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Talk about a low-cost peacock bass fishing trip! This one in Colombia beats anything we have heard about, and it appears to be on the level, producing some very large peacocks, as well as good payara. We heard about the trip from subscriber Richard Hart, who checked in with this report last month.
He writes: “Some 30 years ago Colombia was the place for Americans to fish for huge peacock bass. Now, thanks to vigorous government intervention and a lot of help from the US military, Colombia is reemerging as a place to go in search of various subspecies of peacock bass, including the speckled peacock bass (Cichla temensis). I went in search of this species recently with Javier Guevara of Ecuador Fly Fishing Tours (www.ecuadorflyfishingtours.com) at a jungle facility called Tucunare Lodge (www.tucunarelodge.com). “Flights to Bogota, the capital, take approximately four hours from Miami. Spending a couple of nights there with friends was like being in Coral Gables, an upscale incorporated area within Greater Miami. Lots of vibrant bars, restaurants, and shopping areas to equal any mall in the United States. The cost of the entire trip was $2,950, including overnight hotel stay in Bogota, a roundtrip internal flight of about an hour, food, and drinks. Only flights from the States and guide and staff tips are not included. “The trip, once you arrive in Co lombia, begins with a flight to Inírida in the eastern part of the country near the Venezuelan border. The visible army presence here outnumbered the passengers on our flight, an indication of how seriously the government considers security in this region. We had a quick lunch and started our fast-boat transfer to the lodge, going downstream to the Orinoco River and then continuing on to the Vichada River with the Venezuelan jungle on one side and Colombia on the other for much of the way. The jungle lodge is located in the village of Cumaribo, which is head village for a local tribe of Indians. The facility is situated high on a river bluff with a fantastic view over the Vichada River. The workers at the lodge are all local villagers. There is a dining room and several individual lodges that house two people each. “I had come here for the peacock, but payara were a target daily in the fast river. The payara (or ‘Vampire fish’) (Hydrolycus scomberoides) hit lures or flies fast and hard. They are very hard to hook, as their mouths are very toothy and bony. I landed maybe two or three out of every ten I hooked. They all jumped high in the air, shaking their heads violently, a lot like tarpon, trying to throw the hooks. We would stop daily and cast from the rocks into fast current and deep pools to connect with the payara. Sinking lures and flies both worked. Pellona is another available fish that acts and looks a bit like a tarpon (Pellona castelnaeana or Sardinata Real). They grow to more than 20 pounds and are generally targeted in lower water conditions. “If you plan to come here, bring everything you need. That includes a really good sunhat, sunscreen (50 SPF or better), light-colored, long-sleeve shirts and long pants, a bandana (or buff), a pair of good wading shoes, and a rain jacket for the sudden and often heavy jungle showers. You should also bring basic first-aid items such as an anti-itch cream, a disinfectant for any cuts, aftersun lotion, aspirin, and bandages. I also recommend signing up for Global Rescue (www.globalrescue.com) apart from any travel insurance you take out. It’s very inexpensive, and it may save you a lot in medical evacuation costs if something goes wrong in an area this remote. “I was fly-fishing on this trip, using fast-action Sage SALT 9- and 10-weight rods loaded with Rio Tropical Outbound short floating fly lines on a Tibor Signature reel. I needed a rod with strong backbone for tiring out the payara and for controlling the peacock bass, as they tend to charge structure of any sort when hooked, including submerged trees. The large speckled peacock bass (Cichla temensis) congregate in lagoons here in low-water season (September thru April). These lagoons are fun to get into, as the guides have to make their way through small creeks, often having to chop through fallen branches. Once inside these lagoons, we were able to cast directly at points and structures. For me, large peacock bass flies by Rainy’s (www.rainysflies.com/flyassortments) in red and white, red and yellow, or yellow and orange were the most successful. My boat partner, Luis, and the rest of the group, were fishing with lures: large poppers, diving plugs, huge propeller lures, spooks (or walkthe-dog), and jigs. The heavy jigs were particularly well liked by the peacocks. Many fish in the 10- to 20-pound range were landed daily. The best colors were yellow with orange or red. As peacock bass charge your lure or fly they waken the other fish around them, so it’s not unusual to see four or five fish chase the one hooked. It was common practice for your boat mate to cast right behind the action when you hooked a fish. “The fishing boats in use here were large, strong, 20-foot, custommade metal boats with two seats and plenty of platform area to cast from. An icebox full of cold drinks was on hand daily, along with a packed lunch. We would stop in the midday sun for a shore lunch, and the guide would set up a hammock for a quick siesta under the jungle shade. “The main draw for everyone on my trip was the hard-hitting speckled peacock bass, but there were other peacock species available, including the Orinoco peacock bass (Cichla orinocensis), which ran upwards of 10 pounds. There were also butterfly peacocks here (Cichla ocellaris) that also ran upwards of 10 pounds, plus the Tucanare Real (Cichla intermedia) indigenous to the Orinico River and tributaries. These latter ran upwards of eight pounds. The speckled peacock bass here get huge, mind you. I was told clients catch fish here weighing more than 20 pounds every week. On our trip more than 10 were caught around the 20-pound-plus mark. I heard a lot of talk on this trip about the next IGFA All Tackle World Record coming out of Colombia. That record currently sits at 29 pounds, 1 ounce. “Another fish available here in large numbers is the black piranha (Serrasalmus rhombeus). They are a likely catch in the deeper river waters if you wish to target them. Bicuda (Boulengerella cuvieri) up to 10 pounds are also around, particularly in the rapids. Finally, there are many species of catfish that grow big in these rivers. It will take live or dead bait to catch those. “On our final day, we left the jungle in the morning to catch our return internal flight. On arrival in Bogotá, we headed to our hotel and rested up until we went out for a nice meal at a very busy steak house in Bogotá’s main shopping and dining area. All in all, this was a very good trip.” Don Causey Note: The redevelopment of the peacock bass fishing business in Colombia is proceeding rapidly as this issue goes together. After the above report was edited, we learned there is a US outfitter (we’ve mentioned him before—Alex Zapata) whose trips are just as cheap as the one described above. In fact, Zapata’s trips range from $2,500 (which is cheaper) up to $3,500, and they include most of the same services. The major difference between the two is Zapata conducts his trips out of riverside camps, with tents, rather than from a fixed jungle lodge. This offers greater mobility, but is probably a bit more primitive than the jungle camp lodging described above. It’s anyone’s guess at this point where the Colombia sportfishing business will land, but right now no one we are aware of is providing world-class comfort and amenities. If you don’t value those things a lot and you love that feel of being on the cutting edge, you’ll probably really like Colombia peacock bass fishing right now. If you wilt in the heat and wince at every bug bite, it may not be the right time for you to go there.