The Amazonian Sporting Trip of a Lifetime

Written by: Charles Gaines

Clockwise from top left: The pool at Hotel Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, the jumping-off point for Agua Boa Amazon Lodge; angler and guide in one of the lodge’s boats; the author wades into the river for a cast; the tail of a butterfly peacock bass; the dense jungle; a caiman lounges on a sandbar.
Photo by Eric Kiel

Editor’s note: Garden&Gun magazine has posted a wonderful story about a trip to the Amazon. Written by Charles Gaines and accompanied by Eric Kiel’s gorgeous photos, the story is well worth your time if you love sporting adventure.

You can reach a certain age at which there are only two categories of fishing trips worth carrying you away from your pipe and slippers: those on which the fishing itself is so good that you couldn’t care less about where you are doing it, and those on which the where you are doing it is so stimulating and new that the fishing itself happily takes a backseat to the adventure of being there.

The ideal, of course, as rare as it is unforgettable, is a trip that marries the two categories into one of adventure and discovery on which the fishing happens to be superb—exactly like the jaunt my daughter, Greta; her husband, Michael; a group of our friends; and I were lucky enough to take last spring to the Brazilian Amazon.

None of us were in any doubt that it would relentlessly be a fishing trip, since the pretrip literature made it clear that our lodge offered scant other options. And after flying in two chartered Caravans 350 miles north of Manaus, Brazil, over an unbroken green sea of jungle canopy, with no more emergency landing possibilities than the mid-Pacific, to forty-eight miles north of the equator, just short of Venezuela to the northwest and Guiana to the northeast, in one of the Amazon basin’s last surviving tracts of uncut and all-but-uninhabited rain forest, none of us could doubt that it would also be an adventure.

A butterfly peacock bass at boat-side; fly rods and reels stand ready for the day’s action.

It is the last week of March. Thirteen of us, eight men and five women, step out of the Caravans into a midmorning’s hammering heat, and there to greet us as if conjured up are a young couple named Suzanne and John who are proffering trays of cold caipirinhas, the refreshing and addictive Brazilian rum drink. I say a pox on anyone who holds that adventure must go without creature comforts, and I am not the only one in our group relieved by this first hint that Agua Boa Amazon Lodge is in agreement.

Leading us down to the river to meet the lodge’s six guides, whom he trained, Carlos assures himself that each of our twelve anglers, and the photographer Eric Kiel, has with her or him sunblock and sunglasses, and has packed a box lunch from the buffet set up in the dining room after breakfast. He introduces us to our guides. He explains the layout of the six eighteen-foot aluminum skiffs, each fitted out with a poling platform and a forty-horsepower jet outboard. Then he stands with his arms folded on his chest and watches the boats idle away from the dock, three headed upriver and three down, wearing the satisfied grin of a man accustomed to covering all his bases.

There are two types of rivers in the Amazon basin—whitewater ones, which carry pale but nutrient-rich sediments from their origins in the Andes; and blackwater rivers, whose acidic currents flow from tannic lowlands. About 160 miles long from its headwaters in those lowlands to its confluence with the Branco, a major tributary of the Amazon, the blackwater Agua Boa varies in color from that of overbrewed tea in its deeper runs and pools to a clear amber in the shallows, where it flows over sandbars as white as any in Destin, Florida.

Working the river for a strike.

The lodge fishes around sixty miles of the Agua Boa, with approximately half that distance upriver from the lodge and half downriver. Carlos has divided each of those thirty-mile stretches into three beats—the closest only a five- to ten-minute run from the lodge, the most distant ones over an hour and a half away—so that in a normal six-fishing-day week, a pair of anglers never fishes the same beat twice, or with the same guide, since each guide is assigned for the week to a particular beat. The system is thoughtfully designed to avoid the ennui of repetition. But because the river is so incredibly complex, endlessly shaping itself into great serpentine coils and oxbows, forming little backwater lagoons and lakes and offering thousands of fishy-looking banks, flats, and pockets, I could have fished the same beat all week, without becoming bored or even knowing I was not someplace else.

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