Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River – the Real Story – Day 7

Written by on March 03, 2013 No Comments

Day 7 began with a brief, heavy rain which turned into light showers on and off during the day.  Such is not generally good for fishing.  But the fact was, Mark had the biggest fish so far and that bugged me.

I went without socks today and used some of Curt’s duct tape on my feet to deal with my blisters.  My daily routine:  apply fresh Band-Aids on my elbow from my boneheaded fall in the boat earlier in the week, apply duct tape on the blisters on my hands and feet, and pop aspirin twice a day to help with my puffy appendages.  How cool is that?

As expected, the fishing was slow due to the rain we’d gotten over night. We tried several different lures but always went back to the custom-made black and red ripper and the blue and white lure from Bobby.  Rain stopped in the early afternoon and we got to a lake-like area with several small bays.  We saw some big fish roaring around and Mark, using Bobby’s lure, got a big hit by a big fish.  The big fish broke Mark’s line and the blue and white lure disappeared again.  Prato tied a different lure onto Mark’s line while I continued flogging the same area with a red and black ripper.  We got no hits in that spot again.  Amazingly, though, as we’re going around a small inlet, Prato saw the blue and white lure floating in the water.  The big fish had rubbed it off and it floated to the surface!  This time, the back hook was missing and the split ring gone and the whole thing a mess.  Prato repaired the lure by sacrificing a hook from another lure and I was back in action again.  The lure had 3 different hooks on it—one original and 2 replacements. 

The lure Bobby gave me, with 3 different hooks--the front was the original, the back 2 replaced.

The lure Bobby gave me, with 3 different hooks–the front was the original, the back 2 replaced.

While fishing the big lake I got a little too close to shore.  The snagged lure caught the attention of a caiman, so I had to reel slowly and not wiggle the lure.  Prato motored us closer, the caiman swam off and I got the lure back again.  Phew!

Caiman checking out my tree-snagged lure.

Caiman checking out my tree-snagged lure.

Later, I aimed for shore a bit more accurately and my lure was smacked hard.  Soon I had landed a 12-pounder. 

Me and my 12-pounder, which is .5 pounds shy of Mark's biggest.  Arg.

My 12-pounder, which was .5 pounds shy of Mark’s biggest. Arg.

Mark still had the bigger fish, though, so I worked my lure again and again.  Later in the afternoon, we saw lots of splashing at a peninsula where a big peacock was chasing smaller fish.  Mark threw his red and black lure to the left of the peninsula, and when no fish hits his lure, he told me to cast to the right.  And wham! I got a 15-pound peacock bass!

My 15-pound peacock bass.

My 15-pound peacock bass.

We ended up with only 17 fish, but I was pretty happy to have surged into the lead with the biggest fish.  We were also happy because as we were leaving the area , we found Curt’s red and black ripper floating on the water and retrieved it for him.  He was very excited when we gave it to him at dinner. 

The other good news of the day:  it was the first day I had no trouble with my lower right back, even after ripping lures all day.

Somewhere along the line, Mark caught a species of fish we hadn’t seen before.  Only after searching the Internet from home later did Mark identify this as a bicunda.

Mark's bicunda.

Mark’s bicunda.

I was so tuned into fishing that it was Prato that pointed out a woodpecker, one I later identified as a female chestnut-colored woodpecker.  

Female chestnut-colored woodpecker.

Female chestnut-colored woodpecker.

I also saw a female giant cow bird, a swallow-winged puff bird, and a white-necked heron

White-necked heron.

White-necked heron.

I also took a photo of a yellow-billed tern taking on a much larger large-billed tern.  

Terns in aerial combat.

Terns in aerial combat.

On the way home, we came upon this fella, who was delivering food and bottled water to our camp.  He showed up at camp about an hour after we got back.

Delivery man on the Tapera River.

Delivery man on the Tapera River.

It turned out camp had been moved downstream while we were fishing.  They moved camp because the river had been falling every day in spite of a bit of rain, and the closer the camp was to bigger water, the better.  We took photos of the new camp site. 

Our new sand bar.  In the foreground, the dining cabin; the rest are guest cabins.

Our new sand bar. In the foreground, the dining cabin; the rest are guest cabins.

We ate dinner and returned to our cabin–escorted by the Texans again–to find 6 wasps.  The camp staff had opened the windows when they moved the camp down the river today and for some reason our cabin had attracted the wasps.  Now, I’m allergic to bee stings so such an encounter was one of the very things I had most worried about.  And of course, we couldn’t kill the wasps, rather, Mark trapped one in a Ziploc bag, pinched the bag closed and handed the bag to me.  I took my flashlight in one hand, the Ziploc bag in the other, ran outside, opened the bag and waited for the wasp to come out.  I returned for the next wasp and did this 6 times.  That night I went to sleep worried that other wasps were still hiding behind the curtains.

The next morning I learned that Bobby was on his satellite phone talking to his wife when he saw me running back and forth with the wasp bags, and he was about to run over to tell me I had attracted the attention of a caiman when I stopped coming out for the last time.  He said the caiman was about 10 feet away from me.  I could see the article now:  “Caiman Snarfs Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman on the Amazon.”

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon – the Real Story – Day 6

Written by on March 03, 2013 No Comments

On Day 6 Bobby noticed I had blisters on my puffy left hand.  Curt offered me some of his duct tape because Band-Aids were surely not going to stay on in the heat.  I added duct tape to the list of things borrowed from the kindly Texans. 

As I left the dining cabin with the duct tape, I told Mark that I’d be ready in a few minutes.  He told Curt and Bobby I had the peacock bug.  It was true:  I couldn’t wait to get on the water.  It was all because of the 12- pounder yesterday and seeing the monster fish hit at the lure several times.  And the fact that I’m a wee competitive.

While en route downriver, we stopped at a narrow notch to feed a caiman that we’d seen before.  Here’s what he looks like coming straight at us.

Caiman coming straight at us.

Caiman coming straight at us.

And here’s what the caiman is attracted to.

Caiman coming after Mark's fish.

Caiman coming after Mark’s fish.

Mark used his Yo-zuri in the narrow notch of river and pulled out a small bass that we threw at the caiman.  The caiman missed the fish. While Mark was working to catch another fish, the caiman stood nearby in the water waiting patiently.   There’s something weird about a caiman standing in the water.

Caiman standing in the water.

Caiman standing in the water.

Mark caught and released four fish before we finally saw the big splash of a fish being nabbed by the caiman.  He took his fish down stream a few feet to eat.  

Caiman munching the fish we caught for him.

Caiman munching the fish we caught for him.

We happened to be heading right through the notch in the photo above, so after the caiman was done eating–which consisted of a couple of flaps of his jaw and a gulp–we headed towards him in the boat and he moved out of the way.   Good caiman.

We headed downstream and focused on fishing.  In fact, I was so focused I didn’t see any new birds until we were on our way back home.  Being focused led to the most productive day of the week, which was a total of 43 peacock bass, including two 8-pounders and four 9-pounders.  If you’ve been keeping score, 43 fish is more than the total we caught the first 3 days.

One of my bigger fish of the day, a 9-pounder.

One of my bigger fish of the day, a 9-pounder.

Mark topped my biggest fish of the trip–which was 12 pounds–by getting a 12.5 pounder.   Oh, yes, I was happy for him, but he suddenly had the largest fish!

Mark's 12.5 pounder.

Mark’s 12.5 pounder.

It rained a bit on and off all day and since it started early in the morning and was cloudy most of the day, I actually wore my rain coat on and off.  Thing is, I was soggy in the rain coat, and I was soggy without my rain coat.  Hm.

Fish caught while sweating in rain gear.

Fish caught while sweating in rain gear.

At one point during the day, a fish hit the blue and white lure, ran a ways and rubbed the lure off on a sunken tree.  I said, “We must save the lure at all costs!” because that lure had caught more fish for me than any other.  I was really only kidding and therefore quite surprised to see Prato don a scuba mask and lower himself into the water. 

Prato going after my favorite lure.

Prato going after my favorite lure.

Prato went down to the sunken log the lure was stuck on and came up with the lure in his hand.  Back in the boat, Prato fixed the lure’s bent propeller and I was soon off and flogging the water again. Later, when Mark was fishing, the same lure was yanked off by a big dogfish that munched the line.  We thought the lure was gone again, until about a half hour later when Prato found it floating in a little bay.  Prato had to replace one of the hooks by sacrificing a hook from another lure, but once again, we were off and fishing with it again.

Somewhere along the line, our boat developed a leak. 

Boat leaking onto Mark's pants.

Boat leaking onto Mark’s pants.

Prato’s solution to the leaking boat was to place a piece of cloth on the bottom of the boat with a spare boat propeller on it.  

How to fix a leaky boat in the Amazon.

How to fix a leaky boat in the Amazon.

On the way back from fishing, we saw a yellow-ish white heron with a blue bill and a fringy bit of feathers on its back, which I later identified as a capped heron.  

Capped heron.

Capped heron.

Prato also grabbed a river turtle and allowed us a moment to take a couple of photos before releasing the turtle back in the water. 

Turtle.

Turtle.

We were back to camp by 5:00.  Dinner was grilled peacock bass with peas, rice and beans, and chicken with  blobs of other good stuff.  My description of the menu is amazing, isn’t it? 

After being escorted back to our cabin by one of the flashlight-bearing Texans, I noticed my feet were puffy and spotted with blisters.  I had socks on all day to protect my feet from the sun, but alas, I think socks inside wet shoes was the cause of the blisters.  My ankles were also puffy, perhaps because of standing in a boat 8 hours a day for several days.  I went to bed with my feet propped up with a few towels.  Feeling sexy for sure.

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River – the Real Story – Day 5

Written by on March 03, 2013 No Comments

I woke to find my left arm and left hand were both puffy, and my elbow bruised all around my boo-boo.  I figured if the puffiness continued up my body my head would explode in two days.  Hm.  At breakfast, Bibi shared the story of a fisherman who showed up one morning unable to wrap his hands around a coffee mug with one puffy hand and had to use both just to sip his coffee.   I’m grateful Mark made me use 5-pound weights for the last month–mimicking the motion of jerking baits across the water–because I can’t imagine what I’d feel like if I hadn’t done anything. 

Bobby and Curt both offered us lures to try, so Mark met them at their cabin.  From Curt we got a 6-inch green lure with black spots on it, and from Bobby, Mark chose a 7-inch blue and white lure with blue and yellow polka dots on it. 

Before we left I asked Bibi if she had a spare pair of gloves to help my sunburned hands and she asked Prato.  He showed up with a pair which I used for the rest of the trip.  (So, add this to the items I borrowed.)  I also improved my sun strategy by taking a bandana to cover my ears and use for dipping into the water to help cool off.  Such was Mark’s suggestion.

We went up-river today, which meant a one hour winding, twisting ride.   

Mark about to duck under a tree.

Mark about to duck under a tree.

 This is one of the palm trees we saw. 

A friendly palm tree.

A friendly palm tree.

 This is another palm tree we saw.  

Pokey palm tree.

Pokey palm tree.

 Out in the bigger, more open water, we began fishing.  

Bigger waters we fished.

Bigger waters we fished.

 By mid-morning Mark was working his ripper went a fish followed and hit at it but did not bite.  So I threw out a jig and Bam! The fish hit hard and ran a bit, and soon I was face to face with a 12 pounder.  It was our biggest fish so far. 

My 12-pound fish.

My 12-pound fish.

I also reeled in a 6-pounder.  This photo shows the lure I got from Bobby.  

Peacock photo showing the blue and white lure.

Peacock photo showing the magic lure.

 Later, I caught about an 8-pounder but it got off at the boat.  The biggest excitement was a fish Prato estimated was close to 20-pounds that came after the lure Bobby gave me.  The big fish smacked at the lure three times without hitting, and despite my best efforts, the big fish snubbed my lure, and simply offered me a glance right next to the boat before swirling off.  I even followed with a toss of the red and yellow jig but that didn’t do the trick, either.  “Bye-bye big fishy,” Prato said.  Arg.

Mark, meanwhile, was tossing out a variety of lures and caught a few peacocks including this one.

Mark and a nice butterfly peacock.

Mark and a nice butterfly peacock.

Mark also caught enough dogfish to keep Prato busy, and he caught a yellow piranha.  At this point, Mark had caught a black piranha, white piranha and yellow piranha.   Ha, ha, ha.

Between fishing spots, Mark decided to cover up a bit better.

Mark covered up.

Mark covered up.

The rain fell hard at around 2:30 and we got drenched but kept on fishing anyway, even though the fishing pretty well slows down after a good rain.  Our peacock total for the day was only 12.

The biggest thrill of the day was two sightings of pink river dolphins.  I stopped fishing for five whole minutes to try to photograph them and took this not very stunning photo.  But perhaps you can at least tell it’s not a river otter? 

Pink river dolphins.

Pink river dolphins.

 Prato explained that some poachers had been arrested recently for illegally killing several dolphins, so it was a thrill to see that the river dolphins are still hanging on. We also saw a couple of Jesus Christ lizards, but I never got a good shot.  And I never got a good shot of these blue and yellow macaws flying quickly by but took this shot anyway.

Blue and yellow macaws flying by.

Blue and yellow macaws flying by.

When we returned from the day’s fishing, I took a quick bath in the river behind our cabin.  I’d seen the camp staff take baths in the river, so I figured I could, too, in spite of the camp caiman.  Mark nervously watched as I took a dunk in my bathing suit top and the pants and underwear I was wearing all day.  Next time, the bathing suit bottoms are going with me.

A dip about to take a dip in the river.

A dip about to take a dip in the river.

At dinner I told Bobby I owed today’s peacock catches to his lure, a Caribe Pavon prop in “clown” color.   Bobby also shared that he sometimes uses a Rapala Super Spook.  I bet myself a quarter Mark would be online within 2 days of getting home to get us some more lures.

After dinner, I took photos of the tunnels in the sand outside our cabin.  

Tunnels made by mole crickets.

Tunnels made by mole crickets.

This is the mole cricket. 

 

Mole cricket that hung out by our cabin.

Mole cricket that hung out by our cabin.

We also turned our black light on to see what insects we might attract.  As we waited to see what came to the black light, Mark stood shining his flashlight up to the sky.  It turns out the black light attracted lots of flying ants and one leaf hopper.  Mark’s flashlight attracted a dozen bats. 

Mark attracting bats.

Mark attracting bats.

This was one of two nights we actually took our flashlights to dinner.  Yeah us.

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River – the Real Story – Day 4

Written by on March 02, 2013 No Comments

On the morning of Day 4 I noticed that my left hand was just a little puffed up, my elbow a little stiff, my ears sunburned.  I took heart in the fact I wasn’t creaking and popped two aspirins with breakfast, which included eggs, ham, cheese and green peppers on a sesame seed bread.  Quite tasty. 

We’re off and headed down river.  It’s a great morning which turns into a great day.  We had four doubles, which means two fish on at the same time, four different times.  That’s like 8 fish if you think about it.

Mark and I posing witih one of our four doubles.

Mark and I posing with one of our four doubles.

Then it got even better.  Check out Mark’s 8-pound spotted peacock.

Mark with his spotted peacock bass.

Mark with his spotted peacock bass.

But note that I got a spotted peacock that was 10.5-pounds. 

My spotted peacock which is a wee bigger than Mark's.

My spotted peacock which is a wee bigger than Mark’s.

This is my fish up close.  Quite the mouth huh?

Another view of my bigger fish.

Another view of my bigger fish.

We spent most of the day ripping surface baits across the water.   We also caught a few more smaller peacocks, a dogfish and a black piranha.  I like that the word piranha ends with a “ha” as if the joke is on us.

Prato with our black piranha.

Prato with our black piranha.

What’s important here is that we ended up with 22 peacock bass which was a new record for us.  We also were thrilled to have some fish over 8 pounds to finally report.

While fishing we were occassionally interupted by birds, including some parrots making a ruckous in the trees.  This is one of the rowdy fellas.

Orange-winged parrot.

Orange-winged parrot.

 While taking our bathroom break on a sandbar, Prato found an irregularity in the sand and dug down to explose a nest of turtle eggs.  We took a photo and Prato covered the eggs back up again.  Mark asked Prato if he ate turtles and he said yes.   No wonder he could find them so easily.

Turtle eggs.

Turtle eggs.

 We also saw two types of terns I later identify as large-billed terns and the smaller yellow-billed terns

Large-billed tern.

Large-billed tern.

We also saw the Amazon kingfisher, which looks similar to the poorly named green kingfisher only bigger.

Amazon kingfisher.

Amazon kingfisher.

I also took this shot of a jabiru stork flying by.

Jabiru stork flying by.

Jabiru stork flying by.

And we saw a little blue heron.

Little blue heron.

Little blue heron.

I got absolutely baked in the sun and by late afternoon the area above my thumbs was fried on both hands.  Just as I was pondering whether to whine, the rain began to fall.  It came down hard and long enough for me to feel rain fall between my legs, which is a nifty feeling indeed.  Thankfully, our pants and shirts dried by the time we got home.  It was having only one pair of shoes that was a bummer because they did not dry.

Mark enjoying the rain.

Mark enjoying the rain.

When we returned to camp we discovered another really cool thing about this trip:  the camp staff do laundry every day.  All you have to do as guests is put your dirty clothes in a plastic basket provided inyour room, and when you get home after fishing, there, on your bed, is a neat little pile of your clean clothes.  And yes, that includes your underwear and bras if you wear such things.  Oh my.

After dinner, we found that the camp staff sometimes amuse themselves–and guests–by attracting the camp caiman.  Sometimes they do this by simply putting fish guts in the river.

Camp caiman coming to check things out at camp.

Camp caiman coming to check things out at camp.

Today I witnessed the caiman snapping up a fish and taking it downstream to eat.  

Camp caiman munching its dinner.

Camp caiman munching its dinner.

 After we had dinner dinner, I tried to to get a decent photo of the nightly nightjars that flew overhead but that seemed like an enormous challenge after baking myself in an oven all day.   Shortly afterwards, we wobbled into bed, assisted escorted once again by one of the flashlight-bearing Texans.

 

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River – the Real Story – Day 3

Written by on February 28, 2013 No Comments

Day 2 ran into Day 3 because Mark got up four times in the night due to some silly stomach upset.  At 6 a.m. we dragged our sleepy selves to the dining cabin in search of Imodium, which is something we always take with us on our travels . . . until this trip.  We found Curt and Bobby in the dining cabin sipping coffee and they immediately offered Mark some of their Imodium.  As an extra precaution, I added a roll of toilet paper to the camera lenses in my dry bag.  And as a final precaution, I made two cheese sandwiches and avoided any meat.

We headed upstream to a really twisty, narrow area that required a lot of maneuvering by Prato to get through. 

Narrow stretch of river to get to bigger water.

Narrow stretch of river to get to bigger water.

In this narrow stretch we saw our first freshwater stingray.  Some stingrays have spots and some do not and Mark asked me to keep my eyes out for a stingray so that he could videotape one underwater.  Now, being the supportive spouse that I am, I stood to go to the front of the boat . . . just as Prato kicked the motor into gear.  I fell backwards and smacked my elbow.  Prato stopped the boat and waited patiently while I dumped bottled water on my bloody elbow.  I sat down in great embarrassment and we motored on.  Prato is the one that showed Mark a stingray that was captured on video.  Hm.

About an hour later, we came to a larger stretch of stream where Prato said “We fish.”  So we did.  Mark soon reeled in a jacunda, which we learned later isn’t caught real often–Bibi has only caught 4 in the 13 years she’s fished the Amazon tribs.  

Mark with his jacunda.

Mark with his jacunda.

Of course, jacundas don’t count for anything, so we continued fishing.  I’d been flogging the water for a while before I caught a peacock bass so small it’s barely worth mentioning.  In fact, the morning was so slow I started doubting whether I had what it takes for this trip.  I missed a few smacks on my lure.  Later, I got an arowana.

Me and my arowana.

Me and my arowana.

The arowana is a pretty nifty fish if you ask me because in a river with so many toothy fish, what’s this one doing?

Close-up of the arowana's mouth.

Close-up of the arowana’s mouth.

By mid-morning Mark had a small butterfly peacock.  An hour or so later Mark caught a barred peacock, but one that still didn’t register in the 8-pound range.  It looked nice, though.

Mark with a barred peacock bass.

Mark with a barred peacock bass, or acu.

Shortly after Mark caught that fish, I had to remove some of the water I’d accumulated in my bladder, so Mark asked Prato if we could pull off at the nearest sandbar.  I had several criteria for a good spot to take a leak in the Amazon:  out of view of the guide, out of reach of snakes, caiman and bees, and within Mark’s hearing range.   As I was about to duck behind I tree, I looked back to make sure Prato couldn’t see me . . . and saw him taking a leak off the back of the boat.  It’s so unfair.

We continued fishing and after lunch—which we ate in the boat—I caught my first spotted peacock using a black and red surface bait called a High Roller.  The fish was, of course, less than 8 pounds.   Mark also caught a black piranha which is a nifty toothy thing that we photographed up close. 

Close-up of the toothy piranha.

Close-up of the toothy piranha.

While Mark added a few more dog fish and wolf fish to his list of uncounted catches, I took time out for a few bird photos.  This is a lesser razor-billed curassow.  What makes him lesser than more-er is beyond me.

Lesser razor-billed curassow.

Lesser razor-billed curassow.

I also saw this bird.

A green kingfisher.

A green kingfisher.

This hawk let us get really close.  I like that it’s a plumbeous hawk because plumbeous isn’t a word I use most days.  And does one even pronounce the “b” in plumbeous, because we don’t pronounce the “b” in plumber?

Plumbeous hawk.

Plumbeous hawk.

And then there were these two really attractive birds.

Muscovy ducks.

Muscovy ducks.

Way up in a tree, I saw this bird. 

Yellow-rumped cacique.

Yellow-rumped cacique.

We returned to camp with a mere 10 peacock bass under our belt, which, for those keeping track, was two better than yesterday but still pretty pathetic.  Our total, 18, was the lowest in camp. 

We showered, got something to drink, and while chatting with the other fishermen, learned that they had all been to the Amazon fishing before with one exception–the youngest of the French men.  Bobby showed us a photograph on his phone of peacock bass he caught on one trip–it weighted over 20 pounds.  (He also showed us a photo of a rattlesnake on  his ranch that was really impressive, too).  Bobby shared that he spends most of his time ripping lures across the water; Curt rips and uses jigs.  While we were picking up these tips, one of the French guys brought Mark the empty box from one of the lures he uses, which are made by Yo-zuri. 

As Mark and I walked back to our cabin–with our flashlight in hand this time–I felt inspired and encouraged by all the guys.  They’d shared their secrets; now all we had to do is crank it up a notch.  I waved goodnight to Mark and we both slept really well, thanks to the Imodium.

 

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River – the Real Story Day 2

Written by on February 26, 2013 2 Comments

Day 2 began with a 2 a.m. wake-up call in Portuguese which I responded to with something sort of like “Obrigado”  which is Portuguese for thank you.  We dressed in our fishing garb–lightweight shirts and zip-off pants pre-treated with insect repellent–and walked the quarter mile to the motel restaurant.  There we were confronted with about six tables covered with food, including one oozing with various types of fruit.  While eating, we saw two guys wearing lightweight, colorful fishing shirts sort of like ours.  We introduced ourselves to Curt and Bobby from Texas and learned they were going on trip with us.

After packing up and paying the $166 reais owed for the previous night’s dinner (about $80 US currency),  we met John in the lobby and jumped into a van with Curt, Bobby and four guys from France.  John handed out pieces of paper that said something about our upcoming adventure, including that we were en route to the Tapera River.  I mentioned that we were told last week via email that we were going to the Itapara River and John explained that they misspelled the river on the map but had made so many copies of the map they didn’t bother changing it.  Ergo, the Itapara is also the Tapera.  Said river is a tributary of the Rio Blanco, which is a trib of the Rio Negro, which flows into the Amazon River.  The Tapera River is really close to the equator.

 

Map showing Manaus on the bottom and the Itapara River at the top.

Map showing Manaus on the bottom and the Itapara/Tapera River at the top.

At the airport, each of our duffels weighed in at exactly the 30-pound limit and I learned that my camera gear does not count towards the weight limit, which means I could have taken my bathing suit bottoms, a pair of sandals, and some other useful things.  While packing (and re-packing), the emphasis had been on lures and more lures, so certain sacrifices had been made.  Some will prove inconvenient.

Within 10 minutes we were loaded up into a small plane that has both wheels and floats on it. 

Plane that we took from Manuas to the Itapara River.

Plane that we took from Manaus to the Itapara River.

  It holds 8 passengers and their gear uncomfortably.

View from inside the plane from Manuas to the Itapara River.

View from inside the plane.

Once we were in the air, the view out the window gave me the impression that the Amazon and its tributaries go hither and yon all over the country and are surrounded by lots and lots of trees.

View out the airplane of tributaries to the Amazon.

View out the airplane of tributaries to the Amazon.

After about two hours, we came to what appeared to me to be a pretty narrow stretch of river.  The pilot circled the area once, circled again lower . . .

View out the float plane.

View out the float plane.

. . .  and landed us safely on the Itapara /Tapera River.  Waiting on the banks to go home were several Americans–all men.  Waiting in boats to take us to our cabins were our fishing guides–all men.

Landing on the river.

Landing on the river.

The guides loaded up our luggage and motored us to our floating cabins.  The first thing I noticed is that the floating cabins were beached on a sand bar so weren’t entirely floating.  In fact, we would never be on the floating cabins when they were all floated down the river.  We would be staying on beached, semi-floating cabins.  And that was just fine with me.

 

Our camp from the river. Guests cabins in the foreground, dining cabin is beige.

Our camp from the river. Guests cabins in the foreground, dining cabin is beige.

  Our cabin looked like this from the outside.

What our cabin looks like from the outside.

What our cabin looks like from the outside.

 

The inside of our cabin looked like this.  The first thing I noticed:  two twin beds.  How romantic.

Inside our floating cabin.

Inside our floating cabin.

Unpacking meant putting some stuff on a single shelving unit and other stuff on a table.  It also meant adjusting the air conditioner to cool things off a bit more.  Afterwards, we wandered to the air conditioned dining cabin to get some bottled water and make a lunch.  There we met Bibi, the camp host who made us feel immediately welcome.  She said we could make a lunch and go fishing whenever we were ready.  She also said to bring our flashlights to dinner because, “The caiman sometimes like to sleep on the camp beach at night.”  Hm. 

I made a cheese sandwich for myself, a ham and cheese for Mark, and we loaded up our gear into our guide’s boat.  His name is Prato and he’s a 34-year-old Brazilian who doesn’t speak much English.  

Posing with Preto and Bibi.

Posing with Prato and Bibi.

Mark had practiced Portuguese using some DVDs over the last month and he was quite excited to chat with Prato and expand his grasp of the language.  That was good because all Prato said was “Bom dia” (which means “good day”), followed by “We go” as he waved towards the boat.

As we motored down the river, I spotted my first bird, which I later identified as a pied lapwing. 

Pied lapwing near our camp.

Pied lapwing near our camp.

About a half mile downstream from camp was a sight that made me gulp. 

Vultures hanging out with a dead caiman.

Vultures hanging out with a dead caiman.

The caiman was about 15 feet long.  And while it was currently dead, it wasn’t dead before and that meant it was formerly roaming the waters near our camp.  And it maybe had big friends.  It being big and dead also meant something really big had killed it.  Bibi later told us that a jaguar had killed the big caiman.  To summarize, we knew caiman got big, caiman liked to hang out at our camp sometimes, and jaguars like to eat caiman.  Hm.

Downstream a bit further, we came across a jabiru stork.

Jabiru stork.

Jabiru stork.

About twenty minutes later, we got to a spot Prato said was good for fishing and we knew that because he stopped the boat and said, “We fish.”  Now, the great thing about having a fishing guide is that he is perfectly happy to tie a lure onto a fishing pole and he’s perfectly happy to take the fish off the hook, too.  Prato looked through Mark’s fishing lures, selected a jig for me and something else for Mark and we were off and fishing.  Soon I was distracted by a giant river otter.  I didn’t get much of a shot of it, but enough to show that I actually saw a giant river otter on the Amazon! 

Giant river otter that did not, for even a micro-second stop to look at me.

Giant river otter that did not, for even a micro-second stop to look at me.

Shortly after we saw the river otter, something made a large splash near Mark’s lure.  It was such a large splash it caused both Mark and me to stop reeling in our lures.  Prato said, “Reel!” so Mark continued reeling and wham! the peacock slammed his Yo-Zuri crystal minnow.  He set the hook and reeled in his first peacock bass.  We were both very excited.  Here we were two sort of ordinary people from Michigan on a tributary of the Amazon River catching peacock bass.  Cool!

Mark's first peacock bass, a spotted peacock.

Mark’s first peacock bass, called a paca.

Later, Mark caught a butterfly peacock bass, which looks like this.  

Butterfly peacock bass.

Butterfly peacock bass.

The action of our fish caught the attention of this caiman.  He loitered around for a few minutes, realized he was in the company of inexperienced gringos who were unlikely to catch too many fish for him, and disappeared in the water.

Caiman that came to check on the fishing.

Caiman that came to check on the fishing.

We moved to a different spot after Prato said, “Moving!” and I caught this wolf fish, or traira.

Me and my dog fish.

Me and my wolf fish.

Mark also caught this toothy fish, which is a dog fish.  Some call this a mini barracuda.

Skinny, toothy dog fish.

Skinny, toothy dog fish.

I caught a couple of peacock bass but they were pretty puny.  I kept getting distracted by birds, including one that was really hard to see. 

A sunbittern.

A sunbittern.

This colorful bird was a lot easier to see.

Green ibis.

Green ibis.

This hawk didn’t seem to mind us getting fairly close.

Great black hawk.

Great black hawk.

And finally, we saw this bird.  It’s called a southern lapwing, which is odd because I was just minutes north of the equator when I saw it. 

Southern lapwing.

Southern lapwing.

We found this bird to be most peculiar because when we zoomed in, we noticed it had two red protrusions on its chest.  My birding pal, Mike Bishop, Alma College, later told us that these are “bone spurs that are protruding from the wrist of the wing.  Both males and females have them and I assume they are used for defense, maybe.”  Strange indeed.

Close-up of the southern lapwing.

Close-up of the southern lapwing.

At around 4:30, Prato took us back to camp where Bibi greeted us with a notepad and paper to document what we had caught.  Prato reported that we’d caught 8 peacock bass.  Bibi wrote that down, nodded and told us that snacks and cold beer were waiting for us in the dining cabin.  

Inside the dinner cabin.

Inside the dinner cabin.

The floating dining room had a refrigerator with lots of cold beer.  The room also contained a small bar allowing us to make a rum and Coke.  Some kindly staff person had also mixed a lime-based drink that was really, really easy to sip.  And so I did.

We’d just sat down with a cold drink when Roberto, one of the camp staff, came in with a small stick in his hand and started beating on a small snake that had made the mistake of coming inside the dining cabin.  Mark jumped up from his chair, tried to tell Roberto not to hurt the little snake, that it was harmless.  Now, how he knew the snake is harmless is beyond me, but before I could say anything, Mark had the snake by the back of the head, had carried it outside and thrown it into the river.  When I asked him what kind of snake it was he said, “Clearly, since it’s now in the water, it’s a water snake.”

With that, dinner was served.  It started with a very tasty bowl of soup, offered with a dash of a container of farina that was always on the table.  Soup was followed by a variety of food including fish, chicken and beef dishes, the extent to which surprised me considering we were out in the middle of nowhere.  It was all quite tasty. 

During dinner we learned that Bibi radios in every evening to report on the fishing, and what she reports is the number of peacock bass caught by the guests and the number of peacocks 8 pounds or bigger.  Nobody seemed to care about wolf fish, dog fish or any other fish.  And nobody talked about birds.  It was all quite peacock-y.

Night fell by the time dinner was over.  And because Mark and I had forgotten our flashlights, Bobby kindly walked us safely back to our cabin.  I wrote a few notes in my journal, waved goodnight to Mark from my twin bed, and tried to nod off without thinking too much about snakes and caiman.

Peacock Bass Fishing on the Amazon River

Written by on February 16, 2013 1 Comment

On January 31 Mark and I set out to catch peacock bass on the Amazon River because, well, someone has to catch peacock bass on the Amazon.  We flew from Detroit to Miami, then from Miami to Manaus, Brazil.  Manaus is in the bottom right of the map, below.

Map showing the large city of Manuas bottom right, the Itapara River at pen point.

Map showing the large city of Manaus bottom right, the Itapara River at pen point.

 Our destination is a river mislabeled the Itapara on the map, above.  See, locals had printed so many of the above maps, they found no reason to correct the spelling and print good ones.  The river’s real name is the Tapera River and it’s a tributary of the Rio Blanca, which is a trib of the Rio Negro which is a trib of the Amazon River.  One might say we were going to fish the headwaters of the Amazon. 

To get to the Tapera River from the busy town of Manaus, we jumped in a plane that had both wheels and floats.  

DSC_9185

 We flew across numerous stretches of river. 

View out the float plane.

View out the float plane.

About an hour and a half later, the pilot saw what looked to me like a pretty narrow stretch of river.  The pilot circled once and landed on the water.

DSC_9205

 Waiting for us on the water were fishing guides in boats. The guides loaded up our gear and we rode off down the river for about a half hour before pulling up on the beach where our cabin awaited.

The floating cabins.

The floating cabins.

Up closer, the cabins look like this. 

Our cabin on the river.

Our cabin on the river.

The inside of the cabin looks like this.  The two twin beds made things super romantic. 

Inside our cabin.

Inside our cabin.

 

 The cabin also contained a toilet and shower. The shower was a drizzle of water pumped in from the Amazon, but it did the trick.

The wee bathroom.

The wee bathroom.

After we settled in, we covered up from the sun and headed out into our boat with our guide, Preto.  

Covering up.

Covering up.

To catch a peacock bass, one can use jigs, subsurface lures or large top-water lures. The one below is a top-water lure that you have to jerk and jerk and jerk across the water to annoy the peacock bass.  It was one of a couple of lures given to us by two great Texans that felt sorry for us after our first couple days on the river weren’t real productive.  The lure below turned things around for me in a big way and caught me more fish than any other lure.

Lure given to us by a kind Texan.

Lure given to us by a kind Texan.

 What’s fun about the Amazon is that the jerking motion of a lure not only attracts fish, it attracts caiman. 

Caiman attracted to our fish.

Caiman attracted to our fish.

Up close a caiman looks like this.

Close-up of a caiman.

Close-up of a caiman.

With a caiman approaching, it’s quite amazing to see how quickly you can reel in a fish. 

So every day for 6 and a half days, we fished from 7 in the morning until late in the afternoon.  Before the week was over, Mark and I caught 132 peacock bass, 14 of which were 8 pounds or larger.  My largest was 15 pounds.  My first big fish is below.

My first fish over 8 pounds.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

My first fish over 8 pounds. Our guide, Prato, is in the background.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

 The next day I caught this fish. 

Beautiful peacock.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Beautiful peacock. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 Two days later I caught two big fish back-to-back.   

Another nice peacock bass.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Another nice peacock bass. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 About a half hour later, I caught this one.

Prato is in the background.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

Prato is in the background. Photo by Mark Oemke.

 My last big fish was caught on a different lure, and this fish hit so hard it busted my rod.  I’ve never reeled in a big fish with a small nubbin of rod in my hand in the rest of the rod floating on the surface of the water. 

My former three-piece rod became a four-piece rod due to this fish.  Photo by Mark Oemke.

My former three-piece rod became a four-piece rod due to this fish. Photo by Mark Oemke.

So that’s peacock bass fishing.  Looks easy enough, now doesn’t it?  More on the truth behind the art of peacock bass fishing in the next blog posting.

Happy National Squirrel Appreciation Day 2013! Photos of Some of my Fuzzy Pals

Written by on January 20, 2013 3 Comments

A few days ago, my local wildlife food store sent me an email offering in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day.  I’d never heard of such a festive event, so I got online and learned that–according to the National Wildlife Federation– Squirrel Appreciation Day was started by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina.  According to theultimateholidaysite.com, today is National Squirrel Appreciation Day!

To give you an idea of how much I appreciate squirrels, every morning I make piles of sunflower seeds for my fuzzy pals.  This is what my deck looks like most mornings.

The record number of squirrels on our deck at one time is 15.

Over the years, all sorts of squirrels came to our deck to eat sunflower seeds, including this little guy, a flying squirrel.

Flying squirrel that came to our feeders prior to my neighbor cutting his trees down.

We also had a gray fella for a couple of years.

Gray squirrel with cute fuzzy brown ear tips.

This fella has a little brown, a little gray.

This fella is a mix of brown and gray.

This squirrel is black with a reddish tail.

The half and half squirrel.

This squirrel is mostly brown but is shedding and seems to becoming mostly black.

Reddish squirrel becoming black.

This one is a nifty mix of gray with brown.

Black and gray squirrel eating seeds.

This squirrel seems to have black, red and gray.

The multi-colored squirrel.

In addition to all the varieties of colors, we get squirrels of various sizes.  This young fox squirrel discovered the good life.

Wee fox squirrel.
 
This red squirrel found it comfy eating from one of the bowls. 
 

Happy red squirrel.

 
On the far extreme in size is this chubby squirrel.
 

Squirrel with folds of chubbiness.

 We feed squirrels with big fuzzy tails. 

Squirrel that looks like he was just groomed.

 
And we have squirrels with hardly any tail at all. 
 

Fox squirrel that lost his tail somewhere along the line.

 
When this squirrel’s tail healed over, it turned white on the end.
 

His tail looks like it was dipped in white paint.

In addition to sunflower seeds, our squirrels also get an occasional salt-free peanut.
 

Fox squirrel with a peanut.

 
One day I put an orange on the deck.
 

Squirrel with orange.

I’ve also taken photos of squirrels eating snow, cracked corn, and sap from our maple tree.  Whatever they eat, whatever they look like, whatever their size, I like all squirrels. 
 

Close-up of a fox squirrel.

 Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day all! 

 
 

The Buck Stopped Here

Written by on November 25, 2012 No Comments

The problem with having a good digital SLR camera is that sometimes it needs some TLC.  Take mine–it’s a Nikon D300 and had a little dust-spec problem I was tired of trying to crop out of photos, and it needed a new rubber cover to replace the one that should be covering the input/output ports but instead was just flapping around on tiny hinges.  With a trip to the Amazon planned a couple of months from now, I wanted to make sure I sent the camera off for its TLC in plenty of time for our big trip.  So, two and a half weeks ago I sent my camera off to Nikon.  I hadn’t heard from Nikon, so two days ago I called them and learned it will be another week before the new rubber cover comes in.   They are THE Nikon repair place listed on Nikon’s official web site and they didn’t have a rubber cover in stock??!! 

But surely I’m over-reacting, because surely, my old Nikon D100 could fill in for anything exciting that might happen while the D300 was in the shop.  And surely nothing exciting would happen in my backyard during the weeks my D300 was away.  Surely, I wouldn’t look out my bay window yesterday and see two deer near the lake hiding behind our brush pile, pine trees and tall native grasses, and surely what we first thought looked like a doe and a fawn wouldn’t turn out instead to be a doe and a buck whose antlers blended into the brush pile.  And surely the doe wouldn’t come out from behind the vegetation into the open, flick up her white tail and wiggle just so.  And surely the buck wouldn’t emerge to reveal his 8-point rack and sniff and mount her.  Right in our backyard.

I, of course, was clicking away with my Nikon D100, but when I went to download the photos later, only one photo was captured.  It’s the one below, which I took when I realized the buck and doe were leaving our property, and ran next door to shoot photos from behind my neighbor’s trees. 

The only photo of the buck that my old camera captured.

 I don’t know why my old camera didn’t capture the other photos I took.  Perhaps in my attempt to snap so many photos, I overwhelmed the old camera somehow.  Perhaps the memory card is so new in comparison to the camera, the camera couldn’t translate the information correctly.  Perhaps the deer cast aspersions against me for intruding on their private moment.  Whatever the reason, it was bad timing on my part to send my D300 off for some TLC.  Of course, if I only had bad luck, I would have no buck at all.

Migration Suprises

Written by on November 04, 2012 3 Comments

I love the fall migration, because on fall weekends and evenings, I can look out in my backyard and I might just see something I don’t normally get to see.  One evening last week, I saw this bird. 

Eastern bluebird on my deck.

In mere minutes, the bluebird was gone.

Bluebird taking off.

Some people in Michigan see bluebirds year-round, but because I don’t, I get a real “Woo-hoo!” from seeing one.  Because birds are migrating, I also got in the habit of checking out every flock that came through.  On Sunday morning, I saw this from across our lake.

Note the patch of white amongst the Canada geese.

 It was only because of that small patch of white that I jumped in my car and drove over to the other side of the lake.  I crept closer and snapped a shot of what turned out to be an adult snow goose in the white phase.

Snow goose - adult in white phase - amongst the Canada goose.

This is what the snow goose in the white phase (or white morph) looks like up close.

Snow goose - white morph adult.

 What I didn’t notice is that with this white morph adult was a blue morph adult. 

Snow goose- adult blue morph.

This is the same photo cropped.

Snow goose- adult in blue phase - a.k.a. blue morph.

The two adult snow geese seemed to be hanging out together, amongst the flock of Canada geese.

Snow geese on my lake.

What’s nifty about seeing these birds is that snow geese breed in the arctic, which is like far away. Depending on where exactly they came from in the arctic and where they will travel for the winter, Michigan may very well be the mid-way point in their travels.  So, the fact that I got to spend a few minutes with them on their long journey is quite amazing.  The fact that the entire flock was gone an hour later made it all the more special.

Good luck all ye geese.  And ye bluebirds, too . . . whether you’re migrating or not.

 
css.php