There is no dispute that the Amazon River provides incredible scenery and angling opportunities, and a journey there should be on every angler’s bucket list. It is the largest river in the world when measured in volume and drainage area. There are countless colorful birds, swimming anteaters, and even pink dolphins!
However, there are also some disagreements about the Amazon. Some believe the Amazon starts with the Apurimac River in the mountains of Peru. Others vote for the Mantaro River, also in Peru. To native Brazilians, the Amazon starts in Brazil, where the Rio Negro and Solimoes rivers join at the city of Manaus.
Manaus is the jumping-off point for most visitors to the Amazon jungle. This city of over two million is accessible by direct flights from the United States. From Manaus, explorers can venture out by smaller plane or boat to explore and fish. The Amazon basin is not accessible by vehicle. Once you depart Manaus, you will be truly off-grid.
Anglers travel to the Amazon to fish for the picturesque peacock bass. There are multiple species of peacocks that are native to South America. The all-tackle world-record speckled peacock, the largest species, is a whopping 29 pounds and one ounce. In Brazil, you have a realistic chance of hooking peacocks over 10 pounds on a daily basis. Peacocks are not related to our local largemouth and smallouth bass. And, they fight much harder.
There is a difference between hooking and landing large peacocks. These fish are very, very strong. Their fighting ability goes up exponentially as they grow. A six-pound peacock fights way more than twice as hard as a three-pounder. And the fighting technique is somewhat unique. Because the fish are always in structure, you cannot let them take any line once hooked. Zero. When you get the bite, you lock down your reel or line and engage in a straight tug-of-war! Someone has to give in (hopefully the fish), or something has to break. On our trip, not only did we have fish break 40-pound line, they also broke rods and bent hooks.
Conventional anglers use medium to heavy casting and spinning outfits spooled with 40 to 60-pound braid. The best lure is a half-ounce jig with a strong wide-gap 4/0 to 6/0 hook. Chartreuse and red/orange colors are popular. The tackle shop in Manaus does not sell lures under five inches long. Fly anglers have to fish equally big flies. Most fly anglers use nine- or 10-weight rigs because lighter rigs simply cannot cast the bulky flies.
Most fish are released, but they are delicious, and some outfitters may cook one up for you. There are other fish as well. Take the bizarre looking arawana, which looks like a cross between a bowfin and a tarpon. They have a “croaker” that looks very much like our Chesapeake Bay croaker, except it has a mouth full of razor-like teeth. There are piranha, and their teeth are even sharper!
A typical day consists of breakfast at 5:30 a.m. As soon as you are done, you hop into bass boats and fish until noonish. Then, it’s time for lunch and a break from the sun. After lunch, you head back out on the river and literally fish until sunset. You might arrive back at the mothership after dark. The days are long and strenuous. Casting anything fly or conventional, all day, is work. And it can be hot. Arriving back at the mothership, with its food, drink, shade, and air conditioning is a welcome end to the day.
We visited the Amazon last September. We had no issues with illness or safety on our trip. You will be fine if you follow simple third-world travel advice, such as drinking bottled water and not drinking any river water. No one believes this, but insects are not a problem. The water is too acidic for mosquitoes. I never saw one the entire trip! You should be up-to-date on your standard vaccines, and the Center for Disease Control also recommends a yellow-fever vaccine.
There are countless outfitters in Amazonia. There are more than 50 that fish the Rio Negro alone. However, some companies explore more remote tributaries and pay additional fees to access government reserves that are intended as catch-and-release areas. Our host was Nomadic Waters, based in Manaus. They provide a first-class experience to both conventional and fly anglers. The food was excellent, and we each had a private room and bath. Furthermore, Nomadic Waters hires locals for their entire staff and provides infrastructure and other support to the communities along the river. They call it “expeditions with a purpose.”
Almost everyone in our group signed up for the trip as a one-time bucket list adventure. At the end of the week, no one wanted to leave. This is a bucket list trip you will want to take again and again.
By Kendall Osborne
Interested in more fishing getaways? Check out Eric Burnley's Florida Keys Fishing Escape article.