We all want to target exotic fish in far-off places. Pro Cathy Beck gives an overview of Peacock Bass fishing deep in the Amazon jungle, Brazil in the clear water of the Agua Boa River.
In Search of a Peacock – Naturally, we’re talking fish here not birds. Barry and I lead trips for Frontiers International to some of the most exciting destinations in the world of fly fishing and each October we find ourselves deep in the Amazon jungle, Brazil, in the clear water of the Agua Boa River searching for Peacock bass.
Peacocks are a subspecies of the family Chichlidae, a diverse family of tropical fish found throughout Africa and South America. Although there are countless color variations throughout their range, there are only three recognized species of peacock bass. All are commonly called “tucanare” in Brazil and Peru. We will be fishing for all three but always hoping for a big azul or paca, the largest of the three. While the average size is 6 to 7 pounds, ten to 15 pound fish are very common and 20 pound plus fish are hooked frequently. The three species are commonly referred to by anglers as the Peacock (biggest), Butterfly (most common) and Spotted (hardest fighter).
This may be fresh water, but fishing tactics are straight out of the salt water world. We stand on the deck while our guide poles the skiff from a poling platform. All eyes are on the water looking for a cruising fish. Sometimes we blind cast and catch lots of fish. An average day is 50 fish per boat which will include all three species. It’s the Amazon so you never know what you might catch. It’s not uncommon to find a piranha, aruana, jacunda, or a half dozen other exotic species on the end of your line. I will often take the peacock bass off and release them but everything else gets handed off to the guide. It’s amazing the teeth that some of these fish have! But, after a couple days of steady fish catching, you find yourself being patient and watching for a big fish.
Our tackle consists of a 9 weight fast action rod matched with a large arbor reel carrying 100 yards of backing plus fly line. You want a drag that can hopefully stop a freight train because that’s what you’ll think you have hooked when connected to a big peacock. He rarely runs far or into deep water. Instead he heads for the nearest submerged structure and it’s up to you to change his mind. The Agua Boa is a deep river – at times you can look down and see entire full grown trees completely and totally submerged on the bottom of the river. If he makes it there, he will immediately tangle the line and break off, thus the need for a good drag. Our leader is a simple 3-4 foot piece of straight 40 pound mono or fluorocarbon. Peacocks are not leader shy.
While a lot of fish are caught on a floating line and/or sink-tip, we hardly ever use either. Sight fishing for peacocks requires a fly line that works in a hot tropical environment and can turn over heavy, large, wind resistant flies on both short (25-30′) and longer (30-50′) casts. In addition, the clear water is very deceiving. It can look like the fish are just under the surface when in fact they may be down ten feet or more. It’s important to get the fly in front of the fish so our choice is a RIO Tropical Outbound short with a clear intermediate tip. The short heavy head is perfect for this kind of fishing and the line has a hard coating that will not wilt in tropical conditions.
The game can play out like this. The fish is spotted. The cast is made. The fly sinks in front of the fish. Keeping the rod tip low and close to the surface, our retrieve starts out slow until we get his attention then we increase the retrieve speed. When the fish takes, we slip strike being careful not to raise the rod tip until the fish is firmly hooked. Getting the line back on the reel, sometimes reeling, other times frantically stripping line, we hang on and hope he doesn’t find any structure. A trophy peacock can smash your tackle (our group had five broken rods the week), leave you without words, make your heart skip a beat, and if everything goes right – give you the thrill of a lifetime.