The big question is: What exactly makes Peacock Bass one of the coolest fish to throw a fly at? And that is exactly why we ventured off to Manaus… to find answers. 17500 American anglers pilgrim every year to the capital of the Amazon-state to disperse into the many fisheries of Rio Negro, Rio Blanco, the mighty Amazon and literally every imaginable body of flowing waters to chase the colorful predators – and why? Well, rumor has it that the similarity to fishing for Peacock bass amongst (mainly) American anglers is that ‘Bass’ fishing dominates the fishing industry in the states. Almost 3,5 million US anglers fish almost exclusively for – a mass phenomena with hype potential. Here’s the downside of it: Whilst the pursuit for Bass with all kinds of wild flies and lures has a certain allure to it, it’s the fish itself that is massively overrated as a fish. Yes, I know, an unpopular (personal) opinion but it doesn’t mean that I am wrong. Any saltwater fish regardless of the size will make them look like a snail on crutches. Period. It had to be something else. And we were keen enough to find out what. The two peacock bass stages of our journey should be able to lift the fog of rumors around the hallowed CichlaTemensis Peacock Bass – the largest species of the peacock bass family.
Our first stage: the hallowed waters of the Rio Marie, catered for by the good guys from Untamed Angling. Whilst the outfitting company behind this undertaking has made a name on its own, Rio Marie has recently filled the pages of angling tabloids around the planet. Why? Because it has produced world record size, Peacock Bass and still is home of the official conventional gear world record with a cracking 32lb fish as well as the unofficial fly world record (28lb on 50lb tippet – the tippet requirements for an IGFA fly record will limit the breaking strength to of the weakest link of the leader to max. 20lb) Talk is cheap, we all know that. Here’s the actual impressive part. It’s the way the lodge is operated…
A painstaking level of attention to the little details renders this operation into a wholesome experience that’s hard to come by in the world of destination angling. The “Untamed Amazon” Mothership is fully equipped with solar panels that supply enough output electricity to power a state of the art 5-step reversed osmosis filtration system on top of powering the whole operation without the extra use of fuel consuming generators. The idea to leave nothing but footprints taken to another level, not only talking about mothership operations but lodging in general. The profits are shared 50/50 with the indigenous council of the region – over its 5 years in existence, the fly anglers contribution and indigenous fees have helped to improve the indigenous infrastructure and sovereignty to benefit their self-sustenance immensely.
From Manaus, it is a long way up the Rio Negro, entering the Rio Marie just before reaching the jungle town “São Gabriel da”. It would burn a lot of time going up there by boat. From São Gabriel alone, it would take you half a day to finally reach the mothership. Instead of taking this long route, Untamed Angling charters a water plane to bring clients from Manaus straight to the mothership in less than two hours on an exciting route over the most remote and virgin jungle of the Amazon, landing literally meters next to the “Untamed Amazon”. On the Rio Marie, the mothership is free to operate exclusively on an incredible sector of 600 miles, enabling the boat to move up and down the river on a daily basis. No area will be fished twice in the same week and long resting periods are guaranteed throughout the season, to minimize the fishing pressure that peacock bass reacts so sensitive to. Due to its higher acidity, the jungle around the Rio Marié is a very friendly one. Almost no mosquitos and generally less insect life. There is hardly ever the necessity for bug repellent. The only hazardous aspect of this journey can be the heat and sun. Staying hydrated and covered from the direct sun is key to be able to do this for a week.
From the mothership, custom skiffs take you out to your fishing area for the day where both fishing partners are able to cast at the same time from two spacious platforms (one in the front, one in the back), to make your quest for a giant P. even more successful. In many cases, bringing these elusive predators to the boat is a team effort, and a boat with two active fishermen is more likely to deliver. A lot of times, a fish might get teased out of the cover or starts to chase a fly, but it demands a different pattern to make it eat. It happened to us every single day. A big NYAP popper in the front for the show, and a colorful pattern like Dougie’s Roach for the dough! For us, having no preconceptions about this fish or fishery at the time, it was a true revelation. It combined a lot of cool aspects from different fisheries into one. The different ways you could fish for them, the behavior of the fish in the water and during the fight. In one situation, you would stalk a shallow sandbar with its lamella-like structure, and if you were lucky, the peacocks would sit close to the bank in the small crevices of sand or dominantly patrolling the sandy shoreline. In another one, you would find yourself drifting along the banks of a lagoon, shooting a cast into a dense structure of logs and branches, hoping to lure out a fish and then praying not to lose it in that very same obstacles.
The peacock bass is a dirty and hard fighter, not the most enduring one, but pound for pound one of the strongest fish you will encounter in freshwater. Breaking 50 lbs seemed impossible until it happened… and not only once. Thanks to their extreme territorial behavior, they are always fighting on home turf – they know every log and every submerged root, and the sandpaper-like surface acts to their favor when rubbing a leader or line against it. You do find a lot of resemblance to saltwater fly fishing for large snapper or jack species. Temensis Peacocks not only look mean, they seriously have bad intentions and the vehemence in how they destroy bait – or your fly – is unparalleled in freshwater. So double check your equipment after every fish is paramount. Check your leader, the connections of your red and the point of your hook. Just like fishing for Golden Dorado or Arapaima, using a good iron on your hook is as important as a proper strip-strike. Luckily, many of the Fulling Mil Predator Flies are tied on our preferred hook for this kind of tasks: Tiemco’s SP600 or Gamakatsu’s SL12S – you may have a different taste, but trusting in your own equipment is the first step in any demanding fishing situation. Although the water can make it harder to see the fish, we encountered many sight casting opportunities every day, for both Butterfly Peacocks and the larger Temensis.
Two weeks later, impressed by these fish and hungry for more, we found ourselves on board another plane, taking us deep into the Amazon, this time to the infamous Agua Boa Amazon Lodge, located roughly two hours north of Manaus. The lodge has its own landing strip and the way you circle in on the premises is breathtaking. The water here seems much clearer than in Rio Marié – the visibility is similar, though the water is much lighter in color and less acidic. Less acidity = more biomass = more baitfish and more biodiversity. At least that was our first impression. But it is hard to really compare both operations, as their main assets are very different ones.
Historically, larger fish are caught in Rio Marié, producing 20 lbs fish almost every week. Agua Boa, on the other hand, has an impressive density of good size fish, mostly owing to the incredible biomass of the system. During our week there we caught 14 different fish species on the fly, amongst them large peacocks, arapaima, wolffish and more.
You will encounter more sight fishing opportunities here as the water is generally shallower and the fish are easier to spot due to the waster color. After getting the truly big fish out of the way in Rio Marié, this was the perfect playground for us to experiment. Tossing small mylar poppers on an 8wt, articulated flies like “The Roamer” into heavy cover or taking the “Clydesdale Gold Perch” for a ride in some of the small tributaries. Due to the good amount of biomass, the abundance of small baitfish is incredible. And in the clear shallow waters, the opportunistic peacock will prey on the large schools of baitfish like a flock of GT on the flats. More often than not, we would find schools of larger peacock bass marauding the edged of the sandbanks. These fish are on the prowl but not to be mistaken for an easy target. Smaller baitfish pattern to intercept these hungry predators or even a bigger popper with a longer lead to entice an aggressive surface take. Countless fish between 8-15lb and some fair size Arapaima fell for Dougie’s Roach on this trip. Agua Boa, an institution amongst Peacock Anglers, has been good to us and we cannot wait to return next season.