My last trip into the wilderness had been in October 2018 with Stu Walker and John Edridge. We travelled to the remote north Indian region of Arunachal Pradesh, fishing some new locations on the Dibang River for Golden Mahseer, with the excellent Himalayan Outback company. The setting in the foothills of the Himalayas was stunning, but despite our best efforts, we only landed a handful of relatively small fish to 25lb.
In 2019 John and Stu had hooked up with experienced international angler Colin Belton, who was keen to show them what Colombia had to offer. Along with friends Dave Vincent and Dai Jones, they had some great fishing on the Orinoco River and Rio Guaviare. Stu is well known for making action packed and atmospheric fishing films, from various locations around the world, and made a number of films of their trips (check out his YouTube Channel here).
The quality of the fishing and the amazing looking surroundings blew me away. When I watched the “Lost Lagoons” film on YouTube, I was determined to join them on their next adventure.
John introduced me to Colin at his local pub, and I think he soon realised how keen I was to accompany them on their next trip. We arranged a days bream and tench fishing at the lake Colin helps manages in Sevenoaks, and Dave and Stu came down to join us. After a successful days fishing we all met up at the local pub to plan the trip in more detail.
Colin announced this trip was going to be a little different. He had been discussing with one his his long term fishing guide friends, German Perez, about the new Nakuá Fishing Lodge he was setting up in a remote location on the Rio Guaviare, deep in the Colombian rainforests. The lodge construction was due to start in November 2021, and German was keen for Colin to organise a group of anglers, to come over to test out the facilities and the fishing on offer. I was very aware of the Peacock Bass potentials in the region, but Colin assured me there was so much more to offer.
So the plans were made, and the six of us booked our flights for mid January 2022. Due to COVID there were no direct flights from London to Bogotá, so we had to fly via Madrid. I’d fished all over the world with John and Dave, for the last 35 years, and before the trip, they paid me visit to provide me an insight into the tackle requirements for the trip. John also provided me with a large number of lures that had been successful for him on previous trips.
As we were doing an exploratory trip, the decision had been made to make it a multi-species trip, rather than just concentrating on the Peacock Bass. Sure we would be targeting the large and stunning Peacock Bass in the lagoons and side channels, but we also wanted to see what else lurked in the main river.
Tackle wise for the Peacocks and Payara, I was advised short/fast-actioned lure rods were required. I already had a heavy St.Croix spinning rod, which had worked well for Tiger fish on the Zambezi, but following John’s advice, I also purchased a Hearty Rise Peacock Bass travel rod.
When targeting the peacocks, its a good idea to have a 2 rod setup, so you can quickly alternate between different lure types i.e. surface and sub-surface, depending on how the fish are feeding.
Reels need to have excellent drag systems, so I opted for the Shimano Stella SW 6000 and a Shimano Twin Power SW 5000, both filled with 40lb Power Pro Braid. Leaders would be 40-50lb Fluorocarbon for Peacocks and 45lb wire for the Payara. John also gave me a selection of spinnerbaits and specialist top water lures from Kermett Adams (these proved particular effective). I already had a good selection of Rapala’s from my days fishing Lake Nasser in 2000’s, that John said would work well for the Payara. Most the lures required having their split rings upgraded to stronger versions, and fitted with Decoy single inline 3/0 and 4/0 hooks.
For the other species (some of which I knew grew to immense size) John lent me a powerful Black Cat Catfish rod and Diawa Saltist multiplier, filled with 400 meters of 100lb braid. I also had my own Siluro Rod that I had used to good effect in Spain and France in the past to catch large European Wels Catfish to over 70Kg. I coupled this with the trusty old Shimano Baitrunner 6500 and 100lb Power Pro braid. Colin did warn me that the Wels Catfish “fight like slugs” compared to their Amazonian cousins, and this outfit would struggle on a real fish (and he was proved right). Reels need a minimum of 300 meters of line, as big Piriaba are more than capable of emptying spools.
We took a variety of hooks for the large catfish ranging for 7/0 – 13/0, a mix of circle hooks and traditional J-hooks. These may sound excessive in size, but they were 100% required for the big catfish.
The flights to Bogota were uneventful apart from the fact John’s main bag never made it ! The bag contained all his fishing equipment and clothes for the week. Luckily we were met at the airport by Lois, the nephew of German. He was to be our main contact for the trip, along with his brother Jose. Both spoke great English and were always available to help out. Nothing was too much trouble for them. Lois helped in our discussions with Iberian Airlines about the missing bag. We were assured it would turn up on the following days flight.
We stayed overnight in the Marriot hotel close to the airport. The next morning, whilst the other guys made their way to the airport, to catch an internal flight to San Jose Del Guaviare, I stayed in Bogotá with John. We had a great day exploring the city, with the highlight being the “lung busting” walk up to the monastery at Monserrate. This takes you to an elevation of 3200 metres above sea level, with stunning views of the City. We then looked around the old town region of La Candelaria before walking along Calle-7 and miles upon miles of street entertainers and market stalls.
It wasn’t until 22:30 that night that we recovered John’s bag. Lois had arranged a local taxi to take us direct onto San Jose Del Guaviare, 400km away. It was about a 7 hour drive through the night to San Jose, where we met up with the rest of the team.
Finally I got my first look of the river. The other guys were instantly shocked at how low the river levels were compared to their previous visit to the area. The locals had advised the river had never been this low in January before.
We loaded all the gear into the boat that was going to take us downstream to the fishing lodge. The estimated time was 8 hours. When you are in Colombia, you soon realise there is a difference between real time and “Colombian time” so we were advised by Colin to expect it to take “a little longer” !
I started my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch as we left the dock. In the end the total distance travelled was a staggering 298 miles, and time taken was just under 11 hours. We passed through a number of heavily armed military checkpoints on the way. Each one required us to stop and produce our passports.
That said there was so much to see on the trip down; Caiman, Turtles, Freshwater Dolphins, Osprey, Vultures, Giant Kingfishers. It was a naturalists dream.
When we finally arrived at the lodge it was getting dark and we were naturally very tired. John and I hadn’t slept for over 24 hours. We had a brief tour of the camp and given our individual tents. Each tent had a proper wooden bed frame, foam mattress, pillow and sheets. They also came with an electrical supply for charging electronics, and cooling fan.
German briefed us over a delicious dinner, that we washed down with a few cold beers. The main lagoons, he explained had limited access due to the low water levels. Also there was a lot of dead trees blocking the route to them. But German had said he had arranged, with the help of the local indigenous people, to cut a route through for us, and that we should be able to get to the lagoons in about 2-3 days time.
We all woke very early the next day. Order of the day was to rig up our medium catfishing gear to target the big Pacu and Tambaqui. Bait for these was chopped fish and some of the biggest earthworms I had ever seen. Method was simple drift fishing about 1 metre off bottom. Dai was first to hook up and landed a hard fighting Tambaqui of about 40lb. We soon all got in the action catching a succession of Pacu in the 15-30lb range. Like the Tambaqui, the Pacu put on a hell of a fight, and I knew straight away my Wels Catfish rod was going to struggle. We fished all morning and had some serious arm aching action with the Pacu.
In the afternoon German help rig us up for Jau catfish. 200lb nylon leaders and size 11/0 circle hooks. We we fishing very close to snags, so this tackle was required, to haul the fish out of their wooden sanctuaries. Bait of choice was the enormous earth worms. We had little action in day light, but as soon as the sun set John had a screaming run. The fish got into the snags almost immediately, but our skilled guide Hector, manage to free it and John landed his first ever Jau Catfish, a relatively small one around 30lb. Stu had also managed one around 45lb, so was a successful evening.
On day 2 John and I set off with our guide Hector, and after catching a few more large Pacu, we tried lure fishing some of the faster water for Payara. We both hooked up on several occasions, but each time the Payara would leap and throw the hooks (Note: We don’t use treble hooks on the rivers or lagoons, only large inline singles). After this, and to avoid the heat, we moored up in a shady area and fished static fish chunks and worms, whilst Hector caught us some livebaits.
We had a variety of weird and wonderful catfish on the fish and worms, but as soon as we switched to the livebaits, we were instantly rewarded with 4 of the striking Shovelnose Stripped Catfish. Then with another livebait out in the river, I saw a large fish leap to my right. Just as I asked John if he had seen the fish, my Baitrunner screamed into life. I was attached to the leaping fish ! The fish made several powerful runs and cleared the water on multiple occasions. But the circle hook held, and Hector landed the fish. My first ever Payara (affectionately known as the Vampire Fish due to its dentistry) which we estimated around 18lb.
That same morning Dai and Dave had headed out with German. On our return to the lodge at lunchtime we were to hear of their amazing successes. German had located an area with a huge abundance of baitfish. They could see large fish (and dolphins) crashing into the bait and driving them ashore.
They both drifted livebaits in the current with Dave first to hook up with a large Dorado (Golden) Catfish followed by a big Redtail catfish. Then Dai hooked into a fish he could not stop. They jumped in the boat and followed the fish downstream for several hundred yards, all the time trying to keep it out of the multitude of snags and sunken tress in the river. After a fight of about 45 mins the fish was finally beached on a sandy bank. A Piraiba catfish estimated at 150lb. Truly a fish of a lifetime.
The lodge was buzzing that lunchtime, as we each recalled what we had caught. We eagerly setoff for the afternoon session. It proved to be a much quieter session with a few more Pacu and 3-4 Redtails. The masses of baitfish we’d seen in the morning, seemed to have thinned out.
When we arrived back at camp that evening, German announced the channel cutting was complete and we could travel up the side stream to the lagoons in search of Peacocks in the morning. He estimated approximately 1 hour to the entrance of the stream and 1 1/2 – 2 hours to reach the lagoons. Again remember “Colombian Time” !
When we arrived at the side stream the following morning, it had very little water in it and despite the obvious works the local tribe had put in clearing the channel, there was still a considerable amount of structure in the water for the boats to navigate. Complete with machetes, the guides valiantly made their way upstream, but the journey was slow and it was over 5 hours before we reached the lagoons.
Undeterred we set about fishing with a variety of surface lures (Kermetts) and sub-surface and immediately hooked up to the stunning peacock bass that lived in the lagoon. We only had about 3 hours of fishing time before we had to make the return journey, but between the 6 of us we had bagged at least 30 peacock bass ranging from size of 3-4lbs up about 15lbs. The variety of colours of the fish was unbelievable. Each one subtly different in colour and markings from the last.
After a good nights sleep we were again out on the water early. This time John and I had German accompanying us. We made our way down to where Dai had caught the Piraiba and spent a few hours trotting live baits, but without much action. The large amount of baitfish seemed to have left the area. So we went on a drift close to sandy bank, which German advised was a good Redtail area. He wasn’t wrong, within about 15 mins both John and I had landed decent sized Redtails.
German was then keen for us to try for Jau Catfish in the snags. I had one very strange take and my braid parted immediately. German inspected the braid and said Payara bite off ! We made our way back to camp lure fishing on the way back up, and John picked up a Payara around 10lb mark. Then as we reached some faster more turbulent water, German asked what I thought about trolling. I said it wasn’t my favourite fishing method, but he convinced me it was a great way to catch a 30lb+ Payara, so of course I said I’d give it go
John decided he would film the action, in case we got a bite and gave his lure rod to German with a Rapala Super Shad Rap attached. German looked at my lure case and suggest a Rapala Red Head Magnum CD14. We had trolled for about 100 yards and German had had some big hits on the Shad Rap. He showed us some impressive bite marks in the lure and even Payara teeth lodged in it. We continued another 30 yards, when all of a sudden my rod arched over. I kept waiting to see the tell tale sign of a big Payara jumping, but it didn’t happen. Instead the fish stripped line and kept deep. My small Hearty Rise lure rod was bent double as I played the fish. Every time it got close to the boat it took another 50 metres of line. In my head I was convinced it wasn’t a Payara, it was too powerful.
German kept saying “rod up, many trees on the bottom”, that didn’t do my nerves any good, so I tried my best to keep the fish as high in the water as possible. Eventually we saw the fish, and German advised it was a good sized Dorado catfish. We slowly steered the boat over to a sandy bay opposite and managed to beach it. A stunning looking fish and an incredible fight, all caught on camera by John – from take to landing – screaming reels for sure !
You can watch the entire capture from take to landing on the clip below:-
Stu and Colin had had a great morning too, catching first a large shovelnosed catfish on Super Shad lure close to shore, followed by another good sized Dorado Catfish on a livebait. Dave and Dai also had success fishing freelined livebaits on a shallow sandy beach area, catching a number of good sized Redtail catfish and another big shovelnose.
I think at this stage we were all a bit speechless at the quantity and quality of the fishing we had encountered, and we still had 4 whole days fishing left !
The next day was our overnight expedition to the Iteviare River. We would be travelling to the river and spending the night in a make shift camp and sleeping in hammocks (a first for me). The next morning we made our way to the river. The location was simply stunning with rock gorges and cascading waterfalls. We were met and warmly welcomed by the local indigenous tribe.
The local tribe had agreed with German to portage our boats up over the rocks and waterfalls to the more productive areas of the upper river. Target again was the mighty Peacock Bass and it did not disappoint. Again we used a mixture of surface lures, plugs, spoons and spinnerbaits and caught peacocks up to 15lb. At the end of our run was a simply stunning waterfall, very powerful and huge amount of water crashing about 50 meters. What an amazing location.
In the evening we made our way back to the village where our hammocks had been put up, and all ate dinner on a sandy beach area. German asked if anyone fancied fishing for catfish, to help catch food for the villagers. John, Stu and I took up the challenge and had our very own fishing match. The locals found it highly amusing, as one by one our rods heaved over and we reeled in a variety of different catfish species. But the biggest roar was always reserved for whoever landed a freshwater stingray. It was obviously a fish they didn’t like, but they took great pleasure in mocking us every time we landed one.
Can’t say the hammock experience lived up to expectations, so not one of us got a great deal of sleep. But we were all up at first light as we had the whole morning back on the river in front of us. It was great in the early morning sun to see large peacocks patrolling the shallow sandy beach areas. It was amazing to cast lures about 6ft in front of them and watch them turn and attack the lures. Again we all had plenty of action and lots of fish in the 5-15lb range.
We saw an array of wildlife on the river including big green iguana lizards, and lots of caiman. One caiman took a particular interest in John’s surface lure and repeatedly made attempts to grab it. It was such an experience, not only the great fishing, but the interaction with the local villagers.
On our penultimate fishing day, German again fished with John and I, and suggested we went up to the big rocky gorge about 3 miles upstream from the lodge. We tackled up for large Jau catfish, fishing big worms and livebaits. Conditions looked perfect but all we caught was a few small catfish. John had brought his Deeper Echo Sounder out with us and we spent a few hours checking depths of various parts of the gorge. The deepest area we found was a staggering 190ft deep and we could see lots of strange structures on the bottom, which German advised were sunken boats !
On the way back to camp we stopped in the local village and had a beer in the bar. We seemed to attract a lot of attention from the locals, who rarely see westerners. We lure fished on the way back to camp and managed a few smaller Payara and even a Pacu on a lure. German announced he was going to catch dinner, and proceeded to catch 4 medium sized Pacu in the space of about 15 minutes.
Back at camp Stu told how he had caught a Jau catfish of approx 50lb and Dai had landed an good sized redtail. John and I again fished with Herman in the afternoon and caught some more redtails on livebaits.
That evening we had an amazing BBQ on a sandy beach area of the river, complete with all the camp crew and fishing guides. All the old fishing stories came out and few few stories I couldn’t repeat from Colin ! A real special evening in a special place, with lovely people.
The last day of fishing had arrived and, due to the long boat journey back the next day, we were asked to return to camp by 1pm. John and I decided to have one final go for the Tampaqui. Dave and Dai had the same idea, and we drifted the likely spots downstream from camp. Colin and Stu had one final go for a large Piraiba, using big deadbaits.
Our initial efforts were thwarted by more Pacu and a variety of small catfish, but then we heard a cry from Dai and Dave was into a big fish. The shout went up for a large Tambaqui that Dave had landed, a fish estimated around 60lbs.
Just as we decided to motor over to take a look, John’s rod lurched over and a long dogged fight ensued. When I first saw the fish roll on the surface, I was in disbelief at the size of it. It took 3 of us to heave it into the boat. Dai and Dave came over and advised it was a similar size to the one they had had, but this looked all of 70lb. We took it to a beach area for some photo’s before releasing the beast.
We continued fishing the area for a further hour but the fish had clearly moved out, so decided to go downstream to the faster water and have a final go for the hook shaking Payara. We got on a good drift and I cast out a Silver Super Shad Rap into the fast flowing water. I cranked the lure about 5 turns before the rod banged over and the drag screamed. After a quick but hard fight I had finally landed my dream fish. A large payara on a lure, well over the magical 20lb mark.
John and I were both content and decided to make our way back to camp. We saw Colin and Stu on the way back up and they advised they had had another large Dorado Catfish earlier on a livebait. As we passed Dave and Dai they called us over and Dave impressed us with a picture of the biggest Shovelnosed catfish of the trip, caught on worm.
We got back to camp, had lunch, then sat down with German, Jose and Lois to discuss the trip and the experience as whole. We provided some feedback on the camp facilities and the fishing in general. All of us have fished extensively all over the world for many years, but this was right up with the best of them. Most places you fish you are generally after a target species, which you only fish one or two methods for. But here the options seemed limitless. Whatever we tried, we seem to catch. With Germans help, and that of the local guides, we caught a multitude of big fish on a variety of methods. We were busted up multiple times by unstoppable fish, and Stu even had a rod explode on him with one fish.
To me fishing doesn’t get any better than that.
Quite apart from the fishing aspects, the abundance of wildlife was simply staggering. We saw river dolphins everyday. The sky was always full of diving osprey. Large macaws frequently flew over the river. Giant kingfishers fished alongside us. Caiman chased our lures ! Jaguars prowled around the camp at night (one was seen in the camp by the indigenous guides one evening).
Its a sad fact of life, that most of the worlds fish stocks are under a huge strain due to over fishing, to feed an ever increasing population. We have all seen outstanding fisheries decimated in a matter of years by over fishing. I can think of some of the great Mahseer rivers in India and Lake Nasser in Egypt to name just two. To catch fish of this quality and quantity its necessary to travel to ever more remote parts of the planet, and this is defiantly the case with Nakuá Lodge. But it is its remoteness, that ultimately brings the rewards in more ways than just fishing. For those that make the effort, great riches await.
Thank you Nakuá Lodge !
Stu has produced a stunning 9 minute video of the trip highlighting the amazing scenery and wildlife of the Guaviare River region and showing the lodge setup. Click below to watch this amazing preview of what’s on offer:-
What to bring
Apart from the tackle described above, I’d suggest leaving the shorts and t-shirts behind, due to the intensity of the sun and the insect life. I wore long sleeved shirts and trousers throughout the trip. Columbia, Craighopper and Montane all produce excellent clothes for this environment. A good pair of trail walking shoes for jungle treks and suitable Croc like shoes for fishing in the boat. Don’t over pack, the lodge launder cloths on a daily basis. A couple of caps as well as a good supply of buffs. I’d also recommend fishing gloves, as they help protect against the sun and insect bites. And of course a quality pair of polarising sun glasses, I love my trusty Costa Del Mar 580G glasses.
Good sunblock is essential, personally I favour P20 spray in Factor 50. High strength Deet insect repellent and basic first aid kit are a must. The area does have a risk of Malaria, so a course of anti-malaria tablets i.e. Malarone is highly recommended (quite easy to order online).
If you are interested in booking an expedition to Nakuá Lodge the contacts are as follows:
Central & South America – Bookings
Europe / North America / Rest of the World – Bookings
NOTE: I am not employed or paid by the lodge, nor do I get a discount on the fishing. I simple wanted to share the experiences we had, and give you the opportunity to try it for yourself
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