Tropical Trout in Brazil

The Rainforest Plays its Role
by Luiz Felipe Daudt de Oliveira

This article is also in Portuguese

In the wet season large dense dense clouds build up on the ridges of the mountain range. When the summer storms gather and the wind blows hard on the forest, the first drops anticipate drenching tropical downpours. Soon the wind lessens; the rain pours down but within a hour the rain also lets up. On the ground, rivulets meander down the mountains in a complex web, tiny and peculiar, feeding creeks, rivers, and lakes in a millennium-old ritual.

Life in the forest is still quiet, but in the Mambucaba River and its tributaries the stream dynamics, altered many times by flood level, makes a deafening roar. It takes days, weeks even months until the water settles down and the flow slackens to fishable levels . In the forest, a few animals still shake off the shower while a hawk peers from out of a nearby tree.

A trout twirls in the river, swallowing down its first afternoon bite. The trout, not a native to this tropical paradise got here the hard way. Now it provides easy fishing when conditions are right, and impossible fishing when the rivers flood.

The Arrival of the Trout

The need for trout became evident with systematic studies on the biology of Brazilian fish carried out by a biologist called Rudolph Von Ihering, over the 1927-28 spawning season in, Cachoeira das Emas, Mogi - Guaçu river, in the state of São Paulo.

By 1938, Ihering was invited to run the National Department of Fish Breeding of the Brazilian Food Administration to try to adapt the local fish, among which the peacock bass, and the foreign black bass, bluegill, and the African "tilápia" to local waters. While the bluegill did not adapt, the largemouth bass and the tilápia ended up getting along well.

Ihering was puzzled with the Brazilian rivers in the Southern mountain areas, where crystal-clear cold waters, wealthy in dissolved oxygen, larvae, and insects abounded but only fish populations seemed in short supply. Ihering believed the downstream warmer water species were not able to head upstream on account of rapids, waterfalls and low stream temperatures. So Ihering turned to trout.

Rainbow trout made it into Brazil in 1949, when the Brazilian Food Administration, through the action of agronomist Ascanio de Faria placed fertilized eggs from Denmark at the river- heads on the highlands of Serra da Bocaina. This first plant, in the state of São Paulo, bordering the state of Rio de Janeiro seems often overlooked in sport fishing literature. Those highlands, providing a unique tropical system favorable to trout.

The Angler's Arrival

It’s been a long time since the rain stopped. Sitting on a bump by the river, I hold my breath at the happy site of unmistakably clear water. The surroundings of the Mambucaba River delight and charm. Before the overwhelming landscape and the promising fishing ahead, one cannot remain the same or curb one's emotions.

And when all there is left is a forty - minute span before twilight, one is bound to head towards a waterfall, where the river widens, the water beckons and rings of the water promise action.

Right behind the fall, expectations are confirmed. The river generously opens up winding widely into sections which alternate rapids and quiet pools between the vegetation. We must try a stealthy approach, for everywhere trout twirl and rise.

The open area allows for ample casting space, and the spinner - the best lure for this site with minimal room for backcasts- flashes across the river until it plunges in a opening in the bushes on the opposite bank. It return across the pool and the main to reach a deep and rocky area on my side.

The lure was nearly at rod length when a large rainbow struck. As often on the first strike of a trip there was a gap between the strike and my hook set, and the fish missed. While the river's trout are very hungry and my moves did not go unnoticed; I would not expect any other piscatorial guests on my side of the river. Still, another cast might work..

Happily, my spinner hit the same spot in the bushes. It has hardly made its way down the pool when line halts, the rod bends, and a fish dashes upstream with outstanding haste. A pound trout is landed - that's good weight in this kind of headwater terrain. If luck holds, one can raise three pounders, but most are too smart and hide in out of the way retreats. Still, I catch the couple of fish I need for dinner from these little fished waters, and return the rest before it's time to go back to the hut where I stay.

When evening closes in, moonlight sneaks into the open door and through the windows of the rough wooden and clay house. Outside, its light discloses the outlines of the mountain ranges and seems to throw a silver veil over the forest below. On the river, light beams ripple like sparkling crystal and bigger trout wait fir the properly prepared.

Tough fishing

Summer mornings in the Bocaina can be mild or even cold, especially when it rains at night, particularly in the wee hours and you can't navigate the thick shore cover, so you need to wade. The river water is always cold; therefore, to play safe, I’ve brought a US Divers outfit from my days of underwater fishing and chubby groupers. A wading stick is welcome, for the riverside vegetation shall get so thick that wading in the rough and rocky river becomes inevitable. Soon the water level shall be move up one’s legs and, at times, even reaches one’s chest, and as we advance into the Mambucaba, the river narrows down and makes its way into the forest.

Despite the apparently hostile environment, exquisite gray stones covered with moss and lichens, wild orchids, and other numerous natural trimmings, make artistic arrangements as nature touches up along the river's course in masterworks of gentle gardening.

However, we must not fall prey of this spell, for concentration must be at its best to avoid snags and to cover the highest number of casting spots. Shore progress can be complicated and unpleasant, making angling a tough job. The only reason for all that trouble are the chubby and witty rainbows, hiding in the furthermost underwater mazes ahead.

The vegetation carpets the banks under a maze of branches, creepers, and lianas. Most times, these natural obstacles, which stand out over the river, grow between the angler and a good site, requiring a great deal of patience and mastery of the special casts to be overcome.

Special gear can help solve the problem. A light short rod allows short casts and made more with the wrist than with the arm, for any wider backcast tends to hang the lure in a maze of vegetation. Only short, accurate casts do the job for trout in the e thin water spook easily and lures snagged over spots that top waders must be left behind is sure to attract a curious monkey.

Such challenges fade, when as the thin line about to touch the ferns on a rocky wall, a large rainbow breaks out from under the rock, swallows down the lure and pulling away downstream like a tropical train. The trout manages to steal away almost all the line, but, fortunately, I’m able to stumble after it without going over my wader tops or falling. The result is a terrific fish, somewhere between two and three pounds.

Brazilian Trout in a Nutshell -- A Brazil nut what else?

The states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo follow along the Bocaina range. About 130 km away from the former, the small historical town of Bananal is a remament of days when coffee plantation brought about wealth and prosperity. Hiking up a steep, winding, and rocky road for another 25 km up to a height of 1 500 meters, and you reach the Paca river and a beautiful waterfall in Rio de Janeiro. Though more clear and crowded than the first area we fished, the land around is still charming. Fair accommodations can be found at the Bocaina Parque Hotel; in addition, a large reservoir backed up behind a beautiful dam provide fee fishing, and fish over five, up to ten pounds can be landed.

The once prolific Paca river is no longer as productive as in the old days , but with a stroke of luck and a sense of adventure, and some determination to chase a local guide, one may have enjoyable fishing trips in neighboring rivers.

To those who like to play safe, there is a company called Fishing in Rio, which can be reached via Internet, and whose owner can add some extra x’s on your map of Bocaina. Besides, he also arranges fresh and saltwater fishing trips in Rio de Janeiro, among other states in Brazil. For further thrills, one can trail as far as Pedra do Frade Peak to see some superior alpine scenery. The lush Atlantic forest also cloaks the mountain ridges all the way down to the Bay of Angra dos Reis - filling the beholder with unrivaled and awesome experience.

Through São José dos Barreiros, 270 km away from Rio, it pays to travel a few hours longer on a bumpy road to reach the head of Rio dos Veados. The hotel is outstanding, and the accommodations- in the country style of the European lodges - refined. The setting surrounding Parque Nacional da Serra da Bocaina is breathtaking. All rivers on this watershed belong in the state of São Paulo, except for the Mambucaba, which drains both states.

Realize that, during summer, heavy downpours are likely to occur, rendering angling impossible many times. On spots way in the wilderness, cars are likely to get stuck in the muddy road, even with the help of chains.

Although trout is very active in the summer, prime time fishing runs between May and early September, corresponding respectively to the Southern Hemisphere's fall, winter, and early spring, when rains are scarce and light.

Fly fishing is effective with some rather strange hatches and very large moths and other flying 'critters' not found in the Northern Hemisphere. For example, in the beginning of spring, flying ants are very likely to dip into some rivers, providing fish with a deadly menu. Quite a few trout are found floating, probably poisoned by formic acid or stung by the appetizers they swallow down alive.

Horseback Trout

Within less than an hour away from the Paca river, there lies a small place called Onça, where one can leave his car with a local and rent horses. Shortly after, access is possible trough a slender trail, which slumps down a steep cliff, until the path improves when, at last, the forest takes shape far away, and the Gavião and Sete Espetos Rivers blend together to give birth to the Mambucaba. On a three hours ‘journey, no more than three roughly built houses can be spotted along the way. We must pack most of what we need from food to a first -aid kit, for our hosts as is typical of poor country people, have little to share.

Epilogue

In the afternoon, I hike about a mile on a path running above the house and wade in the river. Although on this side of the river we still need a wading staff, one can move freely and fishing is a lot easier.

No single cast is wasted, for the fish strike remarkably fast: ten, twenty, thirty... over forty trout sound like average. Unbelievable! If it weren’t for the Scandinavian fertilized eggs, I could say all Danish trout headed down here.

Sizes ran to a pound on average. I release everyone, cheerful enough with the morning trophy and amazed with the huge supply around. On the way back, darkness closes in. I recall old fishing and hunting trips. Then I remember I’d found prints of wild hogs on the riverside and heard the call of a few macucos* from a big gully of the forest. Tomorrow I want to take a look: although I don’t bear weapons anymore, I like to see those animals and let them go.

Like the river, the forest here is prodigal in wild life, but only extensive experience enables you to spot rodents, monkeys, wild hogs, and large birds.

Evening arrives mild and there are no clouds in the sky. When the moon comes back, its light unfolds a gentle mist, which seems to dive smoothly in the riverbed. Up here, fishing is not a mechanical cast - retrieve act; the rain forest involves us in a fascinating and complex blend of myth and reality, as a living legend, which now comprises the new universe of this noble fish.

*macuco: species of a large bird, typical of the Brazilian rain forests. Can be found only in highly preserved areas. It has daytime habits and lives on the ground, short-flying whenever spooky or whenever in need of a tree for the night sleep. Highly skittish, it is considered to be an endangered species. By September, it starts a mating ritual, releasing a weeping call which echoes throughout the forest, one of the most beautiful man has ever heard.