the really big boys, the Giant Piraiba (made famous in this river by the world record 295 pound whopper caught in 2007 by Russell Jensen) just didn't turn on for us. But I truly thought I was stuck into one at one point. I eventually got the leviathan to the beach (or did he drag me over to it?) where he turned into a big, colorful Redtail Cat (or Pirarara) of about 80 pounds. He felt and fought like a fish twice the size. These big brutes never cease to amaze me with their powerful lunges and screaming, reel-smokin' runs. It took me about 30 minutes to land him, even on the heavy gear I use for trolling for Giant Nile Perch. And the sound they make out of water is like nothing you ever heard before, like giant, musical bellows belching air from their gills.
Our Indian guides know the river intimately; after all, we were in their back yard! They would point to fishy areas and nearly every time were spot on. They manoeuvred our boats perfectly through the rock infested water and rarely hit one. All of them were nice guys and really friendly and helpful. The 'rustic' camp set at the riverside under dense trees is about as good a campsite as you can get 100's of miles away from any other human being. Two-man tents have camp beds and storage area big enough to keep all your gear and more. Everything from the dining table and benches to the kitchen and food storage areas were made from dead wood found in the jungle. The deal was, leave it as it was found, so no damage and no rubbish left. A huge freezer supplied us with cold drinks all day. A shower area with a solar shower bag gave a welcome end to a hot day's fishing and of course it wouldn't be fair not to mention our camp manager Chico's pride and joy, his thunder box, the throne, complete with box and seat set over a deep pit within a screened toilet area. Regular applications of lime powder would render the site odourless. Where in the Amazon jungle can you find this sort of treatment?
The whole trip was a success from start to end. We all caught big fish, we all caught numerous species and we all came back happy folk. Thanks to Paul Reiss, Wellington Melo, Chico and his camp team and to all the Indian guides for a marvellous job well done. I'll be back next year for sure.
—Steve Townson March 2nd 2009
For Your Information
Rio Travessao variety trips are available from mid-January until mid-March. For more information on booking an exotic fishing adventure, contact:
Paul Reiss at (866) 832-2987
E-Mail Paul Reiss, or:
Garry Reiss at (866) 431-1668
E-Mail Garry Reiss