Each January for the past several years I have travelled to South America along with Joe Taylor and other likeminded anglers. Joe is the linchpin having spent almost half of each year in his travels, a combination of family based along with his fishing trips. Similar to my challenge of trying for different river barbel doubles, Joe likes to try new rivers and his list of countries and rivers within each of them that he has fished is truly extensive.
This year’s trip to Suriname would be unusual in that it was intended we would travel over five different rivers in a large loop and although the start and finish points would be a couple of hours by road apart the river distance would be twelve days. With three anglers, Joe and I would be joined by Steve Bartrum, and three native helpers the pontoon would be fairly full and it is essential that the people get on and make allowances for the odd difficulty that will always occur in such a confined space.
The pontoon is moved by means of being pushed by one of the smaller boats with a 15hp engine when the tide is favourable, it cannot move against the tide and hence that is a serious controlling factor. Most of the time you are looking at seven hours on an incoming tide, and five hours on the outgoing tide. There is perhaps one hour difference as you move up river away from the estuary. This then gives us our fishing pattern, move to the next location, be that a deep hole, anything up to one hundred foot, or at the mouth of a creek which normally would also be a deep hole as well. The deep holes have the advantage that the prolific piranha do not go into the deep water so we escape their veracious attention.
The tackle we use is suitable for playing and landing fish that potentially can go to over 250lb, in the case of the arapaima they could be 500lb. 30ln-50lb class boat rods combined with 150lb or 200lb mainline. Hook link material is 100K braid and a single size 10:0 hook is used along with a size 1.0 treble. Bait is generally whole fish, live or dead, in a range from 0.5lb to 3lb depending on what is caught in the nets positioned at high tide and checked at low tide. We use one rod each and the drag is set such that you cannot pull line of by hand, when the fish takes, it is as though you did not set it. I us a Penn Squall 60 LH reel with lever drag. When waiting for a bite the lever is set to just beat the river flow, once you have a take you push the lever up to the strike position and hang on. The larger fish will flat rod you at this point and the reel is screaming as you attempt to get into the smaller boat in order to go after it. The pressure on the rod is really heavy and the fish at the other end is trying its best to take the rod out of your hands. Winel, the main guide on the trip makes his way to the engine, one of the other lads makes sure you are safe and will not fall from the rocking boat and get safely sat down, you can now reel like hell to regain the line the fish has taken. Exciting does not cover this time, and the adrenalin flows by the gallon.
Steve and I stayed at a hotel the first night and were picked up at 8:30am ready for the 4hr trip to our starting point at a town called Nickeri, our first river also called the Nickeri River. Joe had come out to suriname some days earlier and had travelled up from Boss Camp where the pontoon is normally based. He had fished along the route but had made the trip in quick time travelling at every opportunity to arrive and meet up. Although they had made good time it did not stop them from catch and again 100lb plus fish were caught at regular interval with two of these around the 200lb mark. Joe has caught so many lau-lau now that he enjoys just being there and since it would be Steve’s first trip he was letting Steve have the fish on his rod for most of the trip.
The first afternoon/night we were fishing the mouth of the Maratacka River and although Joe had caught well on this spot on a previous visit we did no good. During the night the tide turned and the lads took the pontoon to the other side of the mouth but it did no good and we left the spot a little disappointed since out hopes had been high of a fish or two. We moved up river for about 5hours and again anchored of the mouth of a small creek. We only had dead bait but the lads went bait fishing and soon caught what we called ‘squeaky cats’, a small catfish of about 8oz with sharp spines on both the dorsal and plectral fins. As the name suggests they squeak all the time but we know the Lau love them and as darkness fell we put them on each of the rods.
There had been nothing during the daylight hours but just into dark I had a take that stopped before I could reach it. Not unusual and at least it showed there was a fish about. It was some time later when the rod again went into action and that adrenalin rush I mentioned kicked in as in apparently no time I was out in the river playing a big fish. We travel large distances and pay quite a lot of money for this experience but words cannot describe it, just pure power of something at the other end of your line giving one hell of a battle. The fish eventually came to the top and Winel gave a loud cry of ‘that’s big’ while I could only wonder how big?
One of the difficulties of these trips is that of both weighing and photographing the very large fish. We now rarely, if ever weigh a fish since both Joe and Winel have shown in the past that their estimates are quite accurate. Joe had come up to my boat which was now some hundreds of yards downstream of the pontoon, between them they put an estimate of between 220lb and 230lb so I called it 225lb and a new pb by a few lb. Some years previous to this Joe and I had managed to get a Spanish Wells Cat into our boat, it was a struggle but helped by the fact that as we tried to lift the fish, the boat tilted down until it was almost filling with water. We went to the side for photos of a fish that proved to be 208lb and found the fault with our thinking; we now could not lift it out since the boat no longer tilted. Fortunately there was a nearby angler looking after his tackle and he had the strength to get it out safely. Lesson learned.
Not quite sinking the boat.
225lb specimen lau.
It’s difficult to get a good photo of a big fish still in the water, but Joe did a good job, though I nearly filled the boat with river water while trying to lift the fish’s head just that little bit more. You can see in the photo how near that was but fortunately the warning came in time. First fish of the trip and a new pb, I was over the moon and told Steve he was on all the rods until he got his 100lb plus specimen.
The next move was blank but the following move on the tide change took us to yet another creek and although our first position did no good we moved to the other side in time for darkness and here Steve finally struck gold. His first fish went a very creditable 175lb and not satisfied with that he took a second fish of 60lb later in the night. We were both off the mark with good fish and the rest of the trip would be a bonus.
Steve well pleased with a 175lb fish
The wildlife, both animals and birds are amazing, the flowers grow wild and the colours go through the spectrum to give a panorama that just has to be seen. Over the years I’ve taken the photos but being Steve’s first trip he became a proper David Bailie. It’s a good job he was using a digital camera he could have doubled the cost of his trip paying for the old roll type film and later development of the photos. Numerous manatees, giant otters, macaws and parrots, toucans and three different sizes of kingfishers and other colourful birds.
Colourful flowers and humming birds.
We were to leave the Nickeri River and travel along the Arara River which joins the Nickeri to the Wyambo but there was something to see further up the river so a decision was made to travel up and stay another tide on the river. That something was electric eels and they proved to be quite fascinating. The ones we saw were gathered at the mouth of a small, but fast flowing creek and they show themselves at regular intervals being air breathers. They also proved quite easy to hook, but not so easy to unhook and Steve got quite a belt when the rubber handles on the pliers were not good enough for the job. He just did not know Joe good enough, he was enticing him to have a go and I knew something was amiss, sure enough he nearly threw the plies away when a high voltage charge went up his arm. There were lots of the fish in the 4lb-6lb range and one was definitely over 10lb and probably over 12lb, you did not want a kick off that one. Joe tried to convince Steve that the small ones did not have a charge but he was not that daft.
The trip had by now settled into a routine, move on the tide then fish and move again. We had to keep moving with very little choice because of the distance to be covered. This is not as bad as might sound since experience had shown it was not much good staying in a spot once you had caught the fish. Generally if you didn’t catch it was because they were not at home so move on. We caught steadily and Joe joined in with a 190lb specimen, we do not catch a wide variety of fish though sea cats and even a stingray came to the boat to give a little change.
Steve with a 150lb specimen
Steve caught dinner - peacock bass
By the end of the 12 days we had caught 40 lau with 11 over the 100lb mark. My last fish came off the Tabiti River and went 170lb giving me a new river catch and four of the rivers with 100lb plus fish on this trip. Subject to a few things that Joe needs to sort out I might be going back to Guyana with him in September, but wherever the next rip might be it will be exciting.