Fly Fishing in the Land of Giants
The lagoons are usually crescent shaped. Each is roughly a mile long and averages about four to six feet deep. Other species of fish live in them, too—including ample clouds of piranha—but the arapaima, while they eat almost anything, seem to prefer peacock bass, themselves formidable game fish.
“Most people come down here to fish for peacock bass—and we’re fishing with peacock bass,” says Al Perkinson, one of the organizers of the team.
We’re a clutch of reasonably skilled fly fishermen, put together by Costa sunglasses, brought here to see if this fishery and the associated tourism industry might be a worthy sporting enterprise going forward. Already, Costa has gotten USAID involved as a partner, to promote ecotourism in the region as a way to push sustainable business like sportfishing and bird-watching instead of extracting the area’s natural riches: timber, minerals, and gold. Perkinson first came here on a kind of fluky trip to these parts, something of a “what the hell” flier, and once he’d seen the place, he thought, “Hey, what if we made this a destination?” After that, it was only a question of dedicated bird-watchers and fly fishermen finding out about it through their networks. So far, the plan seems to be working.
But let’s get back to the fishing. To be particular, we’re fishing with flies that imitate peacock bass. They’re six or eight inches long, mostly tied by one of our guides, Oliver White, a professional fishing guide and international resort owner who is quite possibly the father of this technique, having first caught an arapaima on a fly in March 2011.
He’s also an expert flytier. In the water, the peacock-bass-looking flies he creates have streamery feathers and Mylar strands that appear to move and “breathe” like living fish. They’re also the size of ground squirrels, which means they’re hard to cast effectively—or accurately. This is a new frontier of big-game fly fishing. We’re in unknown territory…at its best.
On the first evening, fishing a lagoon called Grassy Pond from an eighteen-foot dugout-wood canoe, we get nothing. Just a few peacock bass nervy enough to bang on a fly a third the size they are.
The second day, however, things change. We’re in the boat on a lagoon called Simon Pond, watching and waiting as arapaima come up by the dozens to breathe and roll lazily and then submerge back inside their four-foot layer of murky water, where we then cast for them. About 11:00 a.m., one of them (which weighs 250 or 300 pounds and runs seven or eight feet long) swims casually alongside the boat. Oliver White is working as my boat’s guide with a local named Rovin Alvin.