Three Days on the Paraná

The Paraná River runs through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, creating a huge watershed that is home to a number of fish species, from “old woman of the river” to man-sized catfish.    A group of us spent a few days there in April in search of golden dorado.

We stayed at the Paraná on the Fly Lodge (paranaonthefly.com), a few miles from the town of Itati, just meters from the water.  The lodge is comfortable, the food delicious, and the fishing challenging.  There are howler monkeys in the trees, caiman on the banks at night, giant toads in front of one’s door lapping up bugs with their projectile tongues.   Sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking, thunderstorms and lightening looking like the apocalypse moving across the water.

The fishing day begins just after sunrise.   Jet boats take anglers upstream or downstream to likely dorado grounds.  Fishing is done from the boat, two guests per boat.   This is an easy trip to pack for, as just a couple of rods and lines are all that is needed.   Recommended gear is a 7 or 8 wt rod, a floating or intermediate sink tip line, straight 15 or 20 lb monofilament leader, with about a foot of wire bite.   The flies used at this lodge are big but rather light.   Black was the color of choice on our trip, although brightly colored flies are rumored to work at other times.  Dorado love to ambush prey, typically lying between two sticks or rocks, requiring teacup casting accuracy and fast, long strips.   Short swings with the current past likely ambush spots can help present the broadside of the fly to a fish looking for much bigger prey.

We saw dozens of huge fish in the 20 + pound range out hunting, porpoising along drop offs and structure.  There was no question that the fish were there.   The heat of midday tends to find the big fish and anglers less active, so after a late lunch and air conditioned break at the lodge the boats head out again to target rocks, sticks, and submerged structure until well after dark when the mosquitos are humming.

The golden dorado (Salminus brasiliensis) is a large, predatory fish with a very large head, gaping mouth, and razor sharp teeth.   Golden dorado are freshwater fish, not related to the saltwater dorado.  These fish typically range from about 5 lbs to over 20 lbs.    It’s not unusual to hook a smaller fish and then have a monster bite off its lower half before bringing the hooked fish to the boat.

The bite was slow for us, possibly because of a rapidly dropping water level.    We had lots of grabs, refusals, and swirls, but only a few good takes.   The bite was best during the soaking, monsoon-like rain we had one day. My boat partner hooked up a beauty but snapped his rod on the set. He handlined in the 18 pounder, and probably would have jumped in the water to land it if necessary.

During the hotter hours of the day we fished for pacú.   The pacú here are likely the Piaractus mesopotamicus, or common Paraná River pacú.   Pacú are related to piranha, but look rather like permit, and can range from dinner plate size to over 20 lbs.   Pacú have teeth that look eerily like human choppers.   In this region of the Paraná River the pacú prefer to eat fruit that plops into the water from trees a few feet above the water.   One uses a floating line and a large plastic bead that slides over the hook shank. Casting requires lobbing the fly into the air to land with a big plop sound.  Accuracy is not required, just an audible plop to mimic the sound of a nut sized fruit hitting the water.   A bit of a dead drift, then recast.  A huge Chernobyl ant dead drifted under trees and bushes can also elicit a savage take.   These disc shaped fish fight like crazy and can be trophy sized.

Another likely catch is the pirá pitá.   There are two species in northern Argentina, one silver or white, and one yellow. They are related to golden dorado but are much smaller.  Pirá pitá are omnivores and will take dries, along with minnow imitations and streamers.  We saw many of them throughout the day, especially around the boat dock at the lodge, and caught a few here and there.

We finished the three days we had there with that 18 pounder and several in the 10 lb range to the boat, along with a handful of dinner plate size pacú.   We felt we had a very good fishing experience, if a bit slow.   A trophy sized fish would have earned us a photo on the wall on the lodge – something to hope for next time.

The nearby town of Itati features the most prominent feature in this otherwise flat landscape, the Basilica of our Lady of Itatí.   This lovely dome is lit up at night and is visable for miles day and night.  Over 300,000 pilgrims visit the church each year, many on foot.   The road to Itatí offers resting places for pilgrims along the way, each featuring a Station of the Cross.   There are open stall markets in the town and a few restaurants, should one want to spend an afternoon off the river.   Itatí and the lodge are easily accessed from either the Corrientes or Resistencia airport.