Fly Fishing in the Land of Giants
“Dude,” White whispers, tilting his head at the leviathan a few feet off our port side and about half as long as our vessel. The fish has strange undulating fins. As a top-tier predator in this lake, this fish is not afraid. It has probably never seen people. It knows no fear.
There is no alarm. The landscape is silent: an Eden of mirror-flat greenish lagoon and thick green mats of water hyacinths and lily pads and aquatic flowering plants surrounded by deep and rich rain forest under blue equatorial sky. Standing in the bow, I flip my fly ahead of the fish about fifteen feet, then begin to retrieve it in slow, two-inch strips. The fly is attached to a 12-weight rod with 60-pound-test monofilament as a leader tippet—a setup capable of catching fish that can weigh a thousand pounds.
When the fish sucks in the fly, the noise is a vacuum-sounding sha-bump, and it suddenly feels more as if I’ve snagged the bottom than hooked an arapaima. I retain presence of mind to hit the fish—hard: violently stripping in line with my free hand to set the hook and get us tight. The fish, at first, does nothing in response. It doesn’t move. It twists a bit in the water to look at me.
This fish isn’t scared—it’s pissed.
Then it begins to swim off. “Holy crap,” I say out loud to no one in particular. “It’s like I’ve hooked a car…”
When I hit the fish again, to make sure the hook is set, the fish finally decides to hit back. Pop. The line snaps.
Oliver White—our experienced big-game fishing pro—steps to where I’m standing in the boat’s narrow bow. He examines the spot where the hooked fish and the line parted. In the warm morning sun, he smiles and shakes his head.
“That fish just snapped 60-pound-test mono,” he says. “Never thought I’d see that.”
In Guyana, my fishing partner most days is Marty Arostegui. A retired physician from Coral Gables, Florida, Arostegui’s got serious fly-fishing chops—not to mention a hundred-foot fly cast.
“I tell ya,” he says to me one morning in the boat, “this is the most technically demanding fishing I’ve ever seen. It makes fly fishing for big-game tarpon look like kid’s play. You have to do everything perfect to get one of these fish to take. One mistake in technique, and you’re out of luck.”
Arostegui would know. He has hundreds of International Game Fish Association (or IGFA) world records to his name. In fact, he’s down here representing the IGFA (checking the place out), and in so doing he won’t fish with anything heavier than 20-pound tippet, as it wouldn’t be legal under IGFA rules. Just the idea that I’m fishing heavier line than that hurts his feelings a bit, not that he’d ever say so in my direction.