Brazilian Peacock Bass Action

by Larry Larsen

Great fishing exists in the remote reaches of Brazil.

In Brazil, the peacock bass, or tucunare, is found only in the Amazon Basin, but that takes up, geographically, probably 75 percent of the country. Fortunately, the Amazon Basin, which basically parallels the equator over its length, is not the most populous part of the country. Tributaries pour in from remote reaches north and south, but the Amazon Basin is not just wilderness.

Author with a lovely Peacock Bass.

PHOTO: LARRY LARSEN

The population centers of Manaus, located about 1,000 miles inland, and Belem (each with over one million people) offer resort hotels and, unfortunately, intensive commercial fishing for peacock bass that takes a toll on the fishery. The facts are that for productive angling, you have to fish at least two hours by boat away from areas worked by the commercial fishermen. Local subsistence fishing seems to have little impact.

The Amazon Basin includes the states of Mato Grosso, Amazones, Para (which is the state that I fished), Tocantins, Goias and a couple of smaller ones. Brazil has 26 states, most of which offer some great fishing opportunities, but fishing many of them away from the populated southeast coast is difficult logistically. In remote parts of Brazil, there is little in the way of infrastructure.

The huge Tucurui Reservoir and Dam backing up the Tocantins River and the Araguaia River is about 200 miles south, southwest of Belem. Most fishing operations base themselves out of the town of Tucurui in the state of Para, but with the aid of a riverboat have access to the upper end of the lake.

This is a huge power-generating reservoir, very much like Guri Lake in Venezuela. There are a lot of residents in this area, however. When they built the dam, migrants came in from all over the northeast which is the driest, most impoverished part of Brazil. When the dam across the Tocantins River was finished, the need for a work force diminished and a lot of people simply stuck around. The unemployed work force at Tucurui had no place to go, so the people try to eke out a subsistence.

As a result, there is considerable commercial fishing around the Tucurui dam. To get to the good peacock fishing, you have to boat 10 or 15 miles farther up the 100-mile long reservoir. The fishing there can be very good for numbers of peacock and for some giant peacocks, according to the Walkers who run the Amazon Mission Organization.

Richard, Boyd and Winston Walker have been doing missionary work in the basin for more than 20 years and have recently begun operating peacock bass trips. They are intimately familiar with the fishing resources throughout the entire Amazon watershed and have selected the upper end of Lake Tucurui and its headwaters, the Rio Araguaia and Rio Tocantins, as one of two prime Brazilian spots on which to focus. They have taken peacocks to 16 pounds from those waters, as well as huge payara (primarily below the Tucurui dam).

They utilize a riverboat based out of the village of Maraba (at the upper end of the reservoir) to make excursions upstream. Guided fishing is from 16-foot aluminum boats with 25 to 45 hp outboards and swivel seats. May through October are the prime fishing months in this region and the typical itinerary covers eight or nine days.

Westward Along The Amazon

The fishing along the Amazon Basin within a 200-mile radius of Santarem is generally good, but you have to get off the big rivers and into the small lagoons to find it; the peacocks don't hang out in the fast moving water. The Tapajos River south of Santarem is an area that currently offers poor fishing due to mercury poisoning. There are many lakes in the Obidos and Oriximina region, however, that reportedly have very good fishing.

A few fishing tour promoters offer programs in the Amazon farther upstream, past Manaus off the huge Rio Negro stem of the Amazon. Some tour operators have explored tributaries north of Barcelos (off the Rio Negro). Others have looked at another area southwest of Manaus, which encompasses the tributaries of the Negro River and the Solimoes River and their lagoons. Operation competition is good for all, most Brazilians believe, because it helps the Amazon Basin to become known as a peacock destination.

Another peacock place of importance is the Guapore River, located on the border of Bolivia in the Brazilian state of Rondonia. There is a lodge at Pinateras and flights into the town of Delinia. The problem for travelers from the states is that the only access is from southern Brazil, a long distance from Miami. The peacock bass fishing is reported very good, but you have to run a long distance to fish the best spots. The fishing there for payara is also good, particularly around the river's rapids.

Uatuma River Offerings

The Uatuma River, a tributary of the mighty Amazon and Rio Negro rivers in the Manaus region, is now one of the hotbeds of peacock activity in Brazil. It lies about half way between Santarem and Manaus and offers miles of clean, white sandy beaches and islands during the dry season. It also offers huge peacock bass. Walker's Amazon Mission Organization offers packages to this area from September to mid-December. They utilize a houseboat for maximum flexibility and area coverage.

The rainy season here, starting in December, changes the terrain and the fishing. Water levels rise some 25 to 40 feet, normally cresting in June. A month or two later, much lower rivers in the area offer excellent peacock fishing once again. In fact, the low-water period of September may provide the best fishing of the year. By then, waters are clear, and the best fishing generally lasts through October. "Generally," being the key word. Weather patterns do change, and the peak season can be later, or sporadic during the summer and fall.

There are numerous 15 to 20 pound fish in the Uatuma and quite possibly one that could oust the current IGFA all-tackle world record peacock of 26 pounds, 8 ounces. Some monsters weighing nearly 25 pounds have been reported. There are reports of even larger peacocks in the area, according to Dr. Gilberto Fernandes, an IGFA representative in Manaus. He has reportedly weighed peacocks of nearly 30 pounds and has seen even larger commercially-caught fish.

The Walker's Uatuma fishing package also includes the Jatapu River and the upper Balbina Lake, which is located on the Uatuma River. Fishing pressure on the Balbina is nil, according to Dick Ballard who has explored the area with the Walkers. He has seen peacocks up to 20 pounds taken from the reservoir. The Jatapu, a tributary of the Uatuma/Amazon, yielded a 8-pound line class IGFA record in September of 1992. The fish caught by Fernandes weighed 20 pounds, 3 ounces.

Mato Grosso Operations

There are excellent peacock waters all over the northern half of Brazil, and those far up (south) the Araguaia are no exception. Bananal Island is the largest river island in the world formed by the surrounding waters of the east and west branches of the Araguaia River.

The best fishing times in the southern region of the Amazon Basin of Brazil are influenced by a seasonal rain pattern and water level variations, which is quite different from the watershed in the mid or northern parts of the Amazon Basin. Prime fishing months are from the latter part of April until the first of December each year. In the upper and mid Amazon areas, where dozens of major tributaries feed the huge river, the best fishing season is normally from September until mid-December.

Near the confluence of the Araguaia River and Rio Das Mortes River, there are several lakes which offer large numbers of peacock bass, but trophies over 12 pounds are scarce, according to Hayes. A number of the lakes near the lodge can be reached in 20 minutes to one hour. Some excellent land-locked lakes are also within a short walking distance of the river channels. In the upper lakes area there is excellent peacock bass fishing both in terms of numbers and size.

The Rio Das Mortes

The Rio Das Mortes offers several lagoons, lakes and waterways where two partners in a boat can catch 100 peacocks a day and have a chance at bigger fish. There are also two good lakes within the lodge property, which can be reached by jeep in a few minutes. Fishing from the sandy beaches of land-locked lakes offers an interesting change of pace.

For the "explorers", a houseboat provides live-aboard accommodations while moving about fishing areas in the mid-river locations during the low water period of the fishing season, from mid-July onward. As the river drops in level, the houseboat can only navigate upstream a shorter distance. However, it is still possible to reach the upper river lakes, ponds and waterways in the fishing boats by traveling from an hour and a half to two hours even late in the season.

The houseboat is normally used to reach the upper river's best fishing locations during May, June and July. This is the time of year that the houseboat can easily travel up the Rio Das Mortes River to a large area of numerous channels, lakes, ponds and islands. Traveling up to this particular area is generally done at night so that valuable daytime fishing is not wasted.

Fishing can be good in the early morning times close to where the houseboat anchors for the night on sandy beach islands and extensive sand bars along the main river. Fishing is generally done in the shallower channels in and around sand banks. In the early hours of the day, there is considerable movement of fish in the very clear waters as they seek concentrations of baitfish. Fishing from the banks of these channels, or wading out to cast, often puts fishermen into schools of fish.

Gray-Bar Peacock Species

The peacocks you catch here, some 80 miles south of the massive Tucurui Reservoir, may look a little different than those you are used to seeing. The peacock sub-species available here is indeed very different, according to those who have caught the fish. Rio Das Mortes peacocks have four or five gray bars on their sides instead of the familiar three black vertical bars common to most peacock bass around the world. 

The fishing in this area is best in the lagoons, which range in depth from five to seven feet. Often, you can easily see a deep-running lure in those clear waters. Very little bottom structure exists in the dishpan-type lagoons. Along the fringes, you might find trees or brush.

Obviously, big jerk baits work well.

PHOTO CREDIT: LARRY LARSEN

The backwaters behind the sand banks and below the islands also offer good early morning fishing to those wading quietly through the shallows. During the night, a variety of gamefish come into the shallows to escape giant predatory fish in the depths. In the backwaters, you can catch peacock.

Variety Abounds

You will find a variety of fish in the rivers and lagoons of Brazil. Besides peacocks, you may tangle with aruana, a tarpon-like fish with a "clubby" tail that grows to 25 pounds; pescada, which look like drum and grow to 20 pounds; pacu, a bluegill-like fish that runs to 20 pounds in moving waters; matrincha, a shad-like fish indigenous to Brazil that grows to 12 pounds; several kinds of piranha (the red head, the silver and the black, among others); corvina; payara; suribim, a strikingly-patterned catfish that can exceed 150 pounds; bicuda; and an occasional golden-colored tabarana.

While there are hundreds, make that thousands of good spots for catching peacocks in the Amazonas watershed, the major problem to fishermen can be the water levels. Low water periods in the rivers of Brazil vary, even those in the same state. When the water levels are high, fishing is much tougher; the fish are back in the jungle. When the conditions are such, clients should reschedule their trip for a later date. Most responsible tour operators let people know ahead of time that conditions may not be ideal.

Manaus offers a good jumping off point for much of the Amazon fishing, and reaching Manaus is not a problem, thanks to regular air service from the U.S. There are weekly nonstop flights on Varig (about 4 3/4 hours) from Miami. But you had better go with a fishing tour operator!