We all have that one friend in our lives that takes a hobby to the next level. This week we have another destination fly fishing experience from our Fishwest Ambassador, Chad Agy. He traveled to Columbia in search of Pacu! Enjoy his story of “Lord of The Worms.”
We saluted ourselves with cheap Colombian beer after yet another successful day on the Orinoco. Returning as successful gladiators against the oppressive heat, voracious sandflies, and treacherous rapids, Brian and I put a hurt on the mighty payara for the second day in a row. Months of preparation paid dividends, as we roped in one payara after another. We were in no way tired of catching these apex predators, yet we were satisfied. We had one more day on the Orinoco, the massive river on which we cruised back to our lodge that evening. Under a magnificent sunset turned tangerine by the smoke from the grassflres that dotted the landscape, our guide, Silvio, posed a question. “Do you want to catch a pacu tomorrow?”
We were ready for the opportunity. Although not known as a pacu destination, we knew this part of Colombia contained these coveted fish. We would travel up a tributary reserved for use by Silvio’s Puinave indigenous community. But with his blessing we would be allowed to fish it. We could hardly contain our excitement as we approved of Silvio’s suggestion. Silvio seemed equally pumped as he exclaimed, “Very good, tomorrow is Operación Pacu.”
This is where I need to talk a bit more about Silvio. He is 47 years old but moves amongst the perilous boulders of the Orinoco like a young man. He has spent his entire life on the Orinoco River, and understands its temperaments as one understands a close family member. He is a fisherman by trade. In his community of fishermen, he is respected as one of the foremost authorities on the fish they seek. In short, Silvio is the person you listen to when fishing on the Orinoco and its tributaries.
That said, Silvio had never touched a fly rod until we made him try to catch a peacock bass with one later in the trip. His world is one of nets, handlines, and live bait. So when we pulled up to the first pacu run and Silvio demanded that I use earthworms, I begrudgingly listened to his advice. I’m not one to disregard the recommendations of an expert speaking on their subject of authority. As I slid a half dozen of the slimy creatures around my 4/0 hook, Brian ran down to the water with one of the pacu flies we had meticulously prepared. Not knowing a word of Spanish, Brian had tacit permission to ignore Silvio’s advice, which he didn’t understand anyway.
Brian hooked up on his first cast. Still sitting on the ground with all my worms, I frantically started to cut them off and tie on the same fly Brian was using. Silvio stopped me. “No,” he said, “pacu don’t eat flies, you must use the worm.” I looked at him incredulously, and gestured toward Brian, who fought his pacu with glee. “Luck,” Silvio stated firmly. “Tie on the worms.”
I ruefully went back to putting on the worms as Brian hooked and lost a second pacu on the fly. Whether we want to admit it or not, almost all fly fishermen possess some degree of a superiority complex relative to our bait-casting brethren. I try not to judge, but I am not exempt from that attitude. I wanted to catch a pacu, but I didn’t want to catch it on a damned worm! But I respected Silvio too much to protest any further. I spent the next several hours using my 10 weight fly rod to nobly launch earthworms in to the depths without so much as a bite.
Clearly a bit surprised that we weren’t having more success (especially me with my worms), Silvio decided to take us to a special place. Silvio pulled our boat up to an impressive series of rapids. This place was simply a tropical paradise. The azure waters of the tributary seemed a bit clearer here. A set of delicious runs occasionally permeated the rapids. The howler monkeys in the trees surrounding us seemed to yell in agreement: this was a fishy spot.
Almost immediately, Brian was hooked up on his fly, again. Just as I started to contemplate throwing the entire jar of remaining earthworms in to the river, my rod bent fiercely at an acute angle. It was immediately clear that I had hooked in to a worthy pacu. Known as one of the hardest-fighting freshwater fish, this big pacu lived up to its reputation. Line stripped off the reel repeatedly, fingers were burnt, and at one point I nearly broke the fish off around a boulder. But eventually, I had the magnificent pacu to hand.
Silvio ran over to witness my catch. “Es grande,” he snorted, as he nodded his head and gave me smirk of approval, the way a father would to a son. I spent a few moments with the incredible fish, admiring its muscular tail, human-like teeth, and rose-tinted flanks that seemed to mirror the boulders around us. Not for one moment did I consider the fact that I had caught it on a worm.
As we motored back to camp, Silvio was clearly as proud of our success as we were. Referencing the difficulties many have catching them, he said, “pacu are a man’s fish.” Over the din of the motor he shouted, “peacock bass are for tourists and children.”
Thus ended my favorite adventure on our recent trip. My time to catch a pacu on the fly will likely come on a future adventure. But I wouldn’t change a thing about my first pacu. It solidified a friendship between myself and Silvio, a man from a completely different place and culture. It also earned me a well-deserved nickname amongst others in the camp: El Señor de las Lombrices, the Lord of the Worms.