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When The Angling Report offered me a FREE Fishing Trip to review Agua Boa Amazon Lodge I jumped at the chance to see how this lodge had changed since my trip there in 2004. Continuing subscribers will remember I reported on a sinking-boat incident after that trip that created quite a brouhaha. What seemed to get lost in the ensuing controversy were the many positive things I said about the lodge, which was then called Royal Amazon Lodge, and about the fishing. The latter in particular was outstanding.
Right off the bat, I’m happy to report that Agua Boa is still a world class fishing river, though there may be some dark clouds on that horizon. I’ll have more to say on this later. Also, the lodge operations are much improved. The safety improvements are particularly noteworthy.
What makes the Agua Boa a world-class river is the presence of large peacock bass, numerous smaller butterfly peacocks and an abundance of other species. Also, the Agua Boa is quite clear and thus offers opportunities to sightcast to big fish in lagoons and in the river itself. Elsewhere in the Amazon, most of the fishing is done by blind casting.
Generally, as the season progresses here, the water level falls, greatly improving the chances to sightfish. My 2004 visit took place the second week of the season. The water level fell over three feet during that week and sightfishing opportunities were few and far between. This time, I went during the fourth week of November and the sightfishing was much better. On my best day, I landed eight peacock bass over 10 pounds. My largest weighed 17 pounds. The other angler in camp with me caught two 20-pounders. Between us, we caught at least 20 fish over 15 pounds during the week.
You definitely know when a big peacock bass strikes your fly. What you don’t know is whether the brute will beat you by snapping your rod (I broke three rods on my first trip, two rods on this one), busting one of your knots or throwing your fly. On occasion, you’ll actually boat the fish.
If it’s quantity you seek, the smaller, more abundant butterfly peacock bass is for you. Five years ago my friend and I caught huge numbers of them. This trip, I could have easily caught three dozen a day averaging between two and three pounds. Also interesting here are the numerous other sporting species. The most interesting is the aruanã, a prehistoric-looking fish that averages four to seven pounds. I also caught several jacunda (dog fish) with teeth like an African tigerfish and a shovel-nosed catfish. The other angler in camp with me saw some pirarucu (known as the best-eating fish in the region) rolling in a lagoon, but they did not take his fly. Only a handful of pirarucu have been caught over the lodge’s history. These fish can grow to more than 50 pounds.
After what happened on my 2004 visit, it is perhaps understandable that one of my main concerns on this trip was boat safety. Back in 2004, you may recall, a motor on one of the boats died. A guide in another boat, trying to rescue the stranded anglers, used a too-short tow rope and then tried to go too fast, causing the towed boat to flip, dumping the anglers, the guide and lots of expensive gear into the water. Importantly, back then, the boats did not have radios or other important safety equipment.
What a difference the new owner has made! Today, the boats are all equipped with Personal Flotation Devices and Uniden Submersible CB radios. If a motor breaks down (which didn’t happen this time), the plan is for a resident mechanic to be summoned to the scene by radio. He is directed to exchange his boat with the client’s boat and do the repairs while the clients continue to fish.
As for the boats now being used, during the first half of the season, clients fish from 18-foot jonboats powered by 40 HP two-cycle propeller outboards. The jonboats have a platform over the outboard motor from which the guides pole the boat and spot fish for you. During the second half of the season when low-water conditions predominate, Agua Boa now uses four-cycle jet outboards. The jet boats eliminate having to get out and push boats through shallow sections of the main river. During the second half of the season the lodge also sometimes offers a live-aboard houseboat option (not available this season), which I would jump on if I returned and it was available.
The guides are assigned sections of the river, which are rotated through the week. The day usually begins at 7 am, when you leave the dock, and ends with your return at 6 pm just before the abrupt onset of darkness. I asked to get an earlier start and that request was granted. One morning we left the dock before 6 am and didn’t come back until 6 pm. That was 12 hours of fishing.
The fishing time is yours to use as you wish. You can return to the lodge for lunch, hang a hammock for a siesta or quickly eat your lunch in the boat and keep on fishing. We sometimes traveled as much as 2½ hours to reach fishing spots. Other days we traveled as little as 10 minutes. The long rides were not a downside, mind you. They were enjoyable because they provided extraordinary wildlife viewing opportunities. There were abundant bird species, of course, but also jaguars, turtles, caimans, dolphins and otters. The water is smooth as glass most days.
I fished with seven of the eight guides. The least experienced had three years on the river. They are hard-working, helpful, patient with the occasional bad cast, and they genuinely want you to catch a lot of fish.
Brazil, of course, is a Portuguese-speaking country so your fishing Spanish is of little use. Most of the guides are quite good at English fishing commands, however, though only one guide was able to give me really helpful instructions such as “Big fish at 10 o’clock.” As for English comprehension on their part, that was very limited.
While we’re on the subject of fishing, I cannot emphasize enough that bigger is better as regards flies if you want to focus on taking large peacocks. My lodge mate for the week brought along his giant trevally streamers and poppers. On two separate days he caught 21 peacocks over ten pounds using heavily dressed, synthetic 6/0 streamers that pushed a lot of water. They were white/olive green and white/chartreuse with quarter-inch-diameter eyes and an overall length around 10 inches. His favorite popper was a gurgler with a four-inch white rabbit tail. I had some success with what I thought were large flies: 3/0 red and yellow Flashtail Whistlers, Reducer Peacock and Flash Fire Mushy. Inexplicably, I had no success with an 8-inch green-and-white Super Mushy.
You should be aware that the heat at Agua Boa affects your fly lines. The lodge sits just off the equator. Mid-day air temperature is 95 degrees F., and the water temperature only five degrees below that. This kind of heat causes running lines to tangle, which makes casting more difficult. I used Rio Deep Sea 200 and 300 sink tip lines with a tropical coating, but by the last three days I found myself stretching them to prevent tangling.
Piranhas pose another tackle problem. They nip at your line, especially near the transitions between the sink tip and running line and between the tip and leader. I lost 24 inches of one sink tip. Do take extra lines if you go to Agua Boa. Piranhas will also literally clean flies to the hook shank. Using 100 percent synthetic materials helps, but I still lost a handful. When piranhas are present (usually in slow-moving water), move to a new location. I was never bothered by them in the lagoons or faster sections of the river.
The only down note I saw in the fishing was that mothership anglers using baitcasting tackle appear to be encroaching upon the Agua Boa’s exclusive fly fishery. The former owner, Dr. Jan Wilts, told me that when he was the owner the locals respected him as a doctor and observed the rules of the reserve where the lodge is located. Only Agua Boa Amazon Lodge was allowed to fish more than 10 kilometers into the protected area. With the change of ownership, however, motherships are now bringing baitcasters into the lower Agua Boa’s protected area. To my dismay, one day I saw four boats with anglers casting large lures called Wood Choppers. I also spotted a broken-off Wood Chopper floating in the river. On a different day, my guide rescued an eight-pound peacock foul-hooked with a baitcasting lure. These intrusions might explain why we had less success downstream from the lodge than upstream.
This encroachment is obviously disturbing. Carlos, the lodge manager, told me that the lodge pays an “Association” to make sure that these intruders do not fish the lagoons. Dr. Jan has returned as head of this “Association” to enforce the rules. Perhaps this problem is on the way to being cleared up.
As for lodge service, it was vastly improved on this trip. I was met in Manaus by Ray Santos, who speaks fluent English. He transferred me to the Hotel do Lardo, which I chose for its downtown location, new construction and low cost. In the early morning, Ray picked me up and drove me to the small airfield for the charter flight. An hour and 40 minutes later I was on the lodge’s private airstrip.
Carlos Azevedo, the new lodge manager, obviously gives customer service top priority. On my first trip five years ago we were living off the land the last two days, eating only lodge-caught fish. The entrées did not measure up to a lodge at this price point, and we were disappointed. Not so this trip. We had a choice every evening of nicely prepared chicken, fish, pork or beef with sauces on the side. The buffet breakfasts featured a choice of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage/bacon, cereal, strong coffee and fresh juices. You pack your own lunch: sandwiches, fresh fruit and a selection of cakes and cookies.
The lodge now features free wireless internet with e-mail and Skype. There is complimentary daily laundry service. The rooms are clean and well maintained with no sign of mold damage. Currently, the rate is $5,300 per person (double occupancy) from the start of the season (late October) to the New Year. From January to April, the rate rises to $5,500. The single occupancy supplement (which includes your own boat) is $1,400.
For a non-fishing partner, there are abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. The lodge maintains two nature trails through the jungle, and Carlos provides guided outings. There is also a well-maintained swimming pool.
In sum, Agua Boa Amazon Lodge deserves serious consideration by anyone who wants to sightfish to large, fierce fish in a remote setting and then return in the evening to a clean, comfortable well-run lodge.
(Don Causey Note: You can book a stay at Agua Boa Amazon with a number of major agents. All of them are listed on the lodge’s web site. One of the most important safety improvements Lance Ranger has made since taking over this lodge has been his decision to bundle medical evacuation coverage by Global Rescue into the cost of every booking. This assures that every client will have access to the best rescue and telemedicine assets available in the world today. Other lodges in the Amazon are also moving to provide this coverage. Having personally needed this kind of coverage after an accident in West Africa several years ago, I can attest to the value of it. My evacuation cost me $124,000. An emergency transport from the Amazon would likely be almost that much. Our hats off to Lance Ranger for leading the way on an important safety matter. In coming years, I believe this kind of coverage will become the norm at quality lodges worldwide. In the meantime, you can reach Global Rescue directly at: www.globalrescue.com/pba.)