At 6am on the 26th of November, 2011, I went to the port in Manaus, Brazil to find a fishing guide to take me out on the Rio Negro. I found a guy named Tucupe, and his wife Kristina. They were in their mid fifties, and had been fishing the Rio Negro for over 30 years.
Tucupe’s boat was 3 meters long, and had a 115 four-stroke Suzuki. The boat was very narrow, but being that the Rio Negro rarely has rough water, this boat seems ideal. Tucupe bought this engine 8 months ago, he was very proud of it, he even wore the Suzuki shirt the dealer gave him at the time of purchase.
This is Tucupe, and his wife Kristina. They only speak Portuguese. I speak Spanish, and luckily the two are similar, I spoke to them in Spanish and they spoke to me in Portuguese, it’s almost like having a conversation with somebody that has down-syndrome, you get about 1/2 of the conversation. It was enough to communicate, I could get answers to questions as specific as the depths of the water, and the weight of the fish. I could even understand what he was telling me about his kids. Apparently he has six, none of them want anything to do with fishing because they grew up on the water everyday with their parents.
Manaus is by far the largest city on the Amazon Basin. It has 2 million people, many of whom rely on the Rio Negro for fishing to provide food for their families. In Manaus, Tucupe told me that it is nearly impossible to catch a fish that weighs more than a half of a kilo because of the overfishing. So we headed west by boat for 2 hours up the Rio Negro. He said there we would catch some 2-3 kilo sized fish, but if you want to catch the monsters you have to go one-two days west into the bowels of the Amazon. These trips are costly, and his boat isn’t suited for such.
Once we got into some of the smaller tributaries Tucupe started throwing his net. He caught some small fish that we would use for bait.
On his third throw he caught a Peacock Bass, I was really surprised because this is what we were actually here to catch. He too was shocked, he wacked it over the head and threw it directly into the cooler.
After moving around, we found a spot very secluded (no homes or people for several miles) where the water was very shallow and must have been 95 degrees, about 5 degrees hotter than the air temperature. We began pulling small and mid-sized fish with huge teeth out of here about every third cast. I have no clue what these fish were called, Tucupe was telling me some Indigenous names that I could barely pronounce.
I only pulled 5 Peacock Bass from this spot, and they were fairly small, but they did fight more than the other fish. When I would reel-in a really small fish I would consider throwing it back, Tucupe insisted that we keep everything. There is nothing this guy won’t eat. He even chased an anteater that was the size of a small black bear into the woods with a spear. He didnt catch it, but he says he has a crock pot at home that any meat can be cooked to taste great, he even eats armadillo.
More food for Tucupe and his kids. Notice his wife Kristina in the background all covered from head to toe. Manaus is near the equator, so the sun is intense. I was putting on 50SPF about every thirty minutes. I was sweating profusely, so I was drinking about a liter of water an hour. Tucupe was drinking beer, as he is more accustomed to the climate.
Notice how this tree looks like driftwood, that is because in June the Amazon River waters rise well above the height of this tree. The root systems look very ascetically pleasing when exposed. That is Tucupe casting in the background.
These were the small fish we were using to cut up to use as bait. Tucupe was using these snips to cut a chunk of lead into split-shots, he would also use his teeth to open and clamp the lead together.
While we were moving to a new location we came across several badlings of ducks. I also saw several types of cranes flying around above. Deep in the jungle you could hear all types of animals growling, screaming, and singing. Everything sounded very alive.
Out in the middle of nowhere we came across this floating party store. They had generators and sold everything like ice-cream, beans, rice, beer, fishing lures, and even sunglasses. It was like an oasis in the middle of a desert. I bought a bag of pork rinds because they didn’t have anything else with salt. With the amount of sweating, I needed to take in sodium.
At the very next fishing spot we started catching 2-3 kilo sized Peacock Bass. They really did put up a fight. Some of Tucupe’s fishing polls were in poor condition. Kristina had a really large Peacock on when the rod snapped right below the reel.
This water taxi filled with Brazilians was a common site while on the little tributaries and canals of the Rio Negro. In these rural parts there are no roads, so the river is the sole source of transportation for the local folks.
We also caught several tiny Piranhas like the one pictured above. Their jaws would not stop clamping open and closed. Tucupe said that they would not mess with humans swimming in the water unless they had blood, scabs, or open wounds.
A pod of about ten fresh water dolphins came near our boat. Kristina got in the water and began playing with them. She told me to get in, so I did. She said they were not dangerous, but they started nipping at my shorts. Tucupe said it was because of the green and blues spots, they thought they were food. One of them nearly bit me on the penis, instead it nipped my inner thigh, which scared me to death, so I got back into the boat to take off my shorts. I went back in with just my black boxer shorts on. Tucupe was right, they quit nipping at me and starting playing and being friendly.
Kristina took some of the small fish from the cooler, we started feeding some to the Dolphins. Tucupe raised his voice to her and told her to stop, he wanted to keep all of them. He was kind of greedy in a way with all of the tiny fish. I told him that I paid my way and I was going to give some of my fish to the Dolphins, he nodded and said go ahead, but he insisted that Kristina not partake.
After playing with the Dolphins we rode in the boat about a 1/2 of an hour to Kristina’s brothers house. It was in a very secluded area, only accessible by boat. Tucupe stole fish from somebody’s gill net on the way so we ended up bringing several huge Peacock bass to Kristina’s brothers house. Tucupe was rude to his wife most of the day, he would over react over any little thing she did. I think he thought I couldn’t understand, that or he didn’t care. When we got to her brothers, all of a sudden he acted like he was so in love with her. It was ridiculous to see in a way, but I stayed out of it.
Kristina and her sister-in-law cooked two Peacock over an open fire. Kristina said that the Peacock Bass is the best tasting fish on the river. It was okay, but I would much rather eat Michigan Walleye.
They also cooked one of the Peacocks in a soup with pasta and black-eyed peas. Now this I must say was delicious. I couldn’t understand which herbs they used, but this soup would hold up on a menu at many restaurants.
This is Joaquim (Kristina’s brother) with Tucupe. Walking in the background is Joaquim’s wife, Marcia. Also notice the palm thatched roof, Joaquim and his sons made this by hand.
Joaquim had a large tree in his yard. The tree had what appeared to be coconuts hanging down, but the tree looked nothing like a palm. When I asked him about it, he said some name I had never heard. He took his machete and cut one open, and inside were several Brazil-nuts. I had no idea that they grew in such a manner, it was very interesting. They did not have a nutcracker, so we had to use a machete to open each. They were tasty, but it was too much work without a nut cracker.
This is some Artwork Marcia had made. It was hanging in her home. I tried asking if there was any religious significance, but I could not understand. Our down-syndrome laden conversation could only take me so far. I am assuming she obtained these feathers from toucans, parrots, or macaws, the colors were brilliant. She seemed very excited that I was interested in it, but I could not understand what she was saying. I just smiled and acted like I fully understood.
This is the skull of a Caiman that Joaquim claimed his father killed when he was just a boy. It was on the counter in their kitchen. It really was a nice piece of decoration, being on the Amazon and all, very fitting.
We headed back towards Manaus at around 5:30pm. This was one of the river boats we passed. These boats take passengers from Manaus to Belem. It’s a 4 day journey, and you sleep in a hammock. I met a German guy who had just arrived in Manaus from Belem, he said that this is like hell on earth. No A/C, no cold water, and you just lay in a hammock and sweat for 4 days.
This a sunset view in Manaus from Tucupe’s boat upon our return. I never imagined that a little fishing tour would turn into such a great adventure. I truly had an incredible time on the Rio Negro. Even though I didn’t catch a 10 kilo peacock, I got to hang with the locals. Good times, Good times!