South African Brent van Niekerk recently broke the peacock bass IGFA world record with a 94cm, 25.7lb fish. We spoke to him to get a bit more detail about the fish, the fishery and the overall experience. Pictures supplied by Brent van Niekerk, Untamed Angling and Rio Marie.

Give us the broad strokes about the trip and the fish. Where were you?

We were fishing in the Amazon, specifically the Rio Marie and the Piraracu in Brazil with Untamed Angling. Fishing a 9-weight Scott rod, 60lb leader, and using a GT fly tied by my mate Pat Sacco, I was lucky enough to catch a beast. The record was confirmed this week (16 February 2024) by the IGFA as the new world record which is really amazing news, and my first world record. I’m not a record chaser – I just love going to weird places that are seriously hard to get to, and don’t mind spending thousands of hours in transit either.

Can you describe the fishery for us?

The Rio Marie river runs from Colombia/Venezuela straight out of the mountains into Amazonia Brazil, and runs for almost 1200km into the Rio Blanco. It is unique in that it has no other rivers that flow into it for almost its entire length, until it gets closer to the main Amazon River. So it is effectively a closed ecosystem.

All along the Rio Marie there are lagoons, or areas of pretty still water, that can run off well into the tree line. We fished during the dry season when the water level was very low, but during the wet season there is almost zero land and the trees are semi-submerged in the water. During the wet season the river will rise by 15m to 20m, sometimes more. Even the jaguars live in the trees and have a diet of sloths because there is such little dry land available.

Tell us more about the peacock bass. What did you learn about these fish?

The peacock bass has a few different phases, and he goes between these phases regularly in his life: The Asu, Paku, and Pakasu phases. That’s why you will see different looking versions of the same species.

When they are hunting and spawning they generally live in the main river, but when they are nesting they tend to congregate in the lagoons where they dig out nests, the babies stay in the nest, and both parents hang close by, they will take refuge inside the male’s mouth if there is trouble.

The water colour is like rooibos tea (without the milk) due to the high tannin content – it’s also why there are so few mozzies and other insects. So while the water is clear, it’s still hard to see into the deep water. In the shallows when the sun is shining, the nests and fish are highly visible. The nests are generally on the sandbars in the shallower water, and you can see many abandoned nests too. I was fortunate to catch a number of peacocks by sight casting at nests they were on, and creating a bit of panic for the male who attacks the fly.

You also pick up a lot of the small butterfly peacock bass while targeting the big guys. They tend to come out of nowhere (we landed over 900 in the week between us).

Was the record fish sight-fished or were you fishing blind?

The day I caught the big guy it was a proper jungle downpour. There was almost no visibility through the rain, but it was still 38 degrees (Celsius), so I wasn’t going to sit under an umbrella. We were in a very large circular lagoon, that had a very narrow entrance, and when we had started looking around the edges for fish tailing or moving under the overhanging trees that’s when the heavens opened. So our only alternative was to move over to the large shallow bank on the opposite side where my guide said there were lots of nests. So, while my guide sat under the umbrella using the trolling motor, I was blind casting into the rain, getting rather despondent.

On! It didn’t take too long to land him. It was my first peacock I had hooked so I was a lot more careful than on the others afterwards because I really wanted to land one (I was the only guy who hadn’t yet). With the shallow water, like GTs, if they can only run out and not down then it’s not too bad. We hit lots of big ones in the main river and if they get into the trees you are done for – there are loads of underwater logs along the banks.

Having fished around the world, when it comes to the fight how do these fish compare to other species? 

A peacock bass fights like a GT. He will take a popper or a streamer and the strip has to be pretty fast. We were fishing floating lines with sink tips on the streamers, which is when you have to get that fly moving. It’s a strip strike too. They have pretty soft mouths (unlike a GT) but you have to give him the gears. We were using 60lb leader, so we could push it a bit.

As a group of South African friends we travel annually to some weird and wonderful destinations (always fly fishing). I’m off on a solo voyage to St Brandons to hopefully hit the big bones in May! So let’s see.

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