There are fantastic dorado fisheries elsewhere in South American such as the Salta or La Zona Regions of Argentina . . . However, nothing compares to the fly-fishing for huge dorado in the small, clear water freestone rivers found at Tsimane. Wild dorado over thirty pounds are frequently landed each season – all sight fishing and many on topwater presentations.
Dorado are the ultimate predators. Despite their voracious appetites and aggressive nature, they can be spooky and present real challenges for anglers. It is hard to imagine any species offering more excitement, but you still need to be on your game to have success. Every pool and run must be analyzed and a plan developed with your guide, and anglers should be proficient at casting large and wind resistant flies. Tsimane’s rivers are like most typical freestone rivers with runs and pools – and the average trout fisherman should not have a hard time reading the water. This is a physical trip with lots of hiking, slippery boulders, and a humid climate. While you will access different areas with dugout canoes or aluminum skiffs, 99% of the fishing at Tsimane is done by wading in the river or fishing from the bank. The river structure varies tremendously from river section to section. Sandy and small gravel beaches to sharp volcanic rock shoals are transitioning through all kind of freestones and boulders. Wading is not terribly difficult or dangerous; however there is a lot of it.
Guests at Tsimane are fortunate enough to fish many different rivers during their stay in Bolivia. Despite being so close geographically, these rivers offer great variation in beautiful landscapes and types of water to fish. The rivers are home to many species of fish, but there are two that you will be primarily targeting – golden dorado and the pacu. A variety of exotic catfish can be caught on the fly, most notably the surubi. A relative to the dorado, the Yatorana, also inhabits the waters around Tsimane and is a blast on a 7wt.
On a typical day two anglers will pair up with one lodge guide and two local guides. Most of the lodge guides speak English well enough to communicate thoroughly with guests. The local guides are a crucial part of the team as they are very skilled at both maneuvering the dugout canoe and spotting fish. The local guides grew up on these rivers and have hunted these fish their entire lives.
Methods of fishing vary by location and most are equally productive depending on the skill level of the angler. A double-haul is always a plus and remember to always keep your rod tip LOW when stripping your fly! Here are a few effective methods that you will experience while fishing at Tsimane:
SIGHT CASTING (HUNTING FISH)
This is without a doubt the most exciting way to present a fly to a dorado . . . witnessing a hunt alone will be a memory to hold onto! Often you will see a single or group of fish aggressively feeding on baitfish (Sabalo). This is a perfect time to make a cast as these fish are very distracted by the food source they are feeding on. Simply lay your fly down in the middle of the chaos, and hope for a hook up. Repeat your presentation until you have a fish on!
SIGHT CASTING (DEEP POOLS)
Golden dorado are migratory fish, so often times you will find a school resting in the slower, deep pools. They can be particularly spooky here, but if the fly is presented in a stealthy manner, a hook up is definitely possible.
Your guide will often have you blind cast at deep structure, laid down trees, in swift water, and in deep eddies behind boulders. These are all “hot-spots” that usually hold fish.
In unique situations you may have the opportunity to dead drift a dry fly for Pacu. While it my not sound like it at first, this style of fishing is very exciting. Pacu will often hold beneath trees that are dropping fruit or losing their leaves. This is the time to throw a dry fly and is one of the most effective methods when fishing for Pacu.
Anglers have a choice to spend the week at the Pluma Lodge, Secure Lodge, or Agua Negra Lodge. The following is a description of each river system:
PLUMA LODGE WATERS
Based out of the comforts of the main Pluma Lodge and the two headwater out-camps, anglers have access to three different rivers; the Pluma River, Itirizama River, and the lower Secure River. This broad variety of waters and pools allow groups to fish fresh water every day. You will rarely, if ever, repeat the same fishing beat. The water types very from deep pools to rugged terraced pocket water. The Pluma is easier to wade due to its wide banks and is mostly composed of round smooth gravel and rock. In order to keep the Pluma River as virgin as it is possible, motors are restricted – except for a small sector where the Pluma joins the Secure River. All fishing is done either by wading or poling in the new aluminum skiffs or dugout canoes.
THE PLUMA RIVER
The upper section is upstream from the confluence of the Pluma and Itirizama rivers. It is reminiscent of many familiar trout freestone rivers, as it is full of boulders, shallow runs and riffles, and well-defined deep pools – all with gin-clear water. In this part of the river the fishing is done almost entirely on foot while wading and fishing upstream. A Chiman canoe is used to carry additional gear and coolers and is very useful to row/pole back down to the lodge at the end of the day.
The lower section of river extends from the confluence with the Itirizama River to its mouth in the Secure River. The character of the river is similar to the upper section, but the water volume is 50 or 60% higher making for wider, deeper pools. Fishing is carried out on canoes (without engines) running downstream. Anglers come back to the lodge traveling by land on 4×4 vehicles through a jungle path. The home pool is an excellent fishing spot where one can often sight fish for dorados as you watch the fish hunt sabalo in packs. The largest dorado ever landed at Tsimane came from this section of river, a 38 pound beast landed (and released) in Ramiro’s pool.
THE ITIRIZAMA RIVER
The Itirizama is considered a favorite by many anglers of the Tsimane programs. It is similar in size and volume to the upper Pluma River, but it has a steeper gradient and more rugged terrain, giving it a very different look and feel. The Itirizama runs through rugged canyons, making it a typical mountain stream with many runs, rapids, waterfalls and large boulders. This is the most physically intense section of river to wade and fish, but the rewards of incredibly scenic beauty and some of the largest dorado anywhere make it worth the extra effort. These sections are only recommended for anglers in very good physical condition.
The water is the coldest and the clearest in all of Tsimane, so the fishing is more technical, and often more rewarding. Anglers are less likely on the Itirizama to catch large number of dorado, but they are very likely to catch the best dorado of their trip here. Fish are often caught drifting smaller flies to individual fish in the deep pools, or stripping streamers in the faster pocket water and runs. Sometimes using big dry flies can attract these oftentimes selective fish. To see a 20 pound dorado and take a surface pattern as gently as a trout eating a mayfly is truly amazing.
SECURE RIVER – LOWER SECTION
The lower Secure River is much broader and similar in nature to a valley or plains river. Its bottom is lined with fine sediment and there are a lot of sunken logs along its banks. Part way downstream from the mouth of the Pluma is known as the delta region. This is a section where the river has very little gradient, and is widened so as to form several branches and islands. This area is ideal to enjoy a shore lunch and wade the easy, flat and expansive sandbars and shallow flats. When the sabálos are there in numbers, the savage dorados are there too, always hunting their prey. There is much competition, so the fish are extremely aggressive to the extent that cannibalism is a very common scene. Here it is very common to use surface flies such as poppers, pole dancers or titanic sliders.
Below the delta region is one of the most active fishing beats in Tsimane, called Coruya, due to the large number and the size of dorado. The river in this section has limestone cliffs and countless submerged logjams and wooded structure, all ideal habitat for ambushing dorado. Currents here can be powerful and heavier equipment is often recommended here (rods to 9 or 10 weight, and tippets to 40 pounds).
NOTE ABOUT POWERBOATS ON THE LOWER SECURE RIVER SECTIONS
In order to more effectively fish certain sections of river, Tsimane has introduced new skiffs powered by modern outboards and comfortable casting and poling platforms. These new skiffs will allow anglers to fish more and better water when in compared to the dugout canoes. Dugout canoes are used on the Upper Pluma and Itirizama Rivers as they perform best in that smaller water. The new skiffs will be based at Coruya port on the lower Secure River to access the different sections of the Secure, including the delta area and 30 miles of new water never fished downstream from the Oromomo community accessible only through use of these new, faster watercraft.
SECURE LODGE WATERS
The upper section of the Secure River is found upstream from Secure Lodge. The river here is extremely beautiful with crystal clear water wedged among mountains and tighter jungle. Anglers use handmade Chiman wood dugout canoes (coambas) powered by push poles or engines. After walking or navigating upstream you encounter various small tributaries. Depending on the season, these small mountain rivers can grant exceptional sight casting opportunities, especially at mid/end of the season when more dorado arrive due to spring spawning runs. There are trophy dorado in these waters that weigh more than 20 pounds.
The middle section of the Secure River runs from Secure Lodge to the confluence with the Agua Negra River. The fishing here is done by wading downstream and with dugout canoes. The middle section of the Secure River is shallow and open, similar to the rivers further down on the less mountainous regions. Its clear waters gradually become stained colored due to tributaries that sweep sediments from the high plateau. More logs and fallen trees are found in the typical stone structure of the Secure River. The logs, sunken trees and subsurface structure are the perfect ambush points for large numbers of dorado. The high number of sabálos in this section draw large populations of dorado which can be found as singles or in packs. Undoubtedly, this section of the river offers the best in quantity and average size of fish caught while fishing from Secure Lodge. Due to the fact that water is darker and there is more competition to find food, this area is generally an easier region to fish for anglers.
AGUA NEGRA LODGE WATERS
The Agua Negra River is a major tributary of the Secure River, with approximately half of Secure’s water volume. The lower Agua Negra sector has features similar to a flood plain river (low gradient) but its water is clear and runs slow. The river meanders through valleys with numerous sandy beaches, deep runs and cover to hold strong populations of dorado and yatoranas. The latter can be tempted using lightweight fly rods, dry flies and/or small streamers. The lower Agua Negra is the perfect spot to sight-cast to dorado during feeding frenzy activity.
The upper section of the Agua Negra River has an excellent number of dorado and pacu. Moreover, the largest numbers of surubí (South American striped catfish) are found in this river. This is an ideal place for those anglers that want to trick these powerful catfish using flies. Sight casting is prevalent in this region and double hook ups are common as the fish usually travel in schools. Fishing in this section of the Agua Negra is done by walking upstream and sight fishing in shallow water and prospecting for fish in runs and deep pools. To be successful on these waters you must use a floating line with a long leader and delicate presentations.
CATCH AND RELEASE
To conserve this special fishery it is lodge policy to release all species caught with minimal handling. Barbless hooks are also required. Handling these fish requires precaution, not only to avoid hurting them but also to prevent injuries to anglers as they have a mouthful of very sharp teeth. It is very important to keep fingers away from their mouth while removing the fly. If your finger is nearby, they will try and bite it. A quality pair of needle-nose pliers is recommended for safe hook removal.
The rugged terrain with minimal put in and take out points on the river does not allow for deploying standard drift boats or rafts. Anglers also have to be able to move upstream, so Tsimane designed a comfortable and practical boat that is based on indigenous canoes. They are custom-made dugout wood canoes with two local guides to pole upriver, a small motor for deeper sections, and two seats for guests. Although some fishing can be done from the boats, for safety reasons only one angler can cast at a time.