Sunday, October 30, 2016

Flooding of our dreams?

For the next day, Chris and I had high anticipation. The plan was to tramp to a headwater camp of a tributary of Secure. A backcountry trip with in the Bolivian backcountry only for the experienced and angler used to walk many hours a day without a patch. Marcelo, one of the shareholder and founders of Untamed proposed that to me one year before the trip, while I met him after my exploratory trip to Kendjam in August 2015. His words made me listen. 

The following night that annoying bird with its stupid night call was not the worst. Instead the super worst thing happened: in the middle of the night a thunderstorm with very heavy rain reached the whole catchment. Heavy rain was pouring down, lightning strikes right at the camp and close by several times. As if the river would flow directly down right from the sky. Lots of water, too much water for my taste.

In the morning everything was wet, Secure was up and dirty with big tress and logs floating down. How much rain came down, where and with which effect on the tributary we wanted to fish? Questions, doubt and hope at the same time. Finally Luciano came with the bad news that our tributary was flowing roaring four meters above normal level and two of four Tsimane canoes where swept away. No chance to go there this day. The other two groups tried to fish the main river but came back after less than an hour as the main river still rose considerably. We were disappointed. Our plans we dreamed of did not work out. The rain stopped early morning but Secure continued to rise till around 7pm the same day, thus around 12-13 hours later. The whole catchment got a solid storm. Our only option was to wait till the next morning. We did that, spending the day by reading, chatting, writing, sleeping and eating and possibly smoking. Sometimes a day of rest is not the worst, but with those great plans in mind it was just a nuisance, kind of like a wind knot in the leader.

This situation clearly showed that fishing-plans are related to weather and sometimes it is just luck to hit the conditions just right. In locations like that or for example SI NZ, be aware that you might lose the one or other day during a week due to high water. Don’t be upset, enjoy the other days even more!

Next morning we were very happy: we could start our tramp upriver. The tributary was still high and murky like a too strong coffee with some milk and mixed in sand. Neither good for fishing nor for drinking. Crossing the river, back and force at top of the pools, walking on the side or in the river up to the chest, swimming twice with the watertight Patagonia floating backpack as a micro raft for the rod. I did not check the time but guessing we were around 3 to 4,5 hours on our feed. After a while we started to make a few casts in highly promising water or when we could identify some likely Dorado action. Not much success though. 

As we came closer to the spot that was supposed to be our camp for the night, the expectations rose, if the camp would still be there or would have been washed away with the trees and trunks we saw floating down the river. Guide Luciano accelerated his step. Not looking back once (as he never did in my impression - strange habit when you fish with clients).

Some two kilometers below the camp spot we found the shell of one tent stuck in some driftwood. Luckily this was the tent that had the lowest location within the camp, so there was still hope. 

Approaching the camp the water was supposed to become clearer. It did that but only with a gradient as if you would slowly drip single drops of clear water in the above mentioned strong milk coffee.
The tributary up here normally would run close to gin clear, but this day it did not. It was still high and dirty. We finally reached the camp and were surprised to see the two sleeping tents still in place. They got some water inside and might have been under water for up to a foot during peak flood, but it meant that our plan to camp and fish the other day was not jeopardized. As the four Tsimane following us some hours later would bring Chris’ and mine dry sleeping bag, we even would not have to rest like a fish in a wet environment but would have a dry place to sleep. So this adventure could continue and we did not yet start fishing seriously.


A tremendous part of fly fishing and traveling – at least for me - is to experience truly remote place, discover untouched nature and to see places “normal” tourists barely ever might visit. After years of traveling that became kind of normal to me. But this place nevertheless was special, remote jungle within an area that was already remote. Birds, butterflies, fish, trees, plants and the river. But as remote places with frequently awesome nature are linked to the style of fly fishing I love, I am kind of used to it and do not consider it as unusual. I just soak it up in my memory and silently enjoy. At that place I would not have been surprised if there would have been a Jaguar right behind the next river bend as we were in an area with one of the highest remaining Jaguar populations on that planet.

We had very high anticipations for the remaining hours of the day…

(spoiler: some very good action was just hours away!)

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Friday, October 28, 2016

New lodge - new game!

Third day was just half a day of fishing due to the transfer towards Aqua Negra Lodge around 50km further downriver. Again we fished a section of Secure below Asunta and where guided by Fernando the first part of the day. After lunch we met the group with which we were changing place. They were going upstream from Aqua Negra towards Asunta and we went the other way round.

Fishing from two lodges and experiencing and discovering the river in two different sections adds a lot to that venue. It costs some time traveling and you might lose half a day of fishing, but it is totally worth it as both lodges have their characteristic appeal and the river is the same but different. Second part of that day we were guided by Luciano, an Argentinian fellow and experienced guide. Fishing continued as in the morning: casting to structure from the drifting boat was the key. Close and very close is the success factor. I did not do to well on casting as I constantly underestimated the distance and most of the time was one or two meters to short. Last year with Breno at his pousada I had more precision casting for Peacock Bass.

Casting to one of those structures I caught my very first Pacu (Pirapitinga) and was very thrilled! On streamer (black – red – yellow! Hint: the German flag ; )  ) - that was kind of less usual as they tend to feast on fruits but small fish as well. A very endurable fighter, I was very happy to finally hold it in my hands.

After some fishing and boat transfer we arrived at the second lodge, Aqua Negra, that was supposed to be home base for the next four nights. During the boat transfer we saw in the distance some clouds developing. Half of the four Tsimane traveling with us said that would bring rain, the other half said it would mean not much. Kind of the weather forecast at home in old times before rain radar. We were kind of curious what that would mean for our back country trip for the next three days. Wait! Back Country in one of the more remote places on that globe - yes, exactly that was our plan for the next days. And we were very excited about it!
Welcome at the new lodge with a delicious dinner, to bad I was not really hungry due to my appetite influencing infection. Even the daily cigar after dinner, sitting outside on the porch was not of my taste this time. 

Our group was lucky as all of us had special joy to smoke a good cigar after or before dinner. Did I mention that the group you join during such a week plays a highly important part? Our group was very good and we were very lucky about that! With Chris I had the perfect fishing partner.

Aqua Negra Lodge is the latest addition to Tsimane, providing acess to the middle section of Secure and the lower part of Aqua Negra river. The lodge is located high above the river on a sandy clif. Comfortable safari style individual tents and a big house for the meals. Same top level style as Asunta.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Stay healthy and have more fun!

One of your most important parts of equipment while traveling is your health and fitness. 

Tsimane is nothing for the unfit jelly belly fly fisher. Such an "out of the office"-fisherman nevertheless will catch, but the fun and success might be slightly reduced. Still he or she might have the best fishing trip ever. Thus bring the best fitness you can develop, be aware that the days are hot and sunny and cool when it rains. Fitnes will add to your enjoyment of your trip and success fishing. Bring clothes to fully cover you, always long sleeve, sunscreen and buck repellant. Bucks are not bad but you should avoid bites whenever possible. You will wade in stony slippery sections or deep water. 

Be prepared – do your homework! The jungle is rather friendly during the fishing season but a mistake might not be good. The only real “danger” out here are sting rays, your guide will tell you how to avoid them.


Second day from Asunta we went downriver Secure. A total different river, semi clear, wide, low at times, sand bars, casting mainly from the drifting boat very close to structure (logs, dead trees in the river, to the shore or in rapids) and sometimes even in (!) structure. Casting and casting again. Streamer fishing – that is not sight casting to big trout. If there is action, that kind of fishing keeps you motivated, if not, it can be very boring as the water is milk coffee and you kind of blind fish. Still here at Secure you always have the chance that a golden flash appears behind your fly, the water explodes and you get solid hook up with a +15lbs Dorado. Every cast should be fished with alert and motivation.



Fishing was ok again. Nothing special, we caught our share of fish and had fun fishing together. Somehow this week seemed to be kind of slow. Hernan and Alexis fished upper Secure that day and got some good shots and success on Pacu and a couple of good sized dorados. It is kind of a mixed bag, there are days and weeks where you have more or less luck. 

I could write long essays about the nature and the amazing place Tsimane is – but instead: just enjoy the pictures and start to dream about that place. If you are interested in Jungel fishing or Dorado or just want to fish for the most aggressive freshwater predator: set up your trip as soon as possible. I will save further praises and text for another time.


Somehow I managed to pick up a minor virus or something, thus I did not feel overly well. This reminds to stay clean and take care while you are traveling in such locations. Take care with the food, temperature and wash your hands.

Possibly it was just related to too much cheesy greasy tasty pizza from the pre-dinner appetizers or it was an ordinary virus. It was not overly bad, it just made me only working at 80%. 

Appetizers or finger food before dinner is a nice tradition at Tsimane. Before dinner the guests and guides sit together after their days fishing and chat about the adventures of the day. Have a drink (free bar at Tsimane lodges), have something to eat and look forward for the dinner a head. In 2012 these appetizers were of high variety and phantasy, in the meantime the observed complexity was reduced but taste and amount is still plentiful.
Next day would be the last half day fishing from Asunta. After that we would relocate to Aqua Negra Lodge for the second half of the week. We had highly anticipated plans for the next days!


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tsimane and Secure here we come!

Saturday in the morning our adventure was supposed to start! Via two small planes our group took off from the tiny national airport of Santa Cruz for the two hours flight north northwest towards Tsimane area and Secure river system. After a while the landscape becomes greener and more natural as the pastoral land is left behind. One can only wonder how many Coca plantations for cocaine production pass beneath the plane. In Bolivia Coca is legally grown for traditional chewing of the leaves, but production for cocaine is illegal. Flying over that area in a fixed wing plane is ok as long as some areas are avoided, a helicopter would cause panic and possibly flying bullets from the illegal plantations below.
Our flight went safe and the bumpy grass landing strip at Asunta was visible as light green patch in the jungle canopy. Touch down and we were back on the ground safely. Don’t be fooled, that is not controlled double and triple checked air traffic such as we might be used to in our “western states”, that is basic air traffic with accidents unfortunately happening and very sad stories. But in the same way the passenger want’s a save touch down, the pilot is motivated to fly save.  

We and our gear got out of the plane and the group before us went in to end their trip and fly back to Santa Cruz. Carrying the bags to the large wooden motor boats and ten minutes transfer upstream to the new Asunta camp. I got goose bumps motoring upriver – it felt so good to be back! The first time I was at Tsimane I regularly had to remember to close my mouth.  

The new camp is located in a safer location high above the river, compared to the old (first) camp that was magnificently located close to a rapid overlooking the river, unfortunately it was washed away in heavy floods three years ago (no humans injured as it was during off season). New Asunta camp consists of a large main house for meals and hanging out with the fishing mates and four comfortable safari stile tent-huts with bathroom for two anglers each all linked with a huge construction of boardwalk. Plus a couple of huts and constructions for staff, kitchen and supply. For the clients everything is well organized and as comfortable as reasonable for such a location, you might even call it kind of luxurious. 

I was happy to see Fernando Beltran as camp manager of Asunta camp. Four years ago when I first visited Tsimane he was working at the camp, in the meantime he became camp manager. An enthusiastic, jungle loving and care taking manager and guide every operation could only wish to have! His interest and passion for the Tsimane connects the whole venue well to the Tsimane’s activities and their passion to hunt and to explore. Tsimane guides enjoy being on the river to observe and to hunt as those funny white men enjoy this fly fishing thing. And once in a while they take their bow and arrow and hunt for Sabalo which are so abundant in the system that at times you might think to walk over the river on this mass of fish. A good number of Dorados follow the annual upriver spawning run of Sabalo. Besides these migratory Dorado there are resident Dorado in the system. A other fish to target is the highly regarded and challenging Pacu (Pirapitinga, a relative of the Piranha, a fish that eats fruits and fish alike), the Surubi (a big catfish, very hard to catch on the fly) and Yatorana (the best fighter pound by pound).

That first evening Hernan, Chris and I fished the "home pool" without much success. Hernan and Chris got some pulls but nothing lasting. Dorado were just not into feeding mode. We saw a couple roling which is a very bad sign, most likely they will not take and are aware of the fishermen. Was that a sign for the week to come?

First full day fishing, Chris and I went upriver towards upper Secure. A section I could not fish in 2012 due to rain and high river level. Thus every corner was new. We went up a considerable stretch of river without fishing to leave that untouched for our mates before we eventually started to fish. Secure becomes smaller and smaller the further up you go, we took the right river arm three times and finally were fishing a mere creek. Marvelous! Dorado in a tiny creek like that – wow! We took turns and caught our share of fish each. Typical Dorado flies with muddler head, weighted eyes in black combined with some color did the job. Nothing fancy - as often it is more about presentation than the precise color of the fly.



Upper Secure can provide very good opportunities for the highly regarded Pacu. We saw a couple but did not get real shots on them. Pacu - this challenging to catch and hard fighting fish is still on my list.

As I am very bad on counting number of fish or even remembering single “average” fish, I have no idea how many we caught. But size was medium and numbers were rather low, nothing overwhelming in terms of fish, though we saw a couple of good ones. Nice to start again with the Dorados! There was only one bad thing to mention: I broke a rod handling a fish while landing, it might have been typical high sticking aka stupid angler behavior. What is striking though, I only broke three rods up to now in 25 years of fly fishing, all on their very first day of fishing. Thus the engineer in me tells me, that some material issues might not be totally unlikely. On trips like that with big aggressive fish, always, I say always, take plenty of rods with you. As mentioned, for Tsimane I would propose two 8# and two 9#, with WF-F 9, WF-I (tip) 9 and possibly a sink tip line of 300 grains and two or three reels that provide enough power to reel in a 30lbs Dorado. T&T Solar or Exocett, Sage Salt or TCX are good options. Add some (cheap) backup.

Counting and remembering fish - the astonishing ability that seems to be mandatory for most fishing guides. I am very bad on that. As long as I have the impression that something is happening and I catch fish once in a while and kind of regularly, everything is good. And most of the time fishing everything is good. I might remember the outstanding fish such as a Trophy trout in NZ SI or the very big Dorado I caught 2012 or some other special fish (of that trip). But some guides even remember fish that we caught years ago, recalling the fly and precise spot where it happened. Unbelievable. 

Some annotations to clarify on the following posts and pictures. I love to take pictures and try to make them well, but I am an amateur that loves fishing (PS back home now, doing the post production, I came to the conclusion that I should repeat the trip: the yield of ok-pictures is horrifying low). Thus I usually do not take pictures of every fish I land but only of some. Sometimes that comes with lost chances, as you might expect you would continue to catch and once of a sudden it is off. In terms of picture style a special angle on a fish or a good composition are nice to look at and I like them, but pics that intentionally over exaggerate the size of a fish are more a sign of low self-confidence. Such as holding the fish with long arms right in the 10mm ultra wide lens with the fisherman’s head (aka brain) dwarfed behind a 15lbs Dorado to make the fish looking like 30lbs. E.g. a really huge Dorado can be judged by the size of the eyes in relation to the remaining head, if the eyes look very small, the fish most likely is huge. Or by the fisherman’s hand (considering its size as well) holding the fish’s tail. If the tight hand is not closed around the tail, it is most likely a big fish. If the size of the fish is still obvious from the picture it might be ok. It is a thin line between documenting a good moment or telling myth about huge fish that were kind of average.

During that trip I met a professional photographer who very clearly expressed: "I hate exaggerated hero shots."

As a fly fisher you - at least that is valid for me - once in a while might love to have a picture of yourself holding that special fish or just catching a moment with you in the scene. In those situations friends, fishing mates or guides with a good eye and a steady hand are the friends to treat well. As most of us can not afford to bring their own private Norwegian photographer on such a trip. To all the guides, especially to Breno and Chris my fishing mates and friends who took pictures that have a level horizon, provide some area to crop (in case they were off angled), with no changes to the camera setup, pictures that are kind of sharp and are plenty to select the ones without funny faces: Thank you so much! 

To all the others: you would have the chance to make everybody happy (yourself, your company and the client) if that killer shot of your client would be taken by you! 

Enough about those ethics and oppionions for today.

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