It was a clear morning as the Cessna Caravan lifted above the city of Manaus Brazil. Our group was flying two hours over the Amazon jungle to spend a week fishing for peacock bass and a variety of other species at the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge. I peered thru the window, anxious to get a look at this new land I had entered a couple days prior. We had spent a fantastic day touring the city, but this was my first look at the sprawling Amazon Basin. Manaus is located at the confluence of the Rio Negro and Rio Solimoes rivers where they form the lower Amazon river. To the east I could see the mighty Amazon beginning its slow two thousand mile journey to the Atlantic. There was so much water it was hard to perceive where the edges of the river turned into jungle. Signs of human existence were sparse outside the city except for a few swaths and shacks along the river channels. There were no visible roads leaving the city and it was clear that people here used the rivers as their highways. Manaus supports a strong manufacturing economy and supplies the rest of Brazil and the world with important goods and resources from the Amazon Basin. The river makes this city a unique inland port, with an interesting history and vibrant culture rarely found in such an isolated region. As the plane veered to the north the colorful pastel buildings of the city faded into a sea of jungle and water. A dense green canopy stretched as far as the eye could see and snake like tributary rivers carved symmetric curves through the canopy. The jungle looked impenetrable and mysterious. What sort of creatures lived down there? I had never been to a place like this before! The humbling exposure and intrigue of the jungle began to creep in I began to have the realization that we were heading to a very remote, uniquely special place that is the Agua Boa Amazon Lodge.
The lodge and fishing program on the Agua Boa is world renowned. Many clients return year after year for not only the great fishing, but also the quality of the program and the people that make up the Agua Boa team. Agua Boa is well staffed and our group was connected and cared for from the moment we landed in Brazil until we were safely aboard our departing flights. I was lucky to be visiting the lodge during one of the prime months of the 6 month long dry season. Built in 2001 the lodge sits on the Agua Boa river in one of the most unspoiled and ecologically rich environments in the world. The lodge has worked with the ecological and national park services to permanently protect the river, surrounding areas and native people by creating an ecotourism reserve status for the region. Agua Boa means “sweet water” and the river is unique to Amazon fly fishing. What makes the Agua Boa river special for fly fishing is that the water typically runs clear over beautiful sandbars creating amazing sight fishing opportunities. There are also a large variety of species available including three species of Peacock Bass, Arowana and Aripaima. Our group had timed it perfectly and the river was at a good medium to low level, the water was clear and the weather report showed a week of sunshine… Was this really happening!? The previous weeks guests who were leaving the lodge as we landed confirmed our excitement and said the fishing had been amazing!
The lodge manager Carlos greeted us promptly upon touching down on the homemade private airstrip. Carlos has traveled the world and I would later learn had the stories to prove it. His deep smile and firm hand shake set me at ease and I could tell right away we were going to be treated kindly and well entertained by our host. Matt Ramsey, a fishing guide, surfer and family man from Oregon was also along to act as host, interpreter and in general help our group with anything we needed. The pleasant, attentive staff at the lodge quickly had us checked into our airconditioned cabins and seated us to a delicious breakfast. The luxury of the lodge and swimming pool perched on the edge of the river was surreal in such a remote place. The jungle fringed the compound like the world’s most elaborate garden. Sounds of birds in the background created a constantly changing yet incredibly relaxing and peaceful atmosphere. After getting settled we packed a quick lunch and hastily threw our fishing gear together. The guides were ready and assisted each cabins guest’s as we jumped into the boats to head out fishing within an hour of landing at the lodge! This would be the theme for the next week with long days spent fishing, exploring and learning with the hardworking guides.
The beginning of an adventure in a new place is always exciting. I was feeling elated as we sped up the river in the lodges custom made jet boats. The fresh breeze and fragrant humid air felt wonderful on our faces as we took in the sights from the river. My fishing partner Elizabeth and I were awestruck at how well our guide, Ermo knew the river. We skimmed over shallow bars and navigated through tight channels and around logs. The guides had placed willow wands to mark paths through the ever-changing river channel that felt like slalom gates as we carved up the river. The lodge has a senior guide staff with more experience than you are likely to find in any far away fishing destination. All the guides spoke enough English to communicate effectively and showed a profound interest and connection with the river and the environment. The guides had all grown up in the region and spend the entire 6-month season living at the lodge and guiding every day. It would be hard to find a Montana guide that could hang with these guys. Totally committed and dedicated, the Agua Boa guides kept us throwing our 8 weights until we said uncle each day.
Ermo let of the throttle as we pulled off the main river channel and into a lagoon. He crawled onto his poling platform and said “OK Fish”! We grabbed our rods, stripped off line and made a cast toward some submerged logs. “Let Sink” said Ermo, I waited a painfully long ten seconds and let my bait fish sink into the dark water. “Strip Fast” were the next instructions from our guide. On my second strip the line went tight. I was connected to a nice peacock on my first cast in the Amazon! When you see the colors on these fish for the first time it is truly amazing. No two fish have the same colorations and pattern and these peacocks are some of the most beautiful creatures that you can chase with a fly rod. We were rigged up with floating and intermediate tipped lines on 8 weight rods. A straight 5 foot section of 20 or 30 pound Mono was attached with a nonslip loop knot to a 3/0 chartreuse and white Mushy baitfish pattern with big eyes. My kind of set up, simple and effective! As I would find out most of the fish in the Amazon are on a see food diet. This was the world of eat or be eaten with the top predators in the river being something straight out of a science fiction horror film. Certain toothy species would chase fish much larger than they were. I was quite surprised to see a 12 inch dog fish or wolf fish chasing and snapping at the three or four pound bass on my line. Throwing an apple core over the side of the boat was a lunch time spectacle as it would quickly be disintegrated by piranhas and swarms of other small yet incredibly aggressive fish. It feels as though evolution is on fast forward in the Amazon. There are so many species that are connected and specifically adapted to survive in this fascinating world. The colors and designs of the predator and prey relationship in this part of the world make an aspiring biologist out of anyone and provide creative ideas for the fly fisherman and fly tier.
We continued to catch scores of beautifully colored peacocks and a few other species throughout the first afternoon. This was streamer fishing at its best! Most retrieves would get a follow and the key was to speed up the retrieve as much as possible as the fish charges the fly. The gaping mouth of a 10 lb peacock is scary and this makes the bait fish swim faster than it ever has before! The strikes were explosive and visual and the first few runs on a good fish had me scrambling to keep my running line from tangling as the powerful fish would change directions and dive toward submerged logs and root balls. At the end of the day Ermo was poling us along a shallow shoreline with the sun at our backs. Elizabeth had just landed a nice fish and now I was taking a turn on the bow casting platform. Visibility was good, and I scanned the bank for dark shapes as we glided silently over weed beds and sand flats. Suddenly a torpedo shape came into view. The water was only two to three feet deep and the fish was coming towards us fast. I needed to act quickly as a loaded up with one back cast and delivered the fly to the bank 20 ft ahead of the fish. I crouched and waited a few seconds and then feverishly stripped the fly off the bank when the fish was eight feet from the fly. Boom! The fish put on the turbo boosters and boiled the fly just off the boat. I tried to keep the rod tip low and give a strong strip set. Fish on and it was a good one! The fish ripped line from my fingers and I was glad I had gloves with a stripping guard. The fish went straight under the boat and the rod doubled over. I let the line go so the rod did not snap and Ermo put on the brakes with the push pole. I cleared the bow of the boat with the rod tip as my line disappeared into the backing. The fish broke water over the next few run’s and I was shaking from excitement when I reached down to clasp the gill plate of the 10lb fish.
It had been a long, exciting first day and Elizabeth and I were wore out and we were getting nailed by the no-see-ums that Matt had warned us about.” Vamanos?” said Ermo reading our body language. When we returned to the dock below the lodge we were greeted by Carlos, Matt and the staff with delicious refreshing rum drinks and fried Aripaima appetizers. The other guests had also had great fishing and everyone was excited to share moments from the day’s action. Matt is a Tenkara junky and was having fun catching rising Pacu off the dock with some of his custom beetle patterns. A quick shower or a dip in the cool waters of the pool along with another cocktail and soon we were enjoying a buffet style dinner with scrumptious soups, meats, vegetables and the staple of rice and beans. The lodge atmosphere at Agua Boa is casual and relaxing. Sitting on the porch as the sun set sharing stories with the guests and hosts each evening was a highlight of the trip. Other interesting creatures like Lizards, toads, bats and insects would join us each evening as a representation of how the jungle comes to life after dark.
We had a great group of people on this trip. Elizabeth who was fishing with us had traveled from Chicago. I had guided Elizabeth a couple years prior in Montana when she was just learning how to fly fish. She is a quick learner and soon developed a love for the sport. It was fun watching her progress through the week as she perfected her double haul and strip set. This is a great trip for anyone looking to prepare for salt water fly fishing. Lots of sight fishing and consistent shots at fish give you a chance to really get good at leading fish and punching casts under instruction from your guide. Jeff and Radie joined us from Texas. Jeff had travelled to the lodge last season on a Montana Angler hosted trip but had encountered uncharacteristically high water and tough fishing. Realizing the potential however Jeff vowed to return to Agua Boa and this time around hit the conditions perfectly. The other two guests in our group were Ole and Maria from Iceland. A very pleasant and fun couple Ole and Maria own and operate Iceland’s largest fly fishing shop in Reykjavik. It turns out there is amazing fishing in Iceland and there shop ,Veidihornid, outfits people to explore and fish throughout Iceland. Ole and Maria are real pros and helped us out by lending rods, reels and lines to our group. They seemed to catch the most fish everyday and we all took advantage of their advice and techniques!
The following morning, I made sure to cover up better with my clothing choices than I had the day before. This was going to be a long, hot and sometimes buggy week of fishing and things like long pants, gloves, light weight fishing hoodies and buffs were essential. Plenty of sun screen and drinking lots of water helped us keep fishing hard throughout the week. Good gloves and stripping guards were also crucial items and I got plenty of use out of my quality pliers. Releasing toothy critters and muscle-bound Peacocks took some practice and the guides were all very helpful with the process. This fishing was tough on gear. Peacocks have a mouth that’s like sand paper and can destroy flies and leaders quickly. I found myself retying after every dog or wolf fish I would catch after some abrasions in my leader lost me a trophy Peacock! Rods broke, lines broke and arms and backs ached from doing battle with these fish day after day. Conditions were all time and groups were averaging 30-60 fish per day. One day with the head guide and sight fishing expert Joseph I am pretty sure we landed close to 70 fish with many sight casting opportunities at trophy fish.
The fishing was not always easy however and the larger wiser fish would often spook or refuse our flies. With the primarily clear conditions I found that smaller patterns worked well especially in shallow water. In blind fishing situations and deeper water, we would use larger bait fish patters and the intermediate tipped lines worked well for this. A common phrase we would hear from the guides throughout the week was “look for the yellow spot”. Peacock Bass spawn throughout the year and the yellow spots represented spawning nests and were prime targets for large aggressive fish. Our guides directed us to strip the fly over the nest and let it fall close to the fish. Then retrieve quickly and try to get a response from the peacocks who guard the nest from predators. This was a productive technique and I found a fly with a little weight such as a Clouser minnow worked perfectly. I would recommend finding flies with synthetic vs bucktail for durability. Two tone baitfish patterns are the norm with red and white, green and white as well as blue and white being the most popular color combinations. We had many shots at Arowana over the week and these fish offered a real challenge. They were often encountered in groups, grow quite large and can move very fast. Once hooked they ran, jumped and held a unique beauty and energy when brought to hand. The spotted Peacocks were incredibly hard fighters as well and I got schooled by these feisty fish on several occasions.
In addition to the fishing the wildlife viewing was spectacular. Large populations of cayman could be spotted each day. Often with there eyes just above the surface of the river watching and hunting, while others basked in the sun on the sandy beaches and bars. Bird life in the Amazon is incredibly diverse and we would encounter all types of colorful and interesting birds along the river. Howler monkeys could be heard roaring in the distance at times and freshwater dolphins, otters, deer and even a jaguar were spotted during the week.
By the end of the week we had all been lucky enough to land some amazing fish and we had all gained a connection with the Amazon that will be with us for the rest of our lives. The faces of the Agua Boa Lodge will stick with you and the family vibe will be there when you return. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone with an adventuresome spirit and desire to explore a place completely unique and powerful. I am deeply grateful to everyone at the Agua Boa Lodge for an unforgettable trip and to our group and Montana Angler for making this trip possible.
Join us on our February 2019 hosted trip to Agua Boa Lodge!