South American Arapaima

I’m Jose Bravo, a fly fishing guide and fly tyer from the South American country of Colombia. Besides the friendly locals and beautiful landscapes, our country also happens to be a new hotspot for fishermen.

The one fish that should be on every anglers list is the apex predator,  the arapaima or also called pirarucus. This species is well-known in Colombia due to its colossal size and ability to breath the same air you and I breath. It is also known to our people a top menu item at restaurants.

Jumping Arapaima

Some friends and I adventured into the Colombian Amazon River. Our mission was to find a place where a sustainable development of sport fishing for Arapaima can be established. Unfortunately, the expedition didn’t succeed due to the high depredation and non-existent protection of this species in our waters. The Arapaima were few and far between. Hopefully down the road we can overcome these issues and get more anglers into the Columbian waters safely.

With Columbia out of the question (for the time being), I contacted Rodrigo Salles from Untamed Angling (@untamedangling). He owns and manages the operation of Pirarucu Fishing Lodge in a Brazilian water reserve. He helped me organize this trip and within a few days, I was flying from Bogotá to Manos. The next day I flew to Tefe, Brazil and within 2 hours of landing, I found myself at the Piraruca Lodge. Soon after my arrival at the lodge, I discovered how well this body of water has been conserved… Not only by the many large caimans around, but also by the fish that were hunting close to the lodge.  Many times through the day you could feel them hitting the floor of the cabins trying to feed.

Caiman (alligator)

The gear:

  1. 7wt rod/reel spooled with floating line and a floating cricket fly tied by my friend Armando Giraldo (@orinocoflies).
  2. 10wt rod/reel spooled with an intermediate line and 3” long a streamer.
  3. 12wt rod/reel with a 500gr sinking line and an even bigger 4” long streamer for a larger option.
Arowana with a face full of floating cricket

The next day as we traveled to our destination for Arapaima we came across a great commotion… Hundreds of birds and caimans in a small perimeter feeding on baitfish. We then looked closer and spotted some arapaima rolling and jumping. We instantly began ripping streamers through the chaos hoping an arapaima would take.

After just a few casts I had one inhale my fly, but as the guide said, “You are not strong enough to set the hook into its bony mouth,” I realized he wasn’t joking. I have fished for many fish with boney mouths, but in my opinion, arapaima are the toughest yet.

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Nico with a nice one

A little later my partner and I each hooked into one. But, our fly lines tangled and I ended with a snapped 80lb fluorocarbon leader. We eventually got on more throughout the day in the lagoons and canals. The success came from a range of slow retrieves as well as very fast ones. We finally figured them out and landed some.

Arapaima – photo credit: @marcos_hlace

Being in a place like this, one needs to take advantage and fish for other species. That’s why I decided to ask my guide to try to catch a Tambaquí or also called Black Pacú. My guide wasn’t very confident in finding them. This was because the trees did not bear fruits yet and the groups of them were not visible feeding yet. However, after casting an orange fruit pattern under a tree, we ended up landing a memorable one. I saw the fish dart for the fly eat it and then the fight was just remarkable.

Tambaqui or Black Pacú  – photo credit: @marcos_hlace

I’m surprised and content to see how conservation through responsible sport fishing can produce so much biodiversity and such high conservation of fish species. I hope my country can follow that example and provide more protection of our waters. Countries that struggle with similar issues need to look closer on how Brazil is managing their waters so that one day fishermen will have access to our pristine waters.

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Jose Bravo is an angler and photographer from Columbia; follow him on his journey through the South American Jungles @thepeacockbass.


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