Stephan Dombaj and Paulo Hoffmann from Fly Fishing Nation spent the better part of the last two months, fishing for Dorado, Peacock Bass, Arapaima, and more exotic jungle fish. Yes, we know, we hate them too – more importantly though, these two lads carried a line-up of our predator flies with them, and they have told us all about it…
Video has killed the radio star… and social media has killed the good old modest reports in fishing magazines. Today, we are looking at a never-ending stream of destination reports and pictures on facebook and co. This hype for more, better and crazier things has left us jaded and numb. And while there are still many places left to discover, the majority of the destination angling crowd went straight back to the good old classic – established, well managed and most of all seasoned fisheries with a good reputation. Only a few nut jobs out there are still trying to push this very tiny “industry” into the last corners of the planet where logistics, time and security issues outweigh the actual adventure and recreational fishing benefit. I can tell, I am one of them. Having that said, I do enjoy a well-established operation and that’s why Paulo Hoffmann and I decided to fish a bunch of classics with a twist in the Amazonian basin. This is a brief story about Dorado explorations, Monster Peacock Bass, the illusive Arapaima, a story of failure, victory and many other things and… judging by the state of our hands and fingers, Paulo and I must have worked 24/7 shifts in a barbwire factory without gloves. Part 1 features the Dorado, keep your eyes peeled for Pt2 and Pt3 over the next few days.
I am not going to waste any of your time to romanticise our fascination for the dark heart of the South American Subcontinent, the darkest jungles of Africa or the raven black nights in the east and south-east Asia’s lush forests. Long before Disney’s Junglebook, the secrets, adventures, and dangers of jungles have sparked the wildest fantasies. We are naturally drawn to this very source of our curiosity and the idea of chasing some of the most furious and sought-after fish in the heart of the jungle is a temptation that only a very few people dare to resist. For many, and I count myself as one of them, fishing really is just the excuse to venture off to these wild places – it’s an excuse to be in the jungle. And it’s a very good one indeed.
The pursuit of golden Dorado has experienced a revival after footage from the almost chalk stream like headwaters in Bolivia emerged about 10 years ago. Pictures and films of wolf-packs marauding the edges of shallow plateaus in search for Sabalo and other baitfish, often followed by violent feeding frenzies and massive fish cutting the water just like a GT on the flat would. Just the right thing for the hungry crowds in front of their screens. Extravagant, extra violent, extra gold, extra exotic… Dorado was back in the game! Although, to be fair, it was never off. Lefty did it more than 30 years ago. In Argentina… the Río Paraná, the cradle of the Dorado hype.
Two young local explorers ventured off to scout the headwaters of the River, a tributary of the Maniquí River – a system that’s in close proximity to the already established and hallowed Dorado Lodges in the Bolivian Jungle. A fairly new approach and one of a few serious attempts these days to tap further into the wilderness heart. A large junction pool on the River caters for 6 anglers at a time, with mountainous thrones on a high cliff tower over some prime Dorado, Pacu, and catfish waters.
The explorations deep into the headwaters are a fairly new approach. As a program in the making, satellite camps are utilized to push into the smaller tributaries and headwaters in search for Dorado and Co. To make a long story short, it’s rough, wild, and adventurous, and I absolutely love it. If you don’t mind the strenuous efforts to get up to the headwaters, you will be rewarded with excellenct sight fishing for Dorado, that more than likely have never seen a single fly or lure in their lives… But be warned, in these skinny headwaters, it’s a very intimate and close quarters battle and these fish are incredibly aware of what’s happening around them. If you think that a New Zealand trout in clear water can be skittish, wait till you see a 10kg Golden Dorado with its omnipresent guard up patrolling it’s hunting ground. The typical fast and furious approach will only result in frustration – mainly in the form of bow-waves pushing up river away from you.
Most commercially tied flies are either poorly tied or not tied on the right hooks. These two K.O. criteria knock most flies off the counter for a serious jungle predator tour. In my humble option, Tiemco’s SP600 and Gamakatsu’s SL12S are amongst the best irons out there when it comes to hook strength and the ability to penetrate a bony jaw. Fulling Mill’s warm water and saltwater lineups have a great range of large baitfish and deceiver pattern, most of which are tied on either of these two hook models. These are the flies you are looking for when talking jungle predators, and Golden Dorados are no exception.
The gin clear water of the upper and Maniquí headwaters dictates a subtle approach. Classic Dorado pattern like the “Andino Deceiver” or “Predator Pounder” are still amongst our favorites – rather, though, for faster flowing water or murkier/cloudy conditions generally call for smaller flies and a proper imitation of the natural prey – the all abundant Sabalos. This is especially important when the fish have a lot of time to set sight on the fly. “Cowen’s Magnum Baitfish Blue” and “Dougie’s Perch + Roach” are great baitfish pattern that come quite close to what we are looking for in these cases. In these tricky conditions, you are looking for a realistic baitfish pattern that doesn’t sink too fast – especially when you sight cast for fish. The ability to lead the fish enough and letting the fly slowly sink before moving it can be crucial. In the pandemonium of a feeding frenzy, a stunned baitfish will just slowly move and is easy prey for the attacking hunters. Another reason why I love to fish synthetic baitfish pattern is the fact that they just hold up much longer than other flies tied with natural materials. Any Golden Dorado, no matter its size, will utilize every single tooth in its mouth to rip these flies to pieces. They will thrash around, grind their teeth and literally chew them apart.
A classic Andino Deceiver should never be missed in a Dorado fly box, it might only live for a couple of fish, however. Fishing in faster rapids, pocket water or in heavy structure, these weighted flies (Andino Deceivers or Predator Pounders) will make a huge difference, that’s why I still fish them a lot. Once they hit the water, they are fishing right away, even when the current is trying to push the fly up. Especially in tight spaces – log jams, heavy cover, pocket water, etc. – the fly needs to ‘fish’ instantly, and its natural movement and the ability to push a lot of water while at the same time sinking quicker is unrivaled by any other fly IMHO. I like to keep it simple. A selection of Andinos in black & red, black & chartreuse and black & orange (alternatively: Predator Pounders in similar colors) and baitfish pattern in fairly light and natural colors sets a good base for your Dorado fly box. I always keep a few sharpies handy and like to color the synthetic fibers of my baitfish flies darker/more colorful in order to match the prey or whenever the situations askes for it.
Some surface flies (Poppers, Pole Dancers, Titanic Sliders, etc.) and divers, which you can play around with, will top your box up. No matter how well those flies are tied, however, the sharp teeth of these fish will tear up any fly, sooner or later. Depending on where you go and for how long, pack enough flies or take an emergency fly repair kit (super glue, thread, spare lead eyes, synthetic fiber, etc.), to be able to quick-fix your fly or recycle your hooks.