Peacock bass at Brokopondo Reservoir, Suriname

I spent the last weeks of July in Suriname, S.A. teaching a graduate course at the medical school in Paramaribo. Fortunately, there were no classes on Saturday and Sunday and so I enlisted the help of guide Raymond Soekhan and his son Ronald (http://visseninsuriname.nl) to help find the beautiful butterfly peacock bass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cichla_ocellaris).

We went to Brokopondo Reservoir (https://en.wikipediaorg/wiki/Brokopondo_Reservoir), which is located about 2 hours drive inland from Paramaribo. It was completed in 1964, and is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the world. The dam on the Suriname River flooded the mountainous jungle, and seeing it reminded me of several of the hydroelectric impoundments in my home state of Alabama. There was much flooded timber, with both deep hollows and shallows. The tucunare (peacock bass) like the shallows and mid-depths of the lake, and the piranha usually inhabit its mid- to deeper waters. The peacock bass do not usually get very large in this lake (20 inches would be a large one), but they can reach almost 3 feet in length and about 20 lbs. in some of the rivers in the jungle.

map_of_surinameMatu Islandrough launchAfobaka launch

Raymond and Ronald picked me up about 5 a.m. and we headed for the launch at the small village of Afobaka. The launch was pretty rough, but Raymond handled it well. As he got the boat ready I watched the local women netting bait for the fishers. The four of them threw bread on the water and then raised their net once the minnows had gathered over it. It seemed like they got a few thousand minnows each time they lifted the net. We launched and motored out toward the far end of the lake near our camp on Matu Island. We stopped to fish at a small island along the way and got out to do some wade fishing. I was not sure how big the tucunare would be, so I started out with an 8 weight fly rod and tied one of my own black wooly buggers on. I had not fished long when I saw the tucunare chasing after the fly in the clear water. These younger peacock bass often worked in packs and they seemed to encourage each other to strike the fly. I quickly landed 3 fish in the 12” range and then my fly was toast (need to tie more durable flies!). I put on a #6 yellow deceiver (tied by my buddy, Jimmy Mayeux) and that made the peacock bass just as happy. I caught a few more and then decided to switch to my #4 weight flyrod for more fun. I put on another deceiver in purple and they liked that even better. Ronald was a big help with netting the fish. After I had caught a dozen or so fish while wading, we jumped back in the boat and headed to Matu Island for some lunch.

Chuck + peacock 3

Ray&RonOrvis 1

Matu lodge

After a morning of fishing we wolfed down some curried chicken and rice. I like spicy food, and so I tried some of these little yellow peppers with my lunch. They were so hot that they almost knocked my head off my shoulders, but somehow I survived. We all took a little siesta in our rooms after lunch. When I woke up about an hour later some storms were pushing across the lake. Our afternoon fishing was delayed for a bit. When the weather cleared we headed into some shallow weedy areas not too far from the camp on Matu Island. We did not venture off too far since the weather might take a change for the worst. The fishing was slower in the afternoon, and I missed a few nice bites. Eventually I hooked up with a nice peacock bass and got it in after a nice fight. This was probably the best fish of my trip….maybe 14” and about 2 lbs. It had a bright red eye and beautiful markings. A little later that afternoon, Ronald got a nice sized piranha to come up and hit a topwater bait. I missed a few more bites from some nice-sized fish and then we headed back to the camp as the sun was setting. It is important to be back at camp before the light gets too low. Motoring around with all the dead trees and floating logs in the lake in the dark can be dangerous.

RedeyeMatu sunset 2

Matu Sunup 2

I woke up about 4 a.m. and went outside to enjoy the stars and the sunrise. It is uncommon in these days of streetlights to see a dark night sky and the millions of stars that fill it. I saw half a dozen shooting stars and then watched the first pink color appear to the east. We made a quick breakfast and then headed out for more fishing. We started fishing near a little ridge that almost came out of the water and the bottom dropped off rapidly into a submerged forest. I got some nice sized tucunare to chase my fly, had a couple of hook ups, but could not keep them on all the way to the boat. We moved around and drifted down the little ridge but did not get much action.

We rounded the tip of another island that was surrounded with some nice looking weed beds. Immediately little peacock bass came pouring out of the weeds after the fly, hitting it and each other as I stripped it in. We caught several fish along this shoreline, with Raymond and Ronald both landing fish. It was Ronald’s first peacock bass taken on a fly. We tried some wade fishing but had no luck at it so we moved on.

Net 1Matu 2

Matu flowers

We moved back to the spot where we started earlier in the morning. We soon drifted into some deeper water and I was not feeling very optimistic until Ronald got a peacock bass to come up for a large topwater plug in about 15 ft. of water. There were several fish swimming with it so I made a cast and a couple chased after my deceiver. I kept casting and raising fish but they would only chase after the fly. I became frustrated and decided to try a chartreuse clouser, figuring that the weighted fly would do a better job of working the deeper water. They liked it. I immediately had a couple of hard hits and then a hook up on the clouser. As I brought the fish in there were several swimming along with their buddy. I told to Raymond to cast to those fish as I slowed my retrieve so that the fish would hang around the boat. In doing so I managed to let my fish escape in the process. I cast back out and it wasn’t long till another tucunare hit. It felt like a nice fish and I almost had it on the reel and then realized that it was diving for the submerged timber on the bottom. It went under some brush and before I knew what was happening the fish had wrapped the line around a limb. I tried giving it some slack but that failed, so I knew the only option was to pull it free. I could see the fish and a limb coming up some as I tugged on the line, but the tippet was only 10# test and it eventually snapped. We tried fishing for another 10 minutes or so, but all the commotion had killed the bite. It was after noon and so we went to the camp for lunch and then headed back across the reservoir to the landing.

Chuck + peacock 2

On the way back in we went past some great old trees that had died but continued to stand in spite of being flooded decades ago. The trees were probably over a hundred feet or more high, with a quarter of their length remaining above the surface. We passed the huts of some natives who still lived along the shore at the edge of the jungle. The residents of Suriname call these indigenous people the “Maroons”. They had long boats that were made with (somewhat) modern technology, but not much else was too different for them than it was hundreds of years ago.

native huts

I was very fortunate to get this opportunity to venture into the Amazon jungle and consider the trip to be a great success. I came back alive, met some nice people, and caught some beautiful fish. Raymond is a knowledgeable guide, handles the boat with skill, and helped me catch a bunch of peacock bass on the fly. There is a high density of fish in this lake, and it is pretty hard not to catch some even if you are a rookie like me. It was a memorable trip and I hope to have the chance to try it again someday.