Sunday, November 06, 2016
Rio Marie 2016 Wrap Up
The week at Rio Marie started and ended with an amazing float plan ride across the Amazon jungle between Manaus and NW Brazil. The plane services the mother ship called “Untamed Amazon,” which is essentially a floating hotel that operates in complete isolation from the outside world (except for Satellite Wi-Fi). Using the mother ship as a base, the guides use custom built skiffs that enable the angler to cover vast amounts of river each day. The entire operation moves up or down the river system each day so that each group is able to fish relatively untouched water everyday of their stay. We began the week in the upper reaches of Rio Marie and made our way downstream approximately 200 miles during the week.
Weather is always a factor and our week was no exception as we were dealt some heavy rains, which resulted in rising river flows for most of our stay. There is just something about rising water that always seems to put the fish off the bite just about everywhere that I’ve ever fished. I think that the high water makes it easier for the fish to find cover further in the jungle and just makes them less accessible than anything when it comes to fishing for Peacocks. With the rising flows, we made our way down the Rio Marie at a faster pace than normal so that we would be able to access some of the smaller tributaries that had been affected less by recent storms.
We came prepared for a variety of conditions this year, which included 8-10 weight rods, a wide range of line densities, and flies designed to fish throughout the water column. I had a Sage X 890 rigged up with a floating line, a Clutch Archipelago 909 also rigged with a floating line, a Sage Salt 990 with a Rio Outbound Tropical F/I, Scott Radian 909 with a floating line, an Orvis Helios 2 910 with a Rio Outbound Tropical I/S6 sinking line, and a Thomas & Thomas Exocett 910 rigged with a Rio Tarpon Quickshooter (F/I). I know it seems like a lot of rods, but these fish are brutal on gear, especially fly lines, so it’s best to be prepared with multiple backups. The key for our success though, was to have floating, intermediate, and fast sinking like options as changing conditions call for changing tactics.
Day one saw beautiful skies and slowly dropping water conditions following a few days of heavy rains prior to our arrival. We had slow fishing the first day, but just good enough to give everyone a sense of optimism heading into day two as the river was looking better throughout the day. I spent the first day by myself with a guide as we had an odd number of anglers for the week and I drew the solo boat to open the week. The great part of fishing solo is that you get all the best shots, the bad thing is that you don’t get the breaks in casting either. This type of fishing is as physically demanding as any that I’ve ever done before and the jungle is 95 degrees in the shade and 97 degrees in the sun with oppressive humidity. So, I was pretty worn out after day one and very much looking forward to paring up with some of the other anglers for the remainder of the week.
Day two started off slow, but ended up being my best of the week in terms of numbers and action. We started off the day fishing around the edge of a large lagoon just off the main river. After no success a couple of hours into it, I was not particularly excited about making a “second lap” of the same water. In fact, I opted to sit down and watch while my angling partner flogged the water for another hour or two. I even tried to “gently nudge” the guide into moving on to some new water as there were obviously no hungry fish there. My partner for the day makes a cast back at the top of beat and misses a fish with a nice boil. I think to myself that it must have been a fluke as there is now way there are fish in there…we just hammered on that water for two hours. John makes another cast, WHAM, 18 pounder in the net. After a few pics, I conceded to the guide that there just might be a fish or two in there after all! I half-heartedly threw a Pole Dance to the bank with my Sage X 890 and a 13 pounder explodes on the fly out of nowhere. I decided that I would keep my mouth shut and listen to the guides the rest of trip! We picked up a few more nice fish here and there that day, but found a spot late in the day that resulted in non-stop action on 4-6 pound fish for the last hour or two of light. One of the other anglers in the group landed a fish that was just over 20 pounds that day as well. It was an amazing day on the water, highlighted by sighting an Anteater swimming across the river on the ride back to the Untamed Amazon mother ship.
The rain started that evening and went on until mid-morning of day three. We had a tough day overall but I managed to find another 13 pounder or so on a Dirty Water Fly Company Chartreuse Smoke-N-Mirrors fished on the Rio Outbound Tropical full sinking (WF9I/S6) line. I have fished that line on several fly rods over the years and have come to like a rod like the Orvis Helios 2 best for this purpose as it loads well into the butt section of the rod which makes for more open loops and easier casting with large flies and sinking lines. We found a few smaller fish throughout the day and came across a handful of fish pushing the 20-pound mark that we just couldn’t get to eat our flies. Some other anglers in the group ended up with several fish in the 15-20 pound range that day as well.
Lunch on day three consisted of a peacock bass BBQ cooked on a make shift wood grill built in about three minutes by the “native” guides. Each boat has an English-speaking guide (typically Argentine) with a second guide that is a member of the indigenous tribe that owns the fishing rights to the Rio Marie. The indigenous guides live several hundred miles away from the remote stretches that we were fishing, yet seem to know every nook and cranny of the river system. They can build a grill and cook some fish in the time it typically takes me to anchor my drift-boat and get the cooler open!
The remainder of the trip was characterized by consistent rains, rising water levels, and sporadic fishing. Everyone had just enough fish to make each day productive and enjoyable. Heading into day 6, I was the only angler that hadn’t hooked into anything over 15 pounds and it wasn’t looking good as the river continued to rise throughout the day.
The mother ship had made its way down the river system to the confluence of a tributary that we had fished in 2015. This was the highest point that the mother ship had gone in 2015, so some of the water was starting to look familiar. So, although the conditions weren’t looking too good, I still help some hope for a big fish or two as we were headed to some of the same water where I found a big one the year before.
As the schedule worked, I was sharing the boat on the last day with Ron and Pablo was our guide. Pablo is the only 2016 staff member that was at Rio Marie in 2015. As it turned out, our beat for the day included the lagoon in which I caught a 22-pound fish the year before. I was definitely excited about revisiting some of my favorite water from the year before, but I was also dreading the prospect of spending several hours flogging away deep inside one the largest lagoons in the system.
Earlier in the day, I had bumped into 4-5 small fish on the full sinking line around some creek mouths and the river fringes. The action was slow and the temperaturewas exceptionally hot as morning turned into afternoon.
The entrance to the last lagoon of the day was familiar to me and I was disheartened by the height of the water relative to last year. Islands that I had fished in 2015 were almost completely submerged and the water had very little visibility. The sky had finally cleared and the temperature was noticeably inching upward with every passing moment. We fished well into the lagoon with both slow and fast sinking lines with just a couple of grabs by smaller fish. As we approached the spot were I found the biggest fish form 2015, I still clung to the idea that I’d find a big one. We fished on through it with not a grab and I pretty much resigned myself to the idea that it just wasn’t going to happen.
I remember the heat was just awful at this point and I decided to take a break, drink some water, and try to enjoy the beauty. Ron kept plugging away with dedication as the guides watched and looked, hoping for a fish but knowing that time was running was out. The native guide threw out the teaser rig and something blew up near it, looked like a few small fish. I drank my water and thought to myself that I was done; my arm was rubber and we hadn’t seen a real fish in hours.
The trip was great experience for me from start to finish. Other than a nagging cough that had lingered on after a brief cold prior to leaving for the trip, it really could not have been better. I made some new friends and found some new angling partners. The pressure of catching more and bigger fish just wasn’t there for me this trip and I just enjoyed it for what it was. I was thinking about all of this as we steadily crept along the banks and Ron just kept banging out 60-80’ cast after cast with half a million bees constantly buzzing around his head. I don’t even think he drank any water that last hour or two. There was another 400 yards of good bank ahead, so I decided that I would go ahead and finish it out with a popper, I was done with the 10 weights and sinking lines.
There is something about casting the Sage X 890 with a floating line and a small popper that just feels right. Tight loops and 70’ of line with just a false cast or two comes with ease after a few hours of throwing 80’ of fast sinking lines on a 10 weight with 9” heavily-dressed, articulated flies. I was thinking that I wish I had fished this 8 weight more the last couple of days, as my arm was really feeling worthless.
My fly was maybe 70’ away, tucked up next to some trees and palm leaves just off the bank. The ripples settled and I started stripping, probably faster than I would have recommended. I lost the line for a second and the fly settled. Pablo and I both saw just the slightest movement under the fly; the glare was brutal but there was definitely something that showed itself for just a moment. A couple of strips and BANG. A big fish – no idea how big – just destroyed the fly and made a hard run sideways and back towards the bank. I clamped down and hoped that my 50-pound flouro would hold just a few more feet as this fish ripped its way to heavy cover. And like that, it was over. The fly came out and floated back to the surface of the water where it sat motionless for a few seconds as I pondered what had just happened.
I had a rush of disappointment and heard my comrades sigh in the shared frustration of what could have been. I didn’t feel like I had done anything wrong, it was just bad luck.
I started stripping in to make another cast and 2 very large Peacocks started after the fly, hot and heavy. My mind said “strip, strip, strip” and my hands moved that line as fast as my arms and fingers would allow. These fish were “lit up,” bluff-charging the fly as it depressingly made its way to my rod tip without another eat. You could literally hear their aggression through the heat and the water. They circled around a time or two at 100 mph as I picked my fly up in frustration at the side of the boat.
Screw it, I plopped the fly back down, a foot off the side of the boat, right over the smaller of the two fish that were angrily looking to clear their territory of anything in or on “their” water. Popped it once. He ate it…hard.
He turned out to be 22 pounds and was landed about 100 yards – as the Crow flies – from the spot that I landed a 22 pounder in 2015. Pretty amazing when I stopped to think about the likelihood of catching two fish like that within a 100 yards of each other after fishing hundreds and hundreds of miles of water in the middle of absolutely nothing.
Not a bad way to end my trip to Rio Marie in 2016!
If you are looking for a Peacock Bass trip with legitimate shots at fish over 20 pounds, Rio Marie and Untamed Angling should be at the top of your list. I would recommend planning your travel in late September or early October. The lodge has room for up to 12 anglers but 6-8 anglers is really ideal, so try to join a hosted trip or small group that has the boat reserved for the week. Yellow Dog Fly Fishing always takes great care of me on my travels and I would recommend contacting them to book your trip.
Fishing this part of the world is one of the most amazing experiences that I have come across to date. If you are heading to the Amazon, in search of Peacock Bass, please feel free to reach out to me for advice on timing, destination, gear and flies.