Weaving through the dense jungle canopy, the Agua Negra River carved out just enough space for the sunlight to reflect familiarly off the water. With eyes trained on the pool ahead, looking for the movement of sabalos and hoping for the eruptive cacophony of a feeding frenzy, I hardly noticed the jaguar prints that we had passed the previous day on our journey up river. Suddenly an unfamiliar pang in my stomach distracted from what lay ahead – the twists and turns inside became quickly overpowering. Cue CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” as I sprinted from the safety of the river into the jungle beyond the banks. Operating on instincts, I found relief – and in that compromising position remembered the jaguar tracks found in the sand. The first thought that ran through my mind was “How did I get here?” followed instantly by “Is this how it ends?!”
Fortunately enough for me, I was not a jaguar’s meal that afternoon. And though one could blame that moment in time on the previous night’s half a bottle of red wine, followed by half a bottle of Bolivian gin and a bacon and cream-based dinner that sat in the cooler the whole day before as we fished up to a remote outpost camp, I made it to Bolivia by lucking out on last minute open availability to get to Tismane’s Agua Negra Camp with Angling Destinations. The fascination with this jungle angling is far too easy to track back to the cool glow of social media scrolling through the darkness of night while my kids and wife slept – the blue light a portal to the hidden gold of the Bolivian Amazon through the portal of the Jungle Angler. The reply to my friend Hank Welles’ email when it came through was already an emphatic, “Hell Yes!”
Flying into the remote native village, the Secure River weaving below as the plane touched down into a field surrounded by thick foliage, it was easy to think of the new mysterious fishing that lay ahead and the precipice of adventure by recalling the words of Joseph Conrad from Heart of Darkness, “Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth!” Here we traded the modern luxury of flight for long wooden canoes, bearing our rods and reels and headed up river in pursuit of the Golden Dorado.
The magic and excitement of wade fishing for Dorado is unparalleled from the banks of the Agua Negra. Imagine a stream nearly as small as one on which many of us first learn to cast a fly for trout, but add in the necessity of being lined out for casts as long as you would need to throw off the bow of a flats boat to a tailing permit…and then the calm stream turns to boils of water and blood, a scent of fresh fish permeating through the air as a gang of savage Dorado rounds up a school of sabalo to feast in a frenzy. Excitement as the fish turn on your fly and then the exhilaration of connecting to the strength of the acrobatic and wild fish, or frustration as you once again step on your line, shorting the cast necessary to get into the mix! Nothing can quite compare to sight casting to these apex predators, especially after feeling the weight of their hefty bodies as you release them, tails powerfully swatting away your hands, leaving you with just the glimmer of a memory.
The cornerstone of this trip, more than the absolute delight of fishing for gold, was the cultural experience of the adventure. Navigating the rivers in dug out canoes with native guides polling up shallow riffles, cutting new trails through the jungle barefoot with machetes and seeing the villages of the people who call this special and wild land home, gave us perspective on a totally different way of life from what seems like a whole different era in time. Despite questioning all my decisions in that quick inconvenient moment in the jungle, I would not trade the stories shared over the wine and gin that night – two Americans speaking English and broken Spanish to an Argentinian fishing guide – in turn translating back and forth to two native Bolivians – sharing tales about family and scars – the disappointment of the “ones that got away” or the satisfaction of landing many memorable fish – but perhaps I might have skipped on that dinner.
Noah is either a cameraman with a fishing problem or a fisherman with a camera problem. Ultimately it’s hard to tell! Trained in narrative filmmaking as a cinematographer, he maintains a connection to the nostalgia of his youth as a fly fishing guide through the lens of a camera. Noah has been a long time creative partner for Thomas & Thomas Fly Rods and Hatch Outdoors, and when not on set or spending downtime with his family he’s actively scheming on how to spend more time on the water or taking photos of wild animals (other than his children).