|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
His heart raced! Tucunare. 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 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
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 tucunare if you were not always looking for
“Sure, you know I like catching tucs, but here we are in the midst of
the Garden of Eden, or witness to evolution, depending on your point
“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
“Gracias señor.” Mark said rubbing his stomach. “What is that huge
horrible creature you have there with the Viking swords coming out of
“I looked it up in the field guide. This is a male Macrodontia
“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
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.
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Catching Peacock Bass the Hard Way
|Bill with tucanari
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