Have Rod, Will Travel: Amazonia

The Amazon is loaded with exotic fish, and anglers visiting the region may cast at a dozen species in a single trip.

Man fishing off dock
Story and photographs by Eric Ersch
This fall I continued my adventures with Thomas & Thomas’s Solar fly rod in the Amazon Basin.

I’d traveled to Manaus and then flown over endless miles of jungle and rivers before dropping down on a dirt airstrip perched above the Tapajos River. The Tapajos and its tributaries contain 20-some species of fish, including colorful borboleto, payara and the whiskered arowana. I rigged up brightly colored streamers to catch them.

The payara is a menacing fish that has long, spiked teeth extending upward from its lower jaw through the roof of its mouth. Its heavily toothed jaws are an adaptation to help it catch baitfish in the fast water and swirling eddies of tropical South American rivers.

Hooking payara is not as easy as you’d think, as they often bite off the tail of their prey before engulfing it. Months ago a veteran payara angler explained this behavior to me and shared his solution of tying a free-swinging stinger hook into his payara flies, to avoid countless “short” strikes.

I looked for these fish for a few days before finding them, and when I did, they surrounded me. I swung a chartreuse-and-white version of the stinger pattern down and across the current, right through a school of payara relentlessly attacking baitfish. A subtle strike transmitted through the length of the Solar and into my hand. As I stripped line and set the hook, three feet of silver payara catapulted into the steamy tropical air. Scarlet macaws sailed overhead, crocodiles floated nearby and the Solar was bent to the corks with that first payara ripping through the water.

Man holding large caught fish

With enough strength in the butt to battle strong jungle adversaries and still feeling light in the hand after days of casting, the Solar worked well in the Amazon. Hosted by The Ecolodge de Barra, in Brazil, and booked by The Fly Shop, in Redding, California, I enjoyed a wonderful trip—and the Solar rod helped me achieve a goal: to catch and release dozens of exotic fish deep in the Amazon jungle.

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