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Editor Note: Talk about an unusual report! Subscriber Allan Craig says some of the things that went wrong on this trip were frustrating in the extreme and completely unnecessary, but he still closes with thanks to the outfitter for creating something quite special. Makes me want to go there, like right now!
As soon as the plane touched down in the Kayapo village, it was obvious this trip was going to be something very special. We had literally landed in their village, so there were huts on both sides of the dirt landing strip. Excited inhabitants, their bodies decorated with charcoal-painted designs, gathered outside to watch as we emerged from the aircraft. A curious mother cradling her infant peered inside the plane once the anglers had exited. Village chiefs were adorned with colorful headdresses. The setting was like nowhere else I had ever gone before to catch a fish on a fly, including all the other places I had fished in Brazil.
Though shy and reserved, the vil¬lagers were very welcoming. Shortly, one of the chiefs conducted a meeting where the community members who would be our guides and boatmen in¬troduced themselves to the group. The message was they were happy that we had come to their territory to fish in their river. Adults and children lined the riverbank to watch as the boats were loaded with anglers, equipment, and the supplies for our next six days.
The lodge where we were to stay was about a four-hour boat ride down¬river. Getting there was not an ordinary boat trip, however, as the river changed personality every mile. Sometimes wide with flat water, the boats powered with 40 hp Yamahas were able to zip right along. Most of the boats were powered differently, though, with air-cooled, long-tail mud motor–style en¬gines—Gator-Tail motors or Pro-Drive outboards, which are the sort used in the marshes by duck hunters in the United States. They were slower in the long pools, but they would catch up in the many sandbar shallows when the outboards had to go slowly, and in areas where the river bed was strewn with boulders ranging from small, to large, to larger, to huge. Things would get very interesting in the cascades, chutes, and falls, when everyone got out to portage and the boats were eased down¬stream with ropes! This is the Kendjam Adventure, I learned. It started before the rods were even set up.
Four hours later, we arrived at our luxury (considering how remote we were) lodge. It was built on a raised wooden platform and made from na¬tive hardwood trees. The individual accommodations were tents with two comfortable beds each and an attached bathroom for each with flush toilets and showers. The camp had generator power with battery backup for use at night, which allowed two of our group to use their CPAP breathing machines
without any problems. The camp even had small portable a/c units that moved air around a bit, as well as daily laundry service. Unaware of the daily laundry service, I had packed more clothes than necessary. As for the food, it was excellent. Chef Leandro did the meal preparation. If you have fished the Marié River in Brazil with this outfitter, Untamed Angling, you know already there is no need to say more about the meal quality!
The camp hostess/manager (and sometime guide—more on that later) is Manuela, whom some may know from Tsimane, this outfitter’s dorado opera¬tion in Bolivia. If there is a rating sys¬tem available for hostesses, she scores among the very best. We had three ex¬perienced guides with us from various other Untamed Angling destinations, though “experienced” at this point is probably not the right word. Kendjam is in its infancy, and the guides are often learning right along with the an¬glers.
It is probably important that I note here what Untamed Angling says in its pre-trip planning material about the still somewhat exploratory nature of this trip. To paraphrase, it says anglers need to keep an open mind, because “nothing works perfectly all the time” in a remote jungle. Indeed, there were many aspects of this trip that were outside the outfitter’s control. For ex¬ample, we had low water, which made travel even more challenging that it is normally. On the other hand, some of the problems we had were self-inflicted. The lodge has three guides and three beats, which works perfectly for six anglers who rotate guides and beats equally over the six days. The staff was puzzled when I asked who the fourth guide was. We had only three, and we had seven anglers in our group. Oops! There was not even a blanket for bed number seven. The staff huddled and went to work on that.
That evening they informed us there would now be four boats, and one guide would split his time between two boats. There would also be a fourth beat downriver. Unfortunately, the most desirable water is upstream from the camp, and on my day down the river to beat four I felt like a hockey player put in the penalty box. But, in fact, I did catch a few fish and did see some electric eels and a family of capybara. Fortunately, the sharing-a-guide idea was scrapped midweek and replaced with a better plan, namely, our wonderful hostess/manager Manuela would guide one boat the rest of the week in addition to her other lodge responsibilities. Once that plan went into effect, I heard no further complaints from fellow anglers, as she is a very competent angler. Whoever booked seven anglers owes her a nice bonus check!
Another problem we had was with equipment and communication between staff guides and native boatmen. The native boatmen know the river and the fish best, of course. I believe most, if not all, of the boats in the camp be¬longed to the local community, and the chiefs retained the right to assign boat staff each week according to their own culture and customs. An overrid¬
ing factor appeared to be the need to provide at least some work for many tribal members, rather than a lot of work for just a few of them. The result of this was the lodge guides wound up working with new boatmen each week. Some were very eager to learn and liked to assist the anglers. Others preferred to stay back. Some had more expertise with the motors than others.
The river is a harsh environment for boats and motors. On the two days my fishing partner and I were assigned the highly prized and much anticipated beat farthest upstream, we lost propel¬lers midway. We had no spare propel¬ler. The boatmen had to paddle, and we never reached the farthest upstream water. Also, we lost a lot of fishing time because we had to quit fishing early to begin the long paddle back to the lodge. Both of the times that this happened, when we met the boat fishing the lower beat, they had an extra propeller. The second time it happened they actually had two spare propellers! Why our boat going the farthest had no spare while a boat fishing a beat nearer the lodge had two was bewildering. That morning, our guide had asked for a spare and was told there was none. Yes, this kind of thing can be called “part of the adventure.” But things like this can also be corrected for anglers in the future.
So, what about the fishing? This is a fishing trip, right? Intriguing, challenging . . . words like that come to mind right away. Let me begin by talking about the water. It’s crystal clear water, and it varies from fast-moving chutes and rapids and pocket water to slowly moving deep pools. Sometimes you fish from a boat and blind-cast streamers to aggressive peacock bass (Cichla melanie), bicuda, smaller pacu species, jacunda, etc. For fish like that, an 8 wt. rod, intermediate sinking line, 30-pound tippet, and 30-pound wire for toothy critters such as piranha make a good outfit. Chartreuse was my choice of color for the streamers, four to five inches long and with size 1 or 2 strong hooks. The most enjoyable fishing for me was wading shallow side channels and sight-fishing for some of these same fish, plus the predator wolf fish (trairao). These latter were often in water a foot deep, and they had no hesitation in grabbing a fly—or, occasionally, a small peacock bass I had hooked and was trying to land. Your 8 wt. will work on these brutes, but use a floating line and 40-pound wire tippet, as they can top 20 pounds.
Another kind of fishing I really liked was using dry flies for pacu and matrinxã. A 6 or 7 wt. rod was fine for these, along with a floating line and Chernobyl Ants or black beetles. Small white streamers are also good for these fish. They can be spooky in the clear water, so a stealthy upstream approach worked best. I brought studded felt boots, which were too noisy. Plain felt would be better, I think. Also, I needed smaller hooks in the no. 6 range. My beetles had hooks that were way too large, and my hook-up rate was poor until I switched to much smaller flies. Matrinxã are especially wary. If you catch one, move on, because the rest are either on high alert or have left the pool. In the kind of crystal-clear water you find at this destination, most of the fish are not fearless. This is not a numbers-of-fish-caught game. This is challenging fishing, and you earn your catch. In other words, it’s excellent fishing and rewarding catching.
The wet wading here may be a physical challenge for some. The rocks are not especially slippery, but they are not in neat rows of the same size and shape. Walking the shoreline is a rock-hopping and boulder-climbing workout. You need a good sense of balance, good lightweight boots with support, and felt soles. A wading staff might be worth packing. The walking/wading downstream from camp is not as vigor¬ous as that found upstream. Wherever you wade, you need to watch for sting rays, and I did see one juvenile ana-conda.
The lodge offers a fishing op¬tion much farther downstream that is worth considering. You run quite a way downriver, stay at a spike camp overnight, then make the long trip back the following day. The fish here have absolutely no pressure, we were told, plus, once you get below the slow wa¬ter section of beat number four, there are rapids and boulders. Most of us were happy right where we were, plus we were intimidated by the low water, slow upstream travel, lost propellers, and the number of times motors had not started in the first 20 pulls. None of us chose to venture deeper into the remoteness. Maybe next time I will!
Another option that is worth considering is a jungle walk directly across the river from the lodge. You follow a native known as the best hunter in the village on a trail that leads you to the area where the trees were harvested to build the lodge. You will likely see a monkey or two, and possibly pigs. You are cautioned at the beginning about the pigs: they are dangerous, so climb a tree. That might sound easy to do in a jungle forest with lots of trees, but the problem is all of them are straight and have no low branches. I saw very few I could hope to climb, even after an extra surge of adrenaline. Our guide was armed with an old .22 bolt-action rifle, and he was down to his last four bullets. He showed us the skull of the pig he had killed the preceding week, “with one shot,” he claimed.
Kendjam is a fishing destination, but a non-angler might have a fascinating time with a camera. Getting to know the locals, learning a few words or phrases, taking the hikes, and watching for wildlife could keep a photographer busy here. We saw several monkeys, a few caiman, electric eels, an iguana, and lots of turtles. The boatmen would sometimes dive into the water to
catch a turtle. If it was a female with eggs, it became their dinner feast. At one point, we saw a family of capybara and numerous birds, including blue ma¬caws, parrots, toucans, and egrets. We saw the eyes of a jaguar one night with a spotlight.
The Kendjam experience certainly is one not to be missed if you also enjoy a jungle adventure. It got high marks from our group, and I would jump at the chance to return. My com¬plaints aside, I am thankful that Un¬tamed Angling has made this special place available. I’m also thankful for Mike at The Fly Shop for handling the booking for our group of four. The cost was about $6,500 each, plus an addi¬tional $650 fee payable to the Kayapo community.
Postscript: You can book this trip through The Fly Shop in Redding, Cali¬fornia, 888-669-3474. www.theflyshop. com/travel.
By the way, after the above report had been edited, this note about another trip to Kendjam came in from longtime subscriber, Randy Sultan. It pretty much corroborates what Allan Craig says about the trip: “Just returned from Kendjam in Brazil and here is a quick report. The trip into Kendjam requires at least one night in Manaus and then a 3½-hour plane trip to the airstrip, followed by a five-hour boat trip down the Iriri River to the Kayapo village, with the same time requirements on the homeward portion. Record low water levels this year affected virtually every aspect of this adventure, from the dif¬ficulty negotiating the river to the pace of the fishing. Many times anglers were required to get out of the boats to help push them through shallow sections or hike on the rocks up- or downriver. The wading was definitely challenging in that the rocks are irregular in shape and have many sharp angles. I would not recommend this trip for elderly anglers or those in less than good physical shape. I did catch wolf fish, pacu, bicu¬da, matrinxã, and even a payara (a rar¬ity, it appears, in Kendjam). The overall experience, including the interaction with the Kayapo villagers as well as the birds and unique species of animals, made the trip worthwhile. I am glad I did the Kendjam trip but probably would not repeat this same trip again unless it could be combined with an¬other venue nearby targeting payara on the Xingu River. I understand from fishing with Marcello in Tsimane that he and Rodrigo are looking into developing this venue.”