This trip has been in the works for almost year and it finally came to fruition last week. Papa John, the boys and I were waiting at SMF for our flight and to our surprise the boys’ godfather Benson Kanemoto showed up at the airport. Apparantly he was going on the trip all along but wanted to surprise us. He did just that! The rest of the group were Mike Michelak, Cleldon Nelson from Reno, John Blower from Fort Meyers and Tim from Boston.
The commute from Sacramento to Tsimane Lodge in the middle of the Bolivian Jungle was very taxing. There were 4 legs to the commercial flight then a 2 hour plus small charter flight from Santa Cruz to the Indian Village then a 90 minute boat ride upstream to the lodge. When we arrived we were greeted with cold drinks and a delicious lunch.
We happened to be seated right in front of Marcelo (one of the lodge owners) and his wife on the flight from MIA to Santa Cruz. Marcelo was joy to be around. He is very hospitable and made us feel very welcome. He took us to a restaurant that served Japanese Peruvian fusion food and what an amazing combination that was. I’ve never tasted flavors like that before and it was simply delicious.
After we settled into our rooms a few of us went out to fish the run right below the lodge. It wasn’t too bad. A few fish lost and one landed.
The next day was a beautiful warm morning. However by late afternoon, dark clouds appeared and a light rain began to fall. What came later that night was a front that contained heavier rain and very cold temperatures. There was a record polar front that swept through Argentina a couple days before. It dropped to 23 degrees there. The next few days for us was serious cold temps that we were not prepared for. Morning temps were in the high 40’s to low 50’s and there are no heaters in the rooms. Most everyone slept with just about as many clothes as one can wear to bed. It was bone chilling cold. If we were prepared it would not have been an issue but we were all packed for hot humid jungle weather. Luckily there was a heater in the main dining hall and we were able to warm up a bit before heading back to the chill of our ice box…oh I mean our room. Luckily we packed waders because I don’t think we could have waded wet in that cold weather.
As you can imagine the cool temps shut the fishing off. The next 3 days were really slow. The water had muddied (but cleared in a day and a half) and cooled off significantly. We learned from the head guide that dorado are finicky and want ideal water temps. Too cold…no bueno…too hot….no bueno.
These dorado are migrating up the river foraging on the spawning baitfish the Indians call sabalo, a sucker type baitfish that eat the moss off of rocks. They are up in the river by the tens of thousands, maybe more.
Towards the end of our trip the fishing was starting to improve but it was a bit late. Everyone in our group (except Michael) did land some big fish but you can count them on one hand.
The meals at the lodge were excellent. Wonderful local and Argentinian flavors in which we savored very much. The presentations were fabulous as well. The comfort level of the lodge was better than expected for being smack in the middle of a jungle. However, a heater in each room would have been welcomed!
The lodge and guide staff were also great. Such friendly and kind people. We truly enjoyed their company. The lodge host Chucky is a wealth of information and his personality is well suited for his job. Our nightly entertainment was primarily stories/jokes told by Mike Michelak. He can definitely capture an audience. What a wealth of knowledge over his many years in the fly fishing industry.
As mentioned the fishing was tough all week. Michael was the only angler that had not landed a big fish right up to the last day. It had nothing to do with his skills. I’m of course bias but I have to say he is an excellent caster and fisherman. All three guides mentioned that to me. On the morning of our last day fishing, we had an opportunity to ask for our favorite guide. We chose Franco. He was our guide for 3 other days prior and I really liked talking to him during the day. The other guides we fished with, Lucas and Alejandro, were good too but Franco and Michael had a nice rapport. He knew Michael had not landed a fish larger than 2 pounds. First thing in the morning Franco brought us to a flat just downstream from the Pluma/Itirizama confluence. We saw feeding dorado immediately and Michael was able to get a cast into them. Within a few seconds he was hooked up with a big fish and after a few minutes, the skunk was off! That fish removed all pressure from the day for all three of us and thus we really enjoyed the rest of the day. The fishing was again tough but if it wasn’t for that morning’s big fish, our attitudes would have been much more somber. Instead, we soaked in all the beauty of the clear freestone stream, deep green jungle flora and had smiles throughout the day. What a relief!
During the last half hour of the last day we stopped at a deep run. We knew it was our last chance to get a fish. A few minutes later Michael hooked into something that he thought was a snag. It bit, but after that it did not move. The guides knew he had a stingray on. While that ray was being landed I hooked into a really good sized fish. I wanted to take pictures of the ray so I swapped rods with Michael. He then proceeded to land a really nice dorado. I guess that would be called a tag team fish. Just in the nick time. After pictures we had a long hike down to the dugout canoe and back to the lodge.
Matthew on the other hand had a successful trip considering the fishing conditions. He was able to hook and land multiple large fish and most of them sight fishing.
We saw lots of ocelot and jaguar tracks, caiman, tapir, honey badger, macaws and a toucan. Our mode of transportation was fascinating too. We fished in Indian made dugout canoes and a locally made boat that is long, narrow and powered by a small swamp type outboard. VERY efficient boat that adapts perfectly for that type of river. I was very impressed.
Fishing for golden dorado was not on our immediate bucket list. Papa John had been there 2 other times and had raved about the fishing program. We would not have made this trip it were not for him. Yes the fishing had its ups and downs (mainly downs) but the overall experience more than made up for it. The time spent with Papa John was priceless. I know we will cherish this memorable trip for many years.