Fishing the Amazon: American Anglers Love River's Tributaries

By Mueller, Gene | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 7, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Fishing the Amazon: American Anglers Love River's Tributaries

Mueller, Gene, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

URUCARA, Brazil - Distant thunder rolled across the bronze waters of the Uatuma River, but it didn't concern several North Americans who were far more interested in casting heavy topwater lures toward the brush and flooded tree trunks that lined the shore.

Then, without a moment's warning, the men were enveloped in a dense, tropical rain while bolts of lightning struck some of the tall timber in the adjacent, endless forests. All of it happened so fast the fishermen wouldn't have had enough time to elude the storm which, happily, disappeared as quickly as it arrived.

Actually, the brief incident was a proper introduction to the Amazon region of Brazil.

Say it out loud, whisper it, think about it. Amazon - mystical mix of water and land, home of howler monkeys, freshwater dolphins, jaguars and fluorescent green hornets. Savor it. Let it soak through and through until you understand that the Amazon isn't just a river; it's a happening, a never-ending play with a cast of thousands.

The Amazon has hundreds upon hundreds of feeder streams and tributaries. It's a monstrous maze of water, islands, swamps, forested sand strips and deep jungles, sparsely populated by gentle Indios, or the Caboclos, an Indian/Portuguese river people who appear to be far more Indian than the Europeans who came the 1,500-odd miles from the ocean up the Amazon to settle here.

As far as visiting anglers are concerned, it's the Amazon River's tributaries that provide the main ingredient, the magnet that attracts ever-increasing numbers of Americans. Residents in the state of Amazonas call it the tucunare, better known in the United States as the peacock bass. It's one and the same, a brightly colored gamefish in hues of gold, green, black and red, with crimson eyes and an attitude that can fairly be compared to that of a junkyard dog.

If peacock bass are related in any way to North America's favorite gamefish, the largemouth bass, it is only that they, too, have no real teeth the way many South American fish do and that they prefer similar ambush areas such as brush-covered points and flooded trees in a river or lake where unsuspecting baitfish frequently meet certain death.

That, however, is where all comparisons end. When all goes right, a largemouth bass snatches a surface lure and quickly tries to shake it off upon realizing it was fooled by an inedible fake. The fight can be strong but rarely overwhelming. A peacock bass, meanwhile, attacks and smashes a lure with such ferocity that one angler wondered whether an M-80 cherry bomb hadn't gone off around his 12-inch-long Woodchopper lure when the fish thundered into it.

If the hooks aren't straightened like stick pins - it happens with predictable regularity if they're not made of strong steel - the peacock will try to rip the line, or cause a cheap reel's gears to melt, and snap as many rods as possible. Peacocks aren't happy fellows at all; think of them more as a kind of South American back-alley brawler that thrives in an unforgiving underwater world where every creature spends all its days and nights trying to devour weaker inhabitants, relatives included.

Average peacock bass weights in the Uatuma River easily push the 8- to 10-pound mark, with fish of 18 and 20 pounds not unheard of. It is said that world record peacocks (they would have to weigh 27 pounds-plus) live here, and this produces a fever that courses through the veins of all sport anglers who come to the Uatuma. The ongoing chance that a world record will be hooked in line-snaring trees and wire-like brush pushes and cajoles the visitors to try harder and longer until somebody finally succeeds.

Viva, tucunare!

* * * *

As hordes of howler monkeys emitted deep, throaty screams from deep inside the jungle - the sound compares to that of a train rushing through a tunnel - the native guide, Caica, pointed to a group of macaw parrots that flew along the edges of the rain forest.

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