The Jungle Angler's Survival Guide

My Trip to the jungle in Bolivia to write "In Search of the River Gods" (July 2009 issue of Field & Stream) was the wildest--and ultimately most rewarding--fishing expedition of my life. Going in, I knew I'd be way out of my element...camping in the virgin Amazonian rainforest where encounters with snakes, bugs, and jaguars were distinct possibilities, many air miles from the nearest pavement, living among the Indians in an unrelenting, harsh environment that has literally chewed up and spat out some of the most intrepid explorers for hundreds of years. I knew I had no margin for error, and I definitely wasn't playing "Man vs. Wild" or "Survivorman." I was there to get a story. Get in, get it done (catch some fish), get it on camera and in the notebook, and get out...hopefully in one piece. Preparation is always the key to making the best of any serious outdoors adventure. Here's an overview of the gear that keyed a successful expedition to one of the wildest rivers on the planet:Kirk Deeter
Did I remember everything? As I packed my mounting gear pile, I still wondered if I had enough to cover being in Bolivia for 2-1/2 weeks. I was told to pack light. One dry bag, one small backpack, and one camera case--50-pounds max. That meant only a few changes of clothes, a med-kit (mine contained a few bandages, some tape, gauze, Neosporin, Super Glue to close cuts, Visine, Lamisil, aspirin, Benadryl, and a pair of tweezers), and fishing and photography gear. Add to that my passport and $400, and I figured I was good to go.Kirk Deeter
Because we would be near the Equator where the days and nights are split almost evenly, I wanted to be sure I carried enough candle-power and backup batteries to get me through the nights. Here, my son, Paul, tests the lights. I wore both Petzl and Princeton-Tec headlamps, and carried a Sure Fire LED flashlight whenever the sun was down. The Sure Fire light was actually partly for self defense; we carried one Beretta 9mm pistol, and one .22 rifle among us. if you saw a big animal in the dark, the ultra-bright beam from the LED light would supposedly disorient the animal until help arrived. Fortunately, that never became an issue.Kirk Deeter
As soon as we arrived in the jungle, we moved upstream on the Rio Secure with the Tsimane Indians in their dugout canoes. We brought freeze-dried and canned food (I brought beef jerky from the States, which, after a few days, tasted like filet mignon, and was a huge hit among the Indians), rice, water, Coca-Cola, and some coolers with ice. Beyond that, we had to catch the main courses.Kirk Deeter
As such, it's fair to say that the flies and fishing gear we carried played a role beyond "sport." We caught fish to eat. I am grateful to Brian Schmidt and Umpqua Feather Merchants for hooking me up with a full arsenal of flies that helped feed us well. The dorado loved big black, purple, orange, and red streamers, with large eyes. These fish attacked baits head-first, so the eyes were key. As for the other gear I carried, I used an 8-weight Orvis Helios Tip-Flex rod and/or a Scott S3S 8-weight, a Hatch Outdoors disc-drag reel, a Scientific Anglers WF8F Sharkskin line, 20-pound Maxima, and American Fishing Wire Co. 25-pound wire tippets.Kirk Deeter
In the Jungle (and pretty much any other wild fishing locale) it isn't the big toothy animals you have to worry most about...it's the bugs. Mosquitoes kill more people worldwide than all the lions, tigers, jaguars, sharks, and poisonous snakes put together. I took a full course of preventive vaccines and meds before and after the trip, to block Yellow Fever, Typhoid, and Malaria, and other issues. Surprisingly (thankfully), we didn't encounter many mosquitoes on the river during Bolivia's dry season. But we did deal with sand fleas and other small bugs. I didn't mess around; I slathered 3M Ultrathon on my face and limbs during the entire trip. Having bug dope in many individual packets was key, as I didn't have to worry about losing the main tube of insect repellent, and could carry them in my pockets.Kirk Deeter
I also chose to treat the clothes I wore with the insect repellent permethrin. Congo Spray from Eagle Creek worked to treat the hats, shirts, and pants I wore, and keep the bugs away.Kirk Deeter
I'm pretty sure I'm the first writer or photographer to proudly display a pair of his underpants on fieldandstream.com, but I don't care. As much as I appreciate the cool and comfort of cotton in most warm fishing environs, in the jungle, it was all about wearing synthetic, wicking, fast-drying materials. And that was especially important in the basest of base layers. I wore Under Armour, and was grateful I did. Foot care was also extremely important in the jungle. The whole team wore Simms wading boots with hard rubber soles by day, and then we carefully dried our feet and wore sandals in camp at night.Kirk Deeter
The sun is another foe that can cripple an expedition, especially in the South American jungle. As much as you might want to soak in some rays, the sun can put you in agony in the short term (and far worse in the long term) if you don't take appropriate precautions. You'll notice that everyone in the crew was covered almost head to toe, including our Indian guides Juanito and Ramon, seated fore and aft in the canoe in the foreground. The lesson with the sun is all about prevention. if you feel the symptoms of sun sickness in the jungle, you're already behind the eight ball.Kirk Deeter
On those body parts that aren't covered with SPF-clothing, you want to be darn sure you wear a proven-effective sunscreen. Forget the enticing coconut-butter fragrances and oils. You want sun block in the jungle. I wore Beyond Coastal 15SPF and 30SPF the entire time I was in Bolivia, and didn't burn. What's best about this stuff is that it lasted through all the hiking, sweating, and wet-wading. When I climbed out of the tent in the morning, the sunscreen went on first (the sunscreen has to soak into the skin to work effectively). I waited another 10 minutes, then layered the Ultrathon on top. No negative interactions at all.Kirk Deeter
For hard-core, rugged, wet, environs, nothing protects the photo gear (and anything else that cannot stand to get soaked) like a Pelican Case. From Alaska to the jungle, serious shooters carry Pelicans. I borrowed this one from Tim Romano, then went home and bought my own. On the downside, that Buff headwear thing you see wrapped around the handle of the case is there for a reason. After a mere 20 minutes in the jungle, it turned into little more than a sopping, stinky, bug magnet, and stayed that way for eight days. The only other gear misfire on my trip was the watch I wore, which inexplicably changed time zones when I least expected it to--dangerous stuff, considering how fast the sun sets in the tropical jungle. Twice I thought it was five o'clock, only to realize I was an hour behind, then had to dash back to camp in the gathering darkness.Kirk Deeter
You need to carry two knives, and a good pair of stainless pliers when you fish in the jungle. I chose a Smith & Wesson stainless fixed blade, a Leatherman Wave multi-tool, and a pair of Ross Pescador 6 pliers to get me through, and had no complaints whatsoever.Kirk Deeter
Each member of the team on the Bolivia expedition had a well-defined role, from the cook/quartermaster (Ramiro Badessich) to the engineer/mechanic (Joaquin Arocena). I ultimately found my role (beyond the writer), thanks to this super-handy device from Brunton. I was the electrician. Using this remarkable solar panel, wires, and battery pack, I could create energy from the tropical sun. We used that energy to power everything from our camera batteries, to the satellite telephone that would call in the airplane to pick us up. The Solaris 26 solar panel, coupled with the Solo 15 charge pack, performed flawlessly; they collectively became our electronic lifeline to reach the outside world, and charge the gear we needed to make a story possible. Half of the pictures in this story and the magazine story, would not have happened, minus Brunton technology. Hence, whenever I travel to any spot without established power, I will always carry this system with me.Kirk Deeter
The number one survival element in the world is water. As you can see from this photo of Ramiro kicking back in a dugout on the river, the Rio Secure flowed surprisingly cool and clear. The natives drank eagerly from these waters. But, again, we had no margin for error. One small mistake, one tiny bug that caused gastro-intestinal illness amongst the crew could have doomed the entire expedition. As such, we took no chances.Kirk Deeter
The SteriPEN Journey saved our bacon the entire time we were in the jungle. I used a particle filter to create clear water, then dropped the SteriPENin a one-liter container, to create precious drinking water, one liter at a time. SteriPEN uses ultraviolet (UV) light to destroy waterborne microbes. It kills viruses, bacteria and protozoa, including Giardia and Cryptosporidium. We gathered water from the river and from the waterfalls flowing off the hills, then purified that water in seconds using SteriPEN, and drank it all day, every day. We also cooked with that water. Of all the devices I carried, this is the one that I give most credit to for bringing all of us out of the wild Bolivian jungle unscathed. The SteriPEN is another device I will never, ever, travel to the most wild regions of the world, without carrying.Kirk Deeter
Of course, in any totally wild environment, the number one factor on your side is the team you travel with. Gadgets, gizmos, and gear aside, none of this would have been possible minus the keen insights and experience of my guides and travel partners. Especially Noel Pollak (the most experienced dorado guide in the world), pictured left, Ramon, our lead Tsimane guide from the Bolivian village of Asunta, center, and Marcelo Perez, the leader of the Jungle Anglers who arranged the trip, right. I am forever indebted to them. And I encourage anyone who wants to experience the wildest dorado fishing in the world (the Jungle Anglers have now created a lodge operation on these waters with a comfortable base camp, electricity, and English-speaking guides) to go to Bolivia. See tsimanelodge.com or untamedangling.com for information.Kirk Deeter

The Bolivian jungle is a dorado dream destination, but it's certainly harsh on the angler. Here is Kirk Deeter's list of essential gear for a deep jungle adventure.