Fly fishing provides the finest excuse to travel to beautiful places; but life is short, and the world is large. When planning our next fishing adventure, we make a choice to target new waters or return to cherished favorites. Although the desire burns deep within me to explore novel fisheries in unfamiliar places, there are some special locations that simply demand a return visit. The wilds of Brazil's Amazon River drainage is one of these places. Once experienced these remote fisheries demand a return visit. The opportunity to chase over a dozen species of fish, enjoy high catch rates, experience remote wilderness and view spectacular wildlife is simply unparalleled.
Our most recent visit to Agua Boa Lodge delivered yet another incredible experience. The opportunity to host a terrific group of people was made all the more special with my 13 year old son Charlie joining the trip. I’m still basking in the glow of another great trip under our belt and already looking forward to our next visit. If you love to fish and travel, jungle fishing in Brazil needs to be added to your bucket list!
The Agua Boa River Fishery
Winning time: 0.8 seconds
2nd place time: 1.2 seconds
3rd place time: 1.7 seconds
These were the results of our daily “bread crumb challenge”. Each day at lunch we pulled the skiff over to enjoy some shade and snack on a sandwich. Our lunch spots were randomly chosen under the nearest tree along over 100 miles of rivers and lagunas when the hunger bell rang. Each day we tossed a piece of bread into the river and timed how long it took before a swarm of minnows attacked our bread….it didn’t take long!
To get a bird’s eye view of the spectacular aquatic biomass of this fishery one simply needs to toss a bit of your lunch into the river. Regardless of where you stop the river nearly boils when you drop a morsel of bread or lunch meat into the water. Within a fraction of a second schools of tiny fish that have never seen a loaf of bread in their short existence come barreling in to inspect (and eventually eat) anything that moves. Its not just the smaller fish that are attracted. Within a half a minute there are pan sized fish eating the smaller fish that are eating the tiny fish that are eating the bread.
This unique spectacle was best summed up by Charlie, “This is so cool, it’s like the food webs we learn about in science class but under our boat. Everything is trying to smash everything else; I think that surviving as a fish in this river might actually be more difficult than surviving a middle school hallway….well, almost.”
The Amazon River system is far and away the most diverse freshwater fishery on earth. No other river system comes even close to matching the incredible number of species found within it. The Amazon has 10 times the number of species in its waters than all of the rivers combined on the European continent. There are more species of catfish than there are species of all freshwater fish in North America. The examples go on and on but when you visit in person it truly hits home.
Fishing in the Amazon is much more than the glamor species of peacock bass, toothy payara or “vampire fish” and the massive arapaima. The rivers are quite literally swarming with interesting fish that are eager to sample your fly. On our most recent trip we caught 3 species of peacock bass, 3 species of catfish, 4 species of piranha, 2 species of Oscar, jacunda, payara, arapaima, dogfish, bicuda, matricia, arowana, pacu, and a few I can’t remember the names of. After a while you begin to lose count but the over the course of the week our group landed somewhere around 20 different species fish!
There are two factors that make the Agua Boa system so fun to fish. The first is that the clarity of the water is exceptional. Many of the peacock bass rivers in Brazil are “blackwater” rivers with a dark, tannin stained water. The Agua Boa runs very clear which allows for incredible sight fishing. The other factor is that the lodge is located far up the river and accessed by a remote landing strip. This removes the need to stay on a live a board boat that requires a much larger river for navigation. The result is a more intimate fishery with exceptional opportunities for sight fishing. Although we enjoyed a variety of fishing styles on the Agua Boa (streamers, poppers, gurlgers, blind casting and sight fishing); it is the opportunities to see cruising fish and watch crushing takes that keeps me coming back.
River conditions during our week
After several years of visiting Agua Boa Lodge, we were eventually able to land an early February week that we will have first right of refusal for return trips into the future. The season at the lodge corresponds with the dry season which is November through March. Although you can encounter great fishing at any time when visiting Agua Boa, our dates provide great potential to catch the river in prime shape.
Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of this fishery is the diversity of waters that it offers. Most river flows offer their own unique set of advantages. Higher flows allow easier access up and down the river and shorter travel times. Higher flows also allow for more opportunities to find passages through the jungle into abandoned river channels and oxbow lakes teaming with fish. Lower flows open up more of the main river to fishing and provides for exceptional sight fishing over underwater sandbars. After multiple visits to Agua Boa each trip has provided unique water levels along with unique experiences.
When we arrived at the lodge the river was in great shape – it was still a bit on the higher side and steadily dropping. Water clarity was excellent and allowed for numerous sight fishing opportunities. The water was high enough to allow for long runs upriver into the National Park and we were able to access numerous lagunas connected to the main river by tiny channels through the rain forest.
As the week progressed the river steadily dropped and exposed more of the sand bar systems in the main river. All in all, it was a great level to fish the river and we enjoyed the changing conditions and character of the river as the week progressed.
The Fishing Program
The team of guides at Agua Boa are very experienced. We have been fishing with the same guides year after year and veterans such as Joseph, Daniel, Preto, Cabolco and the rest of the team know every nook and cranny of the fishery. The guides break the river up into beats with each beat encapsulating approximately 10-12 miles of river along with numerous back water bays, side channels and oxbow lakes. Over the course of the week one guide works one beat of the river and as guests we fish with a different guide each day. This system works very well since the guides are very familiar with where the fish are holding in each beat and they also tend to rotate where the fish each day so any given section of river, side channel or laguna receives multiple days of rest. The density of fish is quite high and there is a vast amount of water to explore. With so much water on hand and so few anglers, the fish are very lightly pressure. In all of the years we have visited I do not remember catching a fish with hook scars or line marks.
The variety of the types of water fished as well as the 20+ species to target allows for anglers to change it up on each day of the trip. The exceptional variety keeps things fresh and new every day and leaves you wanting more even after the week is over.
Fast Action Opportunities: Fishing for Butterflies and Towa Varieties of Peacock Bass
The more opportunities that I have to fish for peacock bass, the more they have become near and dear to my heart. These are quite simply some badass predators. There are three different species of peacock bass encountered in the Agua Boa river system. The butterflies and towa are the smaller species and provide for excellent sportfishing opportunities. They are about the size of largemouth bass with the larger fish in the 5-8lb range. They love to hit surface poppers and gurglers with reckless abandon. If you are after action look no farther than these aggressive species of bass. Technically peacock bass are cichlids, vs. black bass. All species are aggressive predators and active river hunters. Butterfly peacocks are found throughout the river system including the many lagunas while the towa variety is more common on the lowest reach of the river near its confluence with the large Branca river.
Both butterflies and towa tend to travel in schools. Often they prefer structure and will hang around bushes or trees submerged in the water. The butterflies are exceptionally beautiful fish with an electric blue highlight on their fins when in the water to offset the bright greens and yellows. Smaller fish in the 2-4lb range often form large schools and when you find a group oriented around some structure catch rates can be quite high. Larger butterflies are spectacular fish and the larger 5-8lb specimens tend to travel in smaller groups. On our recent trip there was a great population of larger butterflies and we caught fish over 5lbs most days. These are big fish that put up a spectacular fight.
The Ultimate Predator: Temensis Peacock Bass
The kings and queens of the river are the temensis variety of peacocks. These larger fish will grow to over 20lbs and the Agua Boa has a healthy population of large fish in the 10-20lb class. Big temensis hit with sledgehammer force and can easily snap your rod if you aren’t careful. With their huge bucket mouths the hammer bait fish and swallow them whole. Takes are spectacular and the fights are equally as impressive.
The “paca” variety of temensis was once thought to be its own species. Pacas are the non-spawning color variant of temensis and have a rich spotted pattern. They often hunt in packs like wolves and are voracious hunters. The spawning coloration of temensis have a spectacular color pallet that includes deep greens, oranges, yellows and blacks.
The bigger the fish the more likely they are to be hunting as singles or in pairs. While some large fish are encountered blind casting to likely holding water, most of our biggest fish landed after spotting the fish in advance. These big temensis tend to cruise shorelines or open flats in search of batefish. Once spotted a cast that leads the fish by 4-8 feet followed by stripping as fast as you can will often lead to heart stopping attacks.
On our recent trip the largest peacock landed was 18 lbs. Most days at least one of our groups landed fish over 15 lbs. If you enjoy streamer fishing – you will absolutely fall in love with chasing big peacock bass on the fly!
In Search of the Mighty Arapaima
Arapaima are the apex predator in the Amazon system. These are the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world with the largest specimens eclipsing 400lbs. Arapaima will roll in a similar fashion to tarpon. They are most often encountered in oxbow channels and lagunas where they spend the dry season hunting smaller peacock bass. The first time I encountered an arapaima was about 7 years ago in a large laguna when a massive 200+ lb fish rolled 40 yards from our skiff. The scene was reminiscent of the “Hunt for Red October” when the Russian nuclear sub makes the rapid ascent and breaches the surface. The roll of the big fish was so substantial that the waves afterword rocked our skiff. Needless to say I had a new bucket list species to chase. On each subsequent visit I came prepared with a 12 weight rod equipped with a 500 grain sink tip to lob peacock bass colored streamers past the snouts of these monsters.
Chasing arapaima is a bit like playing “whack a mole”. Each time they roll our guide would pole to the disturbance and we would cast like mad only to see them roll a few minutes later in a completely different direction. There is a brief window after a roll when they leave a bubble trail indicating their direction of travel. Generally my experiences chasing arapaima result in a very sore shoulder and no action.
When we arrived this season one of the guests departing from the week before had mentioned that they had seen a lot of arapaima. He had been a long-time guest over the years and indicated that they had seen more in the last week than on any previous trip. Exactly what I wanted to hear!
On our second day David Thompson and Ben Winship returned and David pulled me aside to show me a few photos on his camera for the day – they had each landed arapaima! We learned that Lucas had discovered a laguna that had a large number of smaller to medium sized fish and they had each had 2 hookups that day. Later that week Charlie and I teamed up with Lucas and we finally found the cruising arapaima. They weren’t the 200 lb monsters but they were still impressive. We each managed to land 2 that morning, truly one of the coolest experiences I have had on the fly. Later that day we found 3 more massive 150lb+ monsters rolling occasionally in a large back bay. We had several close calls with these big boys but couldn’t manage to get a hookup. One of our other guests, Glenn Ging, managed to find a nice 70lb class fish cruising in some shallows and successfully hooked and landed it.
The Smorgasbord of Other Interesting Jungle Fish
One of the great aspects of spending time on the water in this incredible fishery is the shear variety of finned critters that you can encounter. In addition to peacock bass and arapaima we landed numerous other specimens with over 20 different species targeted over the course of the week. From the schools of arowana to the unique payara or “vampire fish”.
At the top of the list are the unique arowana which travel in small schools just below the surface. They eat streamers but also love a popper or gurgler slow stripped on top. We saw, hooked, and landed more arowana this year than in any of our previous visits.
Another crowd favorite is the unique payara or “vampire fish”. These are less common and are famous for their large and foreboding fangs. Surprisingly they have fairly soft mouths and the hook is easily pulled out making them difficult to land. Ben Winship landed the sole payara of the trip on our last visit, nice work Ben!!!
Beware the Piranha
One of the most notorious and symbolic predator in the Amazon fishery is the legendary piranha. There are several species of piranha in the Agua Boa (we landed 3 species on our last visit). Piranha are surprisingly good to eat and it can be entertaining to hand line for them with live bait. Rarely does your bate last more than 10 seconds if they are near. Piranha can also be a bit of a challenge at times when they hit your fly and your $16 fancy jungle streamer pattern comes back with a haircut. Occasionally they also attack our fly line and it seems that someone in the group always end up being the unlucky individual with a severed fly line thanks to the piranha. On this last trip we had two occurrences where we were bringing in big peacocks over open water when a swarm of piranha attacked the larger peacock. In one instance it only lasted a few seconds until we were able to get the peacock into the shallows but in that short amount it had a few toothy chucks missing from its tailfin.
Catfishing Sessions at Lunch Time
One of our favorite pastimes on this trip was to do some sight casting for catfish during lunch. There are numerous species of catfish in the Agua Boa and over 500 species in the Amazon River system in its entirety. Every day we would see dozens of big catfish cruising over shallow sandbars. Carlos eventually lent us a baitcasting rod to young Charlie with a huge 1 ounce sinker and a 5/0 hook. In the morning if we caught a smaller baitfish like a matricia that we would keep it for lunch and the guides would chop it into a few pieces. At lunchtime we would park near a sandbar and locate some catfish. Generally the catfish would be on it within 15-20 seconds if a piranha didn’t find it first. Catfish will also occasionally take a fly and Charlie managed to landed a nice redtail catfish while sight casting. He repeatedly stripped his Clouser in front of the catfish and on the fifth try he inhaled it – quite the accomplishment!
The Spectacular Wildlife of the Amazon
The amazing biodiversity of the Amazon river system extends far beyond the fishery. One of the great joys of travelling to this remote region is the impressive wildlife viewing that we. Birdlife is incredible with flocks of parrots and mccaws making their presence know with their cackling calls. A variety of herons, egrets, kingfishers, storks, spoonbills and more are encountered on a daily basis.
They river is also filled with caiman which are a close relative of alligators and crocodiles. These big predators average about 10-14 feet but can be as large as 20 feet in length. We will often see as many as 30 or more caiman in a day. It can be a bit unnerving while you are fighting a big peacock bass and a big caiman comes cruising in on a steady trajectory towards the boat. On more than one occasion our guides have had to redirect caiman with their push poles!
Monkeys are also commonly encountered. On our last trip we viewed capuchin, red howler and brown saki monkeys on different days. Each season the guides also encounter a few jaguar (we saw some jaguar prints on the beaches and heard some massive crashing in the forest one day near where a guide had seen one a few days earlier). There was also a huge 20 foot anaconda that was living in a burrow along the river’s edge that had been making a regular appearance this season.
The river is also home to 2 species of freshwater dolphin. The dolphin are possibly the most aggressive predators in the river and the guides are always trying to avoid since they will attack the peacock bass while you are fighting them or wait until after they are released to scoop up an easy meal. The dolphin are more nimble than the caiman, so the guides sometimes bring slingshots along to try to haze the hungry dolphins away. It is a bit comical to listen to the guides swearing in Portuguese as they unsuccessfully try to launch small stones at the dolphin nimbly avoid the tiny projectiles as the effortlessly glide through the water. If a dolphin is in the area and we do land a nice fish we generally pull to the bank to release the fish to ensure he doesn’t become the dolphins next easy meal.
Back at the Lodge
After a long day of jungle fishing, it is always a welcome treat to return to the lodge and enjoy a swim in the pool in the river while bartender extraordinaire, Johnny, whips up some tasty caparinha cocktails. The lodge is incredibly remote but also very comfortable with large, air-conditioned cabins and a main lodge building outfitted with a game room, seating lounge and large dining area. The lodge manager Carlos is an exceptional host and has and endless supply of captivating stories of the region. Each evening we enjoyed delicious meals and great conversation.
Getting to the Lodge
As the world returns to normal in the wake of the Covid pandemic, more flights have come online when travelling to the gateway city of Manaus, Brazil. On this hosted trip we had guests connect to Manaus via Sao Paolo, Miami and Panama City. The flights from Miami are relatively short at about 6 hours flying time although this year they didn’t always sync with departure and arrival days. Recently a new direct flight came on line from Fort Lauderdale to Manaus. We generally arrive a night early and enjoy some of the unique sights in Manaus such as the fish market, opera house, floating villages and boating to the “Wedding of the Waters” where the Rio Negro and Solimoes join together to form the Amazon river proper. On our most recent visit my son Charlie and I arrived a few days early and connected through Rio de Janeiro for two nights to take in a soccer match at the famous Maracana stadium. As the saying goes fly fishing is a pretty good excuse to see the world!
We’ll be back!
After a few weeks back home we are already daydreaming about our return visit in 2024. Our prime week in early February is about as good as it gets, and we are already counting down the days to get back to Brazil. Let us know if you would like to join us on our 2024 hosted trip to Brazil!