We catch up with travelling guide, Johann du Preez, on the subject, the location and the challenges involved in his latest project, a short film about fly fishing for the strange, massive, air-breathing arapaima (one of world’s largest freshwater species) at Rewa Eco-Lodge in Guyana.
What’s Guyana like?
The most notable thing about Guyana is the noise in the rainforest. There is a constant ensemble of birds, insects, and animals. Between the deafening roar of the howler monkeys and the screeching macaws, the jungle is flooded with beautiful noise. You get the sense that there is life everywhere. Unlike other parts of South America, where the jungle seems void of life, the Rewa River sustains an incredible amount of life. The people are friendly and welcoming and it really feels like a home away from home.
How much of a process is it to get to Rewa?
Getting to Rewa is a straightforward but tedious affair. You will fly to Georgetown, the capitol of Guyana. From there you will board a small aircraft to Apoteri, a small airstrip where the Rupunini and Esequibo rivers converge. You will be collected from the Apoteri airstrip by boat and driven upriver to the lodge. There you will be greeted by the friendly staff at the beautiful Amerindian-style lodge.
How involved are the locals in the project? What has Indifly’s impact been?
The people of Rewa own and manage the entire eco lodge. They are the guides, the cooks, the cleaners, and the driving force behind it. Indifly plays a small but crucial role in this project. We provide guidance in terms of hospitality and the management of the fishing programme. Indifly, along with Costa sunglasses, has injected substantial funding into research and protection of the arapaima. My role, as an Indifly representative, is to help identify needs within the community and liaise between them and the non-profit company’s board of directors. Indifly will then either provide funding to cater for these needs or help the people of Rewa to find a solution themselves. Our vision is to reach a point where we no longer assist the eco lodge; we want the eco lodge to be entirely self-sufficient. To teach and enable the local community is much more valuable than any donation.
Do you sight fish for arapaima (watching for bubbles) or is it just blind? The water looks quite dirty, can you see anything in terms of visibility?
Well, this is an interesting question because in some ways you are sight fishing and in other ways you are fishing totally blind. Some of the ponds have clear tannin-stained water. We call these blackwater ponds and others are murky with lots of suspended sediment. In both types of ponds you can sometimes see fish just below the surface, almost like laid up tarpon. But 95% of your fishing happens based on very visual signs. You will see muds where fish are stirring up the bottom with their tails. You will often see bubbles or bubble trails as the fish exhale, or you will see them rolling on the surface when they come up to gulp air. We base most of our fishing around rolling fish. They must come up for air every eight to twelve minutes so you can target a specific fish by waiting and watching an area until you get a clear shot. The way the fish roll also tells you a lot about their mood and feeding behaviour. A speedy roll or splashy roll often indicates an unsettled fish, whereas a slow roll usually means that the fish are happy. As a fish dives down after it rolls, we will track the bubbles to determine which way the fish is moving and how far ahead you need to place the fly. So, in essence, it is sight fishing to the signs of the fish without actually seeing the fish.
What is your typical set-up for these fish?
We target arapaima with 12-weight set-ups, but rods and reels are of secondary importance. Your lines and hooks will make or break your trip. A low stretch tropical intermediate or floating line in 12-weight is a must have. We fish 80-100lb fluorocarbon leader, something with good abrasion resistance and low stretch. Typically, we tie our flies on #6/0 hooks that have a wide gape and razor-sharp tip. There are a few flies that seem to out-perform time and again, but you will have to pay for those secrets. Three to five inch long baitfish imitations in light natural colours do very well; peacock bass imitations are a solid favourite and, as with most fish, a pure black baitfish normally does the trick.
Is there interesting bycatch in the same areas as the arapaima or is it pretty focused on this one species?
There are a multitude of other fish to target: two species of peacock bass, two species of payara, two species of piranha, a variety of catfish and arowana to list a few. The top water fishing for these other species is a world-class fishery in itself.
To find out more about how to catch (and release) arapaima, the jungle of Guyana, tarantulas and more, check out the rest of Johann’s interview in issue 26 of The Mission below. As always, it’s free.