Hosted Heli Trip to Bolivia
By Charlie White
In 2019 we took a team of adventurous rods to fish the Secure River in Bolivia, which was an enormous success. None of us really knew what to expect but we all adored the surroundings, the fishing and the sheer remoteness of it all - https://www.roxtons.com/news-and-reports/fishing/gold-rush-in-bolivia/
A year or so ago, I was approached by Marcelo, who runs the programmes in Bolivia, to see if we wanted to up the ante and take a similar trip but instead of using boats every day, we would be transported by helicopter.
The promise of an even more remote, wild and fascinating adventure was too much to resist and the same team of rods have just returned from the most extraordinary and sense assaulting trip you can imagine!
The HUGE difference of the heli programme is that you are genuinely fishing water that has either never, ever been fished before or at the most, a tiny handful of rods will have been there. This not only means you are fishing unpressured water, but you are also in completely wild habitat with animals that have not seen humans before.
A 20-minute helicopter ride takes you as far into the jungle as a 10-day hike does for the locals and as there is enough food to hunt in and around the village they never go that far.
We saw tapirs that didn’t know what we were and just looked at us, spider monkeys that were just curious, incredible butterfly life and birds that kept us entertained and amused all day (I missed a take from a fish because I was working out whether to watch a giant kingfisher, a turkey vulture or two macaws that were all flying over my head at the same time!)
It is one of the very last wildernesses and it was a staggering trip for the senses.
However, the other key difference to the boat programme is that whilst you have the heli for transport, you don’t have the boats with you all day. Boats can take native guides, coolers, tables, chairs, extra water bottles, lunch etc. With the heli programme, you take all you need. The guide does carry your lunch (a sandwich) whilst you carry everything else you need for the day, this can include 2 litres of water (at least), snacks provided by the lodge, sun cream, bug spray, flies, tackle etc so you need a totally waterproof backpack, and you need to be quite fit.
Once you have been dropped off by the heli, it is walking for the rest of the day. In the heat, over rocks, upstream etc. You don’t need to be a marathon runner, but you do need a degree of fitness to make it fun. A couple of clients had collapsible wading sticks which were not a bad idea – not for wading whilst fishing but to help going over the stones and to cross rivers etc.
You need to manage yourself as much as anything else and you can only go as fast as the slowest person. Take as much water as you can, electrolytes in the morning and evening and jump in the river as soon as you begin to feel hot. Our guide got in the water (fully clothed) before we even started fishing each day to start cool – we all adopted that tactic by the end of the week.
Now to the fishing…
As you are in the headwaters of the whole system, you are often fishing very small rivers, streams and it can be very technical.
The advantage to that is that you are nearly always fishing pocket water and are aiming for the fish that has earned the right to be “king” of that pool/pocket, so you have much more chance of hooking a big fish. Anything over 10lbs is big but over 15lbs starts to get trophy like – we landed very few fish under 10lbs.
We all caught fish but just because they haven’t seen flies before does not mean they are stupid. You need to place the fly in the right place and be in touch with the fly the second it hits the water. It tended to be the first cast that was the best cast – they either exploded onto the fly or simply ignored it – you could not coax them to change their mind.
Seeing a 20lbs Dorado nearly beach itself in its attempt to smash a fly is an extraordinary experience and it takes all your nerve not to pull the fly out of its mouth – it is incredibly visceral. They are so, so angry that it is hard not to laugh but it is at the same time utterly exhilarating.
We also caught plenty of Pacu which we had not when we fished the boat programme, so it is possible that these fish are more susceptible to fishing pressure. They are incredibly strong but unlike Dorado, take in an almost apologetic fashion and then just disappear! No jumping or headshaking, just sheer strength and force that means you must run after them.
Our guides were top class, and nothing was too much trouble – they were a pleasure to fish with. The lodge is very well appointed and next year they will offer single rooms for everyone, which is increasingly a must have.
It is NOT an easy fishery, and it is also quite a challenging place to fish and simply be present in. However, it is one of the very last true wildernesses’ and it really was a true privilege to be there.
I still can’t decide if my abiding memory will be the fishing, the take of the Dorado, the heli rides across virgin forest or the ridiculous amount of flora and fauna we saw throughout the trip – perhaps it is best not to unpick all that and just be very grateful I was there.
I will be hosting a trip in September 2024 – please do drop me a line for details.