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Adventure Fishing for Peacocks and Payara: The Secret

Updated: Mar 1

Adventure Fishing for Peacocks and Payara: The Secret

Colombia Adventure Fishing Destination report filed by Angler, Rich Calcut. Trip dates were January 10 - 20, 2024.


I was asked that numerous times when I informed friends that my next adventure fishing trip was taking me to Colombia for Peacock Bass. Like most Americans my only knowledge of Colombia was the media stories I had been fed for decades. Fortunately, I would soon find out that Colombian folk are very friendly, outgoing, and helpful people with a terrific sense of humor. Several months earlier, I was surprised too, as most of the South American fishing adventures I had researched spoke primarily of Peacock Bass fishing in Brazil. Most of those, adventure fishing operations, were centered around Brazil's Amazon River. You can find everything from luxury yachts with open bars and daily massages to high-powered bass boats or floating river trains. While all those amenities are wonderful, and I would certainly take advantage of them if they were there, my primary goal was to catch the largest Peacock Bass possible and enjoy a few Payara (Vampire Fish) as well.

Trophy Quest with Fishing the Americas

Through the advice and counsel of Mark Davis, of Big Water Adventures television show Lore, I was introduced to David Fields of "Fishing the Americas," who has outfitted and fished Amazon River Fishing Adventures with clients for decades. His knowledge encompasses all things Peacock Bass and numerous other species most of us have never heard of that inhabit the entire Amazon Basin, which measures about a thousand miles from north to south. After a few minutes with David, it was evident I was speaking to a fisherman, not a fishing booker, who made money by filling empty seats on empty boats on empty dates. This was a fisherman who examined years of data on traditional river levels, suitable tackle, travel tips, and every imaginable technique that would help me succeed in my goal of size over quantity.

Following through on a couple of contacts recommended by David, including Pamelah Howard of Global Angling Tours, all my necessary travel documents and payments were soon in perfect order, and I started the first leg of this latest fishing adventure from Huntsville, Alabama, to Bogota, Colombia. Arriving in Bogota, I quickly breezed through customs and immigration. I was delighted to find the English-speaking driver Pamelah had arranged for,  holding a sign with my name just outside the exit. A short ride through this city of about 10 million people found me at the Marriott Courtyard, checking into my pre-paid room. A delightful staff handled my every need in this wonderfully new, totally modern facility, which boasts a fabulous dining room, guest gym, and laundry services. Without the guidance I received from my advisors, both David and Pamelah, I never would have been able to sort through all the pretty websites that often fall short of expectations.

The next morning, at the free breakfast, I met the rest of the anglers who would share this fishing adventure with me. A couple from an island off the French/English coast I had never heard of, and four guys, all originally from the Pacific Northwest who were now scattered across the U.S. Our driver, Marta, soon whisked us off to the smaller airport to travel to our next stop of Puerto Carreno, where we were immediately greeted by our camp director, Nick Russell. Our bags were quickly loaded in two full-sized four-wheel-drive SUVs. We then headed out of this small city on our roughly 5-hour drive, where the paved road quickly ended. We traversed sand, rocks, and a landscape that reminded us of the Serenghetti. Twice we found ourselves crossing the river on a pontoon ferry powered by a 40-horse motor with our two vehicles aboard. An enjoyable ride over a volcanic mountaintop gave way to our first view of the Orinoco River. There we were loaded into boats for a 45-minute ride to our first base camp situated on top of a solid rock formation jutting out of the Orinoco River.

This would be home for the next three days as we targeted the fast water Payara or the Orinoco. A generator provided adequate power for all your needs and lit the wood-framed and floored cabins, which featured a thatched roof and flush toilets in each cabin. The common dining area was a beautifully handcrafted building with plenty of soda, Gatorade, water, and beer in a cooler. Our breakfast and supper was provided each day in more than you should eat portions and were as tasty as any restaurant in any city. Our lunches was provided daily in plastic containers. On each of the three days of Payara fishing we met for lunch at an island palm thatch structure crafted by the local Punaiva tribe from the island of Isla Roton, which is in the middle of the Orinoco. One day, they cooked a Payara for us over coals wrapped in banana leaves. The delicious, firm, fleshy meat was a delight.

According to Nick Russell, our camp director, the water was unusually low for this time of year, and while we didn't have Payara jumping in the boat, we all managed some degree of success. Nick is a very patient man, the world's best listener, and did a masterful job of clueing us in on different baits, techniques, and locations to maximize our opportunities. A born Brit, Nick left the UK at age 18 and has spent most of his life as an adventure fishing guide in Asia and South America. His passion for fishing is evident, as he obviously takes as much delight in putting people on fish as he does catching. He speaks fluent Spanish, which was helpful to this Alabama boy who has trouble ordering at Taco Bell. While I caught numerous Payara, the largest were a few 8-pounders. They were nothing to write home about, but of the 8 billion people on earth, I am one of a small percentage to be able to say, Yeah, I did that."

Fishing the Americas angler Rich Calcut

Day 4... we were off to Camp #2 for the Peacock Bass Fishing Adventure. We fished our way to the next camp, now in Peacock Bass Country. On my third cast, I soon understood what all the hype was about with these Amazon River Basin critters. Casting my yellow and white popper into a shallow rock pile, the water exploded with a noise, emitting decibels that betrayed this peaceful area of the pristine river. The strike was so violent, it actually ripped my reel out of the seats on my brand new custom Peacock Bass rod. Fortunately, Nick was right there to reattach the pole to the reel while I did my best to reel, as he was reuniting my gear to its original condition. There was nothing wrong with the rod. It was my in-attention to detail upon assembly that caused the separation. Upon landing the 13-pound Peacock after maneuvering through the rocky outcroppings, I found the fabled power rankings of this angry beast to be accurate. While the front hook of the lure was still firmly attached to the fish, the rear hook and the split ring were no longer on the lure but still in the fish. The remains of a heavy-duty split ring now resembled a straightened-out paperclip. It barely hung from the disengaged hook. With my heart still pounding, I quickly realized I had once again joined that small percentage of the 8 billion people who have been blessed to live their dream of a Peacock Bass Fishing Adventure. After a very good day of fishing, thanks in large part to all the help I received from Nick Russell, our boat driver/guide Adrianno, and my pre-trip schooling from David Fields Peacock University (no, that's not real), we arrived at camp #2.

At our second camp we were once again perched high above the river on a rock formation with more than adequate generator power, a nice dining area, and the same wonderful people who assisted us at Camp #1. Lodging was in the best tents I have ever seen, with comfortable beds. I'm guessing 10 to 12 foot ceilings, walk-around square footage, a fan, outlets, and hardwood floors. Each tent had a flush toilet and shower area about 3 feet behind the the tent. The food and all the services were fantastic. At both camps, laundry service was available every day. Simply put your clothes in the hamper, and when you come in for supper, they were folded and waiting on a table near the dining area. Each camp had friendly dogs around the camp. We were occasionally awakened by the dogs barking during the night, which I welcomed, since I knew they were chasing away something that wasn't conducive to our good time. Each evening at supper, we found our group getting closer and sharing fishing and life experiences. Everyones contact information was readily shared, along with suggestions on when and where to seek our next angling adventures that others had already experienced. Experience is always better than a pretty website.

In our final two days, we found success in many locations around our camp, including lagoons, along river banks, and just about anywhere we found water. Poppers, stick baits, and jigs proved to be the most effective for this trip. The famed "Wood Chopper" baits, although given ample opportunity, did not produce a single fish on this trip. But yes, I will bring them again next time!

 Fishing the Americas angler Rich Calcut with Peacock Bass
Author and angler Rich Calcut with Peacock Bass

The final days saw the fishing getting better each day. More and bigger fish were cooperating. My personal highlight was day 6, when Adrianno carefully glided our skiff into a shallow sand bottom bay while Nick and I stood on the front platform, peering into the shallows and looking for our prey. Almost simultaneously, we spotted a pair of larger-than-average Peacocks and Nick whispered, "The big one is on the right." My cast was perfect one meter past and one meter ahead of the fat boy I wanted so desperately. On the third pop of my lure, the fight was on, and with no obstructions in the water, I had a serious advantage. Adrianno paddled our boat towards shore, and I disembarked to stand in ankle-deep water and finish the job I had traveled so far to accomplish. Nick soon had the 16-pound Peacock secured in the Boga Grip. While the photos and videos were being taken somehow about 60 years of age left my body and I was once again that gleeful child of so long ago. After a short revival, the Peacock sped away, living to thrill another lucky angler. After I composed myself, Nick and I were surprised to see Adrianno staring at the water and motioning us over to his location. Much to our astonishment, the other large Peacock was still there! I quickly grabbed the rod and flung the same popper about 5 meters past the fish due to my new found adreneline rush. I was still a perfect 1 meter in front. On about the 6th pop, the Peacock missed the lure on his first attempt, but I kept popping. Seçonds later, the lure disappeared from sight, and the fight was on. Shortly thereafter, we saw the fish rise, but all we could see was the line coming out of its mouth. The Peacock Bass had completely engulfed the entire popper. Minutes later, we were again taking photos, successfully removing the popper, and releasing the revived and envigorated fish. Sight casting back-to-back 14 and 16-pound Peacock Bass is truly adventure-angling and a South American fishing dream come true!

There's more to adventure fishing than just fishing. Wildlife abounds in this unspoiled area of our planet. We viewed a momma and baby Tapir in the shallows of a shorline for a few minutes. Camen were in ample supply. Crockodiles were present almost daily. Mackaws, and numerous other birds beyond my knowledge, were everywhere. Jaguar tracks were found in the sand of the beach. Once, while paddeling down a canal to get to a lagoon, we were informed, by a large group of Howler monkeys that we were trespassing on their turf. If you ever get to experience this you will quickly learn that their name is well deserved. There was ample time to reflect on all the wildlife and experiences as we took the 5-hour ride back to the airport in Puerto Carreno to board the same comfortable, fairly new aircraft we arrived in a week earlier. A couple of hours later, we were back in Bogota, where Marta was again waiting to take us back to the same Marriott. The next day, it was time to head home with a lifetime of memories of a truly amazing Peacock Bass Fishing Adventure.

My first call, after arriving home in Huntsville, Alabama, was to David Fields, once again. The mark of any vacation or fishing adventure we take in life can quickly be evaluated by answering one question:

Would you go again?"

David and I are currently exploring options once again for the best time to return next year due to the success achieved and thanks to his tutelage. I reminded David of our very first conversation so many months prior. I told him, "I have fished in many locations around the world and have enjoyed some pretty incredible success. However, I have never been on an Amazon River Fishing Adventure so I'm going to shut up and do whatever you tell me to do."

" Sometimes, "the secret" to our success in life is "tucking away" our egos and following the advice of someone who has been there and done that."

God Bless and Tight Lines.

Rich Calcut

Huntsville Alabama


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