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Uproar On The Unini River

Peacock bass of giant proportions may yank anglers out of the boat here!

By Larry Larsen

I lofted my giant Amazon Ripper toward the laydown just off the near shore of the narrow Unini Peacocklagoon. The plug was mid-way toward its landing when a big fish blew up the water's surface some 100 yards away as it chased 3/4 pound baitfish against the opposite shore. The guide instinctively started to swing the stern of the boat with the electric to ready us for the chase after that feeding fish. My surface plug landed about 20 feet off the sharp dropping bank as the boat slowly began to move away.

Popping it twice, I was ready to reel it in quickly and prepare myself for a long cast at the fish that had given its location away just 10 seconds earlier. I didn't have a chance. A giant peacock exploded on my plug and then fired its afterburners and exploded away. If that sounds like a lot of "explosions", well, there is just no other adjective to describe this action!

The fish ripped the rod from my hand and I watched it fly off toward the rear of our boat and slowly start to sink. My guide, my partner and I all quickly grabbed rods to try to snag the sinking rod and reel.  I was very lucky. Initially, the fish had bolted 10 feet toward the bank, but then it turned and headed for deep water away from the brush pile. That slowed the acceleration of the rod away from me in the bow of the boat, and my guide Sabastiao Brito was able to get one of my backup rods under it.

I jumped to the stern of our aluminum fishing boat and grabbed the rod handle as he flipped it to the surface. I was happy to save my $450 outfit but was elated that the fish was still on. I grabbed the wet rod with two hands as the peacock powered its way down the small lagoon. It reversed course and jumped three feet out of the water. I hung on as it again jetted away, back toward the laydowns.

"That's a good fish," my partner Ruede Wheeler shouted. The experienced angler would know. He had caught a 19-1/2 pounder two days earlier and his largest ever, a 23-1/2 pounder the day before in the same lagoon. I had been "snake bit" the first four days of the trip failing to catch a peacock over about 12 pounds, but I knew this one was over 20.

I leaned back with all I could on my 7-foot rod redirecting the fish away from the obstructions. It jumped twice more before I could work it close to the boat. Sabastiao tried unsuccessfully to scoop it up 3 times, and my heart sank 3 times when the fish powered away from the big net. On the fourth attempt, I kept the bass' head up and into the net it went. The monster was mine.

Larry with 24.5 # PeacockSebastiao quickly unhooked the fish and weighed it. The 24-1/2 pounder was my largest ever in some 30 trips to Brazil after the ultimate freshwater fish. We measured it at 24 inches and a 22-inch girth and then, for good measure, confirmed the weight on another set of scales. After a few pictures, we released the giant and watched it swim away in good shape. High 5's were in order, and we all three laughed as we recalled the rod overboard ordeal.

Never before had a fish, even a peacock bass, jerk the rod from my hands. I have caught several hundred big fish in the 20 to 40 pound range on the same tackle without losing my grasp of the rod. Heck, I have caught numerous tarpon between 80 and 120 pounds on the same equipment without such an embarrassment. I felt foolish.

I had heard numerous stories in the Amazon about anglers having their rods jerked from their hands by big peacock, but I discounted the possibility of an avid angler like myself with extensive experience catching giant peacock bass living such an occurrence. I was wrong, and I am humbled. I had never said that it couldn't happen to me, just that it was a slim possibility. The 24 1/2 pound "keg of dynamite" from Brazil's Unini River straightened out my thinking.

Ruede and I were fishing a large black-water lagoon just off the river that offered more than a dozen false channels, some of which were 1/2 mile long. Rain showers were a part of our daily experience and the river was rising each day and turning more turbid. While the river turned to a muddy-looking brown color, some lagoons remained relatively undisturbed with the prime black-clear waters.

The day before, after casting about four hours, we were trolling our 7-inch long topwater Woodchoppers along one of the points in the big maze of a lagoon when a giant exploded on Ruede's black and orange version. The 23 1/2 pounder headed straight toward the wooded shoreline, stripping my partner's braided line all the way to the few feet of monofilament backing on the spool. Watching the line disappear, Ruede shouted at Sabastiao to reverse the engine, which the Brazilian guide had already done.

Ruede with Peacockt was the moment of truth with the only the arbor knot maintaining the connection with the big fish. Suddenly, the boat gained traction in the reverse mode and the fish swam into a submerged tree trunk where one of the loose treble hooks snagged its root. Ruede was then able to put line back on his spool as the boat headed toward the hung-up fish, visible in about 3 feet of water. Such entanglements are the cause of a lot of lost fish, but my partner was lucky.

As we approached, the fish saw the boat and bolted toward deep water, tearing the plug's hook from the trunk. The giant was still attached to the plug! Ruede then fought the fish with a partially full spool of line in open water and eventually won the battle. It was his largest peacock in five trips with operator River Plate Anglers and the trophy of his very productive big fish week. He also caught three 19 1/2 pounders, and fish of 21, 22 and 22 1/2 pounds. His previous personal best was 21 pounds.

My big 24 1/2 pounder was my personal best for only one day. On the following day, Ruede and I ventured an hour up river in search of new water with good quality and visibility. After several days of intermittent rain, many of the lagoons with large mouths into the river were turning turbid. The water level of the Unini had risen a couple of feet over the week, and finding the perfect lagoon waters was becoming difficult. We went into 3 brown-water lagoons off the river before Sabastiao snaked our 18 foot-long boat through a short, twisting creek mouth with overgrown foliage.

We ducked under a fallen tree and pushed back brush to work the boat through the shallow channel. Clinging vines whipped us from above and bushes scrapped our fishing equipment and us as we passed. Finally, it opened up into a beautiful crescent shaped lagoon with dark, black-clear water. Fish were moving along both banks and in the middle. We caught 3 or 4 mid-size fish around 10 pounds each, before moving into big fish territory.

Unini Barge CampSighting a big fish chasing bait near one shore we moved our boat to the action and loft our casts toward the disturbed water. On my second cast back to the same spot, a big peacock exploded on my orange and black Big Game Ripper. It powered away pulling off line from a tightened drag. Two minutes into the fight, I had a modicum of control when it shot skyward to fully reveal itself.

"Grande," I said to my partner as I glanced toward Ruede who was not even looking at my fish. He was busy with a fish of his own. A follow-up cast to the area where I had hooked up met with success for him, and he, too, had his hands full.

Both big fish were brought to the net at the same time and Sabastiao netted them. My fish was truly a giant, weighing 25 pounds even. Ruede's peacock was certainly not a baby at 19 1/2 pounds. The pair weighing a total of 44 1/2 pounds was the largest peacock "double" that I have ever heard of. Several years ago, I and another friend had taken two peacocks that weighed 39 pounds even. Ruede, a dentist from LaPorte, Texas, wasn't through.

Within 30 feet of that spot on his third cast, my partner hooked and landed a 22 1/2 pounder. I caught and released a 20 1/2 pounder later in another lagoon to cap off a very great day.

The fishing during the week on the Unini was decent in terms of numbers, but it was excellent for giant 20-plus pound peacocks. While the five active anglers in our fly-in barge camp operation landed over 300 peacock, 10 were over 20 pounds. Paul Engel of Naples, FL and Greg Hochstetter of Jupiter, FL caught a total of 3 fish over that mark during the week.

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Most of our fish were taken from a variety of places. Backs of lagoons in shallow flooded timber were productive areas for a couple of days. Sand bars adjacent deep water held big fish a couple of days, and laydowns proved prime spots a few times. Most big peacock were taken 30 or 40 feet off the shoreline, and some mid-lake catches were enticed by casting to visible schools of fry on the surface of a quiet lagoon. The technique of casting to "bubbles" or the "ball" of fry as they swim slowly along and dimple the surface is effective for the two parents, which are usually swimming beneath their brood. They will blast a lure tossed near in an instinctive reflex mode.



We also threw our big topwaters at feeding fish that were blowing up the surface while chasing bait. The Luhr-Jensen Big Game, Single Prop Woodchoppers were the most effective lures most of the week. While a few of the big fish were taken on Fire Tiger models, the orange and black color scheme proved to be the top peacock attractor. Magnum Amazon Rippers, also made by Luhr-Jensen, were a distant second in terms of lure productivity. My largest fish of the week came on a modified 6 1/2 -inch long Ripper. I had added a third treble hook and removed one of the two tail spinners.

Submerged baits that typically do well, such as the PET spoon, Krocodile spoon, Redfin and Yozuri minnow baits, were not very effective under the existing conditions. It was a "topwater week" for the most part, but not all attractions proved successful. One of the most vivid images from the week was a 12 pounder that come up under the plug and jumped out of the water 3 foot in the air, landing some 10 foot laterally on its tail at reentry. The fish, as in a slow-motion video, remained vertical with mouth agape and lure between its lips for the full 4 seconds or so of its flight. When it crashed back into the water, the peacock simply opened its mouth and released the lure.

Larry with 25 Pound PeacockAnother great memory was a 22 pounder that exploded on Ruede's big Woodchopper and jetted off under a 30-foot wide tree that hung off the nearby bank at about a foot above the surface. There was no way to get the boat under the tree and chase the fish which had bulled on down the bank another 50 feet before becoming temporarily entangled in some brush. So, Sabastiao went around the tree, as my partner let out line while keeping a taunt connection to the fish. The guide then grabbed the braid and hand-lined the tired, giant fish to the net.

Between hook-ups, there were plenty of distractions. In some areas, freshwater dolphin rolled on the surface of the river or lagoon. Caiman slid off the banks and disappeared into the depths in a few lagoons and the skies overhead were always busy. Macaws and papagaios (green parrots) were almost hourly sightings, and toucans and pato ducks added color and uniqueness to the "aeroscape". During a shoreside lunch break one day, a river otter, locally called "lantra", popped up on a log just 20 feet away from our boat and curiously viewed us in our "feeding" mode.

The River Plate Anglers Safari Camp is a spacious screen house lodge with separate dining and lounge areas. Each 10 foot wide by 15 foot long cabin barge or screened-in bungalow has two beds, a toilet and shower combination, a sink, table reading lamps and cooling fans over the beds. Generators provide power for cooking and recharging batteries that handle bungalow lighting, fans and water pumps and electric trolling motors on the fishing boats. Each evening, after a swim in the river, our group of anglers enjoyed cocktails and hot hors d'oeuvres while watching the sunset and recounting daily conquests and failures.

During our week on the Unini, our camp moved upriver on three different days, totaling about 25 miles during the week. The moves keep the numerous lagoon fishing waters ever changing. The camp management and staff would break camp mid-morning, hook up all the barge components, and then tow them to another expansive sandbar. In the afternoon, the individual bungalows are once again spread out along the beach for some privacy.

After dark, we fall asleep listening to croaking frogs and sounds of other nocturnal creatures . We dream of the next giant peacock bass that will dare try to jerk the rod from our hands. That's scary, but it doesn't have to be a nightmare!

Editor's Note: To find out more about the Amazon Peacock Bass Safari by River Plate Anglers, contact J.W. Smith of Rod & Gun Resources, 206 Ranch House Rd., Kerrville, TX 78028; Phone (800) 211-4753; FAX (830) 792-6807; e-mail: venture@rodgunresources .com or visit their website at www.rodgunresources.com. For information on the Peacock Bass Association, check out their website at www.peacockbassassociation.com.  Check out our book store for special savings on two of our peacock bass books!


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