At the age of 13, specifically in 1997, I embarked on my first fishing trip with my father. We visited the Pantanal in Brazil, the country where I grew up and lived until I was 27 years old, before deciding to move to Spain. From a very young age, I had dreamed of undertaking an adventure of this magnitude. Our mission was nothing less than to fish what we called “the King of the River,” one of the most famous and fabulous fish in Brazil and South America.
Twenty-three years have passed, and in 2020, my life took a completely different turn. I left my stable job in Barcelona and traveled thousands of kilometers to the Bolivian Amazon, this time in search of another dream: photographing the fishing season of what had been my first life goal set in the 90s, the Dorado.
The Amazon, considered the largest tropical rainforest in the world, represents 43% of Bolivia’s national territory. Abundant in biodiversity and natural resources, our adventure took place in the department of Beni, a beautiful place that unfortunately suffers from the growth of mining and logging today. It is home to various indigenous tribes, some still untouched by modern civilization. This is where we would be staying during that season.
After a few days without rain, we gained access to the area where we would spend the next few months. Departing from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a trip of approximately two and a half hours, flying over dense forests, rivers, and swamps, our landing place was an indigenous tribe of the Tsimane ethnic group.
We were living in a post-pandemic world, and no one had traveled to this place for two years. Nelson, a former Bolivian army pilot, had only one point indicated on the GPS, but like us, it was his first time landing here. We had already been in the air for a couple of hours, or maybe three, and we could not find the landing strip. Suddenly, in a sharp turn, our pilot exclaimed, “I found the runway!” With an extreme maneuver to the left, the plane made a quick turn and passed just 10 meters above the trees (my heart almost jumped out of my mouth). We achieved a perfect landing, but the grass measured a meter and a half, which did not allow us to see the runway. The adventure had just begun.
We headed towards our main camp, Casare Lodge, located on the banks of the “Casare” river (which means Dorado in the Tsimane language). It was a rustic but luxurious structure. We were on a three-day trip by boat from the nearest town and hours of flight from the city, which made the experience even more challenging, wild, and enriching. We were isolated in a place where very few people had the opportunity to set foot.
Imagine what life in cities was like 100 years ago, or life in villages. Here, exposed to the inclemencies of the Amazonian climate, we reconnected with a different modus operandi from the one we followed in the city – a connection of body, earth, and soul. The simplest practices of life, such as drinking water, brushing our teeth, going to the bathroom, and bathing in the river, required physical effort and awakened appreciation and a powerful integration with nature. Carrying out these tasks meant facing long walks, exposure to insects, ants like the “Bullet ant,” various animals, many of them poisonous and dangerous, and on top of that, some types of snakes and spiders roamed freely around the camp, especially at sunset, when we returned from the water.
The climate changed quickly here, as we were relatively close to the Andes, subjecting us to variable temperatures. At the beginning of the season, in the first months (June and July), we experienced a high incidence of storms and winds that came from the south, known as “sudazos.” When they arrived, the temperatures could drop up to 10 degrees Celsius in the morning. It was a significant sudden climate change, considering that during the months prior to the end of the season, from August to mid-October, we reached temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius or more, with extreme humidity – very hot days. Such changes affected our bodies and consequently, the fishing.
In the jungle, safety was paramount, as these shallow clear rivers could quickly turn into huge floods of muddy water, littered with logs and various debris. We always stayed one step ahead to ensure no one was at risk of getting hurt. We were definitely in a unique place. The water that flowed from the melting Andes nourished these rivers, full of nutrients and abundant life. These waters fed some of the main Amazon rivers located in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil – a perfect place for the development of a variety of fish species, including sardinitas, pacus, tabaranas, jatoaranas, tiger catfish, sábalos, big catfish, and, of course, the Dorado. Additionally, we encountered other species such as stingrays, which were often seen in abundance and could pose many challenges. We also spotted reptiles like alligators and turtles, a variety of stunningly beautiful birds, and different types of mammals, with the jaguar at the top of the food chain. It is important to note that in the jungle, even the smallest insect plays a fundamental role in the balance of the ecosystem.
Anglers from all over the world dreamt of traveling to Bolivia. In this magnificent place teeming with life, we found a different type of fishing: Dorado in shallow waters and crystal-clear turquoise rapids, as well as a variety of sport fish mentioned earlier. To catch these predators, we commonly used various streamers, andino deceivers of different sizes, clouser minnows, and imitations of seeds that fell from trees, among others. We had sets of rods numbered 6, 7, 8 for lighter fishing and 9′ indicated to fight for trophies, and up to 10′ depending on the location. We used 40 to 50 pounds of fluorocarbon tippets connected to the fly line with loop to loop and steel connected to the fly.
The Dorado, in my opinion, is one of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. Their vibrant hues reflect the sunlight and enchant all who have the pleasure of laying their hands on them. However, it’s a task that requires dedication and technique from anglers. Fly fishermen and women who thought they would face a simple task were mistaken. This fish is extremely complex, with good eyesight and sensitivity to sudden movements in the water and on land. It reacts to variations in temperature in the air and water and has a bony mouth that requires proper hook sets with very sharp hooks, which often split open or split in half. The Dorado is a creature that does not surrender easily, known for its acrobatic jumps and sharp teeth. When the Dorados are tired and give up for the fisherman, the guides come into play. In these waters, we also had to contend with the candiru, a species of leeches sensitive to the stress hormones released into the water, which attach to the gills of the fish and kill them quickly. With netting canvas and wood, we were able to handle fish carefully and keep the leeches away.
One of the interesting characteristics of the Dorado, scientifically known as “Salminus brasiliensis,” is that the males can reach up to 5 kilograms in weight, while the females can exceed 20 kilograms. They also feed on fish of the same species. Another curiosity is that it is an endemic species of the ‘’Cuenca de la Plata,’’ which includes the Paraná, Uruguay, and São Francisco rivers, spanning across Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. Surprisingly, it later appeared in the Amazonian rivers of Bolivia, and the exact mechanism of this migration remains uncertain. It is believed that past floods may have facilitated its migration from its original rivers to Bolivian territory. Little is known about this traveler, whether it is a subspecies or if it shares the same characteristics as the Dorado from the Prata and São Francisco basins.
Talking about fishing in this territory would be incomplete without acknowledging the true custodians of this land, the Tsimane people. Without them, none of this would have been possible. They are our caretakers, builders, boat pilots, and the wisest and most experienced individuals when it comes to understanding everything that happens around us. This ancestral indigenous ethnic group maintains many of its original traditions, including hunting, clothing, crafts, various customs, and a unique way of life. They are nomadic by nature but are concentrated in several tribes spread over a large part of the Bolivian Amazonian territory. I had the opportunity to witness and share every day with them for three months, an experience that greatly expanded my knowledge and understanding of life and humanity. These people have developed over thousands of years and live in contact with an extremely inhospitable and wild place. They possess remarkable strength, agility, superhuman abilities, and incredibly heightened senses. I will never forget one night when we gathered around the campfire in absolute darkness, with the open sky full of stars. Suddenly, one of our main Tsimane companions, ‘Chuchi,’ asked, “Did you hear that?” We got up and illuminated the riverbank on the other side of where we stood with flashlights and saw yellow points of light. They were the eyes of Jochis, medium-sized rodents similar to capybaras, and they are part of the Tsimane diet.
Every day, we navigated the rivers, faced the currents, and took tourists fishing. I always had my faithful companion, the camera, in my hands, attempting to immortalize the moments of those who were with me each day – guides, tourists, and indigenous people. Along the way, we often stumbled upon an incredible variety of minerals with striking and vivid colors. We also discovered tools carved in stone, remnants of ancient civilizations about which we know very little today.
This place, in addition to its enchanting magic, conceals numerous mysteries. These mysteries can be found in every corner of this beautiful and uninhabited landscape, offering the sport fisherman an environment that encompasses much more than just fishing.
Three months passed by, and I had only scratched the surface of the boundless green of this place, an experience that unquestionably stood as the most incredible and beautiful of my life. I firmly believe that every nature enthusiast and fly-fishing enthusiast should have an experience like this at least once in their lifetime. In the Tsimane territory, amidst the heart of the Amazon jungle, lies the home of the same fish that I encountered 23 years ago – the incredible Dorado.