I have always had a passion for off the beaten path fishing locations and find myself continuously searching for waters a little farther from the paths most traveled. Whether it is hiking a little farther, running a white water canyon or tossing a raft off of a bridge, the fish always seem a little more special when you find those special places that remain pristine and lightly trafficked. When it comes to off the beaten path fishing, it is hard to imagine another corner of the globe that is further from the hoards of humanity or more pristine than the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil.
“Amazon” seems to just roll of your tongue with an exotic flourish and the name itself conjures images of jaguars, piranha, towering vine laden trees, misty mountains and of course giant fish. The vast tracts of unspoiled forests and rivers have always captured my imagination and several years ago we began researching the top programs for jungle fly fishing in Brazil. After an extensive review of several reputable programs we settled on Agua Boa Amazon Lodge. Securing a coveted dry season week at the highly sought after Agua Boa program deep in the Amazon River basin is no easy task. The Agua Boa river is as remote as they come and the lodge has the only permit to operate on this fly fishing only river famous for its high quality sight fishing for huge peacock bass and other exotic species. With extremely high return client rates it can be difficult to “get in” for peak season dates. We have had our eye on this program for quite a while and when a prime week finally opened up we jumped on it and quickly filled the week with a great crew of longtime Montana Angler guests nearly a year in advance.
What makes Agua Boa lodge so special is that it is essentially the only true fly fishing lodge in the Brazilian Amazon. Other programs utilize floating cabins towed by barges or large river yachts. Agua Boa has its own 1000 meter runway on site to allow guests to fly in and out on the included weekly charter. The floating cabin and riverboat programs are restricted to much larger rivers that can allow these large boats to navigate. At Agua Boa guides can use nimble jetted motors to skim over shallow sandbars on a smaller volume system that allows for exceptional sight casting in clear waters. The season runs from November to the end of March. The dry season begins in October and traditionally by mid December the river is at its lowest levels of the year which extends into April. After patiently waiting for a few seasons for a prime date to open up we finally scored the first week of March for our Montana Angler trip; traditionally a great week for this program.
Agua Boa Lodge is centrally located on the highly productive Agua Boa River. The main lodge has a large sitting area, game room and dining room along with a covered porch and outdoor seating area. The lodge can handle 12 anglers each week on a Saturday to Saturday schedule. Guests stay in one of 7 cabins, each with 2 queen beds, private bath, air conditioning and a covered porch. The lodge also offers a large swimming pool and swim up bar perched above the river. Each day anglers depart from the dock with their guide in customized skiffs equipped with either prop or jet motors depending on water levels. The lodge also has a network of smaller non motorized skiffs stashed in numerous lagoon systems which are small lakes formed by old oxbos of the river that can be accessed by short hikes or a chainsaw or machete path along interconnecting waterways. There is also a large “staff lodge” to house the large number of employees that help to maintain the grounds, prepare meals, serve and of course guide visiting anglers. The guide team is extremely experienced on the local waters with most guiding at the lodge for 6-18 seasons. All of the guides were born and raised in the Amazon region and are outstanding boatman and possess an impressive knowledge of both the fishery as well as the local wildlife. Lodge manager Carlos Azevedo, a bilingual Portugese citizen but resident of Brazil for nearly 2 decades has been with the lodge for 14 seasons and is an excellent host with an intimate knowledge of the fishery and the region.
The Agua Boa is located 50 miles north of the equator in the center of the world’s most vast and pristine virgin forest. When flying on the charter out of Manuas you quickly leave behind all signs of civilization and development as you fly for just over 200 miles of untracked wilderness. The lodge is located on the banks of the river with dozens of miles of productive water both upstream and downstream. The virgin forests that make up the entire basin slowly release moisture into the system and result in very little sediment and clear waters making the Agua Boa legendary for prime sight casting conditions. Many of the other peacock bass programs in the Amazon utilize mother ships or barges towering floating cabins. The downside of these programs is that they are forced to utilize much larger and deeper rivers that often take sight casting out of the equation. The river is home to three species of peacock bass and numerous other game fish such as arawana, payara (the vampire fish) and arapaima (the largest freshwater fish on earth). Peacock bass are the glamour species in the system and are found in both high numbers and great size. The Temensis species is the largest of the bass with fish in the 8-16 lb. range caught on a regular basis when normal sight casting conditions prevail and 20lb specimens caught each season (the lodge record is 23 lbs.). In addition to the larger temensis the aggressive butterfly peacocks are also a great sportfish and are commonly found in the 3-5 lb range with large specimens approaching 10 lbs. The Popoca species are the smallest of the peacocks and are commonly less than 5 lbs.
Peacock bass are incredibly aggressive and excessively strong. Streamers are the most effective flies with larger 1/0 to 3/0 flies most common. Peacock colored flies with purple and orange are popular as are grey, chartreuse, and white. Topwater poppers can also be quite effective at times in shallower water. The most versatile rod is an 8 weight for peacock bass, the larger rod is helpful both for casting the larger flies but also for fighting and turning the incredibly strong peacocks. A 9 weight is also effective while a 7 weight is fun for the smaller butterflies but a little outmatched for the bigger fish. The go to fly line is a clear tipped intermediate sinking line such as the Rio Outbound or Scientific Angler Sonar. Both companies make a tropical option which has a stiffer finish that keeps it from becoming too soft and tacky in the equatorial heat. A floating line is also a great option and is more effective for fishing poppers. Peacock bass are not leader shy and you need strong tackle to pull them out of timber if they dive for structure. We used 40lb hard mono from RIO and simply added about 5 feet of straight mono to the end of the fly line to serve as our leaders.
Travelling to the lodge is surprisingly easy. We first travelled to Miami and then caught the American direct flight to Manuas, Brazil. Manaus is a city of about 3 million residents and is the economic hub of the Amazon region. It is located at the “wedding of the waters” where the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes join to form the Amazon. About half of our group including myself arrived a day early, the 4.5 hour flight from Miami gets in at about 11pm while the other half of the group arrived Friday evening. The lodge host in Manaus, Ray Santos, and his team picked us up at the airport and transferred us to our hotel. On Saturday morning we headed to a smaller air strip to meet up with two chartered planes which are included in the lodge package to make the 2 hour flight to the lodge.
If you opt for an Amazon trip I highly recommend spending a day seeing the sights around Manaus. You can either arrive a day early or see some sites on the departure day since the flight home is at night but you arrive back at Manaus via the lodge charter midday. Ray Santos arranged a great 5-6 hour city and jungle tour for our group for $100 per person which proved to be well worth the cost. We started the day by visiting the famous Opera house which was constructed during the days of the rubber boom when “rubber barons” became incredibly wealthy extracting rubber from the rainforest’s rubber trees. All of the materials for the Opera House, even the wood floors, were shipped in from Europe. After touring the Opera house we stopped by the markets along the Rio Negro which were bustling with activity. The massive fish market was quite impressive as table after table was laden with numerous Amazonian fish species displayed for sale. After the city tour we hopped in a small boat and within 30 minutes were in a jungle setting motoring up small channels. We stopped at a floating restaurant for a great spread of local favorite foods including filleted aripaima and numerous exotic fruits. A quick walk through the forest yielded spider and capuchin monkeys as well as 8 foot diameter giant lily pads. After lunch we motored to the “wedding of the waters” where the Negro and Solimeos join to form the Amazon River. The dark tannin stained waters of the Rio Negro and the white silt laden waters of the Solimeos offer a stark contrast as the rivers join. After returning from the Amazon river proper we stopped by an aripaima fish farm. Aripaima are the world’s largest freshwater fish and a favorite delicacy of the locals. To help protect the wild aripaima the fish is now frequently raised via aquaculture. To sample the power of these 200+ pound monsters we each took a turn “feeding the fish” by lowering a baitfish tied on a rope into the holding waters and held on for dear life as these sea monsters tried their best to rip our arms out of their sockets.
Day 1: Lodge arrival and fishing
On Saturday morning we headed to a small air field to catch our charter to the lodge. Two large turbo props awaited us. The flight is just under 2 hours to the lodge. Upon take off we had a better look at the massive scale of the Amazon River. In some places the river is over 25 miles wide during the rainy season. Within minutes of leaving Manaus signs of civilization quickly vanished and we were awed by the never ending vastness of the rain forest below. We eventually left the Rio Negro and tracked north along the Rio Branco for most of the flight. The flight carried us back across the equator on our journey to the lodge. The lodge is located in a vast national park and as we descended the lodge grounds were the only break in the otherwise uninterrupted virgin forests. After landing we were met by our hosts and escorted to our cabins to drop off our gear and rig up for the days fishing. After a breakfast at the lodge we headed out with high expectations. I was teamed with an old friend Anthony Rosini on the first fishing day. Anthony and I hooked up with our guide Guillermo in a large john boat that had been modified for fishing the Agua Boa, including rod holders, casting decks and a large polling platform. We motored upriver for about 30 minutes before exploring a large backwater slough of the main river. The unusual heavy rains of the 2017 season left most of the main river unfishable, with the river extending back into the timber. Guillermo had selected a favorite “bay” of the river that had a reputation for producing big peacocks. Even with the high waters the clarity was surprisingly good with visibility at 4 feet. The river had risen several feet overnight from some storms that hit just before arrival which can make the fishing difficult. Over the course of 4 hours of hard fishing we managed to pick up 5 nice peacock bass including a heavy 6 pounder. We hammered Guillermo with questions on our first day on the water as to what was “normal”. He indicated that 50-60 fish days were the norm this time of year with lots of big fish caught sight casting. Not sure how the flooded river would fish we were quite pleased not to be skunked and eager to hear how the rest of the crew fared. Upon return to the lodge it was Philip Edison and Geoff Euston that had the hot hand. They had traveled through the jungle on foot into a clear water lagoon where a smaller boat was waiting and had spent the day sight fishing to aggressive peacocks, landing over 30 in a few hours fishing.
Day 2: Outstanding big fish day
On the second day I teamed up with Chad Johnson and our guide Bacada. Bacada took us on an hour long run downriver. Later he indicated that these waters were rarely fished under normal conditions since it would take too long to get there. We fished a backwater of the main river that must have not mixed with the recent sediments in the main river. The clarity was outstanding and closer to normal conditions with 8-10 feet of visibility. Within minutes we were into big peacock bass. With the clear water we saw the fish coming from several feet away as they aggressively crushed our flies. Chad and I each landed nice 6-8 lb temensis and had several doubles on fat and hard fighting butterfly peacocks in the 3-4 pound range. The action tended to occur in flurries with some banks producing fish every few minutes and other areas just a few strikes from time to time. Over the course of a great day we landed about 25 fish with several heavy bass. Upon returning to the lodge it sounded like most of the boats had similar luck. Philip and Erik had chainsawed their way into an un-fished lagoon with Joseph and broke off 3 fish over 10lbs while Anthony snapped his rod on an 8 lb peacock that he still managed to land. Lots of smiles were on hand at the lodge swimming pool as we enjoyed cold beers looking out over the river. During the course of the day we spotted Sake monkeys, maccaws, parrots, Amazonian eagles and caiman.
Day 3: Productive clearwater lagoon fishing
Chad and I teamed up again, this time with guide Preto. We motored upriver for a 45 minute run and then parked the skiff in a small channel and gathered our equipment to make a short 5 minute hike through the jungle. We quickly popped out into a clearwater 3 lagoon system where a smaller skiff had been stashed. We loaded up our gear and Preto began polling us through the labyrinth of water and forest. After popping out in another lagoon we continued to paddle and pole into yet another channel that led back into the jungle. This channel proved to be quite the adventure and we had to get out of the boat on 5 occasions to drag it up and over large downed trees. After some serious jungle exploring we popped out into yet another lagoon. Preto indicated that this was the first time all season this lagoon had been fished. Within minutes we spotted several big temensis cruising weed flats. We slowly polled our way across the flats, occasionally picking up some big peacocks. This lagoon didn’t have high numbers of bass but they seemed to be mostly the larger temensis. With 10 minutes of fishing we heard a massive explosion of water and turned to watch a 200+ pound 8 foot long aripaima roll across the surface. Within the next hour the massive aripaima rolled 3 more times and finally we opted to rig up with some 300 grain sinking lines and strip slow and deep for the big fish. Aripaima are aggressive predators but have poor eyesight so a slow and steady retrieve right along the bottom is the desired approach. After two hours of repetitive casting we headed back to the middle lagoon system. Even though the lagoons were interconnected they had very different fish populations. The middle lagoon was infested with butterfly peacocks. This lagoon was shallower with broad weed flats around the edges. Within flats there were gaps in the weeds where the bass congregated. I switched to a popper and had some terrific surface takes over these weed holes. We enjoyed steady action all afternoon on the smaller butterflies and spotted a few more larger 8-10lb temensis that weren’t inclined to feed.
Day 4: New lagoon explorations
Chad and I headed upriver again on “hump day”. We stopped at one of the clearwater lagoons we had fished the day before and opted to try some new waters and do some exploring. Some of the main river sand bars that were submerged looked pretty interesting so we asked our guide Caboco to see if he was interested in trying them. Since the high flows had produced some unusual fishing conditions Caboco was up for the adventure of exploring and we spent the morning motoring around the main river to see if we could find some new productive waters. Our results were limited and fishing was slow. Since we were both a little cooked from 3.5 days of hard fishing we opted to head in early to rest our arms and enjoy the lodge grounds a bit. Upon returning to the lodge I went on a 2 hour jungle walk on a path the lodge had cut out. Minutes into the hike 2 bands of monkeys were swinging through the trees overhead - both Sake and Capuchin monkeys. Observing the monkeys upclose was a special treat and I was fascinated observing their grace and dexterity as they effortlessly leaped from tree to tree.
When the other boats returned several of the teams had their best days on the water yet. Anthony and Geoff had an epic 70 fish day including several 8lb plus bass and and 11 pounder that Anthony landed. Philip and Eric also had a banner day and hacked into yet another unfished lagoon that produced great results. David and his son Mason had were also full of smiles with a camera full of fish pictures along with an unusual sloth sighting.
Day 5: Hunting for Aripaima
On day 5 I teamed up with Philip Edison. I was still daydreaming about the huge aripaima we spotted rolling on the remote lagoon on the 3rd day and I asked Philip if he was game for trophy hunting. I had brought along an 11 weight with a 450 grain sink tip for just such an occasion. Philip was one of our most experienced casters in the group and he readily agreed to give it a try. We spent most of the morning exploring the middle and back lagoon search for the aripaima. Ulike the previous day we didn’t see the huge fish rolling and eventually gave up the hunt. The good news was the peacocks were cooperative and we spent the middle of the day sight casting to the butterfly peacocks. After lunch we opted for the third lagoon that hadn’t been fished all week. This lagoon was deeper and held fewer bass but as we spent 2 hours polling and paddling around its edges we managed to pick up about 8 good bass all between 4-7 pounds. Surprisingly I was as effective with a topwater popper along the deeper banks as I was with a streamer and enjoyed some spectacular surface action. Upon returning back to the lodge we learned that brothers Jim and Dave Cava had the hot hand for the day with several big temensis landed while exploring a new downriver beat.
Day 6: More downriver exploring
On day 6 I enjoyed the day with Erik Gould and our guide Samuel. Erik was a newcomer to fly fishing. This trip was his first experience holding a fly rod. I hadn’t seen him cast since the first day in the grass when he was struggling with the many mechanics to account for required to cast a fly. I was amazed to see how he had progressed over a few short days and he was quite effectively launching big streamers deep into holding water along the banks. Erik and I had a great morning in a clearwater side channel watching big temensis blow up our streamers. We went fish for fish most of the morning under a steady drizzle with several 7 and 8 pound bass landed. Samuel was an energetic and enthusiastic guide and seemed to have figured out where the bass had moved to in these unusual conditions. Everytime the action would drop off he would move us to a new location where we found more fish. Along the way the wildlife viewing was spectacular as we spotted freshwater dolphin, mccaws, eagles, and monkeys. While we fished the thunderous boom of howler monkeys roaring in the distance filled the forest. In the afternoon we stumbled upon a small bay infested with butterflies that produced a fish on nearly every cast for the better part of a half an hour. When the day was finished it ended up yielding a great blend of big fish and action on smaller bass. On the way back to the lodge we stopped at one more “honey hole” where a small creek joined the larger river. Samuel posted the boat at the top of the seam where the creek entered and we launched streamers into the holding water. On the first cast my arm nearly ripped out of socket as a large fish ran hard and eventually took me into a log on the far bank before breaking off. It was the heaviest fish I had experienced on the trip so far. We ended up connecting on several more fish - mostly of the spotted “feeding stage” of the temensis. In this stage the bass are incredibly hard fighting. Eric and I also each hooked up with the vampire fanged payara but neither of us was able to land one.
Back at the lodge it seemed like most of the boats had good days. After getting cleaned up we headed to the lawn in front of lodge to enjoy the “Thurdsay Night Casting Competition”. This is a popular tradition at the lodge where any of the staff can compete for a pot of money each week. Guides and kitchen staff alike take their turn on the fly rod and make a series of casts on a “course” that includes distance and accuracy stations. Head guide Joseph took the grand prize but there was an entertaining sudden death between Preto and Bacada for second place that went through 3 extra rounds before a victor prevailed.
Day 7: Joseph’s secret lagoon
On the final day of fishing I teamed up with Chad Johnson again and head guide Joseph. Joseph has been guiding at Agua Boa for 18 seasons and is the resident long toothed expert. We headed downriver for a short run of 10 minutes before cutting into a small channel in the jungle and then spent the next 45 minutes deftly motoring and polling through a tiny creek system that eventually led to a huge hidden lagoon. Within minutes of casting we were into fish. The lagoon system proved to be very productive and we caught all three species of peacock bass including some larger temensis up to 8lbs. It was a great way to end the trip and cap off a great adventure.
Even though our crew drew the short straw on conditions and experience the highest “low season” waters that most of the guides had sean the trip turned to to be a flying success with plenty of action and lots of big fish. We had a great crew assembled and spending time each evening in the warm tropical air outside of the lodge trading stories was a welcome treat after long days on the water. The region is truly spectacular and it is hard to describe in words how amazing it is to experience first hand such a pristine ecosystem with exotic species of fish, birds, mammals and reptiles in every direction on a daily basis. The fishery is unlike any I have ever experience and the shear biomass of fish of varying species is spectacular. The hard flight peacock bass are a truly great game fish on a fly rod with incredible takes and rod busting strength (our team of 12 anglers managed to break 11 rods over the course of the week, mostly while fighting fish). This is truly a special destination and one that I can’t wait to get back to when the legendary sight fishing under normal flows is in peak form.
Join us in 2018!
For those interested in joining us on our February 2018 Brazil hosted trip we have a limited number of spots still available for our return trip. Please let us know as soon as possible if you are interested as this trip fills fast.