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Regular Angling Report contributor, Brian Griffith has just sent us this interesting report from a recent trip he took to Colombia with an outfitter that is likely not familiar to many readers. Brian isn’t afraid to rough it, and his reports are often full of adventure, mishaps, and great fishing in remote corners of the globe, so when he says that one day of fishing during this trip was “one of the top 20 days of fishing I have ever had in my life” readers should take note! – Seth Fields, Editor
COLOMBIA, the name evokes thoughts of coffee, cocaine cartels, and revolutionary guerillas. It is not the first place most American anglers might think of for great fishing. When my friend, Alex Trochine of FarAwayFlyFishing.com emailed asking whether I might be interested in trying Colombian fishing I did ask about security in the area, and he assured me that Colombia has changed. I’ve fished with Alex several times in Argentina and he is well aware of the type of fishing I enjoy and how I love a varied and diverse fishery. After some photos he sent me, I decided to give it a try this past January and I am happy to report this is a great place to fish for peacock bass as well as a multitude of tropical species.
After flying to Bogota I was put up in a fairly standard airport hotel for the first night (included in the cost). The next morning I was driven to the airport and met my guide, Camilo Santamaria, in the ticket line. We were able to talk and get to know one another while waiting for the 1+ hour flight (included in the trip cost) to Puerto Carreno-the easternmost town in Colombia. I told him I was certainly interested in peacock fishing but wanted to make sure there was time spent on other quarries as well. I found out this is just a part-time gig for him (he works for Phillip Morris) and does it as a favor for his friend, Daniel, who operates Colombia Fishing Tours. The company caters to Colombian anglers (spin and some fly) however his full-time guides are not particularly bilingual. Camilo spoke excellent English and indeed his most important task was translation and logistics as almost no one I met during the week spoke anything but Spanish.
Upon arriving in Puerto Carreno-a pretty dismal little town-we were taken to Hotel El Lago. It’s a rather dated, but very clean hotel just a few minutes from the Orinoco River. The most important asset it possessed was a good air conditioner. We unpacked and prepped for the following day’s fishing, had an uninspired dinner, and got some sleep.
The fishing day starts early here. Breakfast (the best meal of the day although that’s a pretty low bar to clear) is at 5. We would leave at 5:30 and be at the beach before 6 where we would meet Alete, our boat driver, in his 10-12 meter steel boat powered with a 40 hp Yamaha outboard. Alete was a great resource. He comes from generations of fishermen in Puerto Carreno and knew the rivers and fishing spots intimately. I was a little leery of the boat to start with as it was obviously not designed for fly fishing. The rounded bottom seemed as if it would be very unstable and there was no casting platform. There was nothing to worry about however as the boat was easy to cast from and had ample room for me to stand and cast.
The first day we fished the Bita River just a short run from Puerto Carreno. I was fishing a 9-weight rod with a floating line; a straight 6-foot, 30-pound leader; and flies in the 2/0 size range, which I used the entire week. The fly I started with and fished almost exclusively throughout the week was a brown and yellow baitfish pattern of my own design and it proved to be exceptionally effective. The Bita is 100-150 meters across, full of structure along the banks, and crisscrossed with sand bars. We had only been fishing for a short while when I landed my first Bita Temensis peacock. It was only 2-3 pounds but I was happy to get the skunk off the boat. Not two minutes later I hooked and landed a 9-pound fish. Things were definitely looking good!
Throughout the day I continued picking up fish ending up with 17 landed (4 different species of peacocks) including one 11-pounder. We saw a good number of iguanas, a crocodile, river dolphins, tapir tracks, and an array of birds that were beautiful and diverse. The weather was the coolest day of my trip and topped out at about 100 degrees. There was very little breeze, lots of sunshine, and if not for covering early every square inch of skin I would have burned to a crisp. Lunch was taken on the river in a shady area and provided a welcome retreat from the heat. The lunches throughout the week were a bit disappointing. Consisting primarily of rice, potatoes, and one very small piece of chicken or ham it kept you going but not much more.
The mornings throughout the week were significantly more productive than the afternoons. Indeed from 12-3 with the sun high and the heat building, there wasn’t a lot of action and while I kept casting it was more target practice than actual fishing. During the morning we would fish the banks of the main river, casting to structure, then head for the lagunas in which it seemed there was an equal chance of hooking up on the shoreline and the middle. After lunch, Camilo and Alete insisted on fishing “caletas” or depressions in the river bottom. We occasionally saw a few fish in them but did not have much luck hooking any. They said it was the most effective way to fish the river but I found it to be largely a waste of time.
Heading back we would generally get back to Puerto Carreno around 6, head to the hotel either on foot or be picked up (both took 5 minutes), shower, have a beer, and have a simple dinner at 7-7:30. Back to the room at 9 and start all over again the next day.
On day 2, we fished the Orinoco. It is a big river and while it looks placid the currents are strong, fast, and chaotic. It certainly demands respect. We were searching for payara and sardinata, which can grow quite large in this river that separates Colombia and Venezuela.
We had some luck catching payara. Nothing huge, the biggest being about 6 pounds, but I had no luck with the sardinata. I had few poppers with me and it seems they love that chugging noise. I had a few swirls but no contact. I did, however, catch a red-bellied piranha, which is moderately common in the area. We fished primarily from huge rocks jutting out from the river with payara being in the faster water and sardinata congregating in the back eddies. Late in the afternoon, we went up the Bita and caught a few peacocks (making 10 fish for the day) including a 10-pounder on the last cast of the day. It was 105 that day and a cold beer tasted pretty good back at the hotel. This would be my slowest day of fishing all week.
On day 3, we went upriver to Cano Juriepe. A small river 30-50 meters across. It’s an absolute bear to get through the sand bar clogged mouth from the Orinoco. We got out and fished while Alete pushed, dragged, and muscled the boat through the 400 meters of sand. During that time, I landed my first aguajato—a long skinny predator reminiscent of a freshwater barracuda. When we finally got in the boat and began fishing I saw why Camilo had been building this small river up all week. It was a blast! The peacock fishing was stellar as during the day I landed 31 peacocks with 15 being over 10 pounds-the largest hitting 15 pounds. The fish in this river were big, aggressive, and absolutely brilliantly colored. Camilo called them high-definition fish.
At lunch, I tried fishing around the area and found a spot where there were an absolute horde of fish called payarin. They resemble small payara and are extraordinarily aggressive. In 45 minutes, I landed well over 20 and think I could have gone on for some time with continued success. We fished awhile in the afternoon but needed to save enough time to get through the mouth of the Juriepe and make the long run back to Puerto Carreno. On the ride back down, we came across some locals building a wooden boat and made arrangements to rent a boat and motor from them my last day so we could avoid having to transit the mouth. It took us nearly 45 minutes to get through the final 100 meters of sand but on the ride back I felt this was one of the top 20 days of fishing I have ever had in my life. Big, beautiful, aggressive fish in good numbers without seeing another fisherman. What a day!
The following day we were back on the Orinoco with a mission: Catch a sardinata! We tried a couple of spots and ended up at a place called Santa Elena where sardinata were surfacing randomly in a big back eddy. After fishing for 2+ hours and several swirls and bumps I finally landed my first sardinata. Minutes later, I got another and a half-hour later a third. Sardinata resemble small tarpon. They are, certainly from my point of view, the most difficult fish in the river to catch and I was ecstatic to add another name to my list of species caught on my fly.
In the afternoon we headed back up the Bita where I landed a few peacocks with one over 13 pounds, we also caught some arari, and a tijero. We lost a bit of fishing time when we discovered a net across the mouth of a laguna (the Bita is a protected river). We began taking it down to turn into the authorities when the Venezuelan owner appeared. After a lot of to and fro in Spanish Alete simply cut off the 2/3’s we had in the boat with his machete and told the owner he was reporting him. We did not see another net the remainder of the week.
Wednesday was another day on the Bita. The fishing was much like the first day with 18 peacocks landed (biggest 10 pounds) but no new species. Like the previous couple of days, it was HOT. 105+! In that kind of heat, it does not matter how much water you drink you are getting dehydrated. By the end of the day—which included some memorable fights in log jams—I was ready for a shower, beer, and A/C. We had dinner at a good restaurant in town and the ribs and cold beer revived me.
On my last full day of fishing, we drove up to the Juriepe, rented the boat and motor and were fishing by 6:45. The boat was the same one we saw being built just a few days earlier. It was not as stable as Alete’s boat but after a few close calls, I had my sense of balance figured out and it wasn’t much of an issue for the remainder of the day. This day proved to be nearly as good as the first on the Juriepe. Within minutes I was into my first fish, a 10 pounder. By 7:15 I had landed 4 with 3 over 10 pounds including a 15-pound temensis peacock. The morning was just non-stop. I caught nothing under 6 pounds and the average size was in the 8-9 pound range. The largest of the trip, 16 pounds was also landed that day.
We spent a fair amount of time trying the lagunas for some different species. I did catch a few piranhas, a payarin, an oscar, and a cachama (a type of pacu). There were lots of dolphins in this river and they would occasionally come quite close to the boat looking to snatch a freshly released fish. We also saw crocodiles and nutria in the river. This is a lovely river with truly exceptional fishing both in quantity and quality. Definitely my favorite of the trip.
On the final day, our flight was not supposed to leave until 6 so I fished the morning (at an additional cost of $80). We went up the Bita and caught 11 fish, mostly small but near the end of the session, I landed a 9-pound peacock and decided to end the trip on a good fish.
That evening our flight was canceled and rescheduled for the following morning. Satena Air is a government-run airline so they really aren’t particularly reliable. I had an extra night in Bogota so I was not concerned about spending an extra night in Puerto Carreno but Camilo missed some scheduled work meetings, which was a bit of a pain for him. Satena does compensate you for the delay with 30% of the fare refunded in cash as well as pay for transportation, hotel, and food. Just keep this in mind if you go.
Overall this was a fabulous trip and a good value as well at $3800 with a $400 single supplement. While I have only fished for peacocks a few times in Brazil these rivers compare quite favorably. While you probably won’t catch a 20-pound peacock here the quantity and quality of the fishing (as well as the diversity) is hard to argue with. The accommodations are spartan and the food boring, but certainly not game-changers for me. There were almost no biting insects. I got a few mosquito bites (all in my room). It is a malaria area and antimalaria medications are recommended.
Camilo did fish a bit with spinning gear, which I didn’t mind, but some fly fishermen may find bothersome. It actually helped me catch a few big peacocks as they would chase one he had hooked and would end up taking my fly in the frenzy. The final tally was 108 peacocks landed with 26 being 10 pounds or larger. My biggest was 16 pounds. I landed a total of 157 fish that included 13 species-9 new ones for me.
I do plan of visiting Colombia again. I found the people friendly and kind and the fishing very good. I think when I go back I would do the camp they have set up on the upper Bita. While there’s no A/C the food is supposed to be much better and you have the option of a longer fishing day with no long boat rides involved. That was not available when I booked late last year but is definitely my first choice for next time.
I booked the trip through FarAwayFlyFishing.com. I believe it’s just a matter of time until the word gets out and this becomes a more popular (and therefore more expensive) destination for North American anglers. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at [email protected]. – Brian Griffith