It's an Adventure.... Not a Vacation!

For Christmas this year I got to take an adventure that will last a lifetime with memories. I went to the Amazon, in Brazil, to experience peacock bass fishing with Randy Pringle and 6 other friends. This trip was an exciting, exhausting, and a challenging adventure; but surely not a vacation. It is not a trip for everyone; not a trip for those wanting rest and relaxation poolside.

Before our trip even started, our adventure began with the never-ending task of choosing, purchasing, and eventually eliminating all the tackle we would need to take with us on our trip. The challenge of course is that we are limited in weight as to what we are allowed to take; 45lbs total for each guy. This weight restriction includes all rods, reels, clothes, cameras, and any extras you chose; such as snack foods or your vitally important Gatorade powder. Eventually, I was able to narrow my lure selection down, pair my rods and reels, and find all the proper clothes to take.

Essential to going to the jungle was my Buzz Off clothing. The light weight of the nylon clothing, with impregnated bug repellant, really did help keep the bugs at bay for all of us and kept you cool on those continuous hot and humid days. Next, I was able to decide on my rods and reels. I chose to take 5 reels (1 as a backup) and 4 rods. My weapons to do battle with these feisty peacocks was Abu Garcia's Record 50 reels for my big Matt Newman Swimbait rods and Abu Garcia's Revo Inshore reels paired with Fenwick's EliteTech Extra Heavy Frog rods for my smaller baits. Without a doubt, having the proper gear was crucial, and all my equipment worked flawlessly.

Randy was fortunate enough to get one of the newest reels offered by Abu Garcia, the Revo Toro, and he paired that with Fenwick's Salt Stick to have a deadly combination. Throwing those big top water baits with this combination was such a breeze. So much so, that even our guides were asking to borrow this setup to play with and everyone was amazed at the distances we could achieve throwing those baits. As expected, Randy's equipment worked flawlessly too, and helped him land some big fish during the week. We both fished 65lb Spiderwire - nothing else.

Obviously, our focus was fishing, but the trip as a whole was so much more than that. We won't even discuss the 2 flights it took just to get to Manaus, Brazil and back; that is another adventure story all itself. We'll just focus on the Brazil part. Just the flight into the jungle is an adventure beyond most belief, as we took a small twin prop plane and crammed 8 big guys into it. We first flew 1 hour into the jungle and landed on a dirt strip at a remote Brazilian village called Barcelos. This was just our first segment of our travel adventure and already it was exhausting.

Once there, we waited, and waited, and waited some more in anticipation for our next journey to begin. The town was very remote, and other than the few villagers at the airport shack selling local souvenirs, there wasn't much noticeable going on. It was very hot, with no A/C, so the most activity was just the jittery pacing we did in the sun on the hot paved tarmac.

Finally, as the anticipation built to a maximum, a plane circled the field once and quickly landed. We now met our next ride; which was an even smaller single engine float plane. I thought our first flight was crammed until I saw this plane - yikes! As a Mechanical Engineer, I was fascinated at the structure of such a plane and the ability for it to land on both water and land. Amazingly, the pontoons on the bottom are as big as or bigger than the actual cockpit of the plane. The pontoons, being hollow, are where most of our gear would be stored. Thankfully, this was the case as it was extremely tight for us 8 big guys to fit into this plane. Oh, did I mention, there's no A/C on any of these planes either, and it's over 100 degrees outside? Tight, hot, and sticky is an understatement about this ride. This cramped flight made the 1st plane ride look like business class.

As the previous team of fisherman unloaded from the plane, our gear was loaded on for our trip out. Randy chatted with the disembarking team about their experience and asked how the fishing was. The responses were mixed, and not very encouraging. The best group coming out had caught just over 100 fish total, for the week, but some were giants. One group was so disappointed they said that they would not ever return again. Despite this, we were all still ready and eager to go.

We took off for our next adventure; another 1 hour ride further into the jungle. Our small floatplane glided at low altitude across the Amazon and eventually landed on the water on the River Branco. The Amazon from the air was amazing as it stretched from horizon to horizon, as far as you could see. The crazy part was that all the area you can see is covered with swamp, forests, and water and we were just going into in a small, small, part of this big, vast, forest. Just an amazing site from the air!

Next was our ride from the plane to our camp up river; a 45min boat ride in 16ft aluminum john boats. Not too bad as these would be our fishing boats for the week. When we arrived at camp, we saw what was to be home for 6 days - our floating cabins. These were not luxurious, but were modestly comfortable. The best thing about them was that because they were floating on the water, 99% of the land critters (spiders, snakes, etc) did not come in and join us. Last trip Randy went on, the guys were constantly sharing their rooms on shore with tarantulas and snakes. Ugh! This was a big fear of mine in going as I really hate bugs and snakes. What we found out on our first night there though was that we had 4 Cayman gators that were around camp; all over 6ft long, sharing our beach front property. One of gators came right up between 2 of the cabins the first night and was lying on shore as we finished dinner. It snapped at Kim, one of our fellow fishermen, as he tried to get into his cabin and then swam away. Scary!

Going fishing the next day was not the usual thing we were expecting or had been told. Brazil was experiencing an extremely wet summer and the rivers were way, way, up. The result is that the fish are deep in the jungle; whereas they should normally be out on the river and the jungle areas should be dry land as the water levels are dropping. This was what Randy experienced on his last trip, but it was not the case this time. We didn't fish the rivers and the water was not dropping. We experienced over 12ft of water level rise in the 6 days in the jungle - that's not good for fishing.

So, to get to where the fish were, we had to cut our way thru deep, thick jungle swamps and traverse shallow creeks to reach ponds and lagoons where the fish were concentrated. We were not expecting this, so on our first day we started right up the big river but then our guide starts heading for the bank at 20MPH. We then just hit this hole in the shrubs and go in, no slowing, no warning; we're now going commando. Holy crap - duck! This was crazy the whole way as we had to lie down in the boat as we went under, over and thru trees, vines, and all kinds of things. We cut our way thru this kind of stuff for over 1 hour each day to get to the fishing spots. Going thru the jungle was also dangerous as all that looks like innocent trees are not. The Spike Tree has 3 inch thorns all over it. These were everywhere and you never knew where one would be. Rick, anther of our friends on our trip, was not paying attention just for a second and got 2 stuck in his forehead. We called him Jesus all week and his crazy guide we called Mario; as in Mario Andretti, because he never slowed down. I also grabbed one by accident thinking it was a vine. Ouch, not fun!

One of the craziest adventures of the week was when Randy and I got paired up for the day of fishing. We routinely swapped partners during the week so we all had a chance to fish together. Today was my chance to jump in with Randy and fish in his boat. So, Randy's guide decided we were going to fish a remote pond that they had found via a scout plane and he wasn't sure if anyone had ever fished it, ever! Well, after going on this adventure, I can say I know why most likely nobody has ever fished it. This was to be the true Amazon experience. Randy and I jumped in the boat and off we went, and along came 2 other guides with us in a 2nd boat. We didn't go but maybe 3 miles up river when we just went to the bank and stopped. Without saying a word, other than "wait here", all 3 guides got off the boats and proceeded to walk off into the jungle. They disappeared from site within 30 yards and we could not hear a thing. So, here Randy and I sat for almost an hour wondering "what do we do?" Eventually the guides came back and said they found the pond; now we had to do some work. We had to push our boat over the land/swamp for over 3/4 of a mile. It took us 2hrs to get it done. The guides used ancient Egyptian techniques to help us by cutting down small trees and laying them on the ground so our boat would roll across the land easier. We took the motor off and left it, to reduce weight, but still with 5 guys pushing and pulling, we could only move that boat about 20 yards before we had to stop and rest. It was exhausting!

Here is a look as we are just starting. Note how far into the woods you can see - we went thru all of that by hard sweat and guts. Also, we were walking around with sandals on, but these guides all just walked thru the jungle with their bare feet. Just crazy. On our trip thru this area, I got several leaches that attached to me and I also got attacked by giant black ants that started biting me and I stripped to my underwear as I was swatting them off me. Of course, everyone else was just laughing at me. Then we got to an area where you walked on the soggy ground and up came these giant white grubs with big mouth pinchers on the front. Thousands of them came up from the ground as we walked on it and they started climbing all over. Did I mention that I really hate bugs!

As I mentioned though, our primary goal was fishing and we did do some of that. The fishing was great and then it got worse as the week went on. All in all, our group of 8 guys caught 986 fish for 6 days - not too bad. We were the best producing group so far for this season - woohoo! The primary fish we were after was peacock bass. There are 6 or more species and we caught 4 of them, 3-bar, Paca, Emerald, and Butterfly. I was fortunate enough to catch the biggest fish for the week at 16+lbs. I caught it on my favorite bait the 8in, all white plastic Lunker Punker, from Black Dog Baits. I was fortunate to get one just before I left the U.S., and I only had 1 with me, so it was a risk. The excitement of having a big fish like this hit on a topwater bait was just amazing. Nothing can really prepare you for it.

This fish is called a 3 bar, or "Assu" peacock. Can you tell how hard I am smiling? I was truly excited. These are the biggest of the group and were the most type we caught; lots of fish over 10, 12 and 14lbs. They have incredible colors and brightness; and are extremely powerful. When these fish hit, they are usually going 90 miles an hour, and hit your bait at right angles. Even seeing the strike doesn't allow you enough time to set the hook before they are 20 feet off to your left and around a tree or bush. Setting the hook is like setting on a log every time. It's only when your spiderwire line slices thru the water at breaking speed do you realize that the log you just snagged is really a fish. This is why it's critical to be using Extra Heavy rods, big capacity reels, and tough line. Every day bass tackle just won't cut it here!

As I mentioned, Randy got onto some big fish too and caught a fish that would have gone over 20 lbs had it not been spawned out. This fish was caught in the remote pond that we worked so hard to get into. What a reward for such hard work.

Then we caught the spotted, or "Paca" peacock. This picture is the 7lb fish I caught - awesome blue color and crazy white dots. The Paca peacocks are the same 3 bar fish, but are juveniles and before they spawn. I say juveniles, but some are as big as 13 lbs before they really become full size Assu peacocks.

There are tons of other fish too; many with very sharp teeth and a fierce appetite. One such fish is called the Payara; which has big teeth that actually go up thru its head from the bottom mouth. The nickname for this fish is the Vampire Fish. Take a scary look at this!

And of course, no trip to the Amazon would be complete without talking about the Piranhas. They are everywhere and we actually ate them for dinner quite a bit. They taste great; much like a good crappie or perch does. But what you don't realize is that these are not just those small, little sunfish size piranhas, these are monster size. I caught a 7.5lb black piranha that even the guides were impressed with. See the picture below for a wow factor! Yes, that's a piranha.

Well, that's it for now. Hope you all enjoyed my story. As I mentioned at the beginning, this was an adventure; not a vacation, but one I will never forget. I recommend that if you ever get to go - think hard about it, and if your adventurous, then do it. If you like vacations; book a trip to Disneyland instead.

We'll be going back in 4 years!

Regards, Joe Kopp