Monday, December 26, 2011

Last Fish of 2011. . . Probably

December 26, 2011

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend one more day on the water this year. I considered letting the big catfish be the last fish of 2011, but why cheat myself. Friends Rob Parkins and Zack Dalton were floating the South Fork today therefore so was I.

Warm for this time of year is to put it bluntly. While I was in Brazil everyone around here suffered through below zero temperatures. There was a lot of ice formed on the rivers edges. And normally that’s what we get over the Holidays. But today the temps rose to a toasty 33º. Just perfect to keep the guides from freezing.

We kept our fishing simple. We met in Swan Valley at a casual 10 AM then drove up to the Palisades Dam and decided we’d float the short mile or so down to the Husky Station. What the heck, we had beer and moose steaks. There was no sense in working too hard. It’s the holidays.

I took the oars first because Rob and Zack wanted to nymph directly below the dam. Often times this can be fantastic for huge rainbows. I rowed them across to the far side of the South Fork and they hopped out and waded. I hovered above them with my camera around my neck hoping to get some good big fish photos but it didn’t happen.

Next we fished our way downstream to one of the favorite pools near the dam. Fish truly weren’t on the nymphs today. It wasn’t till we got to the hot spot that Rob stuck a nice rainbow for the first fish of the day. Zack and I switched and I tossed my usual streamer rig minus the top fly. Three flies can be a hassle in the dead of winter. I had a cool chartreuse-eyeballed-creation fly my friend Ace man gave me for Christmas. It turns out that fly worked great and in a short time I landed two respectable browns.

That was about it. We were content with our fishing for 2011. However, in order not to be off the river too soon we pulled over on a snow covered gravel bar and had a feast. Back in October Rob killed a respectable bull moose with his bow; not too far downstream from where we were in fact. And every time we hang out we chow on some form of moose. Rob busted out his grill and cooked us up some tasty steaks. The grill and charcoal took a long time to heat up so while we waited we indulged on delicious moose jerky and sausage while sipping tasty Red Hooks.

I think that last paragraph says it all. What a day. What a month. And what another great year. I expect to post one more time this year but it’s a busy week. We’ll see.

Have a safe, fun and happy holiday week!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Monster from the Deep

December 9, 2011

I miss my Granny. I wish she was on her way down to the Amazon and that we were together here for another month. But instead, today was the last fishing day and the journey home begins tomorrow. With that in mind, everyone got up early and headed fishing sooner than any day this week.

Becky and I went with Moe. Dale and Ken went with Matu. This worked out good because in my experience with Moe, he’s the best for big peacocks. And Becky would really like to catch a peacock of over 10lbs as she’s one of the few who hasn’t. She’s worked her little butt off all week but somehow the big guys have eluded her.

We rolled out as usual. And as usual, about ten minutes into the drive I was lost as hell. Moe zigzags through lagoons, rainforest, unheard of rivers etc so fast I don’t know how we ever get back to camp. It’s really cool. This morning we didn’t go as far as normal because at 2 PM we were returning to camp so Becky could join Linda and tour a village and I could meet up with Mark and go catfishing for the final two hours of the trip. Even though we made a short run with Moe, we were still in the boonies!

Our lagoon was long and narrow. For awhile I could hit both sides of the fishy looking water body with a long cast on the right. Becky and I started out hot by catching several gray bar peacocks like there was nothing to it. Their sizes were nice for this species but we fought them fast in order to get the fly right back out there in search of a beast.

There was a lot of activity splashing around mid lagoon. There’s lots of baitfish species that don’t take flies. The guides have various names for them. I often launch a cast at their splashes in hopes something weird takes my fly. Today I landed a picúa, often known as the freshwater barracuda or dogfish. They put up a good little fight but if you don’t have on wire or heavy mono shock tippet you’re likely to lose them because of their teeth. When I caught this one Moe kind of gave me a look of disgust as he really wants some big peacocks in his boat rather than what he considers garbage fish.

Fishing remained hot. Becky racked up more fish than she’d taken in a single day all trip. I too had numerous peacocks. We caught all species of them including this gorgeous little butterfly. On low water years we catch more butterflies than you can imagine but this was the only one Becky and I saw all week. I also got a cast at a pirarucú also known as arapaima. These fish are rare in the Amazon these days because they are delicious, air breathing and easy to harpoon. They reach sizes of over 10 feet long and more than 600lbs! One pirarucú can feed an entire village. The pirarucú I cast to was small, I’m guessing by his disturbance more like five feet long. I cast at him right after he rolled then several cast towards his bubble trail but then he was gone. You can only imagine how bad I want to catch one of these rare fish!

Moe told us we had to leave at 1:30 in order to be back to camp by 2. When he grunted and held is hand up with four fingers we knew we had four minutes left. We’d had a terrific morning of fishing but Becky was still shy her 10lber. There was a great looking sunken tree approaching. I reeled in and said its all yours and watched. Lo and behold, she made one strip and the three of us watched a massive peacock devour her fly. I mean 15lbs or better! It was flipping humongous! And you know what happened? It wouldn’t have mattered who was holding the rod. The rod could have been a 12-weight, a tuna stick or a marlin rig – Becky was toasted!

I heard my 10-weight she was using crackle under the pressure and when her fly line slipped through her bandaged up fingers I swear I smelled something burning. Honestly, this big fish manhandled the situation. Moe usually laughs at people that get worked over by a peacock, but he was shook up. We couldn’t tell if Becky was broke off or just tangled. I guess in a perfect world the fish could have been on. Her line basically went down out of sight under the tree trunk. It came up and back into sight some 20 feet away from us and then over another log and back into the jungle. It was mess. Moe made his usual effort. He had Becky loosen her drag and he went overboard and followed the line into the jungle. If that fish was still attached I’d of eaten my hat. He wasn’t and Becky reeled in and sat down. She was trembling with fright and excitement and said hand me a beer.

Whew! What a way to end the peacock fishing. Becky and I powered down a couple of beers in the half hour run back to camp. It was a great week. Becky didn’t get her fish but man is she ready to come back. I seriously doubt I’ll ever be in Brazil again without her.

While Moe took Becky and Linda off to some Indian village, I hopped in with Mark and his guide to go dunk piranha heads for catfish. We only had two hours to do so but what the heck; it only takes one cast to make things happen. It turns out Mark and Linda catfished all morning and never had a single bite.

The first place we stopped was a high bank in the shade. They had one really good catfish rig on board and I got the luck of using it. Mark used his own which looked like it was very capable of exploding to pieces if he got a big fish on. The guide hooked my up a piranha head and I miraculously casted the bait caster without a backlash. Two seconds after my head was on bottom I got a thump. Piranhas are a nuisance with their pecking and bait stealing, but this felt different. Sure enough I had something big and I wrenched on him.

The fight was on but it was weird. This fish moved slightly then stopped. I’d lift him off bottom a little then he’d manage to get back down. It was almost as if he was stuck – that could easily be. Our guide re-positioned the boat several times while I used everything I had to move this fish. Finally I got a break and the fish started coming up off the bottom. It still felt odd and sure enough the fish was odd. It was a freshwater stingray of about 20lbs. A very interesting, yet dangerous creature. We clicked a quick photo then released him very very carefully.

We thought the action would be good after that, but we never got another bite there or at any other places. At 4:30 we made one last attempt. It was another high bank. The sun was setting. There were some very unusual bird sounds all around us, howler monkeys growling as if in a rage and the constant breaths of the freshwater dolphins up and down the river. It was very special and Mark and I were both reminiscing about the week. It’s been a great one. Then I got that thump again. Only it thumped then nibbled. Then thumped then nibbled. I let out some line and watched it go. Something decent definitely indulged on my piranha head. I lowered the bait casting outfit and reeled till I felt pressure than set the hook like no tomorrow. Fish on!

This fish was no stingray. It absolutely took off downstream. Not only could I see line peeling off the reel, I could feel it bumping off debris along the bottom of the Amazon. The run went on and on. I told the guide it was time to follow but he didn’t understand my English. Mark then started pointing to my reel. There was very little line left. Our guide then fired up the motor and we followed after the fish. Sure enough, the fish became entangled in a snag down deep.

Mark had learned from his catfish earlier in the week that now was time to loosen up the pressure. I did so while our guide moved the boat at several different angles. Each time we moved I’d tighten up again and pull on the fish. He was really stuck, but I could still tell he was there. Nearly ready to give up, we got right over the top of him and I reeled and lifted as hard as I could. This was 80lb braid so I nearly went overboard pulling as hard as I was. Then to my delight and big time surprise I felt my fish break free of his snag.

Our guide asked me to take it easy again and he drove the boat towards mid river. Then he nodded and I started pumping the fish in with all my might. In the middle of the river there are few snags to endanger losing the fish. I had him. And after a short two minutes of reeling and pumping there was my fish. It was a fabulous monster redtail catfish! A true monster of the deep!

I let out a loud cheer. I was very excited to see such an amazing creature come up out of this black water. Now it was time to figure out how we would get it in the boat. The cat was easily 50lbs of pure muscle. It wouldn’t be easy. First we tried to net him in the massive peacock net but then decided against it. Then not using it wouldn’t work so we tried the net again. Our guide got most of the fish in and then he and I lifted the cat on board. I had my massive redtail catfish!

It’s not easy to handle such a fish in the small confines of a tin boat. If you're gonna do it you need to dive in. Don’t be bashful. I’ve waited my entire life to catch a truly giant catfish so I was by no means bashful and I dove in! I wasn’t scared I couldn’t lift him. I wasn’t scared of being spined. I just wrapped my arms around him and went for it. It worked!

Mark clicked off pictures at about every angle possible. I did some sitting down with the fish then I stood up in the bow and strained every muscle in my body to hold him. Finally we took the fish to the shallows and I got out and played with him there. The redtail catfish is a truly amazing creature.

This has been a magnificent week down here with River Plate in the Amazon. And remember, this was high water. The Amazon fishes even better in normal conditions. This place offers some of the greatest fly fishing in the world, and it is one of the greatest fishing adventures you could ever have. Unfortunately I won’t be back for awhile. I could not fill my scheduled trip for February so I canceled my reservations for 2012. However, I will try again for February 2013. If you want to go contact me ASAP. I believe after this week’s blog there could be a waiting list!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A New Species

December 8, 2011

I got up early as usual, poured a coffee and strolled around camp. As I was doing so I noticed some shrubs shaking out a ways from shore. I watched thinking I’d see a caiman or a snake or something crazy, but it turns out it was a fish. And probably a big peacock bass. I dropped my coffee and ran for my rod. I chose my 8-weight Ross already rigged with a popper.

When I got back the fish had moved to the next clump of bushes. He was definitely hunting and by now well out of casting range. I tried to wade out, but not a chance. It got deep fast and my wade turned into treading water towards the disturbance. There’s a real art to treading water and casting at the same time, especially when your back casts have to be incredibly accurate as not to tangle in the trees. There was also some current to deal with so as my legs kicked like eggbeaters I was bouncing into trees like the peacock bass. At last I laid a good cast and on the first pop the big peacock devoured my fly. While my casting up to my neck skills are pretty good, my hook set sucked and I missed him. It was peacocks one “Currier” zero before breakfast.

After breakfast I headed out fishing with my long time friend Steve Berry. The only place Steve and I have fished together is in Arizona. We’ve chased grass carp (White Amur) in every pond and lake around the Phoenix area and largemouth bass and smallmouth bass in the outer lakes. Steve and his girlfriend Cinda even guided me into my first Apache trout. But despite how fun all those little jaunts have been, fishing today in the Amazon topped all.

While Becky headed off with Steve’s partner Bill and his guide, Steve and I headed out with my guide Matu. We were anxious and therefore the first boat out. As we took off Matu could sense that Steve and I are long time friends and you could tell he was on a mission to find us some interesting fishing.

After the first speeding jungle run we eased into more of a river than a lagoon. With the water still dropping fast there was a surprisingly lot of current. So far this trip we’ve tried very few of these type places. The area was narrow and I hit the right side while Steve hit the left from the front of the boat. Unfortunately, it became quickly apparent that piranhas love current because both of us had our peacock flies trimmed in the first minutes.

As always, I have my 6-weight handy with a chunk of wire and a red and white Clouser attached to molest a few piranhas. I picked it up quick and nailed a nice one before we were out of the school. Then I saw what appeared to be a peacock place. I switched back to my peacock rod and Steve and I each launched a cast to the peacock fortress. In an instant my fly got smashed. It was a big fish and he immediately tried to pin me back in the logs. As always I began a new blister into my fingers struggling to keep the fish from his safety when snap! I broke him off. My 40lb saltwater tippet snapped on a 10lb fish! I raised my head in despair only to see a cool little monkey spying on me from above.

Steve got a good laugh at that. He was stunned how hard I held on to the fish. And it probably looked like a stupid thing to do. But usually my 40lb holds ok. Certainly if I let him into the logs I wouldn’t have had a chance anyway. No matter how you look at it that wicked peacock won the battle and by now Steve was hooked up. And by the time I re-rigged my leader and a new fly Steve landed two peacocks including one quite respectable.

We must have landed about ten peacocks in that one spot. From there Matu steered us down current with his paddle into an area where it was impossible to cast because we were buried in jungle. Steve and I began flipping our flies into tiny open areas around logs and bushes. Once the fly hit you wouldn’t even strip. We’d twitch our imitations and then swirl a figure 8 with our rod tips. This did the trick and we picked up a few more little peacocks and I also caught about a 14” payara. This payara was different than the little guys I posted two days ago. He was the specie I’m more used to – gray, a little fatter and has a very unique adipose fin as well as black and white ridge a the end of his tail – the kind I’ve caught in the Orinoco of Venezuela.

Steve and I were off to a roaring start. Fishing was looking to be the best it’s been. It was still morning and we each landed about ten. The big boys however were hiding. By 11 AM it was sweltering hot. Since the rain stopped on the second day, each day has gotten hotter. I’m talking the mid 90°s with unbelievably high humidity. It gets so hot that the metal boat deck can burn you. Personally I like fishing barefoot because I don’t have to worry about standing on the line or it tangling around a shoe which leads to disaster when you hook a beast. But the bottoms of my feet started to smolder so on went my flip flops.

We lucked out in the afternoon. The scorching sun was replaced by a thin cloud layer. This allowed me back to my barefoot fishing and the temp dropped to a comfortable low 90ºs. The fish became even more active than they were in the morning and some very unique species came out. There’s a fish down here they call a sardinata. It’s very similar to our American shad. Most the sardinata I’ve taken over the years have had a silver/blue color, but this afternoon I caught a couple that were literally gold. They were absolutely gorgeous!

At 5 PM Matu had us very close to camp. Normally we need to be in by 5 but some of the other boats passed us on their way in so they knew where we were and staying out a little later wasn’t an issue. Everything was eerily still. There were few squawking birds including huge toucan that watched our every move. And when you cast into the jungle you could only see blackness beyond the splat of your fly. We were continuing to catch lots of peacocks and I pulled in yet another cool species called a bicuda. Then Steve yanked on a beauty. It was a monster and in two seconds the brute went around a tree and snapped him off. You know how we know it was big? Because Steve got re-rigged and quickly hooked this fish and landed him. This fish was NOTHING compared to the one that got away!

What a great day. Steve and I combined for more than 40 peacocks and I multi-specied like one can only do in the Amazon. I’m sure the next time we chase the grass carp we’ll spend most the time reminiscing about today. In fact everyone did well today and as always we celebrated around camp. The only bad thing is that tomorrow is the last day. . .

Friday, December 16, 2011

In Need of a Slump Buster

December 7, 2011

We awoke to just another spectacular Amazon sunrise. I was up at 5 and strolled around camp. It appeared the water dropped about six to eight inches while we slept. All the floating cabins were tilted from the loss of water. This should be good news for the fishing I thought.

Today I was back in the boat with Becky and Matu. We took off on the usual machete-chopping and paddling adventure through the rainforest and finally into a lagoon of untouched paradise. Becky and I got right to work casting to all the nooks and crannies retrieving our flies from as far back in the jungle as we could reach. I had a constant feeling that something big was following my fly on every cast.

Three hours into the morning that confident feeling started to slip away. Becky and I hadn’t hooked a single fish. It was especially tough on Becky because although she caught several fish yesterday, they all came in the morning. She was now more than 24 hours into a fishless period, very unusual for peacock fishing. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t getting it done. Becky has truly grasped this style of fishing. Her fly is always in the zone. It was simply a bad slump.

We did have the luck though of seeing some fantastic Amazon wildlife. At least three giant Amazon otters entered the lagoon we were fishing. I heard some splashing behind us and expected to see a pink dolphin only to see an otter. At first they were shy, but gradually they worked their way near our boat. Then it all made sense, otters that are over six feet long probably don’t attract fish.

At 11 AM we were in a new lagoon and I declared we were not going to be skunked at noon – absolutely not. I’m not sure what I meant or what I had in mind. It wasn’t like we needed to do anything special, we were fishing hard. But my declaration worked and finally I stuck a good one. It was a spot that Becky already hit several times from the front of the boat, but sometimes the peacocks observe repeated presentations before sealing the deal. This fish was encouraging and we expected things to turn for the good. Surprisingly, the fish continued to elude us.

Despite struggling, I was catching some fish. Unfortunately I was catching them and Becky wasn’t. I couldn’t figure it out. She was hitting all the spots. She had a great fly. It was just a bad slump. In addition to her bad fishing luck, the blister on Becky’s casting hand exploded. The wound looked extremely painful yet it didn’t stop her.

I think everyone who really fishes has been in one of these crazy slumps. It happens. I’ve certainly had some ridiculous ones in my fishing life. Luckily they never go on forever and Becky nailed her “slump buster” at 4 PM. It was a gorgeous speckled peacock. Poor Becky was almost too exhausted to smile. And notice the bee buzzing her head? That crazy annoying bee-fly-thing had been buzzing her head for hours. When she let this peacock go the terrorist bee flew away and Becky nailed another peacock on her very next cast.

Evidently swimming around camp is getting popular. Ken and I swim every night but tonight Becky and Steve joined us. It was a scorcher of a day even for the Amazon and the swim felt fantastic. Then it was caipirinha and beer time. I could keep this lifestyle up for awhile!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bummer Mr. Tapir

December 6, 2011

Becky wasn’t crazy about the idea of me jumping in with Dale today as she and I have been having a blast fishing together, but as group host I like to fish with the others if it’s possible. And today actually worked out fine because Becky got to fish with Steve whom she knew before the trip and they definitely had fun together. Fishing has been a little slow for Dale so my goal today was to try and figure out why. Also nice was I got to fish with Dales guide Moe who I enjoyed fishing with last time I was in Brazil. In fact, the last day Moe and I fished together I landed an 11lb and a 13lb peacock.

One thing Moe likes to do is get deep into the jungle. He has been guiding and running these waters longer than any of the guides. He has so many secret spots that I’m lost about ten minutes into our boat ride. It’s really amazing how well he knows this area. Today he ran Dale and me for about 45 minutes before we eased into a gorgeous little lagoon. A lagoon that had a few monster caiman lurking.

It took about two seconds to realize Dale could cast. Casting certainly wasn’t causing him not to catch fish. Dale can hit the targets and his fly was landing where the fish were. But it was his line control. When you land your fly for peacocks it's essential to get an immediate strip. When a fly hits the water it attracts attention and sometimes an instant strike. If you are making a strip you hook the fish. If you’re still reaching for your line you can miss them easily. The other thing is if you think about a creature falling in the water – its not going to just sit there. The creature starts struggling. So your fly needs instant action. I advised Dale and he made an effort to get that first strip going quicker.

I landed a nice peacock almost immediately after we started. My catch made it obvious how important that first strip really is. Sure enough Dale started getting some looks at his fly too. By now the sun was cranking up the heat and adding a morning glow to the submerged rainforest. It was really spectacular when wham! Dales fly was consumed and all hell broke loose! It was a huge fish and unlike me where I hold on tight to the line until my fingers catch on fire, this big boy stole the line and in seconds snapped Dale off in the trees. Moe and I smiled and with a look of panic on his face Dale asked what happened? Then we laughed and I told Dale the line always slips but to try not to let it happen so soon. I’m telling you, when a big peacock eats IT IS SCARY!

An hour later I was the one getting schooled. Dale was resting and Moe was challenging my casting skills deep in the jungle. It was like being in a shooting gallery. It was a real kick trying to cast both lefty and righty as well as back hands and forward casts. I even slipped in a few roll casts to hit the unhittable spots. On one of my retrieves there was a huge boil behind my fly. I’d landed a few more small peacocks but this swirl was serious. Moe advised to rest the spot so we paddled away for ten minutes then went back. I changed to a Warpath jiglike fly and tossed it to the area where the big fish hung out. On the first strip I got pulverized and I clamped down on the line with all my might. Not a chance. This brute pulled the line from me within seconds and took for the forest. He purposely went around a couple trees and then snap. Only this wasn’t my 40lb leader. I lost two feet of the end of my fly line. Yikes! Giant peacocks are unreal!

The real monsters can manhandle about anyone with a rod. I don’t care if you’re an expert fly fisher or even a professional bait caster with 80lb test braid, peacocks frequently win. Other than an enormous lizard that leaped into the water after my fly and luckily missed it, our midday fishing was a little slow. The main reason was that Moe was searching us out a big fish. He saw us each break one off, now he wanted one in the boat. As he paddled us along the forest he noticed a disturbance in the middle of the lagoon. It was bubbles from a big peacock. And it was far from the forest. This peacock was 100 feet from the nearest snag. “Cast”, Moe screamed to Dale as he pointed. Not knowing peacocks ever leave their fortress Dale questioned Moe. “Why cast out there? There’s no fish out in the middle of the lagoon”, Dale stated. That’s when I yelled cast and pointed until finally he launched. He made a great cast. “Strip fast”, I shouted. The next thing I knew Dale was hooked up.

Again the line squirted away from Dale and the big fish charged for the trees. “Stop him! Stop him!” I was freaking out. Finally Dale at least slowed the fish to the point that when he reached some bushes he was tired. And when the peacock got tangled in the bushes he didn’t have enough left in his tank to break Dale off. He was stuck and we just needed to dig him out.

Moe is one of the best and overboard he went and into the brush with his Boga. There was a bit of commotion when the fish saw Moe's face but he really was spent. Moe slipped the Boga to the peacocks’ mouth, cut Dales leader and swam out with the fish. Moe is awesome! He handed the fish to Dale and Dale landed what appeared to be one of the greatest fish of his life. I know the look. It’s a smile from ear to ear and the rest of his face and body was in shock. Dale went from not catching many fish to catching an 11lb Godzilla!

No ones day could have gotten any better after that. I love to see a friend catch a big fish. Dale was glowing. Moe had the pressure off and so did I. We fished a little more this afternoon and I ended up with ten fish. Dale only got one but it seemed like a hundred. Dale doesn’t drink beer at all but he had one with me on the ride home.

The ride home was interesting. There isn't much boat traffic out in the boonies of the Amazon. We don’t even see many locals in dugouts. But there’s been a decrepit boat on the river the last couple days. It turns out they were locals from the village of Vale and they were hunting. When we saw them on the way to camp tonight Moe brought us over to see what they were up to. They had just shot a tapir for dinner. It was skinned out and dressed and the hunters were very pleased. I’ve never eaten tapir but they resemble a pig, a cow and perhaps even a small elephant. I’ll bet they taste great.

When we got back to camp I took a swim. You can swim in the Amazon as long as you keep your feet out of the water, otherwise you’ll lose your toes to piranha. Actually unless you’re bleeding to death and thrashing in the water a piranha attack on humans is rare. What you do have to worry about though are caimans and anacondas. They don’t scare me however – I’m just a crazy. . . . !