October 15, 2019
By Larry D. Larsen
It’s onalmost every angler’s bucket list, a trip to the world’s largest freshwater “fishing hole,” the Amazon River Basin, to catch the world’s most awesome gamefish, the peacock bass. While there are peacocks closer—South Florida, Puerto Rico and even Hawaii—the grandest of the 15 species of peacock bass are native to this basin. That’s where the three-bar speckled peacock (Cichla temensis), which grow to about 30 pounds in small blackwater lagoons, hang out.
The Basin spreads across five South American countries, contains one-third of the world’s remaining rainforest and drains an area two-thirds the size of the United States. In Brazil alone, the 4,000-mile river with more than 7,000 tributaries encompasses 75 percent of the country geographically. Brazil has eleven major tributaries that are all larger than the Mississippi River, so knowing which ones have the best peacock bass fishing is vital for a successful trip.
The Dry Season
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the Amazon Basin more than 60 times, and the Rio Negro and its tributaries stand out as the most productive for giant peacock bass. I’ve caught most of my 33 peacock bass weighing more than 20 pounds from this “blackwater” river system. Its tributaries and lagoons get their tannin-stained colors from acids leeched from rainforest litter. In normal conditions, larger peacock bass haunt the relatively remote lagoons, lakes and coves off the river channels during the prime dry season.
Fishing is markedly better in the dry, low-water “season,” which extends from about September through February in the central Amazon Basin. On my most recent trip in February, six other anglers and I had another memorable trip chasing the monster peacocks. While my largest that week was “only” 18 pounds, two of our group’s fishermen caught beautiful 20-pounders on the very last day.
We fished all around the Rio Negro’s Anavilhanas Archipelago, an area of about 400 islands that at low water reveals white sand beaches and canals intersecting the region like a mesh. Our mothership, the Anglers Inn Amazon I, is a 113-foot, four-story luxury yacht that provided comfort, great dining and service when we were not out fighting giant fish. Each day, we jumped in bass boats and threw a variety of baits, including big topwater lures that draw such memorable explosions from the giants.
Understand the Peacock
I have always focused on catching monster peacocks, and the 5½- to 7-inch-long tail-spinner plugs, like Poe’s Timber Turbine, are consistently more effective on them. Sure, the giants will slam a jig, a fly, a minnowbait, a spoon and a Sebile Magic Swimmer soft bait, but the 18-pounder on my recent trip and several of my 20s over the years were fooled by the 6½-inch green perch Timber Turbine.
A peacock bass exploding on a topwater plug, jumping skyward multiple times, then powering away and pulling drag you thought was overly tight is unlike any other fish. They are truly addictive, even to hard-core freshwater and saltwater anglers. This fish takes delight in destroying tackle and doing crazy stuff like no other. The giant peacocks are not ambush predators; they are a very territorial species. They roam an area of perhaps 100 to 200 yards in each direction and will attack anything disturbing their peace and quiet, whether they are feeding or not.
The peacock is a thug with a killer instinct, but it is also very social. They school with others similar in size throughout their life. In their early years, they often feed with dozens of buddies; I’ve seen schools of 2- to 5-pounders as large as 200 fish. As they grow, their schools become smaller, but even a giant that might be 12to 14 years old will still have company. The largest “double” that I’ve seen caught had a combined weight of 44½ pounds. My fish weighed 25 pounds and my partner’s 19½ pounder was hooked in the same small lagoon pocket about 15 seconds later. Our guide netted them both at the same time!
Welcome to the Mecca
This peacock bass mecca is an exotic locale with plenty to see. Jaguars, anaconda and other menacing demons of the dark creep across the jungle floor in search of their nightly meal. I have seen them in the daytime though, plus sloth, tapir, ocelot, anteaters and deer. More commonly seen on many trips are manatees, capybara, otters, caiman and alligators, and tribes of monkeys, including the noisy howlers. The flight pattern above often consists of macaws, ducks, green parrots, hawks, herons, kingfishers and toucans.
In the waters with peacock bass and frequently seen from the boat are freshwater stingrays, which can be dangerous to waders. Gray and the larger pink (called boto) freshwater porpoises are frequent visitors along most rivers and open lagoon areas. There are 3,000 species of fish, about one-third of the world’s total, in the Amazon. Most have either offensive weapons such as needle-sharp teeth, poison or pointed spines, or they possess superior maneuverability and/or speed.
You can find a big variety of fish in the rivers and lagoons including aruana (arawana), pescada, pacu, matrincha, corvina, lure-striking catfish and piranha. There are 35 species of piranha including the silver and the black, the two most common types caught in the Rio Negro.
The gateway to this amazing fishery is Manaus, Brazil, a city of almost 2 million people that lies on the shores of the Rio Negro. Direct flights from Miami will get you to the action, but sportfishing in the Amazon cannot be a spontaneous pursuit.
There are no marinas or boat rental places in the better fishing areas. You must book through a fishing tour organization, like Billy Chapman’s Anglers Inn International. Billy has vast experience in the Amazon and can be contacted at anglersinn.com. Another great source of peacock bass fishing information is peacockbassassociation.com.