Author: Frank Ross
If you have ever dreamed about a trip to fish for peacock and payara, there are many things that you need to know first, in order to have a successful trip and avoid the sleepless nights that I "enjoyed" prior to departure.
Ah hijo, translated to "southern bass fisherman" would be
When I bolted out of the back door at 4:30 AM, on that Monday morning early in February, there wasn't enough red mercury showing to read without my glasses, and there wasn't time to dig them out of my bags. The mercury didn't matter anyway. Nothing was going to stop me now!
I quickly threw my rod case and baggage into the truck and headed for points south - way south! Denver was the first stop on my trip that would end up 3,500 miles closer to the Equator and 80 degrees up the mercury ladder.
Rendezvous with former Dallas Cowboy Pro Bowl standout, Jay Novacek, and the Cabela's Sportsman's Quest television production crew.
Lake Guri, and the Peacock Princess in Venezuela, SA.
The three "P's" of angling pleasure: Piranha, Payara, and Peacock Bass.
If you have ever dreamed about a trip to fish for peacock and payara, there are many things that you need to know first, in order to have a successful trip and avoid the sleepless nights that I "enjoyed" prior to departure. It was a tough process from point A to point B, but in the final analysis, it was beyond all expectations. In a nutshell, another P-word; Phenomenal!
My trip was arranged through Cabela's Outdoor Adventures. After booking the trip, you are responsible for getting to Puerto Ordaz, about 500 miles east of Caracas. For me, that involved driving three hours to Denver, flying to Dallas, then on to Caracas, and ultimately flying the 500 miles to Puerto Ordaz, where our outfitter met us for the final leg by land. From Ordaz we drove two hours to meet up with our guides and base of operations for the next four days. We would be living, eating and fishing from a very unique operation on Lake Guri, the Peacock Princess.
The Princess is a well appointed 65-foot houseboat that provides the ability to fish the entire lake in air-conditioned comfort. There are other guides on the lake, but all are land based. Being tied to a string is a sever handicap on the seventh largest man-made lake in the world, a body of water that covers 1,800 square miles. TV junkies don't have to worry, pointing the Satellite dish is one of the first things that gets set up once the Princess is moored. Once our luggage was stowed aboard the houseboat, and fishing gear placed into the fleet of 20-foot Rangers, we were off on an adventure without parallel in the bass-fishing world. Before us lay thousands of islands with points and bays to explore and probe for the explosive pavon (Spanish for peacock bass).
Lake Guri was created in three stages, beginning in 1960, and completed in 1987. Depth at the dam is 600 feet, but the average is closer to 18-20. The name Guri comes from an Indian tribe who's village was located where the dam now stands. The tribe has been extinct for two thousand years. Curiously enough this lost civilization left behind a Petroglyph carved on the side of a cliff that is the exact symbol used in the logo of the dam today- the symbol of a magnet.
Guri is typical of reservoirs where large areas of timber have been flooded, with the one caveat - this reservoir covered a tropical jungle. Although an attempt was made to harvest the most valuable timber, time ran out, and hydroelectric power for the nation took precedence. Many of the millions of trees that were flooded are still sticking out of the water, or lying just under the surface. In this fertile and moist environment, seeds grow and prosper no matter where they end up. Rotting cracks in trees are host to a variety of thriving trees, vines and orchids. Navigating the lake is a challenge, but one that my guide, Raphael Valenzuela, took on at full throttle of his 150-HP Yamaha.
Juking through timber, we slid back and forth between stumps and massive dead crags, in a methodical rhythm like the hips of a Latin dancer. Raphael feathered back in tight spots, but not often. Ten years of fishing this lake had given him a knowledge and confidence that was impressive. Our destination for the first afternoon's fishing was Black Lagoon, midway down the western side of the lake. Our ultimate destination, was the Paragua (Umbrella)River and the headwaters of this great lake.
Normally, February is the dry season in this part of the world. La Nina had another program in the offering. Fortunately, I was equipped with a full suit of Cabela's Gore-Tex Guidewear rain gear, ready for any weather, fair or foul. It seemed very strange to hear that a front was blowing in from Brazil. Before long, rain was pelting the water, but that didn't bother the fish. In short order I boated three tigers, and had a 10+ peacock pavon knock my bait and me senseless. The ferocity of their strikes is well storied, but you will not understand the full impact until it is experienced.
During their spawning cycle the peacock mate, and then the male guards the nesting area. Prior to the mating season, the male develops a huge hump on its back, which is fat to provide sustenance while he has guard duty. The hump also serves as a battering ram. The ferocity of their attack is prompted by the intrusion of your lure into their territory. They hit with full force trying to kill it. Unfortunately, they try to knock the life out of the intruder with their hump, and don't often hit it with their mouth. You will have a number of foul-hooked fish, which only adds to the difficulty of turning them and getting them back to the waiting net.
The first piece of advise I received about fishing in Venezuela was don't "lip" the fish. Everything has teeth. While the peacock's teeth are not that ominous, compared to the piranha and paraya, their jaws are very powerful and can make you wish you'd used the net. By all means let your guide boat the fish.
The lures of choice are noisy top water behemoths used in the U.S. for Muskie. Lure-Jensen's "Wood Chopper" and Amazon Ripper are the two "go-to" baits. Unfortunately, this has created a two-trick pony approach by local guides. I had other plans, and after a bit of negotiation with my guide, we would explore other options. Problem is, after the sun comes up, and the temperature gets hot, surface strikes fall off to a bare minimum.
I had an arsenal of baits that I thought would work, and wanted to give each one of them a try. In fairness to Raphael, he wanted to see me catch big fish, and there is no doubt, the bigger surface baits will produce the biggest fish. To me, a lure is like a 2-iron in your golf bag. If you're not going to hit it now and then, leave it at home.
When I pulled the diminutive blue and chartreuse Frenzy diver from my box, Raphael laughed and said, "no good, too small". I tried to convince him, but he just kept shaking his head and grinning. Not to be deterred, I tied the lure on, and tossed it out, hoping that I would not have to eat crow.
In a matter of half a dozen casts I had three peacocks in the boat, the largest tipping the scales at nine pounds. After landing enough to prove it wasn't a fluke, I turned to Raphael and asked him about the bait. "It's good", he said with a big grin and a shrug.
Most fishermen seem to be in a rush to get a fish to the boat. Enjoy the battle, its the best part of the trip. With smaller lures, the challenge is to loosen your drag and work the fish delicately. The smaller hooks will not stand the strain of a full-force run by a large peacock without straightening out. To provide a measure of insurance, I did upgrade the rear treble hook to a heavier weight 4x Gamakatsu, which is advisable. Upgrading both hooks added too much weight, and proved to be unnecessary for the fish I caught, however, I did take extra time when working the fish. If you choose to upgrade both hooks, just work the lure a little faster to keep it just off the bottom.
When it came time to bag a few fish for dinner, Raphael motioned to my tackle box, "Muerto Azul", he said motioning to the Frenzy. Muerto Azul is Spanish for blue death. I think I made a convert that afternoon. The next three days of fishing continued to add to its reputation as the number one bait to ring the dinner bell.
The following day we landed several large fish, along with a medley of tigers and smaller peacocks in the 5-8 pound class, until mid-morning. When the top-water action slowed, I began to plunder through my box. I decided it was time to test some worms. I pulled out a jumbo green worm from my Berkley PowerBait assortment. Raphael again shook his head and laughed. "This will catch a bass?" he asked. "Si, muy grande", I responded.
Within three casts, the jig was up, or more correctly deep in the jaw of a monster. The water erupted next to a stump that I cast beside. After a considerable tussle, Raphael netted an eleven-pound male peacock, and announced the "culebrita verde (little green snake) was good".
I also caught fish on the magnum Rat-L-Trap, Daredevle spoons, and Long A Bombers of various colors. Basically, I think you can catch pavon on just about anything you want to throw at them. If you appreciate surface strikes, the biggest fish and the most exciting action will come on Wood Choppers and Amazon Rippers. That is why Raphael wanted me to use them. A guide wants his party to catch big fish, ergo, his constant admonitions to "chop-chop", and "mas action" (more action).
When a pavon misses a lure on the surface, he might come back, and he might not. If they follow the lure to the boat, you must immediately plunge your rod deeply into the water, and make a rapid, noisy figure-eight. When they take the lure in this presentation, the next few minutes will be exciting. The second best approach, failing a return attack on your next cast, is to go deep with a diving bait or plastic and take the intruder closer to the Pavon's protected territory.
To facilitate this two-pronged approach, I took two separate rods with different action to accommodate the different weight and casting properties of various lures. For the heavy choppers and rippers I used Cabela's Fish Eagle II graphite GMU 625, a stiff 6' 2" rod that will handle anything you can hook, including tree stumps. For lighter lures and the follow-up casts, I used Cabela's Fish Eagle II GMU 704, which worked extremely well. This two-piece graphite rod has enough action to cast even the lighter baits I was throwing, but still had enough backbone to bring the big boys out of the stumps.
On both rods I used the Cabela's Megaroyal Plus MRP 200. This reel is a star of the first magnitude, in terms of performance and value. Its 6 bearing system, and 5.2:1 gear ratio was smooth on cast and return, and the multi-drag system never faltered with drag settings at any position. The all-new Titanium line guide, is tough enough for braided line, and the lengthy fights you will have. Other features include a Titanium-coated spool, normally found on reels costing much more, and a comfortable, non-slip thumb bar. Inside the sleek one-piece aluminum frame is a high-performance ball-bearing system.
Over the next four days, when the action began to slow on the surface, or we needed fish for dinner, Raphael would motion to my tackle box and suggest changing lures. "Muerto Azul, para la comeda" he would say, smiling. Paraphrased: Use the blue Frenzy, let's ring the dinner bell!
For more information of fishing in Venezuela, or any other part of the world, call Ed Beattie at Cabela's Outdoor Adventures. 800-346-8747, or check them out on-line at www.cabelas.com.
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
When he's not out hunting down another interesting story, Frank can be found near his home in western Nebraska where he now spends most of his time guiding his two sons and teaching them how to be successful in the field. "It's part of the responsibility we all have as outdoorsmen, to share what we have learned and pass on the passion. I take the same tact when approaching a story". how can I help someone be better at what they love to do?"
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