Amazon Peacock Bass (paper 2): Dog - Cat reverse Amazon logic

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Perfect morning, perfect weather, perfect lunch, perfect nap in a hammock listening to the real jungle noises. Our arms desperately needed some more rest. Moquim, our perceptive guide, after 4 intense days with us, could read our faces. When boarding the boat after our nap he humbly asked if we would like to experiment a variation in our strict Peacock regime. – “What are we talking about ? ” ,  was our instinctive answer. “Catfishing” , was the subdued response, almost whispered looking at the floor, knowing his guests where hardline fly- fishermen.

Now, that really poised a challenge to our most embedded creed. Looking at each other and seeing only a tired face, we had an automatic agreement without uttering a single word.  – “OK let´s go for it, but you will have to teach us all about it.“

Moquim´s broad smile shined as a beacon. -  “First thing you should think of,  is that you have to catch a dog for the cat.” With this statement, he started the motor and headed upriver. Things in the Amazon have their own logic, and in this particular challenge it seemed that we would have to apply the reverse logic of current affairs.

After a while of peaceful navigation on the sleepy waters of the Itapará, Moquim stopped by some shallow marshland. He changed our flies to some small, flashy “pole dancers” that we use back home, and asked us to cast towards some exotic looking reeds. Holy macaroni !  Not only peacocks are extremely aggressive in this savage land. These dog-fish literally assaulted our lures, it was reminiscent of bonefishing in the flats. Beautiful greenish silvery fish, with nice teeth to avoid. We landed a few, about 16 inches in length, and while we were pulling them out, he eviscerated and decapitated them placing the heads in a plastic container. Once finished we started moving upriver.

We arrived at a fork of the river where a regular tributary flowed into the Itapará, water looked deep enough. Moquim got near the left bank and tied the boat to a branch of a very tall tree. Silence was imposing, only the deep humming noise of the jungle, full of insects, was heard. Moquim produced a very sturdy rod to which he tied a steel leader with a heavy weight and, what I would describe as a hardened steel shark hook. He then proceeded to carefully hook a dogfish head, piercing the hard parts instead of using the soft spots. – “We will use the dog to catch the cat.”

Here´s the thing: Normally areas where giant catfish dwell (e.g. redtails, piraras, etc.), like this fork, are deep and present lots of activity, among which there is a thick layer of piranhas not far from the surface. This simple fact implies that nothing eatable will pass this layer unless it is hard enough to endure the relentless attack of these voracious creatures. Guess what, the only available bait capable of doing the trick is the head of the noble dogfish.

Against all odds, Moquim gave me the rod and instructed me to cast to the very middle of the river. Off it went. He instructed then Joe to untie the boat and grab the branch to keep the boat still.

Here´s another thing: Catfish are very sensitive to disturbing noises (e.g. motors), they are also sensitive to the effect that the shadow of the boat might have on the upper layers of fish, so that is the reason to cast from the shoreline, in the shadow of a tree towards the center of the river. The reason to keep the boat untied is that you have to be very fast in your reactions once the cat is hooked.

We sat quietly, listening to some howling monkey party not very far away. A couple of spectacularly colored macaus flew lazily by. Not more than 10 minutes after the last cast I felt a humongous bite. Big back pull with the rod to set the hook as instructed. The line starts to whizz off at an incredible speed, the reel whining. Joe releases the boat. I start applying the brake in the reel. I desperately try to maintain my firm grip on the rod and reel and gain balance with one foot on the bottom of the boat and another one on the bow bench. We start surfing downriver pulled by something really big down there. Unbelievable tug of war. It took us about 15 minutes to get this monster tired.

amazon catfishFinally with almost no arms or legs left we pulled out what resulted to be a not so big pirara (according to Moquim), but weighed about 60 lbs to the best of my knowledge. Photo and back into the water. Imagine if we had caught one of the big ones. We did a few more tries, and we fed the piranhas all right. We had another impressive bite but the line snapped and we lost the leader, the hook, and the weight. Unfortunately we didn´t have more tackle on board. I must confess in all shame for a fly-fisherman that this was major fun, and my advice to anyone visiting the area is not to skip it, by all means.