Catching Peacock Bass
Bill heard the fish splash in the flooded jungle. He positioned the small dugout canoe and made a gentle backhand cast under the branches and around the tree trunks. The lure fell short but was close. He reeled the slack out of the line and concentrated on the lure floating in the small opening. He had been in this situation many times, and smiled thinking how unfair it was that the fish had the advantage. He twitched the rod tip making the lure wiggle. He saw the water swirl and felt the shock as the fish set the hook. He lost control so fast, it was a second before he understood the reel had broken and the fish was stripping off line. He tried to grab the last of the line, but it burned his hand and was gone.
His heart raced! Peacock Bass. What a fish! The thrill returned when he heard the splashing sound again. He grabbed the machete and hacked at the dense jungle, forcing the canoe through the thick tangle of vines and branches. Breathing hard, he stopped to listen. A flock of parrots squawked. Cicadas produced their high pitched serenade. In the distance a Horned Screamer gave its deep liquid call. He heard spider monkeys moving through the jungle canopy. But his quarry was quiet. Then he saw the line floating near the canoe. Once burned, he used the pliers to grab the line. It lead to a small shrub shaking violently only a few yards away. He used the pliers again, being careful of the treble hooks, and finally the beautiful black, green, and golden peacock bass glistened and flopped in the canoe.
He admired the false “eye” of the peacock on the tail, then covered the fish with wet leaves, and began paddling back to his boat, Dawn on the Amazon. He had confidence in his hard earned survival skills. He had learned the lessons being lost in the wilderness can teach. It was not necessary to use the GPS as he backtracked, watching for the signs left by his passage, the position of the sun over his shoulder, the landmarks he had carefully established on the way in. He paddled out of the dense flooded jungle into the open cocha and saw the Dawn on the Amazon in the shade of the large Strangler Fig. She looked very good anchored where he had left her, 33 feet long, green with red trim, covered with palm thatch in the local style. He felt a sense of pride mixed with relief. The boat and her cargo were his only security. He saw his friend Mark fishing nearby, and angled his canoe toward him.
Mark called across the water. “What happened? You’re bleeding.”
“Catching peacock bass the hard way, what about you?”
“Caught nine! This is a honey hole!”
Bill smiled at his friend covered in towels against the tropical sun, sitting low in the flat bottomed double canoe. A big man needs a big canoe. Bill paddled his canoe alongside. “I have three,” he said. “Let’s have a feast tonight. We can salt and dry the rest for emergency rations.”
As the friends worked in the shade preparing their catch, they traded stories. Not only the details of each individual fish and how they caught them, but also about the big ones that got away. Bill opened a bottle of wine, a dry red from Chile, and poured two cups.
Mark held a peacock bass up in both hands. “This is one of yours,” he said. “It is the smallest one.”
Bill smiled as he handed over a cup of wine. “A wise old fisherman once told me, a small bass fillet tastes mighty good.”
Mark laid the fish down, and picked up his knife. He scaled it quickly and made the first cut along the backbone from tail to head. He picked up the machete and pointed it at Bill. “I wish those negativos in Iquitos that said we would not catch any because the water was too high and the fish were hiding in the jungle could see us now.”
“Salud.” Mark took careful aim with the machete, lopped off the fins, and split it neatly in half. Working quickly with the knife he removed the gills, made small slits in the thick slab, and dunked it in the water. “When the water is low and the fish are trapped in a pool any one can catch 60 in one day and brag like they were big time fishermen.”
Bill took another sip of wine. “I knew some of the same type in Africa,” he said. “Ride in Land Rovers right up to a pride of lions, jump out of the truck and shoot the king of beasts with a 30-06 and brag as if they were authentic big game hunters.”
“I am not saying we rate up there with the Masai tribesmen.” Bill sat back and put his feet up on the gunwale. “But a Masai can not be considered a man eligible for a woman until he kills a lion with a spear.” He looked at Mark and smiled. “That’s what I am talking about, being a man; eligible for a woman.”
That night the Dawn on the Amazon floated three degrees south of the equator under a clear sky two hundred miles from the nearest city. Starlight washed the boat with a soft glow and cast a weak shadow of a bottle of wine.
The Dawn on the Amazon motored upstream through the mist rising off the water, the jungle golden green in the early morning light, the breeze fresh. A ringed kingfisher swooped from its perch on a low branch and captured a small fish. Swifts and swallows performed their aerial acrobatics feeding on insects between the boat and the jungle. Mark steered the boat, Bill studied his insect collection.
“You could catch more Peacock Bass if you were not always looking for insects.”
“Sure, you know I like catching peacocks, but here we are in the midst of the Garden of Eden, or witness to evolution, depending on your point of view.”
“My point of view is we don’t eat insects.”
“Mark, you ate the omelet so fast this morning you didn’t give me time to tell you.”
“Tell me what? I gave you plenty of time.”
“You fed me grubs?”
Bill laughed, “I wanted to be gourmet. I gutted them and cut off the heads.”
“Gracias señor.” Mark said rubbing his stomach. “What is that huge horrible creature you have there with the Viking swords coming out of its head?”
“I looked it up in the field guide. This is a male Macrodontia cervicornis.”
“We don’t have to eat it do we?”
“Better not. It could be worth up to $100.”
“Good thing you told me. If I had my boots on I would already have stomped it. It is almost as scary as the bird eating spider or that hairy tarantula.”
Mark steered the Dawn on the Amazon near the right hand shore, out of the strongest current. The motor ran smooth and easy. They passed two native men in dugout canoes fishing with nets. Then a shelter built on stilts. The house consisted of a roof and a floor. The roof was made of woven palm leaves. There was no furniture. Smoke from a small cooking fire drifted in the air. Children ran to the edge of the water and waved. A woman washed clothes by the river. The woman did not acknowledge the boat or the men. A teenage girl watched but did not wave. Close to the house grew six banana trees. Next to the banana trees grew a small plot of yuca. Beyond the yuca was a patch of sugar cane. Behind the sugar cane grew the jungle. The jungle crowded into the small clearing from the north. The river eroded the clearing from the south. Soon the jungle and the river will meet again near the banana trees. There will be no clearing, no shelter. Only the jungle and the river will remain.
Catching Peacock Bass the Hard Way
We have it so good at Dawn on the Amazon, even when we’re catching peacock bass the hard way.
Catching Peacock Bass
This story of mine has been published several times but this is the first time in the Captain’s Blog. I hope you enjoyed it.
Catching Peacock Bass the Hard Way is the last of a seven part series about Peacock Bass fishing. If you are interested to read more, click the links below.