Updated: Oct 2
By David Graham: 9.29.2023
What a feeling to find your feet at new beginnings one step beyond the destination. I got a taste of this unique progression as an angler just recently. This, my story of reaching the peak of my interest as an angler and outdoorsman. And a re-birth of sorts just the same. This is my journey to the Amazon.
In a sea of anglers, everyone is "deeply passionate" for the greatest outdoor sport on earth. Many anglers gamble on their luck but boastfully project knowledge and deep skillset in their pursuit that is fundamentally little more than the cold side of a finger lifted in the wind. We need the guessing game - we need the wonder or fishing loses its value. Its ok to embrace 'luck' and good fortune! For me, my passion for fishing has always burned deeper than I could express in written or verbal explanation.
There is this resounding desire in my spirit to be outdoors. It has been there since I was a little child, beyond even my earliest memories.. affirmed by my parents and family members who knew me before I knew myself. I loved nature so deeply and passionately even from a young age that it isolated me. Because many a young man has loved the outdoors, but many a young man failed to follow me all the way and so I have run this thing alone - more and more as my ambitions have grown and taken me further into the realm of insanity.
A Seed Is Planted Amazon
I started as a kid who loved the wild, and my interest specifically in the Amazon rainforest started somewhere around 1995 in my 4th grade Social Studies classroom. We had an 'educational' game there called the Amazon Trail - akin to the more infamous Oregon trail.
This was an educational game with a simple strategic plot - one which I flat out ignored and did not abide by. There were opportunities in the game to harvest food and survive, and one such method was by spearing fish from the river. It was there that I first saw the 'Pirarucu', or arapaima. The pixelated graphic representation of the fish left enough to the imagination of a 9 year old boy to leave him enamored. I dug through every wildlife book, National Geographic magazine, and publication that I could possibly find to learn more about the Amazon's treasure trove of wildlife.
Years have passed since that time, and I have watched the passion for nature fizzle out and die in the hearts of countless childhood friends turned men. For me though, it has festered and burnt only stronger. Along my personal development, my interest in the outdoors took strong form around a rod and a reel.. but fishing has been an opportunity to uncover mystery, to be adventurous. My style as an angler has always been transcendent of typical sport fishing parameters... where I have gravitated towards the fringe and unusual. I genuinely believe there has been a subconscious effort to simulate the feel of the jungle in every trek I've made outdoors - always knowing one day I would make it happen for real, and I would reach that place.
My pursuit of large and unusual freshwater fish has been a unique progression, and an invaluable source of firsthand learning and preparation for my inevitable crossing of paths with the baddest fish the Amazon has to offer. I came to this firm self demand in the wake of the global jarring Covid put on us all and booked my trip to Guyana's Essequibo River knowing the time to travel must be now.
My journey as an angler started on the pegs of my brother's bike. The youngest of three boys, my brothers facilitated my interest in the outdoors by simply letting me tag along. So many kids have passing opportunities - open windows of interest - but no one willing to take them through it. I appreciate my brothers more than I can express, and all they did was say 'yes'.
So, for this trip, it was all the more meaningful that my sole partner was my brother Matt. With four rods each, and our own assortment of gear prep and consolidation at a 50lb per person limitation - we flew out of Miami International Airport on a one-way flight to Georgetown Guyana.
We departed on an evening flight - scheduled for a landing just before midnight. I was frustrated to a point at this schedule, as it deprived me the opportunity to see the jungle outside of my window seat. The flight is hardly more than a hop and a skip from Miami to Georgetown - and we were landed in short order. This was my first experience out of country. I've never seen any other way of life than the American way - so this was to be a serious culture shock.
At the customs and immigrations check point I quickly realized that structure, order, and decorum were hardly a thing to abide by. The line was a mad dash of disorder, no one following the posted signs... every man for himself to whichever open desk could be found. For as a long as we clinged to our respect and dignity, we found ourselves at the back of the line. Ultimately, Matt and I realized we were going to have to flex our muscles and move forward like everyone else. Once through the checkpoints, we were met by our greeting party. Oma and Brandon Roopnarain of Adventure Guianas - the tour agency of choice!
Outside of the terminal was an intimating scene of organized chaos. Maybe a hundred local Guyanese people waiting on their customers and rides - screaming, shouting, vying for position. Oma and Brandon moved us right through to a waiting bus donning the logos and images of Adventure Guianas and its various offered tour packages.
Brandon taxied us to our temporary stay for the night, a small hotel in an outlying suburb of Georgetown. The place wasn't much, but it had a place to lay our heads and ponder at what the next day had in store.
After a quick breakfast in the morning, Brandon was there promptly and on time... in a place that really felt disorganized and chaotic, Brandon Roopnarain was absolutely reliable and on task, what an awesome guy he was. Brandon drove us through Georgetown's "rush hour" and that was really quite the experience. While the town has stop signs, clearly marked roads, and traffic lights, it is a very "every man for himself" flow of traffic! Cars were flying by left and right, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic and just merging without stop into and between each other. I cannot imagine trying to learn to drive in such a place of complete pandemonium and yet everyone is doing so in synchronization and balance.
We drove directly to Eugene F. Correia airport. A small airport with the little bush style planes that would be taking us into the jungles. For me, there was this underlying paranoia at every leg of the trip. Every scheduled appointment, meeting place, and checkpoint represented this potential threat of failure... a place that something could go wrong, and the trip not happen. We navigated our way through the simple checkpoints of the smaller airport and I think the reality of the whole experience really began to set in once I got squeezed into that tiny little airplane seat.
We were wedged between another family, bags of livestock feed, and supplies to drop at local villages. The experience of leaving the ground, and the transition of landscapes below the plane was something I will never forget. With my face glued to my window I watched the ground below transition from city, to suburb, to farmland, and ultimately this vast and seemingly endless carpet of green. The view of the jungle from above was the realization of a childhood dream. A spectacle of inevitable contact with those sights, sounds, and smells I wondered about for all these years. So massive is the jungle from that vantage point that the tales of mysterious creatures and undiscovered tribes seem a little more believable. That there are miles of impenetrable jungle with untold mysteries yet to be discovered must be true.
Landing In Paradise
Watching the canopy of the trees creeper ever closer to the landing gear of our plane was incredible. The tree tops kissing the underside of the plane, brush strokes of every picture of the jungle I've had painted in my mind for over thirty years. We touched down in the small Amerindian community of Fairview along the dirt airstrip of Iwokrama. No sooner did our plane touch down did a small, red dirt stained 4x4 turn corner to pick us up.
We watched school children donning yellow school uniforms and tight fitting backpacks emerge from the jungle only to cross the airstrip on a hike to their school building. The school building, a wooden structure on stilts built by hand from the very forest timber that fell to clear space for its construction. A tumultuous hike for a child out of natural woodline and crossing a scar in the Amazon's natural landscape in the form of an airplane runway. What a site to behold.
We tossed our gear into the bed of the 4x4 where we met our guide Rockland, a local Wapishana Amerindian, and made the off-road trek across uneven ground and dense vegetation to the water's edge. A long aluminum canoe outfitted with a 2-stroke 40hp outboard was staged for our arrival. There we loaded up all of our gear for the trip, along with a local villager who needed transport and we departed into the heart of Guyana's rainforest and the Essequibo River.
The ride up river was surreal. Everything exactly as advertised - a pure and accurate representation of what you hear about, what you dream of. The river was so pristine, so perfect. It's hard to describe the contour of the rivers. The jungle absolutely towers over you on each side. It's so tall, so vast. I was shocked just how dense the foliage is, this impenetrable wall of green on each side of the river. Down to the waters edge intricate systems of woody vines and limbs extended downward, fusing water with soil, stitching the two together tightly. There is no erosion here, a dead giveaway sign of a healthy river system.
The stretches of the Essequibo here are dotted and lined with enormous boulders. Round and smooth from thousands of years being weathered by seasons and moving water. Overhead we heard and saw wild, free ranged macaws. We consistently saw pairs of red and green macaws as well as the blue and gold species. Iconic staples of the Amazon, always flying in pairs. It's said that they mate for life, and a macaw flying solo will fly alone for the rest of its life, purely monogamous.
I had this idea though that I would be seeing wild animals and life all over the place, but you barely actually see anything. We would hear and smell the life in the forest. You'd hear things crashing through the underbrush, individual steps, the loud echoes of howler monkeys just inside the walls of green. But, to actually visibly see the life, they'd have to be on the outer most layer of the jungle. The vegetation is just so dense that nothing penetrates it. Even underneath, there is such a lack of light penetration that the jungle floor is almost dark as night. You know you're being watched, you know that things are there, but you're just not seeing them.
After an hour boat ride we arrived at Piraiba Lodge. A well constructed piece of property made from the same trees that were cleared to construct it once again. The lodge has great architecture and carpentry. The layout is the perfect mix of professional and comfortable design, without losing the rustic jungle feel. Outside the perimeter are framed photos of the various species of fish caught around the river systems - most of which were being held by anglers I have known and admired for years. I would love to posterize one of my catches there!
The rooms lay out simple as well. Two beds side by side outfitted with an optional (and suggested) mosquito net. A single rotating fan, a sink, a restroom and a shower. There is a night stand and a few flat surfaces to lay personal items. We found quickly the rooms are a shared space. A convenient structure to creatures looking for space to lay low and bed down. Our walls came to life with the sound of bats squeaking between every crevasse, and small house geckos wandered below the glow of our lights to eat whatever bugs gravitated toward it.
To go to these places must be to welcome such encounters though. We set up our room arrangement and began consolidating gear. A meal had been prepared by a team of kind Amerindian ladies. The one who really seemed to take charge and take pride in her work though was Cillian. She was like the 'Momma Bear' of camp. We'd stomp up the sandy embankment throughout our trip tracking a beach load of sand behind us onto the wood plank floors. You could spin around in a minute and the sand mysteriously vanish. Cillian was a cyclone of cleanliness and upkeep. Always smiling, asking how our day was, and keeping things tidy. We ate a quick lunch of chicken and rice before preparing to fish the remaining hours of the day.
The dining area is adjacent to a small farm. Fruit trees outline a vegetable garden. Goats and chickens meander about the yard. Everything here is farm to table, a fully functioning micro-community at the lodge.
Getting a head start on bait for the next day hinged on catching small fish that evening. We left the big gear behind and grabbed our lure chucking rods and headed out for the first half day of fishing. We spent a handful of hours drifting a section of river with light rapids and riffles. A short time into our float we pulled up on a rock bar and I hopped out to make casts on foot and tied into my first ever Amazonian fish, a yellow peacock bass (Cichla cataractae).
This species is unique in this area, much different than the peacocks I am accustomed to in Florida. They seemed to have a special preference for faster moving water. Settling immediately behind current breaks like big boulders, waiting on prey to drift by. It felt almost like some smallmouth bass fishing I've done in the U.S. Matt and I caught numerous peacock bass and harvested some to be used as bait, and some to eat.
Our six full days of fishing were a whirlwind of experiences and species that I can hardly put into words. It was like fishing in a video game, or a dream. The bites and the target species fell repeatedly and almost effortlessly. We would either be drifting the riffles casting, baiting and waiting, or vertically dropping baits. These three basic approaches yielded countless species. At times six subsequent casts or drops would yield six different species. There is this seemingly perfect balance of biodiversity below the water's surface, where no one species has overtaken the other. A perfect, harmonious equilibrium of all fish in the food web.
Certainly the peacock bass are a hot item for people who like throwing lures. They were a blast to chase. We would catch most of them drifting and casting behind boulders and current breaks. In the slack water coves and calmer river portions, peacock bass more similar in appearance to what we see in Florida dominated. They could be seen and heard blitzing along the shoreline on small baitfish. I brought soft plastic flukes to skip under the overhanging brush and around the downed trees. The peacock bass went absolutely insane over flukes. Fighting for the lure, trying to eat it out of one another's mouth and chasing them all the way to the boat. We would catch one fish off another repeatedly. If Matt hooked up, i'd cast and pull fish off of his fish and vise versa.
The hazard with any soft plastic though - our lures would sometimes come back with perfect semi-circular cookie bites out of them. We knew immediately when we were upon the piranhas. Soft plastics just don't last in the Amazon...
Cutting Our Teeth
The piranhas were a constant factor. In 40 feet of water, in 4 feet - in rapids and in calm backwaters. It's just part of the equation and sacrifice. A tax to be paid. Most of what we saw were black piranhas. The less infamous but much larger cousin of the red belly piranhas so synonymous with rendering cattle carcasses to bone in mere minutes.
Black piranhas can get over 10 pounds. They are no small fish by any means. While bait fishing they would take baits intended for fish 10 times their size. Even when we kept black piranhas and chunked them up, their cannibalistic friends would gladly eat that too.
The black piranhas did a real number on our lures. I utilized wire leaders for almost every lure and bait application thrown. For leaders I ran 12 inch custom tied rigs of 50lb steel tooth proof leader. Each end was secured to a barrel swivel with a haywire twist, and one end with a lure clip to quickly change out lures. This set up worked fantastic. The fish here are not line shy, and lure action being hindered by the stiffness of the leader really made no difference at all. The fish here just eat!
We had a few shots at arowana in some of the same areas the peacocks lived. They were generally in shallower current breaks. The arowanas would cruise just below the surface, enough that they would create a distinct snake like disturbance in the water, very recognizable. They were very aggressive biters, especially on topwater. We would throw small whopper plopper or propeller style lures. The arowana would strike aggressively and sometimes hit multiple times and casts if we missed. No fear at all!
The arowana really cemented itself as one of my favorite species overall. Tremendous character, all of the eye appeal, and very strong fighting fish. They would make hard, fast runs with rapid direction changes and dramatic leaps in the air.
We had two encounters with a unique inhabitant of the river as well. The long, slender, and blinding fast bicuda. The bicuda looks similar in structure to the fish it shares a similar name with - our barracuda in saltwater. Bicuda lack the sharp teeth, but have the same attitude. Matt hooked a very big bicuda, probably close to four feet long that rocketed off to the opposite side of the boat before launching into the air and throwing the lure. The only one we managed to land was a very small specimen. I would have loved to encounter more of this species after what we saw out of the larger missed fish.
At any point when throwing lures in the fast current, I had this underlying hope and desire to encounter one particular predatory fish. Maybe the fiercest predator in the entire river system, certainly the most violent in appearance. The vampire fish or 'payara', is the stuff nightmares are made of.
The payara has one of the most impressive sets of teeth of any fish on the planet. Like a small tarpon equipped with a giant mouth full of fangs, they are eager and willing to take just about anything that crosses its face. We found payara would stack up in deep pools on the other side of rocky rapids, in the same general area as most of the catfish. They did seem to have a preference for moving water. We managed to catch payara on deep diving crank baits, and on cut baits either on or just off the bottom.
For us, most of the best action came when vertically dropping cut baits to the bottom over deep pools right outside the current lines. When we would crank the bait up about 5-10 feet and suspend them, they would get nailed by payara every time. The payara are especially hard to hook, and keep hooked. We switched from circle hooks to bait holder J hooks to manually engage the fish with much better hookup ratio.
Payara give an excellent fight. The larger fish in the 15-20lb range would pull powerfully, and rocket out of the air when brought to surface. A perfect blend of speed, power, and acrobatics. I was so excited to land this fish, and several of tremendous size. This was one of the absolute key targets of this trip.
A lot of the species in the Essequibo bear teeth. Life in the river is tough, and the fish must come equipped with some hardware, size, or attributes to be competitive. Of all the 'toothy' fish, there was one species I wanted above all others. The wolf fish (aimara) has been on my radar of interest for many years. I first saw this species featured on Larry Dahlberg's "Hunt for Big Fish" television show. A gnarly, mean looking prehistoric beast with giant teeth. A true "monster fish"! What is so appealing to me about this species is it's vague resemblance to our native bowfin. The bowfin is my favorite species, and the shades of similarity are very interesting to me.
The wolf fish looks like some sort of Frankenstein monster version of a bowfin. But while they share a few similar features in appearance and behavior, they are certainly not the same thing. Wolf fish, like bowfin, are ambush style predators that favor heavy cover and concealment. While this species can be caught in small creeks and tight water, we actually caught ours in about 30 feet of water dropping baits down vertically below the boat. Our guide situated us over an area with large boulders and rocks where the wolf fish hold in crevasses and caverns.
The take of the wolf fish was interesting. Very subtle nibbles and bites. No hard runs, no real carrying off of the baits. The fish seemed to mouth and investigate the baits rather than just 'wolfing' them down. We caught several decent wolf fish, but this is a species that can exceed 30 pounds!
We made an attempt to fish for larger specimens in a tucked away lagoon stemming off of the main river. It was an interesting trek into the location. A tight squeeze through a tangle of fallen timber, navigating our way back into a surprisingly deep pool. It felt almost identical to some of the areas I specifically look for larger female bowfin holding in the deep holes of creeks just off of main rivers here in the states.
We encountered a family of giant river otters right over where the wolf fish were supposed to be. Rockland advised that this pretty much meant the fish would be gone - explaining that giant river otters actively chase and feed specifically on wolf fish. Their presence would mean a certain absence of the fish we wanted. Still, it was an amazing sight to behold. The Amazon's giant river otter dwarfs our American otters. They have incredible stature and size. I was shocked at their muscular build, the enormous jaw structure and paws. At least one of the otters looked like it could stand nearly at eye level with me on solid ground - they were that big!
Bait and Wait
We exited the lagoon and continued to fish other areas of river where bait fishing was much more productive. The diversity of catfish is amazing here. We could soak the same baits on bottom and have a small 10lb leopard catfish pick up the very same bait a 300lb piraiba would eat. The piraiba (which the lodge was named after) is the undisputed king of the Amazonian catfish. They get absolutely enormous, and have a reputation among the strongest fighting freshwater fish on earth.
Its simply a game of chances and luck that the right fish takes hold of a stationary bait on bottom. We understood our best chances at a piraiba - known as a lau lau among the locals - would be during low light conditions. For us, our best odds were early morning. Navigating the river at night with nothing but flashlights just wasn't in the cards. Where massive boulders lie hardly detectable inches below the surface, a run at night can be very dangerous.
We worked our way through numerous species of unique catfish. The tiger striped surubim was one of the more ornamental species. Its elongated, flattened head structure and striped patterns looking like graffiti. Its coloration was rivaled by the abundant populations of red-tail catfish. We caught a lot of red-tails! If they weren't so common, they might be the most spectacular. Flashy colors of mottled and dotted brown and copper tones, cream and yellow bellies transition to fiery red tails they are infamous for. This is a very noisy species of fish. We would hook red tails in 40 feet of water and hear echoes of their croaks and grunts from above the water as they fought their way up.
Matt ended up catching a lau lau on the morning of the third day. It was the only one we managed to encounter the entire trip, but it gave up the most impressive fight by far. Conditioned by a lifetime spent in current, and holding to the bottom, these fish dig hard and fast. Its a continuous play of powerful runs where they seek to get you into rocks and structure the entire time. Matt's fish was no giant, but it was a respectable sized fish. This one was only a third or so of how big they can truly get!
This was really one of the key targets of the entire trip. The king of Amazonian catfish.. and what I believe will probably be the species that ultimately calls me back to South America.
There is one species in the Amazon though, that reigns supreme. The heavyweight king of scaled freshwater fish globally. The Amazon's titan, the Arapaima. This journey was encompassing of so many passions and interests I have held since I was that kid in the 4th glade classroom wondering about the jungle. But the animals, the people, the landscapes, and various encounters ALL revolved around one central figure - this monster fish that has held its place at the peak of my interest above all others.
We enjoyed a ton of dynamic fishing that was exciting and came so easily that it lulled us into a state of relaxation. But, when Rockland took us to the layer of the arapaima, the entire tempo and tone of the trip dramatically changed. I'll never forget our navigation from the main river through the narrow gauntlet of downed trees and shallow water that connected it to that confined lagoon.
The Final Boss
Passing through the tangle of obstacles... ducking, maneuvering, even cutting our way through was strangely symbolic of life - and my journey as an angler. This obstructed path, a small channel of hardly navigable water that was dropping ever so slowly... a visible path through the jungle that was just clear enough to see a hint of open water on the other side. It was a transformative portal, like a game with a final boss just on its other side.
When we pierced the trial, there was this uniform silence and intensity in the boat... a unanimous and still unspoken agreement that we weren't in the playground anymore. This isn't 'fun' fishing, this is a genuine mission with real implications... and much of the trip's very purpose hinged upon absolute perfect performance.
Rockland's focus was especially telling. He had remained so relaxed for most of the trip, but he was keenly putting to use his senses and vision of the water - looking for signs of arapaima. It wasn't long before Rockland directed our attention at a small trail of bubbles when we saw rising just below them, this copper toned glow from the depths. The sight of my first truly wild arapaima rising to the surface for a gulp of atmospheric oxygen will play in my conscience in slow motion for the rest of my life.
I had arranged my heavier rod with 100lb braid to be tied feely to one of the custom arapaima rigs I had personally tied. A three foot section of 500lb kevlar cable with a 10/0 octopus circle hook snelled to the leader. I launched the head of a peacock bass about 6 feet infront of the path the rising arapaima would've been travelling and waited. You could cut the tension with a knife...
We waited anxiously only for absolutely nothing to happen. No take! We followed the same routine for about 20 minutes... silently pushing through the lagoon under the power of Rocklands hand carved paddle. The mix of custom made, indigenous craftsmanship alongside the modern technology of a 15hp outboard was always such a fascinating thing to see.
Ultimately, we opted to sit along the bank, watch the arapaima roll, and give them time to settle down while we got a quick bite to eat. Here was an obvious time to fish passively, and we soaked chunks about 30 yards out from the shady spot under shoreline canopy. It was an opportunity to watch some of the giant river turtles. Enormous Arrau turtles, the largest turtle in South America. They can grow to nearly 200 pounds and 4-feet in length... a massive animal. Some of the turtles we saw looked as big as the hood of my jeep, time and time again we would be fooled into thinking they were rolling arapaima.
Still, you start to wonder what the experience of hooking one that were so bold as to pick up a soaked bait may feel like. This wasn't much different than the inevitable take of a big spiny softshell turtle while soaking chunks for bowfin. The thought stayed in my mind and was interrupted only by the sudden dance of my line lying buoyant across the surface of the water. Something grabbed my bait...
The take was ominously slow, almost still. And I immediately thought, turtle! Rockland advised me to go tight on the animal, and it came heavy! I was on, but the animal hardly seemed to pull back. I was sure I was tied to a big turtle, and I am probably on record of some bit of film we captured expressing that. Eventually though we seemed to annoy the monstrous being enough that it started to gain momentum - then these massive swings of sheer power let us know, this was the fish we were waiting for.
A cloud of gas bubbles trapped in the soft sediment below rose up as the fish effortlessly pushed the bottom out of its way... the line stayed low and tight, stubbornly refusing to accept it was being challenged by someone that could take it to task. The fish played me heavy, determined to stay low or find some refuge below a limb or snag before realizing that wasn't going to work.
It pushed its way to exhaustion before I felt the line begin to rise. I've seen and felt this terrifying gradual rise before - almost identical to the rise of a giant alligator gar. It's slow enough in its ascension that you have time to process what may come, and wonder what will happen. It moves assuredly higher with enough delay to allow uncertainty and fear to creep in.
The animal rose, not for a dramatic display of headshakes or jumps... but merely showed its unbelievable mass and stature - posturing broadside almost intentionally to display its impressive size and muscle before gulping air and disappearing into the tannic water once more. Seeing something so chilling... its a never ending quest for an angler to behold a fish that gives you chills and downright scares you.
While that first rise was forgiving, a generous offer of chance to reconsider... we didn't take the hint, and its second rise wasn't so nice. The fish rose once more, increasingly angry and determined - and it launched 2/3 of its enormous frame into the air sending a shower of black water into the sky with it. Its mouth wide open, gills flared giving an exaggerated look of how truly massive and spectacular it was. The raw power of the greatest freshwater fish on planet earth on full display. The showers of water it sent into the sky were pierced and illuminated by the bright South American sunlight and it caused the geyser to glow and reflect like flames.. We love to say a fish 'exploded'... this looked like a nuclear bomb going off!
Ultimately - Rockland was able to guide the boat towards one clearing and the fish seemed to suddenly submit. It slowly meandered and glided heavily alongside the boat almost willingly. The fish obliged our pull to shallower grounds as though to mutually agree to a hand to hand brawl in the mud. We would do our final round 'mono e mono' no holds barred at the shoreline.
The fish came and Rockland and I went hands on. It would tumble and thrash, tossing its 200+ pound frame of solid muscle at our bodies.... sending us off balance and into the water repeatedly. The fish slowly burned out, going calm enough that we'd let down our guard only for it to build up its final bits of energy to explode off once more. All the while I have this primal fear of the fish getting free that manifested itself as panicked anger and I would dive back into the fight trying to lock the fish into my arms.
We got our arapaima... to physically hold this animal there was this incredible realization of a moment I dreamed up so long ago. This peak, or mountain top climbed along on years chasing progressively bigger and more ambitious targets. This was "the one". We shared a quick moment in waist deep water before sending her back... and I embraced Rockland. He had put us in front of the fish, afforded us the chance to see her, and with some amount of luck we got it done!
There was this monumental breath of relief at this point. I had enjoyed the trip so much before this fish, but now I could really lay back and take everything in. Every fish thereafter would just be added bonus, yet still we wanted an arapaima for Matt. We fished around the area for two days after that catching fish and observing the ambiance of the Amazon. Wild capuchins could be seen feeding on palm nuts in the trees, caimans seemingly invisible during daylight hours lit up the night with their eye glare under our headlamps. Near the end of the trip though Rockland advised that we would load up the boat full of gear for a long range trek further into the jungle where we could set up camp closer to more arapaima waters.
The Final Showdown
We loaded the boat down with camping supplies and headed out for a venture hours away from the lodge. We ultimately settled into this smaller, calmer arm off the main river where we pulled the boat up onto a massive slab of stone that extended out across the water... an ideal place to make camp. A camp was set up here out of logs tethered together from jungle wood - and a simple tarp fixed over it as a shelter from potential rain or brutal sunlight. The perimeter of the structure was just open to the elements and kept the interior illuminated only by daylight. Rockland hung up a hammock tent between two wood posts and Matt and I laid out collapsible cots on the jungle floor.
There is nothing here to stop animals or insects from just walking up on you at night... the only barrier I had was a mosquito net I snatched from one of the unused rooms back at the lodge because I wasn't about to have stuff crawling all over me at night! Even Cillian squeezed into the boat with us and aided in making camp as comfortable as possible. She got straight to work arranging the place to feel like home. She prepared a meal of peacock bass and pike cichlid we caught from right out infront of camp. Those fish went from swimming around the Essequibo to sitting on our dinner plate in a matter of 15 minutes, as fresh a meal as you could ask for!
After eating, we ventured out focused on getting Matt's arapaima. The lagoons and lakes here are much larger than the one we had previously fished. More like arms connected straight to the main river, giant lagoons 6 miles long. Finding arapaima here would be harder, but we were full of confidence at this point having Rockland's guidance.
We got to one particular area where at least a half-dozen arapaima were rolling every 10-15 minutes, almost in synchronization. You wonder if there is a communication element to the rolling, as it always seemed to come in clusters and waves - with some rhythm and consistency. Matt started the task of casting at rolling fish but just the same as before, we weren't getting picked up. Again, we decided to passively fish. As it seemed the fish were settling back below immediately where they were rolling. At one point Matt got a take and a drop. It's hard to not think your bait has been taken by piranhas when this happens.
Matt quickly retrieved his rig to run a bait check and just as the bait got to his feet we saw it was being pursued in by a 7 foot monster arapaima! It had chased the bait in as he retrieved it and utterly SMASHED it boatside! The most horrific eat I have ever seen - sending gallons of water back into our face! The fish didn't stay buttoned.
A short time later we placed the bait right back, and once again the line started feeding out. We had a committed run, and we knew this time it was no turtle. To allow a bait to run here is this frightening realization of potential. You know what is around you, you see the fish rolling... their take is quite matter of fact and yet you fear what is on the other side and wonder. Matt came tight and once again the fish played him heavy. I got to play witness to my brother battling a giant. The same older brother I witnessed so many years ago stomping through creeks, climbing over private property fences and sneaking into golf courses with to catch bass. Now we're here in another world, at the highest level chasing the greatest freshwater fish on the planet. It was really something to behold and take in.
Matt's fish gave a spirited battle, another giant fish in the range of 180+ pounds or more. We got the fish into clearer shallows alongside a stone flat where traction was better to keep the fish contained. We got some incredible photos of the fish, including the team shot I really wanted of both of us holding the fish!
We came to Guyana and did everything we wanted. Every single target species fell at our hand. This trip could not have been more perfect. Enough accomplished, enough leaving us wanting just a bit more. To experience the other culture, the wildlife, and the fish was pure magic. I am not sure where my fishing journey goes from here - but while, to me, this was sort of the mountain top destination, I feel like the journey has taken me back to square one. It hasn't been a linear progression, but a full circle... and now I am starting again.
I want to give a special thanks to Adventure Guianas, and Navin Roopnarain. What a fantastic operation. Navin was all professionalism and his reputation precedes him. This was an absolute dream trip - ALL expectations met. I cant recommend this outfitter enough!