Gold rush in Bolivia

by Charlie White

Dorado fishing in the jungle?  For years I have been hearing about the extraordinary fishing that was being reported from Bolivia but I could never get very excited about it. 

Too hot, too humid, too far, too full of bugs and given the videos I had seen, I thought that the fishing might be a bit easy. Not for the first time, as my children constantly point out, I could not have been more wrong.

A chance remark at the London Fly Fishing Fair meant that I suddenly found myself hosting a trip to the Secure River in the Tsimane (Chi-maan-eh) reserve.

Six clients, myself and Instagram star Marina Gibson headed out to Miami and then on to Santa Cruz for an adventure into the jungle – and what an adventure it was.

A 2 hour flight in a small Cessna got us to a remote landing strip in the Amazonian forest.  To be greeted by an entire village is no bad thing and seeing everyone walking around barefoot and with bows and arrows in their boats reminded us that we were a long way from Kansas.

A quick 10 minute boat ride and we were in our lodge.  Bearing in mind where we were, it was almost ludicrously luxurious.  3 twin bedded safari style tents, 2 fixed wooden chalets, a stunning dining room and a seemingly endless stream of people to help us, made us relax instantaneously.  In camp we were to remain like that for the whole week but on the river it was a very different story.

First things first – enjoy the videos and marvel in seeing those fish take flies from short casts in crystal clear water before going bananas.  This happens.  This happened to us. The videos are fact.  However, and this is a massive however, this does not happen all the time.

The fishing can be very technical, very difficult and at times very frustrating.  It is saltwater fishing in freshwater and you need to be able to throw a big fly on a stiff 8 weight rod in very testing conditions to make the most of it.  If you can’t double haul then don’t go.

Fishing for dorado is an intense combination of fishing for tarpon, permit, tiger fish and stalking huge trout in New Zealand – it will truly test every skill you have and will teach you many more.

Dorado don’t like flies – they hate them.  They smash the humblest of offerings as though personally offended and make a Giant Trevally look as though they are sipping flies off the surface.

You need to cast to wherever the guide points and immediately be in touch with the fly to strip back as soon as it hits the water.

They can chase it for a while but for the most part, if they are going to take, they will take it on impact with a huge, aggressive explosion of a take which is all too easy to miss or that they simply miss the fly altogether

Strip strikes are necessary and anyone doing a “trout” strike will be told about it very quickly!  It will be told as a joke and as an instructive thought because all of the guides are incredibly supportive, calm and helpful. 

They were the absolute opposite to a bolshy guide who got cross because you couldn’t put it in the right place – they know it is hard and they know you are trying – they are great to fish with. Dorado are hugely energetic and they jump all the time – a very visual fight and a great sporting fish.

Fish from 2lbs to 5lbs are more about the take and initial jump but after that they start to get harder to land.  The biggest we hooked was probably 30lbs and the biggest we landed was 20lbs.

Anything over 15lbs looks like a big dog in the water and a 30lbs fish looks like an Alsatian!!  Massive heads, broad backs and just so angry – they are brilliant to hook but with the bigger fish you genuinely need a lot of luck on your side.  They hit the fly so hard that apart from trying to tighten into them, there is not a massive amount you can do and you just hope that they turn on the fly and you hook them in the scissors.  If they come at you or jump as soon as they take, the chances are that you will lose it through no fault of your own.

Don’t ever worry about catching trees or the far bank – you need to be fishing absolutely up against everything and if you are not overcasting a few times you are not trying hard enough.

The guides don’t mind at all in stopping the boat or wading out to grab it – it is all part of the game. The days rushed by and we all caught fish, landed fish and had endless bad luck stories.  In that sense it was a typical fishing week but in so many others it was anything but.

We were looked after like heroes and had food that would shame nearly any restaurant you have been to – all with ingredients that have come along a very long supply chain – the logistics are mind blowing and they do them brilliantly.

It is hot, it is humid, it is a long way and it is insanely good fun.  All of us have vowed we are returning next year which is something I never thought I would say.  We have all slightly got dorado fever and total immersion seems to be the only cure.

Do go if you can – it will provide lifetime memories and it felt an absolute privilege to be there.

Charlie White