He knew the myths, read the stories and pored over the photos--now, he finally got to experience a trip many anglers place high on their bucket list. Follow Gary Giudice on his fishing adventure through the Amazon as he cruises through the jungle on a unique caravan of floating suites and hammers peacock bass, vampire fish, piranha and all the other offerings of the greatest river on the planet. Sitting on the back porch, margarita in hand and a fine Cuban cigar clenched in my teeth, I watched a caiman swim by. I don't know how long it was but it looked to have about an 8 to 10-inch spread between its eyes and it looked exactly like an alligator to me. By now I had accepted good drinks, fine cigars, giant reptiles and great companions as a way of life down here. Down here is a long ways back in the Amazon jungle. A long ways.
Caiman look a lot like an alligator to me and are every bit as ferocious. Many in the Amazon exceed 12-feet. Locals are not concerned about piranhas but Caimans keep them on their toes. I asked outfitter Billy Chapman, Jr. who sat beside me, “Hey pal, where’s the closest restaurant?” Billy blew a perfect smoke ring followed by a careful sip of Crown Royal before he nodded at the bass boat bobbing in the caiman’s wake, tied to the back of the floating suite I called home for my week in the jungle. “See that boat right there?” “Yeah.” “It’d take you five days in that boat if you stayed on it 24-hours a day to get to one.” “Billy, I don’t need a hamburger that bad.” I didn’t want a hamburger. I was just curious how far back in the Amazon Jungle we really were. But miles don’t begin to tell the story. Grasping how far away things are that I normally take for granted puts everything in a proper perspective – at least for me. There are no 7-Elevens or 911 operators or tackle stores or traffic jams or nosey neighbors or anything anglers consider normal. No litter, no horns, no stress. Smoke rings come out nearly perfect every time and the fish always bite. Oh, sure, there’s rain in the rainforest and there are bugs, but there are rain suits and bug sprays, so who cares?_
All the comforts of home on any waterway deep in the Amazon jungle is hard to believe but certainly is nice after a long day of catching peacock bass. There is no place on Earth where we could catch more fish, more varieties of fish, and do it in a place where unbelievable wildlife flourishes, untouched by the hand of man. No place! Howler and spider monkeys swing in the trees. Macaws and parrots and all manner of colorful birds catch your eyes and your ears. Tapirs and strange-looking turtles stalk the riverbanks. Some animals are rarely seen, but you know they are there: anacondas and jaguars keep to themselves, further adding to the jungle’s mystique. But it’s the fish that haunt the angler, not the roar of the jungle cat or the snap of the caiman’s jaws. Peacock bass get the headlines, and maybe they should, but if they get all the glory, it’s a disservice to many of the other fish found here. Some 3,000 different kinds of fish live in the Amazon, many of which are prime game fish.
Gary Giudice with a nice peacock bass. The piranhas nipped at its fins as he reeled it in. Besides the various peacocks, there is the payara, with long bottom teeth that fit into it’s upper jaw and piranha that fight well and taste great; pirarucu that grow to the size of a box car but are rarely caught and the cow-sized red catfish. Add the countless others with hard-to-pronounce names but which readily take baits and jump high as a tarpon and you realize what a place, what a fishery. Truly a house of dreams. It’s one of those places that, as an angler, I always wanted to visit. All my life I’ve read the stories and seen the pictures. I knew the myths about the piranhas and the headhunters plus I knew the legend of the peacock bass. I was drawn to it like any angler, just like you. If you aren’t an angler you might not understand it. But if you are, you know that fishing the Amazon is something that you will have to do, something you must experience at least once before you die, regardless of the sacrifice. It’s on your list!
Professional angler Kenyon Hill discovered largemouth bass tactics don’t always work on peacocks but they did on this one. My fishing buddy for this trip, Kenyon Hill, is a professional angler. He’s never had a job besides that. Not that it’s not a job, it most certainly is, and a difficult one at that. The Amazon was on his list, too, so we called Billy Chapman Jr. at Anglers Inn International. We’ve both fished with Billy in Mexico numerous times so our choice for an Amazon guide was an easy one to make. We know Billy, we know his high standards of service and we trust him with our vacations and our well-being. We didn’t know about much else, except that he had one more thing that, in our eyes, separated him from the pack: the way he sets up his camps.
Shore lunches are great no matter where they are, but those in the Amazon are the best. Piranhas taste just like crappie when grilled on the beach. Anglers Inn does not use a base camp or a mother ship like the rest of the outfitters in the Amazon. Billy put together what might be best described as a floating train that moves on a whim and draws very little water. He can move it almost anywhere at the drop of a hat. He can pick up and go in under an hour and you would never even know he was there. Heavy rains? No problem, just move up stream. Fishing pressure? No problem, just move over a shallow part of the river where the others can’t reach. Fish not biting? No problem, go someplace where they are. And he does this without sacrificing anything in terms of comfort for the people in his camp.
The floating suites can be moved or set up in under an hour with out even a mark left in the fragile jungle. Mobility is the key not only to catching fish but to seeing wildlife in the amazing Amazon. The way Anglers Inn camp set up is like this: two anglers share a floating suite, which includes two beds, a bathroom, desk, air-conditioner, electricity – even laundry service. They get a fully equipped bass boat with a great guide that was raised on the river and all the tackle any angler would need. The dining room has wonderful chow and a fully stocked bar. All of these amenities and, oh yeah, there’s wild, virgin jungle right out the door.
When it’s time to move camp it takes under an hour and would look much like a train to locals, if there were any locals to see it, that is. Night noises are interesting. Who knows what lurks nearby to make such sounds? Who cares, really? It just adds to the experience. When it’s time to move, Billy hooks the camp together into a long, train-looking affair and off it goes, leaving nothing behind. The fish always bite. The thing that impressed me the most about the fishing was not that they fought hard or that they were big or even that they were so beautiful. It was the fact that the skill level of the angler did not factor into the catching as much as I thought it would.
_Billy Chapman, owner and founder of Anglers Inn International, proved he can catch peacock bass as well as outfit for them.
Kenyon and I thought we could parlay our years of experience fishing for largemouth bass into instant peacock-catching success. That was a mistake. Peacock bass are nothing like largemouth bass. They don’t bite the same or act the same. So while Kenyon and I were trying to force largemouth tactics on the peacock bass with little success, the rest of the camp listened as the local guides merrily caught them seemingly at will. Oh, we caught some, but not better or as often as less-experienced anglers. Every peacock bass bait known to man is on the boats, but the guides know which baits work best at any given time. While we were there, big jerk baits and jigs tied by the guides worked far better than anything Kenyon and I tried to force-feed the fish.
The Amazon Drainage is home to over 3,000 different species including the monkey fish. You can find them beneath most any lay down in any given tributary and they readily take artificial baits.__ Billy Chapman catches a nice one. Most of the peacock bass we caught were in the 5 to 10-pound range, mean with plenty of fight. Some were much larger, others smaller, but we caught a bunch. Between the peacocks we’d catch other fish that surprised us: dogfish, payara, piranha and others. We saw the fabled pirarucu but could not get them to bite. They were huge – as big as a smart car. The piranhas, with their nasty set of teeth, tend to destroy baits but fight well and taste great. For one shore lunch the guides made a quick grill out of some saplings and cooked a few piranha with some seasoning they had on hand. Good eats! Very similar to crappie, I thought. The ones we caught weighed around two to three pounds, I’d guess. It pays to unhook these with care.
There’s little doubt when a peacock explodes on a top water bait. They are easier to miss than an angler may think because of the scare factor! Going on a trip like this or any other serious wilderness adventure can’t be taken lightly. Health, for some, is an issue. Billy has a satellite phone for emergencies. A prior visit to the family doctor will get an angler lined out on required immunizations and any other medical advice.
Red fin catfish grow large and are fairly easy to catch if anglers just take the time to fish for them. They use much the same tactics there as anywhere, cut bait in deep holes near river bends. Day-to-day stuff Billy can deal with in the bush. While we were there, a bug flew into the ear of one of our fellow anglers. It was driving him nuts buzzing around in there. No problem: Billy had him lay his head down on the table; he poured some water in his ear, the bug swam out and that was that. That’s why he’s the outfitter and we’re the anglers.
When Axl Rose screamed, “Welcome to the Jungle” in the popular Guns N’ Roses song, they didn’t have this in mind. As anglers, we’re sometimes fortunate enough to fish in exotic places, seeing some of the most remote areas on the planet. The Rockies, Alaska, the North Woods of Canada all pale in comparison to the Amazon, where normal is just so far away. We’ve devoted time and hard-earned resources trying to catch simple creatures on hook and line. And while fishing can be as simple as staring at a red and white bobber or as complex as a multi-day trip to the jungle, machete in hand, it gets no better than when it’s combined with sitting on the back of a floating suite, blowing the perfect smoke ring and holding a cold beverage with a sore arm guessing the length of a caiman.
Professional angler Kenyon Hill catches another payara, also known as the vampire fish. They fight well and readily bite.
The Amazon is a rainforest. It rains. But generally in short bursts and the fishing is great before and after, not so much during.
Properly prepared and seasoned, piranha taste a lot like crappies.
With the jungle right out the door it can be a bit intimidating at first for those of us used to city life, but the noises are awesome and beat the sounds of horns and sirens any night.
Peacock bass sometimes head to flooded brush when hooked. It’s not unusual for guides to jump overboard to retrieve them. It’s not the piranhas they are concerned about but the big caimans that seem to always lurk nearby.
Black and red piranha are commonly caught in the Amazon region on most baits. The have a tendency to destroy lures and line. Care is taken when releasing.
Any beach will work for a luxurious campsite for the evening. Only footprints are left the next day, but those won’t last long in the rainforest.
The floating suites are the most comfortable, even if they are right in the middle of one of the most remote and harsh environments on the planet.
He knew the myths, read the stories and pored over the photos–now, he finally got to experience a trip many anglers place high on their bucket list. Follow Gary Giudice on his fishing adventure through the Amazon as he cruises through the jungle on a unique caravan of floating suites and hammers peacock bass, vampire fish, piranha and all the other offerings of the greatest river on the planet.