Jungle Flies – Fly Fishing the Amazon and Orinoco River

Jungle Flies. Sound awesome? I think so! The word “jungle” has a big, important and mystic feel. Most anglers who get to fly fish in the jungle appreciate the pure beauty and uniqueness of insects and aquatic life that live there. Jungle flies are basically imitations of this aquatic life. However, there are so many different species in jungle waters that the sheer diversity of patterns, color and texture is overwhelming.

Recently, on one of my fishing trips on a river in Columbia’s Orinoco River basin, we saw an amazing hatch of may flies- thousands and thousands of insects zooming their busy flight above the water’s surface. We joked about this crazy hatch, asking each other if anyone had the specific mayfly pattern to “match the hatch” in our fly selection. Of course the answer was no! There are too many species of insects living in the jungle for an angler to match every hatch! It would be another attempt we were well used to as jungle fishermen.

Lagoons are created when a curve of the river slowly deposits sediments, finally separating it from the course of the river. This is a special lagoon with lots of fishable spots.

As anglers in the jungle, we carry flies that imitate peacock bass, payara and several other fish species. We use 8-weight and 10-weight rods. It is all about catching a big fish on a fly that has lots of flash, tall profiles and water-pushing features. Generally, when I’m guiding here in Central America I see my clients using flies they have tied or purchased elsewhere.

Although beautiful, many of these outsider flies are too big, tied onto very thick hooks, or made of materials that absorb and retain water. Fly fishing in these tropical conditions is challenging.

Tight aquatic spaces with thick growth and many obstacles make casting, catching and landing fish in the jungle a challenge! I find that if I have many fly choices available, the chance of landing a fish is best.

My advice for tying jungle flies is to try hollow tying, or “high tying”, which will create big, visible and easy casting flies that will generally match many bait fish in the area. Imagine a big colorful peacock bass or a jumping payara striking, fighting and finally leaving you exhausted, marked with a burnt stripping finger as the telltale sign of success. Jungle fly fishing is something every angler should experience.

Murray Low waits for his next fishing spot as we jungle ride through the Orinoco River light show.
A small caiman following a popper. Nice creatures.
Suddenly I realize this could be a nice streamer fly fishing picture.
Here is a school of flies that have caught tons of peacocks in the trips I’ve made lately. I had to give it a name, so joking around with a fishing partner the Peacock Bass Exciter was born! This is a fly I hollow tie, and it imitates a smaller peacock bass. The fire tiger color is a must almost anywhere. The action of this fly is kind of jiggy due to the doll eyes’ position, and it will stay in the fishing zone easily without sinking fast.
Top: Chris P. with another 20 pound barred peacock bass before release. He caught the biggest peacocks that trip.
Bottom: Payaras will attack any fly, especially if it is big and flashy. 10” flies are good for this fishing, and several colors will make the payaras turn and strike. This pattern is special and was made with a little yarn and a fish skull. I thought it looked great and decided not to fish it and instead frame it to decorate my tying room.
At the tying table, I still use dubbing loops to tie in some flash.
A 19-pound peacock bass caught on a chartreuse red tail fly.
You can tell this is a high producer. Kinky muddlers are well suited for jungle fishing- they are easy to cast and move great while pushing water.
A 14-pound peacock bass is finally ready for a picture. Notice how sparsely tied the fly is?
Here is another fish that predators in the jungle prey on. They have an orange stripped tail, and I’ve seen payaras chasing them in the currents. Peacock bass also hunt them along the shore lines of lagoons.
Here I am with a 10-pound peacock bass we call “Pinta de Lapa,” or paca in it’s spotted suit. When barred peacock bass mature sexually, they loose the spots and turn more yellow with darker bars. Amazing fighters.
Here’s a 3-pound piranha- a fun catch on a fly.
Open wide! Here’s a great payara jumping shot.
My friend Chris Preston holds his first payara. We were fishing in late March and the chances to catch big payara in the Orinoco River were low as rains began. We fished a tributary far away from the river’s mouth, and on our first day we found them in some nice currents. Payaras can reach up to 40 pounds.
Mid-day temperatures in the jungle can be suffocating, as we learned from our native guide Camilo. While refreshing in the water after lunch, he told us jungle stories about cannibal natives who lived a long time ago in this river.

Contributed By

Armando Giraldo

I was born in Bogotá, Colombia pretty far away from any fishable waters. But at the age of six, I had the fortune of taking my vacations at my grandmother’s house. There sugar cane fields filled with lakes and rivers allowed me to baitfish for several species. At the age of 14, I learned how to fly fish and tie flies. Ever since, it’s been all about fly fishing for each and every species of fish I can find. Jungle fly fishing became my absolute obsession. The Orinoco River and Amazon River basin species of fish are big, wild and colorful. Plus the scenery, sounds and smells are nourishing for the soul.

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