As January ushered in its cold weather, 10 Southwest Michigan anglers, including 5 Kalamazoo residents, were visiting the tanning salon to get a little color before their big adventure. Their destination - the Brazilian Amazon River for world-class peacock bass fishing.
Our trip started with a flight into the river city of Manaus, followed by an hour and 10 minute flight to Barcelos, where we met our boat, “The Amazon Clipper.” From there we set off on our six-day adventure on the Rio Negro arm of the Amazon River.
This was my fourth trip with Exotic Outdoor Adventures. What started as, “I have to do this once in my lifetime,” has turned into an every-other-year excursion. It was so awesome I couldn’t do it just once!
The boat we stayed on had small but comfortable air-conditioned rooms with private bath/shower, and an open dining room. There was an open bar and seating area with plenty of room for the evening card games. The top deck of the boat featured a large sundeck with a 360o panoramic view.
Besides the great fishing, the Amazon Rainforest is a truly beautiful place! We saw a lot of wildlife on our adventure, including gators, otters, monkeys, birds of all kinds, and much more. We had dolphins (freshwater porpoises, actually) follow us and ambush our peacock bass as we released them from being caught.
The Amazon is an eat-or-be-eaten place for the fish. It’s where most of the world’s freshwater tropical fish come from, as well as parakeets and “toucan sams.” The Amazon Basin contains the largest number of freshwater fish species in the world – more than 3,000 species! The Amazon is also the largest native territory for the peacock bass.
Peacock bass are a beautiful animal. Their coloring varies greatly, from a dark brownish green through deep yellow to almost silver. They received their name due to the large black spot on their tail. They have three vertical black bars on their sides, with blood red markings on their bellies and lower fins. One common color variant, referred to as “paca” has dotted white lines running horizontally down the sides. This pattern is generally seen in non-reproductive fish, which are believed to be even stronger and more aggressive than other members of their species.
Regardless of color pattern, peacock bass hit the lure harder than you can imagine, and pull like no other freshwater fish for their size. Their powerful strikes can propel water up to 10 feet in the air! When I describe how they fight, I tell people to imagine how a 5-pound smallmouth bass fights and jumps, then multiply it by 4… then put it on steroids! They straighten the heaviest hooks and tear open split rings with their fast and powerful runs, which unfortunately happened to us several times.
Peacock bass hit many of the same lures used in largemouth bass fishing. We caught peacock bass on jigs, jerkbaits, and more, but the lure of choice was the topwater “rippers” made by Highroller, Luhr Jensen, and our own Terry Gizzi. Terry is a retired school teacher from Cassapolis, who hand-made and painted a large variety of lures for us all to use. It was very satisfying to catch many of the largest fish on Terry’s handcrafted lures.
All of our fishing was done from 17’ Triton aluminum bass boats, equipped with foot-control trolling motors for maneuvering. The water levels were very low this trip which made navigation more treacherous, as we did find several shallow sand bars. We traveled hundreds of miles in the boat, fishing many different areas. The boats offered us access to backwater lagoons and smaller tributaries where the giant peacocks live. We had a variety of exciting experiences and collected many stories about the one that got away.
I fished many of the days with my friend, Don Stevens of Cooper Boat Repair. Don landed a 16-pounder the first day, our big fish for the boat that day. As we got further from Barcelos, the fish got bigger and soon we were catching fish weighing 20 pounds or more on a daily basis.
With temperatures running in the mid-80’s and 90’s, it was exhausting work ripping that large topwater lure all day. It was hard to stay focused, but the thought of a giant peacock smashing my lure on the next cast kept me going. We caught about 550 peacocks on our trip, with 16 world-class fish that were over 20 pounds. The largest was 24.5 pounds, caught by Dave Gizzi, a resident of Cassopolis. We also caught a lot of peacocks weighing in the teens, along with a few suprises like piranhas, and a gator or two.
It’s hard to describe this trip in words – it’s incredible! The fishing was spectacular. The camaraderie was equally as great.