Originally posted by: AmazonFisher on 5/7/2005 8:27:24 AM
I saw some mighty strange looking catfish in the Amazon, and here is their story...
Foto links for this adventure are:
At Shutterfly: http://share.shutterfly.com/osi.jsp...Vy3cNmrJjA
And at Yahoo: http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/paulpc1/album?.dir=/9fc8&.src=ph&.tok=phVL3cCB4pm1e7CZ
Some people had mentioned difficulty at viewing them on Shutterfly so I have loaded them in two places. Try either one.
The day started off well with me waking up well in time to get my plane. I took Whistle out for a walk then made sure I had everything packed: munchies, fishing gear, and a few books as well as meds, and clothes. Off to the airport. The fishing rods were in a five foot long PVC pipe that held them well.
I had no problem with the two pieces that I checked. But when I went through the metal detector, they asked me to fish out the pliers I had in my bag. Yes, those nasty needle-nose pliers that could be used as a weapon. I complied, but as I rummaged through my bag, I had to pull out the fishing hooks (treble hooks with three sharp points!!!) and some big lures with hooks about an inch long each. Then pull out the lead weights. Nope, those were no cause for alarm, but those nasty pliers were. Such is life.
The plane ride was nothing special. I read a bit, dozed a bit and listened to my iPod knockoff. We landed and I recovered my bags. After paying the six dollar tourist tax that on one told me about, I sought my bags. Turned out that there was one other client going to the Heliconia Jungle Lodge 40Km. up the Amazonâ€¦Her name was Carolina and she is a civil engineer in BogotÃ¡. That is about all I learned of her.
A guy with a Heliconia Hotel ID badge met us at the exit of the airport and put us in a taxi, and told the driver where to go. We went to a boat dock/diner and waited while they loaded up supplies (a big block of ice, soda and water). Then we hopped in and started our journey down the Amazon. For all I know we could have been sold off to a trader up the river, with all the info we were given.
We chatted a bit, but once on the boat, it was difficult to talk since the motor behind us drowned out any hopes of conversation. We sat back and watched the river life: boats, people, dolphins and a few birds here and there. I am not big into birds but we did run across a boat full of elderly people with their bird guides and binocularsâ€¦
After three hours, we turned off the brown river to an offshoot of black water towards the camp. Another thirty minutes, we landed. There were a few canoes there and we walked up to the lodge main building. It was much like the training center Peace Corps/Mali uses, as is the rest of the lodge: rustic. There was no electricity, but a generator ran at night for a few hours to light the dining hall/rec room, and our rooms had kerosene lanternsâ€¦visions of Peace Corps or summer camp danced in my headâ€¦
We sat and talked a bit to the people running the camp (Elidio, the head guy and guide, Marta his wife and the cook, Cristina the helper and maid, and Rodrigo the boat driver), and looked at the macaw/toucan and the cat and the parrots and the two kids scurrying around. It was a nice homey atmosphere. After about an hour, we were told that our rooms were ready. Gee, they knew we were coming for weeks, and just now got them finished. Such is life. The cabins were simple, but functional. Two mosquito net covered beds in each cabin, and a table. The facilities were open backed so as you showered or washed and such, you could continue to commune with nature and watch the wildlifeâ€¦Luckily the worst thing that approached was a big spider building a web large enough to snare Whistle.
We sat down to a home cooked meal of fried dorado and salad and rice and beans, simple but filling fare. As we ate, the main guy, Elidio talked to us about what was in store for us. As I was in for fishing, he said that he would take me to several places to fish. Carolina was interested in nature walks and Indian Villages and such. They had something sort of planned for her as well. It seems that it is quite informal and they will do what they can to match your needs. As I had written several times to the owner about my desire to fish, they were quite aware what I wanted to do. They were probably glad that I finally showed so I would write no more emails. They were quite insistent that the fishing was not that good during the wet season, and that it would be much better if I came in July/Aug when the river was lower. I told them I understood that but wanted to fish anyway, and was not certain about coming in July.
I went back to my room after dinner and prepared my rods and got the gear I would use in one bag. As I would later find out, over half of what I had was useless this time of year. But this was a test trip. I was using this as a recon mission so I could tell my friend coming in March what to expect and what to bring. In short: bring what you want to have out there because they do not have a 7-11 there. We are in the middle of the jungle with medical help and supplies 40 Km away, or about 3 hours minimum. Bring your smokes, booze, cards, books, and candy and chips because if you donâ€™t bring it, it wonâ€™t be available.
In the morning I awoke to a buzz-saw sound. Turns out it was a chuchara, a bug that sounds like a buzz saw. It brought to mind the scene from â€œMy Cousin Vinnyâ€ as Joe Pesci wakes to the sound of the train whistle at 5AMâ€¦.so this is the â€œWhat the fâ€¦â€ bird. There was another bird that sounded like a wolf whistle. A third memorable bird sounded like the â€œBee-otchâ€ bird. Reminds me of a poker game somewhere.
Elidio and I loaded up the canoe with my gear and his (his consisted of a wooden pole with line tied to it, low tech but effective), while I also brought along the bait. I had a few packs of hot dogs, blood sausages and chicken hearts. I figured some if not all of them would be effective for catfish or piranha. As the days went by, the chicken hearts began to smell so bad, only the catfish would touch them. Like I said, if you donâ€™t bring it, it wonâ€™t be there.
We motored out to some remote section of the Javari River (the Amazon River is actually one huge rivers that is fed by many others), and during the rainy season (basically whenever it rains, but usually Sept to June) the river rises about 40 feet in some places, higher in others. As we passed along the riverbanks, and under the brush, I kept expecting to hear â€œSampan off port bowâ€¦Lance, get the gun on them, now!â€, but never did.
We stopped on Lago Tortuga, or Tortoise Lake. Now a lake to you and me is different than the lakes here. They are not self contained bodies of water, but areas interconnected during the rainy season by the 40 foot leap in depth of the river. So I cut up a chicken heart, tossed a couple to Elidio so he could fish too. After a few minutes, I pulled up a catfish. It was a spotted catfish, not like anything I got out of the Ocmulgee in Riverside Park. A few more catfish came up, then I got my first piranha. A small one, but with nasty teeth. I tossed him back. Had it been the dry season when fishing is better, I would have hooked him under his spine on a bigger hook and tossed him to the bottom so I could get a bigger fish.
After a few more strikes, but misses and a few mosquito bites, we changed places, and finally returned to camp with four catfish. None was large, but they were fish. We would try somewhere else after lunch.
When we returned, Carolina was back from her nature walk and talked about the birds and flowers and stuff she had seen. We ate lunch which was a chicken concoction of some sort and quite delicious. Also was salad, rice beans and a hush puppy type thing that was nice and spicy.
The afternoon fishing trek found us in Lake San Antonio, with Carolina in the boat. She had never fished, but said she wanted to try. She picked up the technique pretty quick, but was not too successful. Elidio and I caught a few fish, and one of the ones I got was a blue piranha, a keeper. His teeth were bigger that then other oneâ€™s. Elidio caught an electric eel, and beat it to death with his machete while holding onto the line, so he would not get shocked. I suggested we use it as bait, but Elidio had never heard of such a thing so felt it better to return it to the river. Who was I to argue?
As the sun was setting, Carolina finally caught a piranha and was tickled pink. About as pink as the dolphins we saw on the way home. We saw a few pair jumping out of the water like synchronized swimmers, and then a black dolphin here and there. The black dolphins are just like the regular old dolphins, but the pink ones have a funny looking head. I got some pictures, but from a distance, and you have to look hard to see the dolphins.
We headed back to the lodge, but it was dark. Elidio must have grown up on the water, since he used sixth sense and landmarks that we could not see to guide us exactly home. Were anything to have happened to him, we would still be floating on the Amazon looking for the correct hole in the vegetation to pass through. Shut up, Winston.
Dinner the second evening was more fish cooked in a sauce that was delish. Many of you know that I am not much of a fish eater. Ironic since I love to fish. But I tolerated it, since I figured there was nothing much I could do about itâ€¦It was good and I even went for seconds. The meals were simple but filling. Good fare for rustic campers.
Elidio promised to take me to a special lake, but we would have to walk about one and a half hours to get there after going to the land area by boat for half an hour. I wanted an Amazon trip and an Amazon trip I got.
I awoke at five oâ€™clock thanks to the â€œWhat the fâ€¦â€ bird. I got my gear ready and went to the refectory. Breakfast was some coffee and pancakes fresh fruit, hot chocolate and juice. Then Elidio and I loaded up the boat once again with gear and bait and headed to Canyon de Mora. Funny, I donâ€™t remember seeing any strawberries there. When I asked Elidio about this, he laughed at my corny joke and said that the lake was named for a guy named Mora, not the Spanish word for raspberry. We hopped into the boat, and rode a bit, and stopped ashore next to another boat. I asked if other people knew about this fishing hole. He said that it was probably hunters.
As we walked, Elidio noticed that I was walking fast. I explained that I was not the average tourist, and was used to walking fast. I told him that as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa (Mauritania would be a bit much) I was known for my speed, and people in my village could not understand why I walked so fast. Other people have noticed too, but not so politely. He told me that the walk might only be forty-five minutes.
On our way, we walked by a pile of guts. Hanging in a tree was a hunk of liver. Elidio looked around, and peered into a small pond behind us. After moving a few leaves, he showed me the carcass of a bush pig. He said that it was killed by the hunters. He said they probably used bow and arrows or blowgun. I spotted a shotgun shell, and said, â€œThey probably used thisâ€¦â€ He picked up the shell and put it in his bag.
We kept on walking and crossed a river on a cut down tree. It was about eight inches wide and well rounded. Someone had been nice a while ago and put up some guide poles so we would not fall. It sure helped. It was only three or four feet down, but the water was running, and who knew what was in there. We walked more, and came across another bridge, but at least this was two trees next to each other. It was much easier to cross.
After another few minutes, Elidio said â€œHere we areâ€¦letâ€™s fishâ€. I must be brutally honest and did not see what was so unique about this particular spot. We dropped our lines and I caught a small catfish quickly. Maybe it was good. Then I caught another. This one was a bit strange. It felt as though it were armor-plated, and had these hook-like things that stuck out pointing backwards. I got a picture so you can see it. If any of you knows what type it is, please enlighten me. Feel free to look at the other fish and identify them as well.
We moved down to another area and fished some more. The fish were not too good there so we meandered on back to the boat. Elidio suggested we fish at â€œThe Bridgeâ€, so we went to the two-log bridge and tried there. I got a small catfish, well a fully grown catfish that does not grow big. It was Elidioâ€™s favorite so we kept it. After a few more unsuccessful moments, we walked back to the shore, on our way noticing that the pig was still in the water. A short skip and a jump and we were at the lunch table for more, simple but filling and delicious fare. I told Elidio he was lucky to have such a good cook as a wife. He said that many people had said that.
After lunch we went to where the black water (from the tannin) meets the brown river (from the mud). Elidio said that the fishing should be good here since fish are coming from the offshoot to the main river. Also we would see dolphins since they are after the fish coming from the offshoot to the main river. We dropped our lines and I missed a couple of fish, probably cats. Elidio got a catfish successfully landed, and I finally got one. He noticed some fish jumping about thirty feet away. He said that some people he took out before had luck with small plastic fish. I grabbed in my bag for the two lures I had brought from my room: a floating Rapala minnow about five inches long, and a Fat-Rap that dives deep.
Now for those of you who do not know fishing, Rapala is the best lure there is for freshwater bass (and sea bass in Mauritania), and is hand carved from balsa wood in Finland. Some old guy named Rapala noticed one day that in schools of minnows, the ones that were too slow and wounded swam funny and got eaten, so he carved many a lure until he got one that swam just that way, crooked and wounded-like. The rest is fishing history.
I tossed the floater over to the fish, and shortly after it was attacked violently. Something had hit it! As I reeled in carefully (Well, actually faster that I can imagine), I landed a huge sardinela. We have caught these in Mauritania (saltwater) before, and even used them as bait, but never had I seen them in freshwaterâ€¦until now. During the next twenty minutes I caught three more and lost a whole more than that. The funny thing is that only one was caught in the mouth, the others caught in the back as though they attacked it, then decided they could not swallow plastic but were too spastic to keep from getting their backs caught in it. One was caught with all three treble hooks: mouth, eye and back.
We noticed that there was much more fish jumping on the other side of the outlet, so we scooted the boat over there. Elidio said that those were payarin, a smaller version of the payara (see here: http://www.acuteangling.com/Payara/payhome.htm ), a pre-historic looking fish that has two bottom teeth that curve up much like a rattlesnakeâ€™s fangs, and even have holes in the upper lip to accommodate them. That would make my trip complete, since I had wanted to catch some catfish, piranha, peacock bass and payara. I was out of luck for peacock bass since they were in the low waters way out there. My dad had even sent a few lures my way, but alas I will have to use them another time. I did bring them with me, though.
After I threw the line over there, the lure was hit. I brought the fish closer, but he jumped off. I found out why: he had bitten the lure itself, and not the hooks. The lure continued to work with a few holes it in, but I knew I would have to bury it with honors. Maybe even play taps. I finally managed to keep one of the many strikes on the line. I brought it in, and was happy as a clam. I told Elidio that my trip was complete and I was quite happy. He knew that already. He told me to be careful taking off the lure, as I might find myself with a few more holes in my fingers. Before I successfully managed to remove the fish, I asked Elidio to take a picture of me and my prize catch. It would not win any records, but I will send the picture to Rapala and see what they will do with it.
As it was getting dark, Elidio let me cast a few more times, and then we had to hit the roadâ€¦er water. It was darker thanâ€¦hmmm not sure what, but Elidio made it back once again, with nothing to guide him but his memory and a few stars. What a guy!
Dinner was food and fish stories. As I got my dinner, something fell onto my shoulder from above, and I froze. It scared the bejeezus out of me. Marta laughed and came around and removed a small primate of some sort off my shoulder. It scurried off to feed on some fruit.
Rodrigo did not show so much enthusiasm about the payarin, as he recounted a tale of his younger years in which a payarin got his foot, and he allowed as how he did not know a worse pain that lasted for a long time. I guess stepping on a nail when I was younger does not compareâ€¦
Elidio said he would take me to another special place that he and his wife went that was good fishing. I prepared my things again, read a bit and crashed. Sleep found me soon, but that damn â€œWhat the fâ€¦â€ bird found me shortly after. As it was our last day fishing, I decided to make the most of it, an d was out front waiting for Elidio. This time breakfast was just coffee. That was just fine with me.
We went a ways out and then went off to the side in a new offshoot and meandered into some place that was a cross of the Bayou Country in â€œSouthern Comfortâ€ and the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia. I kept thinking we would see dangerous Cajuns scurrying around or a croc slithering into the water.
After meandering for about another hour, we came upon a place, quite similar to the famous Canyon de Mora as I saw nothing special about this body of water. Elidio said thios place was Lake Vacaba. I got a catfish or two, and Elidio got a few piranha, a nice hulking Brazilian piranha, not the welterweight Colombian variety (according to him). We tried a few other places, but Elidio was the winner of the morning trip. I missed a few fish, as they managed to get off before I could land them. Donâ€™t believe me? Well just go on down to the Heliconia Jungle Lodge and ask Elidio!
We had decided to return to the place of yesterday where I had success with the payarin. I got a couple of strikes, but since this fish grabs the lure and holds onto it, rather than getting the hooks into his mouth, I did not have much luck. We said that we would return there after lunch. We raced home to get some more food under our belts and rush back out.
After a quick bite to eat, and a short rest, we hopped back into the boat, and sped to the offshoot point. A drizzle started and then it began pouring. I worried about my camera and tucked it under the bow of the canoe. I began casting for fish and got a few strikes, but nothing landed. Then I got lucky and landed a payarin. Then after a few more casts, I got another one. Elidio was happy that I was happy, but must have thought I was crazy as that preacher in Caddyshack who was shooting the best game of his life in the thunderstorm.
There I was standing in a canoe during a hellacious downpour not worried about getting wet since I was already soaked. I was slightly concerned that Elidio would say that we had to turn back. When I turned to look at him, he was looking at my lure in the water waiting for another strike. I guess he figured since we were already wet, we had nothing to gain by returning. My hat allowed me to get an unobstructed view of the water, but at times, I was throwing blind, and getting strikes nonetheless. No more popped on the line.
The rain stopped and Elidio said we should try another place that he knew of where the black and brown waters met. We went there and right away I got a monster strike, but the fish did not stay on the line. We continued for a another twenty minutes with many strikes, but nothing landed. When I looked at the poor Rapala, I knew that I would have to bury it with honors. No way could this lure work another day. It had too many holes.
I kept the heads of the three payarin that I caught and I am going to dry their skulls so I have the wicked teeth open ready to strike in the afterlife. I will send the lure to my Dad and have him give it a decent burial in our back yard.
We finally returned to the camp and he told everyone how craâ€¦enthousiastic a fisherman I was. They all seemed to be happy that I enjoyed myself. I know I had a good time, rather an excellent time. I got to fish to my heartâ€™s content, and even got some good pictures. We had a good dinner, and then off to bed for final packing.
The next morning we went breakfast and said our goodbyes. It was a parting of sweet sorrow. I knew I would be back with some friends in two monthâ€™s time. They were looking forward to it almost as much as I was. They were a really good crew. They provided me with hours of enjoyment, and I think I had a great time. One of my best so far.
The physical toll on me: not too bad, but I did get a spider bite I think. When I felt the sting, I poked the blister with my knife, and squoze until nothing more came out. It sure felt better after that. Visions of a medevac chopper trying to find us and the resulting trip to the Leticia Medical Center make me roll down my pant legs as far as they would go. And yes, I am still taking the Doxycycline once a day for the next 27 days so I wonâ€™t get malaria from the 233 mosquito bites I counted on my legs and back. I also found a tick on my foot, did a body inspection, and found no more. If you want to make the trip, bring malaria medicine, DEET (it really does work if you bother to put it on!), sunscreen (45 SPF is good), and good general health. No medical conditions that might need acute critical care.
Heliconia lodge is a great place to go for an Amazon adventure, but it is not the Ritz. It should not be since it is a great place to commune with nature and get a taste of simple, but exciting living. Look them up: http://www.amazonheliconia.com/phping/index.php