Upon landing in Lethem, our guides Terry, Blacks, and Jules greeted us with a few beverages before we hopped on Jules’ minibus and took off towards the river. Along the three hour drive, we made a quick stop for lunch at the Oasis Café where we had a moment to indulge in some fantastic local cuisine and catch up. We arrived at the staging area on the Rupanini river just after 2pm, and embarked on our adventure upriver to our basecamp. The boat ride upriver usually takes around six hours, but due to low water conditions, this year it took a little longer. The good news was that the lower water levels meant better the fishing! By 7:30 p.m. the sky was already filled with stars and we still had a dicey stretch of river to cover.
It’s late January 2018,
I’m staring out of the window of our 10 person propeller plane, flying over hundreds of miles of virgin jungle. With a busted up ankle wrapped as tight as a mummy, my mind races as I mentally prepare myself for the upcoming battle. My foe: a 350lb scaled torpedo that has been known to drive anglers to the brink of their sanity.
is a magnificent country and I felt beyond excited to return to its deep jungle interior for another adventure.
Using starlight and his super-human Amerindian night vision, Terry managed to navigate our overloaded 23’ riverboat to our campsite. We hit a few logs and sandbars along the way and each shook the boat as if it were about to tip into the piranha infested waters. In all honesty, it was a pretty terrifying experience, nevertheless we made it. After our dinner and some sips of rum, we were ready to sleep.
The next morning
we decided to warm up our casting on arowana.
Targeting arowana on the fly is a blast. It involves drifting over shallow flats and around river bends, looking for fish cruising just inches below the surface. As we approached a back eddie, Terry caught sight of a pair of arowana swimming tight along the river bank. I landed my jungle muddler about a foot in front of the larger fish, and WAMMY! The second the fly hit the water, it was demolished! The fight did not last very long, but it was intense, consisting of lighting quick bursts, and five or six acrobatic leaps. Although arowana taste great, this fish was a bit too big to kill and after taking photos, we released it. Just minutes later, I hooked an even larger arowana. Unfortunately after a short struggle, the fish bust my line, leaving me dumbfounded. I never would have expected one of these guys to pop 20lb fluoro, but it happened. We finished off the morning boating a half dozen good sized fish before moving on to our hunt for arapaima.
On day two we tried our luck in a spot known as Bamboo Pond.
We started the morning casting to three large arapaima we spotted rolling in a channel near the back of the pond.
After a few hours of placing cast after cast across the channel, our confidence started to fade. The fish were hanging in nearly 12ft of muddy water, making the odds of one seeing our fly slim. On the upside, Bamboo Pond has a great spot for lunch and was full of nice sized peacock bass. Within 40 minutes we caught lunch as well as several extra fish for the boys to bring back for dinner.
For those who do not know, peacock bass is a delicious, sweet fish and it was our lunch for most of our trip. My two biggest peacocks of the day were around 8lbs (released), and Jules managed to land a decent sized wolfish. We cooked our catch amerindian style over an open fire with a pinch of chili salt, known locally as Devil’s Dust.
Our sixth day was absolutely phenomenal.
Getting off to a late start, Terry, Blacks, and I trekked through the jungle to a grass-lined swamp that led to a pond.
Right away you could tell that this place was special. The pond was full of life; baitfish splashed everywhere, birds were chirping, and multiple arapaima could be spotted rolling right from the bank. Its topography was quite literally perfect for fly fishing: shallow, but long enough to fish one end without spooking the fish on the far end. Within minutes we were casting to rising arapaima. The day started well with few eats but no solid hookups, and as morning turned to afternoon, we decided to fish the grass lined shoreline hoping to catch a few peacocks for lunch. As we worked the shoreline, Terry suddenly noticed two fish heading towards the boat. I immediately switched back to my 12-weight and put a cast directly between them. As I stripped the fly past the first fish, I felt a massive tug on the line. I pulled in the slack and slammed five solid two-handed full body strip sets, and the fish took off. I was hooked to a ~150lbs female arapaima with a brilliant red tail. After a 10 minute struggle, she went for a jump and the hook pulled. For a few seconds I was devastated, screaming at the fish gods, trying my best not to lose control and snap the rod across my knee. I turned to say something to Terry and there it was — right by the grass covered shoreline — an absolute behemoth was slowly surfacing.
Wasting no time I tightened my fly line
and water hauled my twister tailed ep popsicle into the air.
With one false cast to gain control, I backcast to the green submarine 60’ behind my right shoulder. Teeth clenched, I watched as my fly landed six inches in front of the fish’s nose. I honestly can not remember if I even stripped it, but the “take” was epic. I gripped the fly line as hard as I could and set the hook like a mother@#$%er.
For the first 5 minutes,
the fish followed us around not realizing it had been hooked; until, suddenly all hell broke loose!
The arapaima began running, jumping, and pulling the small 10-foot duck boat around like it was a scene out of a cartoon. After an intense 15 minute battle, I was able to get some line in, and tightened up the drag as Terry positioned the boat so that we could fight him from the shallows. Four or five jumps later, the fish began to tire, and Terry dove headfirst into the water. I waited as ten long seconds passed before he surfaced holding the pectoral fins of what was the biggest fish I have ever caught. We took a couple of pictures and then walked the fish over to a cleaner portion of the pond to let him recover. Terry estimated that fish weighed in at 380lbs. All I know is that it was nearly a foot longer than our 10’ boat, and I could barely touch fingers when I was positioning the fish for the photos. While far from the longest, Terry claims this was the fattest arapaima he had ever seen.