It is always highly exciting when we discover an entirely unique fishing opportunity in a far flung land. When it comes to the jungle, or anything with really big teeth we have a pathfinder for the job: Gordon. This is his tale…
“Arapaima up to 300 lbs…. on the fly… in the jungle… in what country?? WHERE? Guyana? You must be joking!” my conversation with Pete and Alex in the Aardvark McLeod office had taken a wander down a strange path… I have done a number of jungle trips in the past, and these fish have always been on my list, but I never thought I might actually have the opportunity to target them specifically.. my mind was a rollercoaster of possibilities. WOW! I am so in… I called up my fishing companion “Jungle John”, and together we began preparing for what might just be the greatest adventure yet…
Our route in was relatively straight forward, British Airways directly to Port of Spain and then a connection to Georgetown on the coast of Guyana. Guyana is nestled between Venezuela and Suriname on the North eastern edge of South America. A jungle paradise, Guyana represents a bastion for the prehistoric Arapaima. That night we stayed at the Cara Lodge Hotel, which although Georgetown is a bit of a jump back in time, was clean and comfortable.
The following morning we headed into the unknown from. We soon left the sprawling metropolis of Ogle Airport on our three and half hour flight over the jungle canopy to Apoteri Airfield. The next leg was by riverboat for an hour upriver to Rewa Lodge, our home for the next week. On arrival we were met by Matt Breuer, the lodge manager. Matt has had extensive experience in organising these kind of operations, and is also the current camp manager at the Ryabaga Camp on the Ponoi River in Russia. He ushered us to our rooms, let us settle in and then gave us a detailed talk and introduction on how the fishing was to be structured, tactics and the all-important safety aspects.
Now Arapaima fishing is not a numbers game. For those that know little about this fish, the Arapaima is the species that time forgot. They are hard to find, and the opportunity to catch one on a fly in its wild environment is pretty non-existent. It is a predator that can grow in excess of 400 lbs, and mainly lives off fish, crustaceans and even small mammals that enter its environment. Physically it is torpedo-shaped with large blackish-green scales and red markings. The fish is streamlined and sleek, with its dorsal and anal fin set back near its tail. Its local name, “paiche”, derives from the indigenous words for “red” and “fish”. They are immensely strong, and can change direction like a snake, literally doubling back on itself.
The next days became a blur of moving up to various ponds in the area to hunt these primeval fish. There were two rods to a boat with a guide and a boatman, and often we would be moving the boat through the jungle, sometimes cutting a path with a chainsaw. The operation only caters for four rods per week through a very closely regulated season of under 30 licenses a year, so we were very excited to be among some of the first to fish here. It would take us anything from 20 minutes to 1 hour to reach our chosen pond, and then it was a question of looking for these monsters rolling around. The nearest thing I can liken it to would be hunting tarpon on a skiff. It is sight fishing to either disturbances in the water (When a 300 lbs fish moves there is a pretty large disturbance!), the back of the fish or mud pockets created by their feeding sub-surface along the Lilly pad lines.
Tackle wise an 11 or 12# single handed rod with Rio Leviathan intermediate lines. These lines have 70 lbs breaking strain cores and are the only thing to use. Oh, and huge flies.. akin to a sailfish pattern in jungle baitfish colours tied in yellow green and orange on size 8/0 offshore hooks. Like tarpon fishing the fly would be positioned several feet in front of the moving fish, allowed to sink and then given long slow trips, broken up with the odd flick and jerk to imitate a wounded baitfish.
“Jungle John” hooked up the first fish. As he retrieved the fly from the front of the boat to where a fish had been seen moving suddenly it was like someone tried to wrench the line out of his hands as the Arapaima hit the fly like a train. He strip struck the fish really hard as it careered off across the open water before sticking its head above the surface and slashing backwards and forwards in enragement. It then broached the surface making a splash that looked like someone had just chucked a grenade in the lake.
Water showered everywhere, the droplets being caught in the sun like small emeralds while all around the din of the jungle cheered on. Finally after about 30 minutes the guide deemed it safe to head for the bank and try and land it. They make sure that they are properly tired out before even contemplating landing them, although I was a little disconcerted as the guide prodded the fish a few times with an oar to make it swim around a little more. Mind you, it was he who was getting in the water with it, so I was not going to argue! Finally he rolled over and fish, guide and fishermen embraced, culminating in a life long achievement for “Jungle John”. How big was it? I will let you be the judge. Big…
A few days followed before I was to have my chance, but in that time we saw incredible wildlife, caymans, birds of every description and colour that I would not even attempt to name, and we also caught arawaima and peacock bass which filled in the time nicely.
“Jungle John” caught another couple, and lost one, and I lost one after a brutal battle. Finally, on the last day of fishing everything came together for me. The guide had spotted a large dark back moving across the surface, and I cast the fly a good four feet in front of it. The fish immediately doubled back on itself changing direction (still very weird to watch) and I picked the fly out before punching it out in the opposite direction. I began to strip the fly slowly through the dark water and suddenly the line was ripped from my fingers in one of the most savage takes I have ever experienced – even more savage than a GT.
I clamped down and strip struck viscously, this one was not getting away! The fish tore off across the water and a down one of the channels in attempt to free itself. I began to fight it GT style, pumping and winding, which was really all I could do. I have never been attached to such a total monster in freshwater. The fish then turned and headed for the boat… I desperately stripped line in, trying to maintain contact with it as it came crashing into the side of the boat.. and proceeded to head but the boat repeatedly.
“We are gonna need a bigger boat” I muttered to myself… Finally I managed to gain some kind of control and after a while and some further poking with an ore from the guide we managed to land the monster against the shore. Oh my, oh my…. For me, like “Jungle John” this was a dream come true and the end of a long journey as a fly fisherman. I have been pining for Arapaima on the fly ever since I first fished in the jungle many moons ago, and here it was, finally cradled in my arms… and the guides… and “Jungle John’s”… it was quite long…
Over the course of the week the two of us landed five fish and lost two. I would deem that good fishing, and this trip is for the dedicated monster hunter. There is nowhere else to catch Arapaima on the fly in its natural habitat, and access to the fishery is very difficult. The operation that has been eked out of the jungle runs very smoothly, and the lodge and services were excellent considering where we were. This project is done totally in conjunction with the local inhabitants, and is a partly a conservation effort to understand more about this incredible fish. The food was local cuisine of fish, chicken, beans and rice which I really enjoyed. It is not haut cuisine, but it fills you up and keeps you going. We even had daily laundry service.
The one thing I will recommend to all is to pay a little extra on the way out and fly over the kaieteur Falls which is breathtaking. The pilot lands the plane so that it is possible to wander around and take some pictures form the ground as well as form the air.
On returning I am still left with a slight feeling of haziness… Did that actually happen? Then I look at the pictures… oh yes… it definitely did!
The operation at Rewa Eco Lodge in Guyana is one of the most unique places on the planet. The cost for a week is US$6,000 and is limited to only four anglers a week and is highly exclusive. If you would be interested in following in Gordon’s footsteps then please contact Peter or Alex or alternatively call our office on +44(0) 1980 847 389.