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(Editor Note in last month’s cover story, Angling Report Editor Don Causey gave a first-hand look at a brand-new peacock bass fishery in Bolivia at Caño Negro Lodge. This is the second major new fishery to open in Bolivia in less than a year, putting that country squarely in the sights of traveling anglers. The first, of course, was the clear water fishing for golden dorado at Tsimane Lodge (pronounced “chee-mon-ee”). This fishery first surfaced in our pages in September 2009 – see Article No. 2365 in our Trip Planning Database, which can be accessed free by Online Extra subscribers. By October, we had three first-hand reports on the fishery – see Report No. 4072, 4080 and 4081 – which we digested in a cover story that month – see Article No. 2378. We’ve learned over the years that “world-class” fisheries have a disconcerting habit of appearing and then disappearing as quickly and spectacularly as a fireworks shell burst. We had begun to wonder if that was going to happen to Tsimane Lodge when, quite recently, we received a flood of new, mostly very positive reports on Tsimane. The new reports are from Mike Sadar – who weighed in on his second visit to Tsimane – Fred Miller, Brian Griffith and Ken MacKay. We would put all four of these anglers on our Subscriber Honor Roll for taking the time to file these detailed reports, but Sadar is already there. So, we are inducting only Miller, Griffith and Mackay into that august company and sending them a coveted Honor Roll fishing cap. For more details on our Honor Roll program and the perks that come with it, see the box on page 2.)
We have in hand four lengthy subscriber reports from the 2010 season at Tsimane Lodge in Bolivia run by the Argentinean agent/outfitter, Untamed Angling. Taken together, the reports paint a richly detailed portrait of virtually every aspect of traveling to and fishing this remote destination for golden dorado. If we printed these reports in their entirety, they would nearly fill this entire issue of your newsletter — which speaks, we think, to the enthusiasm created by this destination. Here, all we can do is cover a few of the most salient points in the reports:
Booking: It seems a number of agents are sending clients to fish at Tsimane. We originally heard about Tsimane from Justin Maxwell Stuart of Where Wise Men Fish (US phone: 646-797-2945; www.wherewisemenfish.com). Fred Miller booked his trip through Frontiers International (800-245-1950; www.frontierstravel.com); Brian Griffith worked with FishQuest (706-896-1403; www.fishquest.com); and Ken MacKay booked with Flywater Travel (800-552-2729; www.flywatertravel.com). It is, of course, possible to book this trip directly through Untamed Angling as well (www.untamedangling.com).
Travel: All four reports comment on the relative ease and comfort of reaching Tsimane despite its very remote location. “Travel to Bolivia is easy, less than seven hours from Miami and in the same time zone. Jet lag is not a problem traveling here,” says Fred Miller. The trek to the lodge does require an overnight in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and then a two-hour, single-engine charter flight to the lodge. Ken MacKay tells us the layover worked out particularly well in his case: “Unfortunately, my American Airlines flight went through Miami on the way to Bolivia and my bags didn’t make the connection. The layover day in Santa Cruz worked perfectly for me, as my bags arrived the next day in time for the charter flight to the lodge.”
The Lodges, Food and Guides: Tsimane is actually two separate “camps” (Asunta and La Pluma) located within a national park and native reserve (Isiboro Sécure) about 270 air miles from Santa Cruz. Each camp currently holds four anglers. A full week of fishing includes three days at each camp with a travel day between by air, boat and ATV. Of our four correspondents, Ken MacKay was the most circumspect, describing the lodging as only “comfortable,” though he gave an across-the-board “excellent” rating to most everything else. Brian Griffith had this to say about the Asunta camp: “Camp is not a word that does this place justice. This place is breathtaking and a tribute to the owner’s vision, logistical skill and hard work.” Mike Sadar notes that the accommodations at Asunta and Pluma are nearly identical in layout, size of rooms and makeup of the dining/common area. Each camp overlooks the respective river. He goes on to call the rooms very comfortable, noting they provide more than enough space to spread equipment out. “Each room has its own private bath with showers and sinks with hot water,” he writes. “Lighting in the rooms is very good, but that does attract bugs. The windows and doors are all covered with screens, but the bugs still make their way in. Watching the way we opened and closed the door helped address this problem.” He goes on to note that Tsimane provides laundry service, and that made daily life a lot more pleasant. “It allowed us to put on dry clothes each morning,” he writes.
Sadar echoes others’ positive comments on camp life, drawing particular attention to the food and service: “The dining hall was the place everyone gathered over delicious appetizers,” he writes. “This was followed by gourmet dinners that ended with incredible desserts. It is hard to believe how good the food is considering the remote location of these camps!”
Sadar tells us he noticed one very significant improvement to the Pluma camp since his 2009 visit: “They have carved a road through the jungle between the two camps. This cuts the land portion of travel time to about two hours. This provides for an additional few hours of fishing upon arrival at the Pluma camp. Also, the road parallels the lower Pluma River, which allows anglers to venture farther down river to fish without having to allocate a lot of time to hiking back up the river at the end of the day.”
As to the guiding, Sadar again waxed enthusiastic, saying: “It would be an injustice not to mention the quality of the guides at Tsimane. They are very personable and provide expert advice in all aspects, from tying knots with wire leader to pointing out the exact pocket of water that holds a monster dorado. Most importantly, the guides under- stand just how special these fish are and the importance of releasing them to insure the future of this fishery. By the end of the trip, they are more than great guides; they are close friends as well.”
The Water and the Fishing: Tsimane fishes four different rivers, the Sécure, Isiboro, Itirisama and Pluma, all tributaries of the Mamoré River, which is a tributary of the Amazon. When Tsimane first burst on the angling scene, we were told that the big attraction here would be clear-water sightfishing for large golden dorado. The four newly received reports, however, paint a more nuanced picture of the fishery.
Suffice it to say that three of the four subscribers came back bullish about the fishing at Tsimane. Only Ken MacKay found it somewhat disappointing: “The water was low and very clear and that made fishing tough. My partner and I caught a lot of dorado, but many were rather small – less than five pounds. The upstream beat at Asunta Lodge was particularly challenging, producing only a few small dorado. Unfortunately, we drew that beat twice.”
MacKay went on to note that Pluma Lodge is acknowledged by the staff as offering the better fishing. “We had some much-needed rain our first day at Pluma,” he writes. “And I believe that is what got the fish moving. Pluma has three beats which are rotated. Two of the beats produced good fishing with several fish in the 15- to 18-pound category. However, one beat didn’t produce for us or for the other pair of anglers. Overall, I expected much larger average fish. I recall hearing of fish from seven or eight pounds up to 30. Most of our fish weighed much less than seven pounds and only one was over 20.”
Mike Sadar reports taking many large dorado, but he echoes MacKay’s concern about low, clear water and difficult fishing: “We certainly hooked and caught more fish this year than last year at both camps. We had 50 strikes per day a couple of the days, with probably half of those resulting in hookups and landings. For the second year in a row, however, I found the upper Secure River to be challenging. Its crystal-clear water makes it difficult to cast without spooking the dorado. The lower river has more color to it than the upper river, and that made an incredible difference in the fishing. The fish there were far less spooky and much more willing to bite.”
Brian Griffith noted the correlation between water clarity and success, too: “My partner and I fished upstream the first day, and, in the first pool, we could see dozens of big dorado. My partner landed an 18-pounder there. At the next pool, I had a very large dorado break off my 20-pound tippet like it was 7x. I did not touch another fish for the rest of the day, however. It didn’t help that the water was incredibly clear and the fish as spooky as any spring creek trout.”
Though he never mentions low or difficult, clear-water conditions, Miller says he was offered the opportunity to explore some new and untouched territory during his time at Asunta camp. The side trip paid big dividends: “We spent most of the day motoring through long stretches of open water and poling through shallow or rapid water. When we stopped to fish, we landed big dorado almost every time.”
Tackle, Flies, Techniques and Gear The four reports we just received all contain extensive notes on the flies and tackle needed for Tsimane dorado. This is a treasure-trove of information for any angler planning a trek here. The consensus seems to be that 8-weight and 9-weight rods are the weapon of choice. Fred Miller makes this observation: “You can catch and land golden dorado with a 7-weight here but let me tell you that you will see your backing and you will have 20-minute fights on your hands. You will also find yourself running downstream, jumping boulders and scrambling around some of the most slippery rocks you have ever encountered.”
Those rocks figure prominently in the new reports, incidentally, with all four subscribers recommending sturdy wading boots with cleated soles for traction and a wading staff for added security. Waders are apparently not necessary as the water runs about 70 degrees.
Another area of consensus was dealing with the formidable teeth of the dorado. Collectively, the four anglers noted the tendency of these fish to shred flies and cut leaders and lines. They recommend wire tippets, long-nose pliers for removing hooks and, most importantly, they recommend bringing more lines, leader materials and flies with stout 2/0 and 3/0 hooks than you think you’ll need.
While golden dorado have been a fly rod target for many years now, there’s still apparently plenty of room for experimentation with techniques, as witness this note from Fred Miller: “I was warned that it was tough to catch fish on top, but I tried a popper on the last day and had immediate and ferocious hookups. This is a dynamite way to fish pocket water. It produced astonishingly visible strikes. I’m sorry I waited so long to give this a try.”
So, what is the bottom line? Here are a few conclusions:
• Water level and water clarity apparently play a big role in fishing success at Tsimane. It remains to be seen how this plays out over the coming seasons. Ken MacKay put it this way: “Low water dampened the fishing while I was there and I’m not sure the guide team – who I regard highly – has figured out a good plan for low water.”
• Insects are an issue here. Fred Miller says mosquitoes weren’t a problem, but no-see-ums were “a periodic plague.” He says long pants and long-sleeved clothing are a must.
• Brian Griffith raised an additional concern: “Next year will see the possibility of two more anglers being added to each camp. The added pressure concerns me a bit, especially at the upper camp, although they are talking about adding a spike camp several hours upstream to make enough room for everyone.”
• All four subscribers remark on the price of this trip. Excluding airfare, it’s around $6,000 and that is slated to rise to $7,200 next year. That is on the upper edge of fishing trip prices worldwide. This fishery will need to be reliably productive to justify that kind of price. We wouldn’t be doing our job here at The Angling Report if we didn’t point out that water levels and water clarity introduce an element of doubt into an otherwise rosy picture. Also, adding four more anglers per week to the pressure on this fishery is problematic at this point, unless the proposed new spike camp and possibly other spikes camps in the future significantly increase the amount of fishable water.
The bottom line is, Tsimane Lodge is winning rave reviews right now, and we are cautiously optimistic that it will continue to do so in the future. If you book a trip here, do file a report and let us know how this opportunity is evolving! – Edited by Tim Jones.