Bolivia Gold

Cathy Beck

The Tsamine Indian family stares at us as we float by in our dugout canoe on Bolivia’s Secure River. It’s not a threatening stare by any means but I wonder what they make of all of this, a white blond women casting a fly from a dugout canoe trying to catch a Golden Dorado. They also are fishermen, but their fishing is done with a bow and arrow and I soon learn that they are very proficient at it. We are surrounded by beauty in this jungle of jungles, the river reminds me of a favorite river on the South Island of New Zealand with deep pools and quick runs where I expect to see a double digit brown rise to a foam beetle pattern. Bird calls accompany us as Toucans fly overhead and just this morning we saw the fresh tracks of a jaguar. This is far more than a fishing trip; this is an adventure at best.

Our guide is Tom Baxter an Australian who rigged my rod this morning before our departure. Two weeks ago I was fishing the Bighorn River in Fort Smith, Montana, with a five weight, a ten foot 5x tapered leader and a size 20 trico imitation. Today I have a nine weight Sage ONE with an 8-foot leader that starts out with a 60 pound butt of RIO Fluoroflex tippet followed by a 40 pound mid-section of the same and a short 20 inch section of RIO wire. My fly is a size 3/0 black snake, this is obviously serious business. Tom points to the far bank and tells me to cast as close as I can to the bank and then strip as fast as I can.

Twenty or more casts later Tom decides to pull into shore and says we should wade the tail end of the run. He cautions me to keep an eye out for freshwater stingrays. I’m wet wading so I look down before I take a step. We continue to cast and search the far bank and then I strike gold and I get my first look at a Golden Dorado as it makes multiple jumps before giving up the fight. One close look and I know that I don’t want my fingers near that mouth full of teeth. Now I understand why we’re using wire. But the fish is beautiful and the tarpon-like fight was more than exciting.

Three more Dorado follow the first and each one jumps giving us a look at that flaming gold color. Tom says Paku and I see the dark shape that he is pointing to and at a distance the Paku looks a little like a permit. Tom suggests a smaller fly and a very slow retrieve and it’s good advice as the Paku takes line from my reel. There is no exciting jump but it is one hard fighting fish and does not give up easily. As we release the fish I realize that we are surrounded by butterflies of all sizes and colors. This is truly an amazing place.

We break for a streamside lunch and our Indian boatmen pick up their bows and arrows and go fishing. A heron like stalk gets them close to the prey and as they shoot, they hit their mark on almost every shot. The fish they’re after is called a Sabalo and they soon have lunch on a stick if you will. The Sabalo is for them but I did get a taste and it was quite good grilled over the camp fire. The balance of the day was spent casting and searching likely looking water for dorado – missing some, losing some and landing a few.

As we headed back to camp I saw two Tsamine Indians poling their dugout canoe up the river in the fading light and it was a moment I will long remember. Over dinner our Frontiers group told tales of Dorado caught and lost, of Paku and Indians with bows and arrows and bird calls that they had never heard before. It’s been a great day – I wonder what tomorrow will bring…