Piranha spice up a winter fishing trip
Winter is a good time for Vineyard fishermen to think about cleaning tackle left in a heap last fall, tie flies in anticipation of spring or leave the Island to escape the cold and find some fish.
It is also a good time to paint a wall, remove useless stuff cluttering up the basement, and install a new light fixture in a daughter's bathroom. (By way of disclosure, the sentence was inserted in case my wife reads this column.)
Some of us painted rooms. The more adventurous and unfettered fishermen among us headed for the Amazon.
From early spring until late fall charter captain Jaime Boyle of Vineyard Haven makes a living with his ability to find fish and help his clients catch the fish. He is good at it and the folks who go fishing with him appreciate it.
Edgartown seasonal resident Rick Schifter holds a temensis peacock bass. Photos courtesy of Jaime Boyle, boylermaker.com
A regular client, seasonal Edgartown resident Rick Schifter, invited Jaime to join a trip he had arranged for a group of friends and business associates to the Royal Amazon Lodge located in the Amazon River basin near the city of Manuas, the state capital of Amazonas.
The small lodge is located on the Aqua Boa River in an area designated as an eco-tourism preserve. The river is unique because the water is quite clear and in places the bottom is white sand, which provides wonderful opportunities for sight casting to one of several species of peacock bass.
The group flew from Miami to Manuas, just below the equator. The last leg of the trip was completed in a small plane that landed on a small lodge airstrip. "It is an adventure to get there," said Jaime. "There is basically nothing around. You are flying over just green."
The primary fish is the peacock bass. From the description it sounds like a striped bass dressed up for Mardi Gras.
Peacocks are aggressive, often feed in large schools of up to 40 fish and can attain weights of 25 pounds.
Vineyard guide Jaime Boyle holds a spotted peacock.
The fishermen, two to a boat, fish out of aluminum skiffs poled by a guide. There are also opportunities to wade fish in secluded lagoons filled with fish. "At high water the river is 15 to 20 feet higher so when the water recedes, fish, peacocks and crazy stuff get stuck in these lagoons and become very aggressive," said Jaime. "This is as exotic as it gets."
I consider any use of the word exotic to describe a foreign fishing locale to be a polite way to avoid describing stinging bugs the size of sparrows, animals I would like to avoid, and diseases normally referenced in medical journals and Readers Digest stories of survival.
Although the lodge is located in the rain forest, the accommodations sounded quite comfortable and included air conditioning, a dining room, outside pool, and satellite television. The owner has the rights to the whole river and manages it strictly for catch-and-release fishing.
Fishing gear is similar to that used for striped bass fishing on the Vineyard. Nine and ten-weight rods are used to cast poppers, Deceivers and Clousers. "Some days you are doing 30 to 60 fish in a boat," Jaime said.
What was a fun experience? "Getting up and guiding and letting the guide fish, which was kind of cool because they don't get to do that very often. Here [on the Vineyard] we're bustin' our ass using $800 to $1000 graphite push poles and I got up and used theirs and it's a tree, a shaved down mahogany stick that weighed 30 pounds."
Wallace Henderson releases his catch.
The group enjoyed some interesting cuisine. Jaime said the tastiest fish he ate was a little fish with a notorious reputation, the piranha. I asked him if it tasted like man. He said it was sweet.
Prior to the trip, Rick Schifter sent all the members of his group a copy of "The River of Doubt," by Candice Millard (Doubleday). It is the exciting true adventure tale of an exploratory trip down an uncharted river by the then 54-year-old ex-president Theodore Roosevelt and famed Brazilian explorer Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon in 1913.
I asked Rick why he chose that book. In an e-mail he wrote, "I believe in reading up on places before I visit them. How better to prepare for a trip to the Amazon then by reading River of Doubt?"
Rick said he wanted to make sure his traveling companions knew something about the region. I am surprised he did not have a few cancellations.
"Perhaps the most discussed episode in the book was about the tiny catfish that likes to swim up urinary tracts," he wrote. "Fortunately, nobody encountered that one."
Rick was referring to the almost transparent catfish known as the candiru, an inch-long fish that swims into the gill chambers of larger fish and feeds on blood. Occasionally for some unlucky swimmers the fish has been known to take a wrong turn and swim into a human orifice.
A closeup of a peacock bass.
I read the book last fall. It left two indelible impressions: never take a trip on an uncharted Amazon tributary; and Democrat or Republican, they do not make ex-presidents like Teddy Roosevelt anymore. At one point during the direst part of the journey, a feverishly ill Roosevelt sprang from his bed, grabbed a rifle and followed the trail of a murderer through the jungle.
Rick said his favorite episode of the trip was cat fishing from a beach at night. "We went out after dinner and speeding down the Amazon in a small motorboat at night with jungle on both sides and a bright moon lighting the way is quite a thrill ... we cast with piranha as bait. After about 10 minutes, one of the guys had a huge (probably 100 pounds) catfish on his line. The fish took off and ended up under some logs on the other side of the river, requiring the guides to go over in a boat to untangle the line. Unfortunately, the fish was gone and the guides returned. A few minutes later, the stillness was interrupted by loud thrashing in the water about 50 yards away. It seemed evident that a caiman had clamped down on the catfish, which still had some fight left in it. After about 10 seconds, it was apparent that the caiman had won. The event was almost surreal and very primal."
Almost 100 years earlier, far from the comforts of a fishing lodge, explorer and ornithologist George Cherrie of Vermont, a member of Mr. Roosevelt's exploratory party, provided a description, recounted in the book, of the Amazon jungle at night. "Let there be the least break in the harmony of sound and instantly there succeeds a deathlike silence, while all living things wait in dread for the inevitable shriek that follows the night prowler's stealthy spring."