Guyana : November 2013
|British Guyana stamp featuring an Arapaima|
and her Majesty the Queen
(it looks like she can smell it)
I started where I always start any project - The internet. If you go looking for 'Amazon Fishing' or similar on the interweb you will probably come across Steve Townson. He'd popped up on the forum of the Lure Anglers Society telling us tales of lure fishing fun in the Amazon and people were a tiny bit sniffy as he was obviously promoting his business of Amazon-Angler.com. I was intrigued and went along to www.amazon-angler.com to see what kind of thing they were doing. It all looked very exciting with this one http://www.amazon-angler.com/essequibo-river-trip/4577908464 looking best to tick all the boxes of your favourite Amazon fish species despite not actually being the Amazon river itself.
I sent an email to inquire if there were any trips at the back end of 2013 that I could attach myself to and Steve rang me straight up with a few alternatives and informed me that the Guyana Essequibo 6 day trip in November and 9 day one in February both had places and would be just the thing for me. While a 9 day trip would have been preferable, I wanted to go this year with this year's holiday allowance from work. I had a few phone calls with Steve discussing the ins and outs of the trip as regards tackle/travel etc and told him I'd think it over. Next day I paid the $3000 in full - committing myself to what I hoped to be the trip of a lifetime in only 2 months time.
The die was cast so I began to spend all of my spare time in the internet and at the doctors collecting the necessary inoculations, medicines, tackle and equipment. I had a bit of a disaster with the flights when, as I hesitated for a few minutes, The £721 Caribbean Airlines almost direct flight via Port-of-Spain disappeared leaving me with a £851 slog via JFK in New York changing from Virgin to Caribbean and then via Trinidad. Bugger.
Guyana is an ex-colony of the glorious British Empire (The GREATEST EMPIRE THE WORLD HAS EVER SEEN) gaining independence in 1966. This has a couple of advantages over say Brazil because it means that the people speak English as the national language and Englishmen such as myself do not need any visa. What Englishmen do need is some protection against malaria, yellow fever, Hepatitis A&B and some other nasties found in developing tropical countries. If you go there DO take the malaria medicine. Mr T told us that there was hardly any where we were going but, despite none of us even seeing a mosquito, Dr Dan came down with malaria after the trip and is currently curing himself back in Seattle. I didn't have any bad reaction to the horribly expensive Malarone malaria pills I had so decided to take them anyway even though mosquitoes seemed to be completely absent.
A trip like this is requires quite a lot of expenditure tackle wise. 2-3 med to heavy spinning or baitcasting setups are required for the peacock bass, payaras etc and you need a heavy setup with miles of 100lb braid for bottom fishing for the big catfish etc. Obnoxious surface lures such as woodchopper propbaits, spooks are apparently the thing and I didn't have any belief in these as pike lures so only owned one little spook.
I gathered from Caribbean airlines that they wouldn't take any hold items over 5 foot or so. This meant I couldn't take my uptide rod for the big catfish as that was 6'6" packed and carp rods etc only go down to 6'. Steve had advised that travel rods were the way to go. I would agree with that as there are few things worse than arriving thousands of miles away for the fishing trip of a lifetime to find that the rod tube does not arrive intact. Unfortunately this meant I would have to buy ALL the rods for the trip.
|Shakespeare 8' travel 20-30lb boat rod. Decent and cheap.|
Finding the right travel rods and buying them on spec from the internet was hard work and a bit risky and I ended up having to get three catfish rods when the Shakespeare 8' travel boat rod arrived with a tiny first guide suitable only for a multiplier reel & no good for casting and a mis-purchase on my part delivered a hideous telescopic (ffs) catfish rod with about 4 rings on it. Happily the awful thing had been damaged in transit and I got the £45 (you gets what you pays for) back. What I had meant to buy was this Daiwa MEGAFORCE 5 piece big fish travel rod.
Tackle Review interlude - Daiwa Megaforce big fish travel rod.
|Excalibur - Daiwa Bigfish Catching Rod.|
At £63 this rod was amazing value and is strong enough for the biggest tropical monster catfish, mahseers, Nile perch etc. The biggest fish I ever saw in my life was landed on my setup of the Daiwa rod with a US style baitrunner and 80lb braid and I landed a fish bigger than me on it. Watch the videos later in this article to see how it performs on giant fish. This bigfish catching tool also takes up very little room inside a large suitcase. Heaps recommended. **** 4 stars out of 5. Missing out on a maximum because of the odd positioning of the reel seat.
Shopping for sub 7 foot travel lure rods was also not easy as there isn't a huge amount of choice. I didn't want to get into baitcasting gear as the Amazon with its lairy big fish is not the place to be learning to cast.
|SG Roadrunner - took 2 of these.|
|Sakura Shinjin 3-piece. Lovely little rod|
I ended up taking the 5 rods with me (Shakespeare and Daiwa catfish rods plus 2x Roadrunners and the Shinjin) - all packed in the suitcase along with 3x Rarenium fixed spinning reels, a worryingly small Baitrunner-D 8000 with almost 200 yards of 80lb braid and the Daiwa SLOSH 40 with 300 yards of 100lb braid on it. My reasoning was that even with a broken rod or spooled-out/broken reel I'd still be able to make a catfish setup from the remains and its good to have a spare spinning setup. Two of my outfits went overboard during the trip but were retrieved by the excellent guides saving me £100s.
Further expenditure on lures and braid and heavy catfish/arapaima hooks etc followed until I stopped buying stuff about a week before departure. Some of this was wasted money as circle hooks don't seem to follow any consistent pattern or size so I ended up with some awful shite and most of the heavy trace wire I bought turned out to be rubbish.
The journey in.
Eventually the big day arrived. With Friday off work I was able to double check my equipment and take my time getting down to Heathrow for my evening flight. It was a Virgin Atlantic flight to JFK. The service/entertainment etc on Virgin is good but really don't like the pokey seats and pathetic legroom. I'm only 5'10" and I find it really cramped. JFK is not recommended for transfer passengers either as they make you retrieve your hold luggage and check in again to the onward flight meaning that you have to go through the surly US immigration process just to fly out in a couple hours. Assuming I was just transferring on I didn't know that you need an ESTA VISA just to get your bags and had a fraught hour at Heathrow obtaining one as I wasn't allowed to check in for my flight without one. The only good thing about this flight was that I was able to go out into the lovely New Jersey air for a cigarette.
Hours of long haul tedium followed and a huge convoy of wheelchair bound elderly Guyana/Trinidad visitors gathered at JFK for the Caribbean airlines flight. A relaxing flight with a stop at Port of Spain with wheelchairists leaving and others joining the short onward flight to Georgetown Guyana. No mention was made of the fact that the flight started late and got ever more delayed - arriving in GT 1.5 hours late.
|Mouth of the mighty Essequibo river as viewed from the plane.|
I enjoyed talking to Navin on the hour or so drive into Georgetown to the hotel I was booked into for the first night. The group was to assemble at 6am the following morning to drive up country south to the river.
Navin seemed like a pretty clever guy and we talked at length about the fishing and Guyana and cricket. Being a West Indian of Indian ancestry he knew everything about cricket and we looked forward to the hiding England were going to give Australia in the Ashes series starting while I was in the jungle. When I came out England had begun to self destruct and, as I write, have already collapsed to a humiliating 5-0 whitewash losing the Ashes with key players J Trott and G Swann retiring/coming home mentally ill and everybody being dominated by the resurgent Australian oiks.
|Jiminy Wickets stares dejectedly at the crack-torn Perth pitch as the|
awful Australians celebrate thrashing England
in the Ashes series.
I didn't take any decent photos in Georgetown but this short video shot from Navin's car gives you an idea of what its like.
Jet lag made it a bit difficult to sleep and I woke up several times during the night. Early in the morning I woke up to find A MAN in the other bed in my room. This was a bit worrying as I did not know who he was or where he had come from. As I struggled to full consciousness the reclining figure introduced itself as Dan. I was relieved to find he was the final member of the fishing trip - retired surgeon Dr Dan Froese from Seattle. I wish I'd been informed that I was sharing a room as I would have put some clothes on. I have a horrible feeling that I may have gone for a drunken wee in the ensuite while he was there. I just hope I didn't have a morning glory on. Dan turned out be an excellent fellow who, having done his medical degree in England, actually understood the game of cricket which is very rare for Americans.
At 6am we gulped some coffee down and were all off in the magic bus driven by a man called 'Magic' for a long drive south down to Kurupukari village in the jungle where we were to be picked up and boated up to the fishing camp upstream - hopefully in time to spend the first night in camp. The Essequibo river flows hundreds of miles north out of Guyana into the Caribbean and is the biggest river between the Amazon and the Orinoco.
After picking up Magic's wife and very sweet little daughter in the outskirts of Georgetown we headed off down a decent paved road to the town of Linden following the Demerara river.
|The magic bus outside a fish n chip shop.|
|The author disguised as Steve Irwin at breakfast|
|Local man and baby enjoying some cool coconut milk at Gloria's shop.|
|This dirt road was what we saw/felt/breathed for 7-8 hours|
About 6 hours into the arduous drive we stopped for lunch at a truck stop near to a very large logging place. Primary industries of logging and mining are pretty much all that is going on in the small portion of Guyana easily accessible by road.
|Macaw at truck stop. |
(Other pecked-half-to-death macaw not pictured)
The truck stop turned out to be really nice with excellent curry lunches from the restaurant at about 1200 Guyana $ (One US dollar gets you 200 of these). There were a couple of blue macaws in a cage out back and a spider monkey type thing on a chain up a tree. The monkey's chain did not reach to the ground and it swung itself off & performed a hilarious trapeze type act for me. This performance abruptly ceased once I got the video camera on the phone working. There were dishes of unknown bush animal on the menu as well as standard chicken & rice type fare. Only Keevin took the plunge and ordered something other than the decent chicken curry and got a wild cow pepperpot. This came as a black curry a bit like the Coorg pork pandhi curry I enjoyed in India and Keevin rated it highly. We think wild cow might mean a deer of some kind or maybe a paca type animal. I ate the wild cow pepperpot on the way back out and it really was excellent.
After another couple hours we finally arrived at Kurupukari village with an hour or so of daylight left. Navin had been all the way to the Brazilian border at Lethem to pick up Steve Townson who had been on the road for even longer than we had. They met us off the bus and we immediately walked a few hundred metres into the forest to get to where the boats were ready to go. This was my first look at the Essequibo river and it was a beautiful sight in the waning afternoon sun after the long drive.
|Navin gives final instructions to chief guide Lawrence as we|
prepare to leave Kurupukari for the camp.
The luggage and meat-cooler was unloaded and put into an unseen larger boat and the guides plus Steve and the 6 guests departed immediately for the fishing camp which were were told awaited about an hour upstream.
We were a boat down as, on the trip down from camp, one of the outboards had blown up in such a serious fashion that Navin had to take it back to Georgetown for repairs. We passed the stricken vessel moored up to a tree while we were about 20m mins or so out of camp.
|Lawrence drives Chip (round head), Steve (sunglasses) |
and myself (filthy) up to camp
|Brian's boat - fastest in the fleet|
It is reported to have made the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs - in the dark.
|The vegetarian pacu. Staple diet of local Indians|
with teeth very similar to my own.
|Our camp - Gilligan's Island|
Guests were to be housed in tents on the beach and Dan & I shared the one under the trees at left. Behind the beach an area of forest had been cleared leaving tall shade trees and a tarpaulin structure housed the kitchen/staff quarters. A rustic table and benches had been constructed for guests to eat and drink at. A generator powered 2 freezers in the kitchen and these held the meat/fish and all-important COLD BEER.
|Dining area and kitchen/staff quarters|
Toilet and bathroom facilities are always a worry to travellers to developing countries but we had very good sanitation. Two oil drums were raised up 7 feet or so to provide water for the shower beneath (a tap at about 6 feet elevation. Also provided was a proper sit down flushing porcelain toilet with an odour free soakaway beneath.
|Splendid flushing sit down toilet with views of lurking caimans|
Dinner was ready when we arrived so we enjoyed a meal of freshly caught pescada fish and a few cold beers. I was encouraged to see two 2l bottles of the excellent local El Dorado rum sitting on the table ready for us. We were pretty close to the equator and night fell very quickly as we waited for the big boat to arrive with our luggage. Once the gear arrived and we had installed it into our respective tents we could be properly introduced to the locals.
|Pescada. Dinner on day 1|
Although the people were proper indigenous forest indians they all had wonderful English sounding names. Our guides were Lawrence, Brian, Mark and Raymond and the camp staff consisted of Thelma and her mum Sheila. Thanks to the brilliant British colonial legacy everybody in Guyana speaks English as the main language. It is a form of Caribbean dutty English but with practice one can pick out what people are saying through the thick accent. Thelma had the most beautiful sing song voice and a lovely laugh like a little bird.
|Sheila and Thelma|
|Arapaima in a tank.|
Monday - Arapaima day.
|Local man Dennis and family in their traditional canoe|
|The river is full of large black piranhas like this one.|
That powerful mouth is big enough to bite off at least one of your balls.
|Black piranha jaws|
|Deadly Salmo Slider.|
|First contact - An arapaima estimated at 100lb on|
my lightest lure fishing outfit. It did end in tears.
Unlike other parts of the world, Arapaima’s population in Guyana is healthy, due largely to a local belief or “taboo” that the Arapaima represents an “Oma”, Macushi (a local tribe that inhabits this area) word for “demon” or “evil spirit”, and anyone who consumes its’ meat would become ill. It is also referred to, as the “Mother” of all fish species
Sure enough loud splashes and big swirls betrayed the presence of several large arapaimas in the creek and we began to stalk them. The MO is to find a surfacing fish nearby and then silently paddle up to it in the boat until you are within range to cast a big freelined fish bait at them. Since they move slowly it is often good enough to launch a bait into the spot where you guess it has got to based on its direction of travel when it showed itself. They often grab a bait almost immediately if you land it in front of them or smell the bait and circle back onto it. As well as giving themselves away by surfacing to breathe they also produce little bubbles as they plod around so there really is no hiding place for them.
|small 14/0 circle hook with iPhone 5 for scale|
|A massive arapaima puts a healthy bend in the Daiwa big fish rod,|
|Now you see me now you don't|
|ANOTHER arapaima makes a successful bid for freedom.|
After all my failures it was now getting late so we began the trip downstream to camp hoping to arrive before dark.
We stopped off about an hour from camp for a quick shot at some catfish in a spot Brian knew. This river is home to over 1200 species of catfish but the big three we were hoping for were the redtail catfish, The Jau and the mighty Piraiba.
Jau & redtail go to over 100lb but the piraiba/lau-lau can go well over 400lb and built like a shark with a big flat head. All 3 of these amazon catfish species are athletic hard fighting fish and are much nicer to look at than the nasty big slimy slug-like things you get in Europe. The redtail is often farmed and stocked into those big-fish commercials you get in Thailand.
|Catfish of the week for Dr Dan. A genuine triumph on light tackle.|
The trip down to camp was the most frightening hour of my life. Soon the afterglow of the sunset faded away leaving us in almost pitch darkness with just starlight to go by. Brian was driving a little slower than he does in daylight but it was still terrifying. I sat on the boat seat with my head in my hands as I tried not to think about the consequences of crashing the boat or smashing the propeller. Those consequences being death by drowning/piranha/caiman. If one ended up in the water then drifting along to a rock would be the best hope as the jungle crowds down to the water's edge so thick that it would be very difficult to get out. If you can get out of the water then sleeping out in the jungle is a no-no as you will get nipped by little vampire bats. The blood loss wouldn't kill you but the rabies that they carry probably will.
We'd had a full moon a the night before and I suggested to Brian that we stop and wait for the moon to come up as it was a clear night. Undaunted he carried on and soon the light of the moon rising behind the trees gave us a tiny bit of light to steer by.
At about 7:10 - more than an hour into darkness we came in sight of the camp and there were several torches out on the beach where Steve, Chip and others were looking out for us. Steve helpfully blinded Brian with his high powered torch as we approached.
They had kindly saved dinner for us but I couldn't eat it. I was too tense after the ride down so I opted for chainsmoking and several lovely cold Banks beers for a little while while I calmed down.
It goes down well after a near death experience.
The other two boats had had a decent day fishing. The large luggage boat was transformed into a 3 armchair high speed fishing luxury gin palace with both Raymond and Mark guiding for the Windels while Steve and Chip had fished in Lawrence's small boat with the 15HP outboard.
Melissa had been bagging up and had several species already. I'm trying to get pictures in order by judging sunburn levels. I think the one below would be from the first day or so.
|Melissa with a nice payara.|
Tuesday-Thursday: My luck runs out.
Fishing with 'normal' lures is much easier as you can cast about 5 times as far and cover a lot more water. Peacocks nearly always hit close to 'structure' mainly rock piles. As the day heats up they are usually found in some shade.
|Pavon Prop beaten up by big peacock|
|Dan's skill and patience is suitably rewarded by the capture of|
this lovely peacock bass on the fly.
|ANOTHER good payara for Melissa.|
|Here's a payara caught by Brian. I felt justified in having my photo taken |
with it as I'd just had 5 of the fucking things fall off the hook
|A nice wolf fish caught by flyin' Brian - Not me.|
This was one of the species I had seen on TV and really wanted to catch myself. A strange evil-looking fish with a thick paddle tail not unlike a coelecanth. If you believe the bullshit on River Monsters then these are vicious killers and almost impossible to catch. The second part was true in my case. I did land a small one where Dan handed me the rod with a fish attached as he felt sorry for me and my rotten luck but that was one of only 2 that came in our boat. The better fish was the one in the photo which Brian had on his catfish setup - a lovely rod and Okuma multiplier presented to him by one of the rich Japanese group that had been fishing with the guys a couple weeks previous to our visit. This aymara was about 22lb but they go to more than double that.
Big Catfish - DAINTS *
|A Piraiba like the one I didn't catch|
|Lawrence, Steve & Chip swing by to take the piss out of me|
& have a fish fight.
|22lb Jau catfish|
|'Charity' Jau catfish.|
Dan hooked this on my spare rod and handed it to me to play in.
|Tasty leopard catfish.|
|Tidy 6lb Arowana|
The arowana is also known as the monkey fish and will be familiar to viewers of nature documentaries. It is the one that you see in slow motion launching itself 3 or 4 feet into the air and snatching bugs off of high branches. This power and acrobatic ability was evident in the fight of this one I caught as it went airborne a couple of times.
|Cheeky Bicuda on the fly for Dan.|
On the last day as we were catfishing over a very deep hole eagle-eared Mark heard a quiet plop and turned quickly with a shout to Brian at the back of the boat pointing downwards. Brian plunged his whole arm down as far as he could and just grabbed the tip of my Bushwacker/Rarenium main spinning outfit as it sank to the bottom after he'd accidentally knocked it off the boat.
I've just related how I got on with the fishing over the middle of the week but a an experience like this is about more than just fishing. I love taking in the whole fascinating strangeness of the place itself the whole time I am there.
As well as the thousands of strange fish species the jungle was full of wildlife. We didn't see many mammals as there not many places for them to get down to the water but there were beautiful birds from eagles, macaws and a strange prehistoric looking long necked bird that the lads called a 'duck' down to kingfishers. As we shot past a fallen tree in the boat a flock(?) of small bats would be disturbed and come swarming out. The South American caimans are another potential threat.
They are a smaller version of the alligator but still grow to 10 feet or so and are very common. On the beach at camp you could shine a torch out most nights and see up to 7 pairs of eyes as caimans lurked close by.
There were annoying but harmless little wasps which like to congregate on ones breakfast but we did not have much trouble with bugs and other pests because we did not venture into the jungle proper and the camp was kept clear of them.
Fascinating though it is, I was not tempted to go poking around the forest as I'd seen a Bear Grylls Escape from hell program not long before leaving England where 2 french guys very nearly died when a 6 day hike turned into a 40 day survival hell in French Guyana. On the same programme was this guy from Bolton
who got dangerously lost for 5 days on a stroll in the jungle behind his hotel in Malaysia and had to text his missus and worry her sick.
|"I wasn't terrified at this point |
but I wasn't best pleased,''
|Brian & Dan have a post lunch kip on the boat cushions at the jungle's edge.|
there were only 2 cushions so I went for a swim with the piranhas
After breakfast everyone would go fishing leaving the ladies to do the daily laundry and keep the camp shipshape. Mid-week I found a Union Flag in my luggage and left it out on the rustic rod-rack on the beach for a laugh. I came back depressed from a day of long-range-catch & release only to have my heart lifted by the magical sight of the flag of our great nation flying proudly from a pole on the beach. Thelma had raised the flag the right way up to inspire Steve and myself representing England. I realised that I loved Thelma when she handed me a small turtle to pose for this picture.
|Releasing fish for Queen & country.|
Evenings at camp were pleasant too and generally followed the format I was accustomed to when fishing abroad. Night would fall very quickly around 7 and the boats would usually arrive back at base shortly before this. Dinner was always ready so we would all sit down with some beer and dinner and relate our fishing exploits to each other. I've never spent a week with mainly Americans for company apart from in America. I liked them. Chip was an old hand at South American peacock fishing having fished with Steve before on previous trips. Keevin & Marlene Windel had been very generously brought on holiday out there by Melissa who was making good money working on a large offshore oil production platform. Keevin looked and sounded ace as he had a real heavy Oklahoma accent and a father Christmas beard (seen in the background of the photo above). Marlene and he had been in the United States Air Force together on C130 planes and had been all over the known world. I got a bit of a schoolboy thrill to learn Keevin had even been navigator on the terrifying AC-130 gunships.
After a couple of days we found we were (almost) out of toilet paper and the beer looked unlikely to last the week. Steve takes a satellite phone on these remote trips out of mobile range and was soon having a go at Navin to get more supplies sent up from Kurupukari. Brian was to race down around dark and then come back early in the morning with the supplies in time to take Dan & I fishing. Without much hope I asked Brian to see if he could find out the test match score back in the village somehow. Next morning as we were about to have breakfast we heard the boat coming back and were pleased to see both Brian and several crates of beer plus the essential toilet paper. I was all for going Indian style and washing the batty with water but it wasn't fair to expect ladies to put up with these sort of third world toilet practices.
Over breakfast Brian wandered up to me and pressed a small piece of folded up envelope into my hand. On it was written pretty good summary of the test match standing. Amazing what is possible even after 60 years of independence. ;) However I think something was missed or I misinterpreted it as I felt quite positive. After coming out of the jungle something did not add up as I got the full score from a lady at Kurupukari and England had been horribly thrashed
We were not the only people living along the river. About 30 mins upstream there was a family of Indians led by the patriarch 'Dennis'. We often picked up mobile phones to charge up at the camp and one time picked up one of the guys with a bag of dried pacu to stay at the camp and head downriver with Lawrence.
|I love the serious-looking little guy on the left.|
Return to beyond the valley of the ArapaimaFriday was when those of us who had missed out on catching arapaima went back for another bite of the cherry. I had failed because they came off. Dan was now dead keen on getting one and Chip had missed out when Steve got 2 on their day up at arapaima city. Melissa and Mum & Dad had all scored an arapaima each.
|Melissa gets a good arapaima.|
Previously there was quite a bit of debate among the guides as to who was to go up with us but this was eventually settled amicably. Brian was to be captain with Mark as mate on the big boat that the Windels had been using. Melissa was to go after peacocks with Steve & Lawrence and Keevin & Marlene would go with Raymond in Brian's boat.
The big boat was super comfortable with 3 camping chairs for us anglers with Mark on the bow and Brian driving. With 50hp on it was fast too. The plan was for us to put both my rods out and Chip's heavy setup too. Like big game fishing we had pre-arranged for us to take it in turn to have whichever rod produced a bite - me first followed by Chip & then Dan.
Stopping to catch some bait on the way up we arrived up at the big 'lake' at around 9:30am. It was dead. We hardly saw any arapaimas surfacing. All of us had seen loads when previously there so we figured that it was perhaps too early for them as we always got there after 11. Lying in late fits the MO of these big lazy fish. We paddled around the whole backwater right into the corners but hardly saw a fish to aim at. The few that we did see we pursued but without any luck.
Around 10:30-11:00 it seemed to liven up a bit with more fish making themselves evident and, after another slow-motion chase, we got all 3 peacock chunks cast out around where a fish had recently shown itself.
After 5 mins or so my big rod went off and i picked up and quickly wound into a fish after it took a couple feet of line. Experience had taught me not to get too excited but it seemed to be well attached to the hook and went on a couple short runs against the drag before I sensed it coming up for the breath and head-shake.
|I finally land an unconscious arapaima|
If I seem a little undemonstrative about catching the fish of a lifetime it is because something happened not long afterwards that was just incredible.
It was a fun day out in the boat with Chip aboard. He's funny and has a fair bit of S American fishing experience so is interesting to talk to and learn stuff from.
It was getting to mid-day so we headed toward an overhanging tree to take shelter from the sun for lunch. On the way in we lowered a couple of baits into the centre of the channel and paid out line until we were moored up so we could have a chance of a passing fish picking one up.
|Eating lunch in the shade before the peace is shattered|
Dan filmed most of what followed with Chip's camera and the fight is immortalised in the second half of the Youtube video coming up next. There was a hairy moment several minutes into the fight when Chip felt it all go solid as the line was going straight down by the side of the boat and he suspected a snag. Meanwhile I saw a HUGE fish surface and head left to right some 20 feet away. I was seeing Chip's fish for the first time and it looked 7 foot long and gold with deep red edges to the scales. The line angles indicated a nasty snag had caught the line and would have parted it had not Brian felt down with the paddle to find only about 4 feet of water under us. Mark dived straight in like a kingfisher and freed the line in a second leaving chip to take up the slack and we were off again.
Minutes later we could all tell that the fish was coming up for a headshake as it stopped running. Dan tried to get me to get out of shot and I just about managed it when the vast fish reared up out of the water and shook revealing a massive head and a girth like a pony. Spin the youtube video through to 16:00 to see the most shocking sight I have ever seen while out fishing. As I saw that fish I forgot I'd even caught one an hour previously as it was about 1/4 the size of the thing on Chip's dangerously frayed line. Notice in the video how I realise things have got serious and pack the garden furniture away at this point. This was a truly enormous fish. Cutting a long story short we eventually got ourselves onto a few flat rocks so that Chip could conclude playing the fish and then get some photos. Several times it looked like the arapaima was beaten but it took off again and again - even throwing all of its huge body out of the water. Arapaimas seem to have tremendous strength in short bursts but no stamina. Perhaps the rather inefficient method of obtaining oxygen means they can't sustain the effort for long without a breath. At one point Mark was trying to get the thing under control by straddling it but it took off and he rode it in like a rhinestone cowboy.
|Mark & Brian get a rope around Chip's dinosaur|
Those watching the video might think that Chip looks a bit awkward (like that sac Robson Greene) playing the fish but it is because he was using my setup and, for reasons best known to themselves, Americans usually put the reel handle on the the wrong (i.e the right hand) side. It's one of angling's mysteries. There really is no good reason to do this at all and nobody can explain why they do it. I showed up how daft it was when Dan was trying to operate a spook topwater lure and couldn't get it walking the dog. I offered to demonstrate the way but found I couldn't because I couldn't wind the handle as it was on my rod-hand side. I turned the reel upside down and wound the handle backwards and a peacock hit the lure immediately as soon as it started swimming as designed. I rest my case. Europe 1 - USA 0. (oh dear. I am turning into the thing I hate the most - Robson Greene)
The rest of the day was spent trying to get the boat hat-trick for Dan. We left the big backwater where all the action had come and motored round and up into a very narrow creek where i saw my first and only giant otter. The forest overhanging the creek it made the whole thing more exciting and oppressive and there were certainly arapaimas in there as the gulping and bubbles betrayed. Eventually the big rod in my hand registered a huge slow pull as the bait was taken. I tried to pass it to Dan so he could do the whole thing but he told me to strike it which I duly did. Big mistake. The fish was on for around 6 or 7 seconds before the hook flew out.
This was Steve's last night with us and he seemed determined that there would be no rum left in the camp when he left early next morning with Lawrence. Terrifying measures sent the drinking anglers to a different level. I ran into Chip on the beach as I was turning in and I was incapable of forming sentences and some words.
My arapaima goes 185.The final day of fishing dawned and we still had to get Dan his arapaima. As his long-suffering boat partner I had to see it through and go arapaima fishing again. Lawrence had boated Steve down at first light. We were a boat short so Chip was going to have a lie-in at camp watching his video of his giant fish (and touching himself). The idea was for him to fish in the afternoon but Lawrence came a cropper down at the village and couldn't come back with the boat.
Dan, Mark, Capt Brian and myself tore up to the arapaima creeks rapidly in Brian's speed boat. A fun peacock bass session among the big rocks provided us with what we thought would be enough bait for a quick session on arapaimas. Again the format was both of my heavy rods cast out and Dan gets whichever one picks up.
I have described the arapaima fishing process and this was more of the same. Creeping silently around in the boat casting after showing fish. We would quietly drop anchor after casting. The 'anchor' being a crankshaft out of some long dead piece of machinery (see photo above). It wasn't long before we had a pick up and Dan took the rod and set the hook like a pro. The arapaima he'd hooked was not going to give up easily and took as all over the place in the boat. Eventually the fish surfaced close to the bank but the angles of the line were all wrong - indicating that the line was under a snag between us and the fish. All the while flashes of silver under the water showed we had a very large shoal of small piranhas all around us. There was much to-do between Brian and Mark as they tried their damndest to work out a way to get the line out. It was too deep to swim down as Mark found out by trying. They managed to gather quite a lot of line with a view to cutting out and reattaching the ends but it was very difficult to get much from the end with the giant fish on. I think the fish got itself into yet another snag as well but the upshot was that we lost the fish with the wire trace breaking where it must have kinked round an obstacle. Dan is too much of a gentleman to curse like me but we all could have forgiven him a bit of a swear.
Brian was not happy with the wire breaking and he and Mark fashioned a flexible trace made of several lengths of very heavy braid from Brian's reel braided together into a rope. We continued fishing,seeing the arapaima activity increase again as the temperature rose towards midday. Finally another pickup and Dan is in again. It wasn't a huge one but he eventually landed a light gold arapaima with nice pale salmon pink scale edges. I don't seem to have a picture of it but it was a nice little one about the same size as the one I had caught the day before. I don't have a picture of it but I did pick up one of the golden scales that got knocked off it and it is still in my pike bag as a souvenir..
Mission accomplished it was time to exit the lagoon to get out for some payara fun we had planned. As we paddled out more arapiamas were showing all over the place. It seemed silly to not have a quick shot at them so I cast a nice big peacock steak out over the front of a big one that showed close by and a couple minutes later I wound into yet another monstrous fish.
Dan shot much of the fight on my camera so you can watch the first part from moments after the bait was taken in the following video.
The fight was pretty epic and I retracted the previous days observation that 'they fight a bit like a bream'. This time I was on a larger and fully conscious one which stayed pretty deep to begin with and didn't go in for much of the head shaking seen from other specimens during the week. I gave thanks for my luck in obtaining the Daiwa bigfish catching rod which again let me cast a long way to the fish and then did everything you ask of a big fish rod in subduing two very large fish.
The second part of the video (all unedited I'm afraid) is next. in part 2 we see the fun part when the arapaima is brought into shallow water to try and beach it for a photo.
Getting a massive river monster to participate in a photo is easier said than done and weighing one is impossible. Once the lads had chased it down & got a good hold of the beast Mark and I posed for this picture.
|Heaps gets his big arapaima.|
With this fish I could feel that the trip was truly a success. We don't know the weight of the creature but the guides guessed 200lb I'd say less. It was nowhere near the size of the one Chip got but I caught a wild fish that was heavier than me and that's something not many freshwater anglers can say - especially fat ones.
The River Tiger.
|The pool haunted by the River Tiger|
'What just happened and what is river tiger?' I asked the lads.
'It' a monster.' said Brian.
They didn't tell me much more than that and Dan was of the opinion that it was nonsense but it did give me a bit of a thrill. That dinnertime back at camp all the guides and Thelma & Sheila were together and I went in to ask them about river tiger. Raymond told me that it has the head of a tiger and the body of a snake and it eats people. Brian had heard the same noise in that place a week or so previously with the Japanese guests and one of the others had heard it elsewhere.
As I stood shaving chest deep in the river later that night Thelma said 'aint you scared of the crocodiles?'.
I said 'no I'm more scared of the river tiger now.'
'It' a baad Demon an it come out and eat you.'
Even later that night (drunk) I got spooked as I sat having a relaxing cigarette and cold can of Banks on one of the picnic chairs by the water's edge. Even though the tiger head demon was obviously some local superstition, the sound and the bubbles were very strange. Something was happening down below. It would not seem that far-fetched to me for there to be large undiscovered creatures/fish in unspoilt parts of the planet such as this that, due to their habits or diet, might never been caught & identified by human beings.
Next morning we had a swift breakfast and all piled in to only 2 boats with the luggage weighing down the big boat such that we had to proceed with great caution through the rapids on the way down to Kurupukari. The helmsman's face shows white through the wheelhouse.
Navin had not yet arrived so we bought some drinks and snacks at the shop there while I inquired as to the state of the first test match. The shop guy blasted off some commands to a lady there and she disappeared inside - emerging minutes later with the full scores on the LCD screen of her old-skool Nokia phone. Bad news from the penal colony. England had been blown away and went on to be utterly dismantled by a great, gutsy hostile performance such as we'd all forgotten the Australians were capable of.
Navin arrived in a smaller minibus the size of those used as local buses up and down the long red road from the coast. It was not as spacious as the magic bus but Navin managed to take about 2 hours off the time the other way and arrive near Georgetown a few minutes to late to miss the turnout of the big motor racing event. It looked like everybody with a car in Georgetown had attended the race as there was utter mayhem on the road past the track with 4WD trucks going 3 or 4 abreast driving round the queueing traffic. Navin dealt with the jam brilliantly by cutting through a carpark and someone's garden to bypass an inconveniently sited police drink-drive roadblock. Lots of people had been drinking and driving. It was dark and we were all shattered and covered in a thick layer of red dust when we were finally delivered to the SleepInn international hotel. We had stayed in the annexe/guesthouse of this hotel on the way in and this place had a nice pool and bar (with prostitutes) and decent rooms with air conditioning. Chip, Dan and I were on an early morning flight out of Georgetown so Chip and I joined the Windels for a light dinner and a couple beers before turning in early.
It was a very early start and a long flight home for me. I was on a plane with Dan as far as JFK. It was an uneventful but long journey back to Heathrow. With a schoolboy error I was relieved of my 1l bottle of 12 year old Demerera rum at JFK when I forgot to transfer it to my checked in luggage.
In the jet lagged couple of days off work I had after arriving back home I reflected on the trip. I had been slightly apprehensive about being the only non-USA angler on the trip but, as usual, the people I met on the trip turned out to be great company. Chip's just emailed me & he's very kindly sending me a cool lucite display case he's made for my trophy arapaima scale (taken from his big one because I forgot to get one from mine). Dan, who I spent most time with, was a really great guy and a real pleasure to be in a boat lost in the jungle with. While my actual fishing was plagued with bad luck such as I've never known, I still had an unforgettable adventure in a magical place that I'd always wanted to experience. Steve Townson was also great company and helped us all out with first class fishing knowledge. If you want to experience some of the best fishing in the world in South America you will not go wrong with Steve at www.amazon-angler.com.
Navin, Oma, Brian, Mark and the whole crew at the camp were excellent in every department and it was my pleasure to meet and spend time with all of them. I would certainly return to Guyana fishing as I still have a lot of unfinished business with big scary fish.
Thanks for reading. I'll write something else when I actually manage to go fishing and catch something.
* daints definition