Adventure Angling’s El Dorado
By Ken Morrish PAGE 40
n today’s world of sophisticated international angling travel the emergence of a truly new, exotic, unexplored world-class fishery is a special event. This is the story of one such event. It began with and email and a half dozen images we received from Argentine outfitter Marcelo Perez in 2007. We were not to speak of it publically but between my partner Brian Gies and me, it was hard to talk about anything else. The boulder strewn rivers were an exquisite jade green and the virgin jungle with its elegant canopy framed them in a way we could only describe as poetic. These images reminded us of the remote trout streams in the southwest portion of New Zealand’s South Island and also of the smaller far from the road winter steelhead rivers of coastal Oregon and Washington. But these images were from a remote region of Bolivia and the fish were the brilliant and brutal golden dorado that every traveling angler can’t help but want to hold. In 2008 Marcelo and I met in Buenos Aires and I saw even more images and received an update on
TSIMANE BOLIVIA their grand plans. I told him that either Brian or I would to visit as soon as possible and in the meantime we would fidget like five-year-olds waiting for Christmas morning. In August of 2009 Brian was among the first to visit and from that point forward we were forever changed by what we consider to be possibly the most dynamic new fishery of the decade.
The Ultimate Game Fish
The golden dorado (Salminus brasiliensis) is without question one of the world’s greatest game fish. With massive powerful jaws, razor sharp teeth, vicious predatory instincts and wild aerial displays they represent one of the ultimate target species for the adventuresome fly angler. Indigenous to Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Bolivia they often hunt in packs chasing down their favorite baitfish the sabalo. They can grow to over 60 pounds and while most Mormons, Tribes and Traffickers are in the 10 to 25 pound class they are all too happy to attack baitfish in The story of how the Tsimane operation came together is almost a crazy as the six to eight pound class. While fishing dorado at Tsimane it is common hooking a 25-pound dorado on a short line. In the beginning there were just to hook a four or five pound fish only to have it attacked and in some cases the Tsimane and the Yuracaré people living simple hunting and fishing lives completely swallowed by a larger dorado. Sometimes you get half of your fish in a portion of Bolivia where the base of the Andes meets the lowlands and back, other times, just a shredded mess that looks like pasta with the rivers flow north into the Amazon. Then, in the 1980s, as the demand for red sauce. It is equally as common to observe aggressive dorado cocaine soared in the Northern Hemisphere, intrepid narco-traffickers trying to steal or eat the fly that is hanging out of the mouth of boldly made their way up a very special river to an ultra-remote the fish that you are fighting. Generally speaking they display Tsimane community. Once there they somehow enlisted very poor manners. the tribe to hack a primitive airstrip out of the jungle. Were one to take the best elements of a tarpon, a Once completed they landed planes loaded with raw coca A n d in o steelhead and something nasty, like a barracuda, spray paint leaves, and through a process of bathing the leaves in diesel, made raw Dec eiver it brilliant gold and highlight it with black pinstripes you would cocaine. They did this for many years but ultimately, through trackhave a golden dorado. Were you to put that fish in the most pristine jungle ing diesel purchases, the little lab in Tsimane territory was shut down by the environment imaginable, with untouched freestone rivers, massive log jams, authorities and the locals returned to life as normal. The only real difference incredible wildlife, countless bird species and kind fascinating native peoples, being that they now had a secret airstrip. In time an ambitious young Mormon you would have Tsimane. While the Tsimane systems have resident dorado missionary learned of this band living in the Asunta region and their airstrip year-round they also have a strong migratory population. Each season, typiand headed in for a visit. He liked the place and the people and saw it as an cally in late May and June, millions of baitfish migrate up the greater Secure opportunity. He must have also liked to fish because word spread of what he system and with them come thousands of large, aggressively feeding dorado. saw in the river; packs of big bright golden dorado mercilessly tearing through Here it is common to see packs of fierce dorado herding baitfish into the shalschools of unsuspecting baitfish. These rumors made it back to the Argentine lows and mercilessly ripping through them. From a great distance you can see dorado fishing intelligentsia and soon Marcelo Perez and his contemporaries the frothing commotion as the bait leaps into the air in a desperate effort to at Untamed Angling were on their way to making the Tsimane operation and escape. From a quarter mile away the raining down of sabalo sounds like a Bolivian fly fishing history. dump truck dropping 20 yards of gravel. When you find yourself in the midst Today the operation is a multifaceted collaborative effort that works closely of this carnage frantically casting a six inch fly into a fray of sharklike yellow with the Isiboro Secure Indian Territory and National Park, its tribal leaders fins and tails you will have arrived in the Tsimane Zone. and over 70 local families that help support this remarkable operation.
“In August of 2009 Brian was among the first to visit and from that point forward we were forever changed by what we consider to be possibly the most dynamic new fishery of the decade.” PAGE 41
Left to right, top to bottom: Cliff Watts works the middle Secure from the dugout; young hunters heading out from the village of Agua Negra; a large omnivorous pacu; a psychologically revealing PAGE 42 of a true predator; John Murray with a mean little one; Pluma Lodge. Photos: Ken Morrish portrait
TSIMANE BOLIVIA The Programs
To date, the Tsimane programs have had a number of configurations but moving forward there are two closely related yet distinct programs from which to choose. Both trips begin with an overnight in Santa Cruz followed by a two hour small aircraft charter flight to a remote jungle airstrip. The hardest part of planning the trip is deciding which of the two options to select as they are both highly desirable and productive. In both programs anglers access the rivers by boat. In some cases you will move about in large motorized dugouts and in other cases, you will use smaller traditional pole pushed dugouts captained by skilled native boatmen. Irrespective of the program both trips into the heart of the Bolivian jungle are best suited to adventuresome travelers who enjoy wade fishing and a fair amount of walking.
fish the main Secure often casting at large woody debris from the boat. This combination trip is as good as it gets and a natural for parties of four keen on seeing a wide range of what the region has to offer.
After landing at the Oromomo native airstrip, eight anglers will head up the Secure River by boat and then seven miles overland by rugged jungle road to the incredible Pluma Lodge. Pluma Lodge overlooks the Pluma River and has four handsome double occupancy hardwood cabins as well as a spacious main lodge building where meals and cocktails are served. Additionally, Pluma is very strategically located beneath the confluence of two world-class systems, the upper Pluma and the Itirizama. Downstream of the lodge there are miles of clear water on the main stem Pluma. Beneath that anglers can access more Secure/Agua Negra Combo Trip than 30 km of the larger main stem Secure by motorized boat. These lower This is a remarkable and diverse fishing trip where anglers will split their time beats are the biggest water in the Tsimane program and reminiscent in some between two newly constructed jungle safari camps during the course of their ways of classic steelhead fishing. For hearty anglers Pluma offers one or three week. Both camps have handsome hardwood main lodge buildings where night trips to primitive out-camps on both the Upper Pluma and Itirizama. anglers will enjoy great hors d’oeuvres, an open bar, Wi-Fi and delicious These camps represent the ultimate jungle adventure and offer meals paired with excellent Argentine wines. Additionally all unparalleled sight fishing for large dorado and pacu. In the anglers will enjoy their own deluxe single accommodation case of the upper Itirizama several hours of aggressive hiking safari tent complete with attached bathrooms, hot showers, and river crossings are needed to reach the camp. This trip is the bedding and ceiling fans. Each week four anglers will begin most demanding of the Tsimane offerings with truly rough terrain, at the Agua Negra Camp and a separate charter flight of four anchallenging wading and in many instances technical and rewarding Titan ic Sl id er glers will head into the Secure Camp. On the morning of the third sight fishing to large dorado. For the right anglers it represents the fishing day, all anglers will pack their gear into motorized boats and fish their ultimate jungle expedition in one the most pristine and beautiful places imaginway to the other lodge for the remainder of their trip. Both lodges offer a able. The upper Pluma is very similar but less physically demanding. primitive overnight out-camp option that takes two anglers. The Secure outcamp is easy to reach and more developed while the Agua Negra out-camp Picking Your Program entails a good deal of hiking and is a true primitive camping trip. The Secure Invariably the first question we are asked is which program is the best. The is a beautiful midsized system with significant bedrock structure. It is a very truth is that both are exceptional options but they differ somewhat from one productive system that has countless water types. The Agua Negra is much another. The quality of the fishing, the guides and the food are essentially the smaller and offers not only big dorado but the region’s most forgiving tersame leaving the discussion to variables of terrain, accommodations, group rain as well as the greatest diversity of species including large pacu, pira pita size and water types. The unique benefits of the Secure/Agua Negra program and the elusive striped catfish known as surubi. Agua Negra anglers will also include a small group size of four anglers (making it perfect for private
“Here it is common to see packs of fierce dorado herding baitfish into the shallows and mercilessly ripping through them.” PAGE 43
TSIMANE BOLIVIA parties), single accommodations, easier travel to reach the camps and fishing beats and easier wading. This program also offers a bit more fishing from the boat, access to the region’s smallest streams (not to be confused with small fish) and the best opportunity to engage with and experience the adjacent and endearing local communities. Pluma Lodge caters to eight anglers making it a more social camp and their double occupancy cabins are slightly more spacious. Pluma anglers also enjoy an exciting jeep ride into camp complete with mud bogs and stream crossings adding to the overall sense of jungle adventure. Much of Pluma’s water is characterized by rocky freestone terrain making it rather physical and best suited to strong waders. The benefits include a really wide range of water types ranging from pocket water to long pools and runs and arguably the best sight fishing opportunities. The other great feature is the ability to partake in either of the upriver out-camps for multiple nights and become fully immersed in a stunningly beautiful deep jungle experience. For anglers that prefer only unpacking once and staying put for full week, Pluma also offers that option and it continues to be the most common approach, as all out camp overnights are voluntary.
Tackle and Techniques
There is something special about targeting fish that are inherently mean and aggressive. Tentative soft takes or nipping at the tail of a long fly is not part of the program. When these fish come for your offering they come hard and fast and no matter if your fly is three inches long or eight inches long with the hook way up at the head, they hammer the entire offering virtually every time. My preferred outfit is a moderately fast action nine-foot 8 or 9-weight rod. Pair that with a good saltwater reel and weight forward line designed to throw big flies (like the Rio Freshwater Outbound or an SA Redfish line) a seven foot section of straight 40-pound mono and two feet of forty pound
Travel: Anglers will fly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and overnight before taking a charter flight into the lodge. Season: May-October. The sabalo bait fish migration tends to ramp up in June with the lowest clearest water occurring later in the season. Capacity: 4 anglers at Secure/Aqua Negra, 8 anglers at Pluma
wire attached with an Albright knot and you are set for 90 percent of the fishing situations that you will encounter. When it comes to flies, the favored bets tend to be four to six inches long and tied on 3/0 hooks. The most common designs are based on the Andino deceiver which is like a standard deceiver with the addition of lead eyes and a spun deer hair head. Black patterns or black with a wide range of highlight colors account for most of the fish landed. In low or especially clear water moving towards lighter landing pattern like Puglisi baitfish patterns tied to 30-pound wire can also prove advantageous. Additionally large poppers and patterns like the titanic slider can provide explosive top water action. In most instances anglers will cast slightly downstream and across and retrieve the fly with fairly brisk two foot strips. In other instances, especially on the lower main stem Secure, where the water tends to be more colored your guide might prefer a standard slow steelhead swing and in clear pocket water scenarios you might actually fish up and across and let the fly dead drift toward your target. In many of the best top water situations you might fish your fly square to the current and strip it as fast as you possibly can. I will never forget one of my first top water experiences on the upper Secure not far downstream of Asunta. My guide walked me up into what appeared to be an impossibly fast shelf of water between two rapids. I was skeptical and began wading into position well above the shelf in order to slow my presentation. He stopped me and said “no, fish it straight across and strip as fast as you can.” I honestly thought he was crazy, but I did as instructed and on my third cast a huge fish came charging at the fly with half its body out of the water snapping wildly at my popper until it finally caught and crushed it. All totaled, there are few if any tips that I get more excited about than Tsimane. With great guides, accommodations, natural beauty and wildlife as well as the high likelihood of tangling with multiple fish in the ten plus pound range every day, I see this a true must see destination for all serious adventure anglers.
Essential Tackle: 8 to 9-weight rod with a weight forward floating line Top Flies: Andino deceiver, dorado deceiver, Puglasi dorado, titanic slider 2015 Rate: $7,600 + $670 of Indian Association fees and National Park Entrance fees per person for a 9 night/6 day package
Top to bottom, left to right: Solitude on the upper Itirizama; Alejandro Biorchetti and Cary Pugh with a chunky one; the view from the Agua Negra camp; a surubi awaiting release on the PAGE 45 Agua Negra; native boatman poling up the Pluma. Photos: Ken Morrish
Fly Water Travel's Ken Morrish writes about Tsimane Lodge in Bolivia