Payara In The Colombia Jungles

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By Pat Ford

If you want to catch an exotic, menacing, long fanged creature, you have to travel to where those creatures live.  In my case, I always wanted to catch a PAYARA which only lives in the Amazon Jungle rivers.  Javier Guevara of ecuadorflyfishingtours.com set some friends and myself up with a trip to Tucunare Lodge on the Vichada River in Columbia.  The Vichada flows into the Orinoco River which flows past the town of Inirida.  We had flown into Bogata where we spent the night, then flew to Inirida where we hopped on a 15 seat river taxi which ran us upstream some 107 miles to the Lodge.

The Lodge was founded by Alejandro Diaz who entered into an agreement with the natives to form the first sustainable tourism operation in Columbia.  The natives literally built the lodge out of local woods.  It is in the middle of the Sikuani community and consists of a number of cabins with thatched roofs, wood floors, a bathroom with a shower that is basically a hose spouting filtered river water.  The beds are not as bad as you would expect and the mosquito netting was excellent.  There was no air conditioning, but the temperature dropped quickly once the sun went down and the fans kept you comfortable.  They did laundry every day which was a plus.  The food was adequate and at times excellent. 

The daily plan was to fish for payara from dawn until around 9 am, then maneuver thru one of the tiny creeks into the lagoons that held peacock bass up to 20 lbs.  At noon two boats would meet for lunch, the guides would put up hammocks in the shade and everyone would take a siesta until 2 pm.   After that we’d fish out way out of the lagoons and around 4 pm run back to the payara waters. 

As expected the mid-day temperature reached 100 degrees and the bugs came out.  I don’t think I ever saw a mosquito but there was some form of ‘no-see-em on steroids that attacked any open area of skin it could crawl into.  One of our guys wore shorts one day and his legs looked like he had chicken pox by noon.  The rule was dress in flats fishing clothes – long pants, long sleeves, gloves, sun masks, hat and even socks….don’t leave one square inch of skin exposed or they will find it.  Insect repellant and ‘after-bite’ were necessities.  Fortunately the bugs left with the sun and the evenings at the lodge were fine.

The peacock bass fishing consisted of casting to the lagoon shore lines with a 325 grain sinking fly line.  The fish didn’t hang out along the shore like they do in Brazil…most of the strikes came when the fly was halfway between the shore and the boat.  My group probably caught 20 peacocks over 15 lbs and several in the 20 lb range, but I was after payara.

After a week of chasing them, I have decided that payara are very difficult to catch on anything much less fly tackle.  They like current, rocks and debis along shorelines so 425 grain sinking fly lines were needed.  Their dental array is the stuff nightmares are made from.  They eat big fish so you need big flies.  Big flies are not only hard to cast but the massive amount of fish hair tangles in the payara’s teeth and prevents the fly from moving when you try to set the hook.  Their jaws are super powerful and hard so most of the flies have double hooks, hoping one will find a soft spot.  Most of us used a two hand retrieve, like we do for tarpon but even that didn’t assure a solid hook-up.  I lost over a dozen payara on fly, but I did catch 6 nice ones on plug tackle.

Even if you’re a fanatical fly fisherman, I highly recommend bringing a heavy plug or spin rod rigged with 30 lb braid on any jungle adventure.  I can cover a lot more water a lot faster with a plug than I can with a fly and one of the first hurdles in catching a payara was finding them.  They are predators of the highest degree and move constantly in search of prey, which is constantly moving to get away from predators.  We found a hole one evening and I had close to 20 strike on plugs and landed 5.  Spectacular fish – just not easy ones.

Visiting the Colombia Jungles is an amazing experience, but you always have to keep in mind that you are going into a JUNGLE!!!  Be prepared with the right clothes, tackle and attitude. 

For more info on Tucunare Lodge check out ecuadorflyfishingtours.com

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