Marie-Rio de Gigantes

Peacock Bass in Brazil

by Justin Maxwell Stuart

Destination: Brazil

Holiday: Rio Marie

The morning was overcast but warm when we left the mothership, although certainly not uncomfortable and more a contrast to the air-conditioned comfort of life within!  Guide introductions done, rods and gear onboard, one by one the 6 skiffs peeled off from their moorings and headed forth, destination unknown!   The Rio Marie was glassy smooth and although much of the rainforest on either side is relatively non-descript the journey was mesmeric, the skiff seemingly hovering over the water despite the speed at which the 90HP outboard propelled us at. 

Such are the endless meandering curves of the Rio Marie, that apart from the knowledge we were travelling against the flow, the direction you are going in, without the benefit of the sun, is almost totally indeterminable.  We drove upstream for just about one hour with the wind speed resulting in a slight chill to the skin, the greyish skies on this first morning adding to the sensation that we were in a cooler more temperate climate.  As we slowed the chill immediately dissipated. With the front mounted electric outboard engaged we glided the final 100 M into one of the canals that punctuate the sides of the main stem of the river.  

Fishing a typical lagoon off the main stem of the Rio Marie

Under the tutelage of our Brazilian guide Rubinho, Hideko and I rigged up two rods, myself with a 9wt with a sinking line and Hideko with an 8wt float/clear intermediate tip. Rubinho did the usual guide thing, picked up, inspected and then put back in the box my selection of primarily Giant Trevally flies, before selecting two of the lodge purchased streamer flies, 6 inches long and with a mylar cone head so that the flies pushed more water.   The technique was simple although requisite of a degree of accuracy.  Cast towards the banking, try to get your fly as close to the structure, branches, or bankside features as possible and strip it back, alternating speed but at a casual pace as opposed to the more frenetic stripping employed when fishing for saltwater predators.

Before I had even got remotely into the nice steady rhythm that most fly-fishers know only too well.  The one where your casting rhythm is balanced between anticipation, expectation but also repetition, allowing your mind to wander ever so slightly…Vroompth.   A muddy vortex of a swirl appeared beside where my fly should have been.  As much due to instinctive muscle memory as opposed to a pre-determined action, my stripping figure locked the line tight and the rod was viscerally wrenched by a terrific force, unlike any I have encountered whilst fishing in fresh water.   The line scissored this way and that leaving a seething line of bubbles in its wake.   From the reaction of Rubinho I knew that somehow, just 15 or so minutes into the first morning of the trip, I had hooked the sort of fish that had inspired me to travel what can only be described to any outside observer as a ridiculous distance across the globe.

My first Temensis, the largest species of Peacock Bass

Twice it launched itself into the air, enough to confirm to the uninitiated that this was  indeed a proper fish!  The fight was fast and furious, similar to the sort of scrap you would have when fighting a juvenile Tarpon in the mangroves…except with a freshwater fish.   The tannin-stained water allowed little visibility below the very immediate surface and with it all the uncertainties and unknowns of hidden obstacles that would be the most likely cause of its victory over me, regardless of the 50lb tippet and incredibly tough, GT approved, 4/0 Gamakatsu hook that I was using.  The fight was intense and done at maximum pressure.  Absolutely no thought was given to getting the line on the reel.  Apply pressure, apply more pressure, strip in line, and only give line when absolutely necessary.    With a deft sweep of the net, Jairo our native guide, had the fish secure.  

It measured 78 cm and weighed 16 ½ lbs.  To me, on my first encounter with a big Peacock Bass it looked and felt like it was a world-record contender.   Catching my first decent Peacock so early on in the day, let alone the trip, I had not really had time to assimilate my good fortune, to weigh it up against the typically innumerate casts that you make on a fishing trip hoping for such a specimen.   The fish was measured, length and girth, weighed, tagged, photographed and released.  Amazing.   Maybe no more than 5 casts later and an equally ferocious flight I was holding a fish of 15 lbs, and before the clock had hit 10.30, after just 1 ½ hrs fishing, I had another of 13 1/2 lbs.   Although they fell short of the magical 20llbs, the benchmark Marie Gigantes, I was well and truly hooked on these absolutely stunning fish!!!

The final leg by float plane of quite a mammoth journey but as memorable as any a trip I have had for a longtime

The Rio Marie is a tributary to the Rio Negro which then flows into the mighty Amazon.   Manaus, the largest city of the Amazonas which used to be known as ‘Heart of the Amazon’ and ‘City of the Forest’ is the access point for almost all Brazilian trips to into the Amazon, whether fishing or otherwise.  Once the wealthiest city in South America, the opera house is now the standout cultural edifice that tells the tale of the cities past.  From Manaus anglers take either a direct flight on a float plane to the mothership, or via the small airstrip at Santa Isabel with a follow on transfer via floatplane.   Either way it is a flight of over 3 hrs.   In itself this might be considered a crazy distance to travel ,let alone run a fishing operation,  were it not for what you find when you arrive.  

The mothership, Untamed Amazon, may not have the sleek looks of an oligarch’s yacht, and certainly do not expect gold trimmings, but it is a supreme logistical feat that allows anglers to enjoy the week in exceptional comfort.   Aircon throughout, hot water for showers in unlimited quantities, a filtration system that provides potable water without the  mountains of plastic bottles that would otherwise be required and solar panels covering almost all electricity use during the day.  As a deeply passionate angler, it can be easy to push superfluous creature comforts to one side, in pursuit of a quarry and an adventure, but neither am I ashamed to appreciate it when it is on offer.  Chugging upstream, lying on crisp linen sheets after a good shower and a fulfilling day, looking out at the river through ceiling to floor windows under the golden glow of the evening sun is a surreal, unforgettable and very special experience.

Travelling and living in the comfort!

My first morning was an exceptional start to the trip and certainly should not be taken as a template for a typical day, but equally it was certainly not to be the best of the week amongst our team by a very long shot!   At the start of the week we were faced with higher than average water conditions, although with the water was slowly dropping the prognosis was promising.   The Rio Marie goes up and down throughout their fishing season as part of the continual ebb and flow of life in the rainforest.   Very little fishing takes place in the main-stream of the river.  The bulk of the fishing is spent in the back-waters, feeder streams, lagoons or pretty much anywhere out of the main river flow.   In high water conditions you will be blind-casting for the better part of the day.   It is however important to quantify this as you will always be seeking out the best and most likely holding spots, nooks and crannies in the banking, sunken branches, anywhere that might constitute an ambush or a hiding point.  The more precise your casting, the closer you can land your fly to a likely holding spot, whether it be a small break in a reed bed, no more than a foot across, or a slim channel, the better your chances.

By Day 3 the water had dropped a significant amount, and this heralded a quantifiable change in both the fortunes of our group and fishing methods, using surface poppers as well as sight-fishing.   Fishing a large popper takes a degree of commitment, it is hard work and for it to be really effective a good technique is essential.  The bigger the ‘pop’, the better the chance of a reaction but when that reaction comes…wow!  

Charley giving me a break on the popper rod.

When fishing with a heavier than normal rod and indeed a large fly I am always aware that no matter the reward, endurance is a key consideration and with 3 more days to go, straining wrist and hand muscles to the extent that your ability to cast is compromised is an important consideration.  Mindful of this, but equally confident in the area we were fishing, Charley our guide for the day had encouraged me to persevere with the popper rather than returning to the relative comfort of casting a 6-7 inch streamer!  

It is common practice for the guides to use small bait casters with hookless teasers to stir up the fish.   On occasion, reputedly, this will induce a Peacock to take the teaser.  A follow up cast  with a fly, whether a popper or a streamer, then gives a very good chance of a hook up.   Despite some serious exertion with the teaser, and indeed over the previous 3 days, there had been absolutely no indication that this yielded any results. Equally I assumed that my popper would come second fiddle so whilst going through the motions, my efforts were more focused on my casting than a fish.

My popper caught Peacock Bass, one of the most exciting takes I have had on a fly rod

The take, when it came, was as violent and explosive as you could wish for.  With no warning there was a terrific surge towards my fly, a Double Barrel GT popper with a 8/0 hook that had last seen service in the Seychelles, which was demolished amidst a geyser of water and spray.   Mindful of the sanctuary of the reed bed, which seemed the likely route of escape, but equally to give line when necessary (the previous day I had lost two good fish in successive casts that had both snapped my 50lb leader and I had subsequently upgraded to the recommended 60lb tippet) the fight commenced.   Hard, fast and brutal, punctuated by searing runs that will definitely result in some feisty line burns on your stripping fingers unless they are adequately covered.  The Peacock, when tamed was a resplendent 84 cm in length, well within the 20lb length range, however accurately weighed it ended up tipping the scales at 17 ½ lbs.

Returning to the mother-boat that evening, with a tale to tell, and a fish that felt as if it should beat all, I was happily put in my place to discover that I had been trumped by not one but two fish of over 20lbs, one of 21 lbs caught by Jeff which was also on a popper.   This really heralded the start of the big fish as by the weeks end, no less than  8 leviathan fish of over 20lbs had been caught, including a 2nd fish by Jeff which stands to claim the IGFA world Record for the largest Peacock Bass landed using a 20lb tippet with a length of 89cm.


Jeff Harkavy with his 89cm pending IGFA World Record Bass caught on 20lb tippet & Chico Fernandez with another 20lb Peacock caught on a popper

Our groups improved fortunes over the 2nd half of the week coincided with the continued drop in the water level.   Lagoons and the semi-redundant meanders in the river, now almost cut off from the main stem provided excellent opportunities to sight-fish.   Peacock Bass pair up when mating, creating nests for their eggs and larvae when they hatch.  They then guard with ferocious determination before they are big enough to be carried within the mouth of an adult fish.   With the lowered water levels and good light, spotting fish now became possible, aided by the use of the otherwise redundant poling platforms on the skiffs.

Casting over the nests, typically with a streamer of some description, and then retrieving is an incredibly effective way to trigger a reaction.   Accuracy and patience is required.  Sometimes a single cast would get an immediate response, on others, multiple fly changes were required. For one fish caught by Rodrigo (a 21lber no less) it required 7 fly changes and the better part of half the afternoon session.   Whilst I was fishing with Hideko, we spent at least an hour targeting two fish, one huge, the other smaller with cast after cast before finally she achieved success.   When Peacocks are guarding a nest they will resolutely defend it tom the extent that they are virtually unspookable.  The biggest risk is typically to the anglers heart-rate, watching one of the veritable leviathans follow, swipe, nip, swirl, circle and generally tantalise! 

Two Peacock Bass protecting their nest and Hideko having successfully landed the smaller fish!!

By way of a footnote to the above, if it sounds like some sort of ungentlemanly ambush on a  creche, it is worth noting that on release the guide would ensure that the fish was returned in very close vicinity to the taking point.  The Peacock could be seen to immediately swim back to the nest to join its partner.   Within a minute the two would be back in position, on guard, seemingly oblivious to recent escapades.  It is also worth noting that the tagging program that has been in place since 2018 has over 5,000 fish duly recorded with a recovery rate of approx 1-2 %.  Given the length and volume of the river that is impressive in itself.

There are multiple species of Peacock Bass.   Our primary target and the largest was the Cichla Temensis, distinctive for its three very distinct vertical bars down its flank.  These are actually its spawning colours, when the fish are heavier and deeper bodied, almost exclusively caught in the still water of the lagoons and called açú in Brazil.  In its non-spawning form the bars almost disappear, the whole fish taking on an altogether transformative hydrodynamic shape with a darker colour punctuated by white spots.

John with a 'Pacu' with its distinctive non-spawning colouring and considered the hardest fighting of all and Hideko with a Butterfly

Whilst the Temensis are the trophies of a week on the Rio Marie, the Buterfly Peacocks are the appetizers.   For the most part they are numerous and can grow to about 10lbs, although a 6lb fish would be considered a good one, and provide the sort of continual action throughout the day that keeps you hungry for more.  They can take with almost the same power as their larger cousins, although on a heavier rod and 50-60lb nylon they can be tamed quite quickly.   They also are what I would consider the best eating of all the Amazonian fish we encountered.  We ate them both during a group lunchtime barbecue on one day and again as ceviche for supper on another.   In both instances delicious, although the ceviche was a triumph!

We fished floating, float/intermediate and sink lines during the week with the excellent Jungle Tip lines by Scientific Angler which were designed specifically for this environment.   The sink lines were certainly effective during the earlier half of the week, although the float/intermediate lines are the standard go-to line for everyday use.  The floating lines were mainly used with poppers.  8-10 weight rods are the preferred rod sizes, and I would stress that whilst reels are not a key component beyond acting as a line store, a modern lightweight rod absolutely is!  You will make an awful lot of casts over the week and stamina is more important than distance or power.   A 9wt rod seems to be a good compromise as it can handle large flies, but strong and light would be my over-riding tip.  

Chico Fernandez alongside Rodrigo with another great Peacock Bass

The amount of water that we covered over the week was, by any normal comparison, colossal.   From the beginning to the end of the week Untamed Amazon our mother-boat, travelled approx 125 miles upstream, mooring at 4 different locations along the way.   Each day when we set off in the skiff, we would  travel between 30-90 minutes.   Despite the seeming uniformity of the surroundings, the areas we were assigned to fish each day are carefully zoned,  the ever-changing water levels producing quite different conditions from day to day.  All in all the operation covers some 600 miles of exclusive water, part of a joint venture with the local indigenous community.  

Amongst our group we were joined by fishing legend Chico Fernandez, one of the founding fathers of saltwater fly-fishing, a gentleman as humble, approachable and skilled as you could ever wish to meet and unsurprisingly one of the deserving captors of a 20lb fish.  Equally we had the company of Rodrigo Salles, one of the founders of Untamed Angling and the brainchild behind this venture, one of the most audacious and well managed fishing operations I have had the pleasure of visiting.  He in turn was accompanied by his charming wife Pam, in her 7th month of pregnancy and a fishing tour de force to rival any of us men!  A fabulous artist and textile designer, she has produced a range of sporting clothing that is more than a match for any clothing you might find by some of the more major brands.  Watch this space and watch out Simms!!!

Pam, 7 months pregnant and fishing like a hard core professional

The ‘new’ opportunities that jungle fishing in the Amazon has created is truly eye-opening and although there are certainly bigger species that can be caught on fly, the staggeringly huge Arapaima being the obvious candidate, fishing for the huge Peacock Bass of the Rio Marie has well and truly opened my eyes and captivated me in equal measure.   Peacock Bass are clever, protective and cunning.  Given the opportunity to sight-fish for them, it reveals an otherwise hidden layer to their multiple attributes, demanding absolute respect from the angler in how to tempt, tackle and ultimately protect these wonderful fish.


Number of Anglers: 12

Peacock Bass Caught: 537

Temensis Over 10lbs: 15 

Temensis Over 15lbs: 28

Temensis Over 20lbs: 8

  • My recent visit to the Rio Marie surpassed my very high expectations. I say this because the combination of great fishing, replete lodging comfort and cusine, passionate and skilled Captains, helpful native guides and Mothership staff all made for an incredibly memorable experience! There are few angling opportunities comparable to being connected to a 20lb plus Peacock Bass in its pristine Amazon habitat. Untamed Angling makes this possible with the same thoughtful planning and logistical mastery that allows their angler clientele to pursue other unique species such as Golden Dorado in Bolivia, Piraracu at their floating Brazilian rain forest lodge and two other multi species lodge destinations in the Amazon at Kendjam and Xingu. I have been blessed to enjoy 4 of these 5 lodge offerings so far...and I greatly look forward to fishing the 5th next year! Sept 2022

    Jeff Harkavy

  • This was a totally incredible experience. Out of this world. Despite being totally new to this sort of fly-fishing I was able to catch a fantastic and memorable Peacock Bass as well as many many Butterfly Peacock's. The boat was amazing and had all the creature comforts a lady could wish for- Hideko -Japan - Sept 2022

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