The Boys From Brazil
By Ric McNulty
One January, Bill Ramey and I departed on the trip of a lifetime. Our destination was the Rio Negro in the State of Amazons in the north central region of Brazil. Our main quarry was the three species of Peacock Bass (the spotted, the butterfly, and the bared) that are native to this river system. We also caught piranha, payara, and pacu which the natives appropriately call the “dog fish”. All these fish have serious dental work.
We arrived in Miami at 5:00 p.m. and proceeded to the international terminal where we were eagerly greeted by the rest of our party, who had all arrived before us. It was now time to learn a valuable lesson in international travel. Gary Land, a dentist from Iowa, who Bill had talked to on the phone several times, informed us that he had flown to Miami the day before only to find out that the 5-year visa that he had purchased two years ago was issued as a 90-day visa and that he would not be going with us to Brazil. Phone calls to the outfitter and a travel documents company did not solve the problem and Gary was on the next plane back to Iowa. Check your documents carefully.
We departed Miami at 10:30 p.m. and arrived in Manaus, Brazil at 4:00 a.m. We proceeded to customs where 175 eager and anxious travelers (mostly fishermen) were greeted by one customs agent. Hurry up and wait. This is where the trip began to get interesting. While standing in line I became deathly ill. My obituary flashed before my eyes. “Local fly fisherman dies at baggage claim in international airport in Manaus, Brazil.” To make a long story short, Bill and I spent the next several hours in the free clinic in downtown Manaus. I won’t go into all the gory details at this time, but two words aptly describe the experience – THIRD WORLD. Another piece of advice; no matter what anyone tells you do not take a malaria pill unless you have malaria. As preventive maintenance it sucks.
Well, our little side trip cost Bill and me some valuable time. The rest of our group had already left Manaus, by charter air, for the town of Barcelos which is 200 miles up the Rio Negro. Once in Barcelos they boarded the Amazon Clipper (an 82 ft. house boat) and proceeded even further up the Rio Negro. Once I decided that I wasn’t going to die, Bill and I chartered a twin engine plane and tried to catch up. We got to Barcelos in two hours and the Clipper sent two bass boats back to pick us up. We finally caught up with our group about 2:00 p.m. that afternoon. Bill and I finally got to fish that afternoon for about 2 ½ hours and still managed to catch 18 fish.
You have to understand that this trip is all about numbers. It’s important to the boat owners because they use total fish numbers to sell their boat, and it’s important to the guides because they participate in a guide pool each day for the most and biggest fish. Well, Bill and I didn’t disappoint. They wanted us there to run up the numbers and that is exactly what we did. In the first 3 ½ days we caught 250 peacocks on our fly rod. We really hit a wall after the third day. It was hard to keep up that pace, but we still managed to end the trip with a total of 327 fish. The boat set a new record for most fish caught with 945 and a record for most fish over 20 lbs. with 20. Mike Peek, Bill’s customer from Arkansas, caught a 25 lb. monster. Bill and I each had a 13 lb. fish and I also caught an 11 and a 9. Our average fish was in the 7-8 lb. range.
The accommodations on the Amazon Clipper were first rate. The rooms were small but comfortable and air conditioned. The food was fantastic, and there are no bugs of any kind. There were two shower heads at the back of the boat that pumped river water, but after 10 hours of fishing who cared. One of the highlights of the trip was sitting on the observation deck of the boat after dinner, with a drink in your hand, as the boat slowly motored down the river in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
On the plane back to Miami I overheard a fishermen complaining about the outfitter that he had used. He remarked that the outfitter should have described this Peacock Bass fishing trip as Extreme Fishing. I couldn’t agree more. This is not for the faint of heart. Being out of shape and blind casting a 9 wt. and 10 wt. fly rod, or throwing a foot long woodchopper for 5 ½ days can bring you to your knees in a hurry.