Funny thing about fishing for Dorado, it is addicting. After my first experience with these fish 9 months ago, I found a less expensive way back. Angling Frontiers Expedition Casare – a relatively new Dorado Flyfishing Camp- sits in the same watershed as Untamed Anglings Pluma Lodge. It is approximately 100 miles away from Pluma Lodge. It is a primitive lodge compared to the top shelf accommodations at Pluma, but costs nearly $3000 dollars less to go. Booking through Fishing with Larry- cost were aprox $5700 for trip and hotels\transfers\charter jungle air vs $7600 fpr Pluma Lodge. Since my Bolivian Visa is good for 5 years, I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to return to Dorado fishing in less than a year and either did Steve my partner who was not afraid of the camping and the primitive accommodations that we anticipated.
Casare is situated deep in the Amazon Rainforests of Bolivia lies what is truly one of the last real wilderness areas found anywhere on the planet, it is so isolated that I didn’t see any commercial planes fly overhead at night. The lodge is more difficult to access than Pluma. It takes 3 hours by plane to reach the nearest jungle airstrip (Fatima) located near the village of Cuchisama from Santa Cruz, because of low water, the closest boat docking area was about a mile away. We were met at the jungle airstrip by a dozen Tsimani natives and fishing guide Matt Wilderman (from Chicago). The Tsimani carried our heavy bags and a weeks supplies from the Cessna on their backs and we hiked a mile to the boats through jungle and over a river. Once we reached the boats, we broke for lunch as they loaded the boats . The Main Casare camp is 37 miles upstream from the airstrip located on the Pachene’ River close to its confluence with the Maniqui River. Casare is the native name of the Maniqui river. The Indians in the area are the Tsimani. It takes 5-7 hours to motor to the Casare Camp and that is why they prepare to camp on the river on the way up and on the way back depending on if they can arrive before dark. Its a long ride but there is much to see on the way up and we did stop and catch dorado in a couple rapids. It felt at times like the river scene in Apocalypse Now. Along the river banks, families and groups of kids would run to the banks and stare at us as we motored by. We must look like aliens. I guess when there is no technology, the river is HDTV for them and watching us is the primetime entertainment. We camped on the river the first night since it took till 3:00PM to fly the 4 guests out and get Steve and I loaded for the trip up. Camping on the river was comfortable. The guide put up a spacious tent with cots and for us. Plus, a dinning tent, enclosed latrine with a toilet seat, shower and campfire made it feel very safe and secure.
The Main Casare camp is a work in progress. Owned soley by Patrick Taendler and Federico Marancenbaum, they have spacious Safari Tent accommodations for a maximum of 4 anglers unlike Pluma which can accommodate up to 8. Less anglers means more water to fish which is one of the best things about Casare. Also having 24 local Tsimani staff accommodating your every need in the jungle is pretty nice too. I can’t say enough about the kindness and hospitality of the entire staff at this lodge. Even though you are in the middle of nowhere, there are clean bathrooms, spacious single occupancy tents, Freshly recharged Power Units in each tent, laundry services and good food. Steve would say food better than Pluma. Because we booked the off season, which is June\July, we were the ONLY two anglers in camp. The offseason is a bargain . According to Patrick, the dorado fishing is basically constant during the whole season but for the rains and south winds. Rain and the cold South wind put the brakes on fishing but can happen at any time-even in prime time as it did in Pluma . The off season has more weather unpredictability as its only downside. It is possible if not probable to have stellar fishing in the offseason with less costs and less people.
The true beauty of this area is the pristine and crystal blue Rivers of the Casare River which flows into the Meneche river just above camp. Patrick sais this narrow boulder ridden tributary has shallow rapids with huge trophy sized Golden Dorado smashing baitfish (sablo). I caught a glimpse of this but because it required some hiking stamina and endurance to fish, Steve and I passed. I look forward to that new adventure in the future. There are other species to keep you busy if the Dorado Fishing is slow. There are giant Surubi catfish, Yatorana, Pacu and a smaller Silver Dorado to keep you busy. Plus I practiced with my newly acquired Tsimani Bow and arrows learning to aim low for deeper fish. I cant help thinking there is so much more to this fishery that remains unexplored. Unidentified fish would rise to eat our banana peels and nut shells during lunch.
On the second day of camp, we were hit with cold south winds and rain. I fished in the rain at the home runs with no luck, but the river stayed clear all day despite the rain. Patrick said the cold front cools the water and the Dorado don’t aggressively feed. The next 4 days , the river got slightly more muddy and cooler. We got about 5 shots a day each averaging two fish landed a day. Patrick called that “a less than stellar day”. The way I saw it was the worst day of Dorado fishing is like a good day of Striper fishing considering the average size of the Dorado we caught was over 20 lbs. Steve stayed in camp one day and I invited Matt to fish together for a day. I insisted that we just went out and fished -no guiding- and I learned more about dorado fishing than I could have every picked up by chance just watching what kind of water he cast to. Dorado like tail ends of pools right before the rapids, They like the deeper shoreline side of white water rapids. They like deep pools next to shallow rocky flats -what Patrick calls ambush points. The dorado wait for Sablo to chill out before they attack much like a lion waits for its kill to let its guard down before attacking.
The most memorable fish I caught was in such a run. Patrick taught me to wade slowly and quietly with pauses and observation. He is a stealthy fisherman and reaps the rewards. As I waded in 6 inches of water, I spooked a small school of sablo out from amongst the shallows into the deeper water next to a fast moving deep run. I watched them move in unison when they suddenly stopped and scattered, Beyond the school were three 20 lb Dorado coming in fast from the fast white water trying to push the school back into the rocks. I had a split second to cast into the carnage and thanks to my stripping bucket I was able to make a long enough cast quickly to put my fly in front of the lead Dorado. The fly hit the water and it was crushed before I could blink. The other two dorado followed the hooked one till it was landed and would have been easy to hook if a second angler was trying. My favorite fly for the week was a heavily weighted Yellow Andino Deceiver. I clipped the deerhair shorter at streamside in order to get it to sink slightly quicker. I mainly used sink tip and Intermediate lines but I had a second rod rigged with a floating line that I did catch fish on in the shallows. I lost one fly line using 40lb wire and #40 blue label Seagur Fluorocarbon with Albright knots. I also used some pulse disks on the muddier days with some success. I recommend 8 and 9 wgt rods that are light and easy to cast all day. Steve did well with a Teeny T300 line dredging the deep holes. I was prepared and anxious to fish topwater but the cold front that came in made that nearly impossible. Looks like all those pole dancers will have to wait for the Rio Maria in September.
Its always interesting in the Amazon when it comes to the birds animals and insects you bump into. While landing one big Dorado, I noticed a small parasitic catfish had swam into its gills as I held the fish in shallow, slow moving, rock bottom, water. It was a Candiru catfish which is a parasitic catfish that was infamously known for swimming up the urethra of a urinating man. These fish can sense nitrogenous waste and swim to it. They attach and suck the blood out their hosts like a leech and then detach leaving an anti coagulating enzyme behind. I removed the catfish with my pliers before it could hurt the fish and afterward check every fish for those nasty things. Patrick taught me how to release these Dorado in such a way to avoid the Candiru. The Dorado are actually safer out of the water than in it. Unlike a trout that I would keep in the water as much as possible, its best to take care of hook dentistry and photos over faster moving water with the fish out of the water as much as possible. Release Dorado into moving water and for god sake, dont bath naked in the river!
One morning, the natives shot an Armadillo. That evening it was on the table as an entree. I was a bit freaked about eating the shelled animal since I remember some rumor about them carrying leprosy. But it did look tender and juicy and a bit like chicken or pork loin so I tried some. Seasoned only with salt, it was delicious, but I just couldn’t get use to the claw hanging out and I ate only small amount. What a cool animal, it cooks nicely in its shell, sealing in all the juices and heat. Its food in a can.
The facilities were primitive but I was fully prepared for much less luxury. The tent cabins as comfortable- Dry and clean. The lack of hot water in the showers was refreshing and eventually I started to like it. The water shuts off at 10pm and one night, I took a shower by standing under my tent’s tarp gutter, in the pounding rain in the pitch black. It was the best shower ever and no Candiru in the clouds. Tico the chef was a pro. The nightly meals were mainly South American favorites and were very good. Most of the food comes in with the plane but once in awhile, local fruits and meats are served. There was always plenty of bottled water and alcohol available. The stream lunches were sandwiches and quesadillas mainly and were great when you got hungry. I for one fished when the boat was stopped and ate between runs on the moving boat.
Golden Dorado are fantastic fish. They have the ability to detect microscopic hydraulic pressure changes with their adipose fins which they use to hunt fleeing or nervous sablo. How they detect a stripped fly in white water going downstream is amazing. Things I learned on this trip : Big Dorado like long strong strips much like Stripers and not wussy little trout streamer strips. They need to be as long and sharp as your arm can take. This is hard to do if you are trying to get your line in a stripping basket. Also, I learned to be prepared to strike as soon as the fly hits. Most of the fish I caught and filmed hit the fly within the first three strips. It was rare to catch them at the bottom of the swing vs the beginning. I learned not to fish one spot more than three casts and to cover as much water as possible with accurate cast right to the shoreline. Finally, I learned to cover every inch of skin on your body if you dont want to get bit by insects which includes two gloves and socks to cover the skin between shoes and pants.
The Mavic Pro Drone worked flawlessly in the jungle. The first day I used it to get a low riverbed shot, a river eagle came out of the jungle and tried to attack it. The Tsimani thought that was pretty entertaining. One way to start a party in the jungle is to fly a drone. I bet they hadn’t seen an eagle back down from a fight like that before. the eagles wing touched the prop and it lost a feather in the encounter. It flew off and watched for the rest of the afternoon. I had a feeling it knew I was controlling it and that I was next. I received the new DJI Spark three days too late to test it on this trip but it looks great. Its smaller and easier to deploy than the Mavic, but it is limited to 1080p vs 4K for the Mavic.