The One that Got Away: Lost Gold

Story by Evan Jones

What could have been. Image from “Solid Gold” Moment of Thrill by Todd Moen of Catch Magazine

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series called “The One that Got Away,” in which anglers tell the story of the fish that haunt them in their dreams.

Back in 2012, some friends approached me with the opportunity to be a “test client” for a fly-fishing operation they were trying to establish deep in the Bolivian Amazon. Thrilled by the photos of big golden dorado they showed off, and tempted by the chance to chase them for pennies on the dollar, I immediately agreed. After a harrowing 10,000-foot descent from La Paz in an old prop plane, a white-knuckle dirt-bike taxi ride on cobblestone roads into the small town of Rurrenabaque, and then a 10-hour water taxi up a series of increasingly rocky tributaries into the middle of nowhere, we finally arrived at the jungle base camp.

The trip to the dorado water involved a 10-hour ride upriver.
Photo by Evan Jones

The first day was terribly slow with only one small fish caught, but about halfway through the second day, it suddenly happened: my line went tight, and the water in front of us exploded. A massive dorado–bigger than any we had ever seen, at least 30 pounds–went airborne and then took off downstream with my fly line zipping along behind it. When the fish got into some nasty rapids, I jumped out of the raft and chased it on foot while our guide negotiated the rocks. He ran up just as I had finally won our epic battle and beached the monster at the edge of the pool below. As he grabbed the leader to get control, the hook popped out of the dorado’s giant, gaping mouth, and the beast disappeared back into the river with a single dramatic flip. I stared dumbly at the spot it had just been, trying to process all five stages of grief simultaneously. And that was it. When our friend showed up with the camera a minute later, all that was left to capture was a couple of shocked faces and a discarded fly rod. 

The moments before the big hook-up.
Photo by Evan Jones

As if losing a trophy fish weren’t bad enough, all hopes of another chance were soon dashed when a heavy rain started, dumping red-clay runoff into the river until it reached the color and consistency of chocolate milk. Our hosts had not only misjudged the rainy season, but they had also failed to establish any kind of backup plan. So we had no choice but to bag the rest of the trip and begin the long, disappointing journey home. I’ve had several big fish get away from me over the years, some of which also cost me thousands of dollars and brought me thousands of miles from home, but none of them haunt me quite like the Dorado That Got Away. And since the whole operation was abandoned after their first season, it’s unlikely I’ll ever get a rematch.

Lessons Learned:

  1. When approaching a beached fish, grab the tail first, then the leader.
  2. While thicker wire hooks may be stronger, they often don’t penetrate as well. 
Once the rains came, the river blew out spectacularly.
Photo by Evan Jones

Evan Jones is the new assistant blog editor. He lives in Colorado.

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