After my friend Andre Pretorius and I were both hit by a midlife crisis, I heard that fishing for the peacocks and vampires of Colombia is one of the best ways to solve our problem. With the full support of our wives, we soon found ourselves on a flight heading for Bogota in the Vichada Department of Colombia in search of big fish and cheap cocaine (joke!). Fortunately, we found only big fish in the form of beautiful peacock bass and scary vampire fish. In addition, we found friendly people and a bucket list destination.
After arriving in Bogota, a short flight took us to Puerto Carreño, a small river town in the Vichada province on the banks of the Orinoco River that forms the border between Colombia and Venezuela. We met our guide for the trip and proceeded to take a few back roads until we were dropped off a couple of hours later at our final destination, the Bita River. The rest of our support crew for the trip, three guides and a cook, were waiting there with two boats and all our supplies. By that time, they had already done the 8-hour journey up river and had set up our first camp for the trip. The area where we fished was simply from an ancient world and we were struck by how pristine everything was. The river teemed with crocodiles, stingrays, river dolphins and different species of fish. At night the stars shone as bright as I have ever seen and during the day the blue skies were patrolled by various birds of prey. In the jungle next to the river we found anaconda, monkeys, tapirs, capybara and jaguars. On the river’s beaches we found the nests of various birds, with iguanas running scared each time we passed. There might be more popular rivers in the area we fished, but it will be very difficult to beat the Bita for its combination of fishing, wildlife, scenery and overall expenses.
Fishing the Bita River
We got up before sunrise each day and fished the sandbars along the river straight off the many beaches. We found that the bigger fish loved sandbars, especially before sunrise and after sunset. It is truly a heart stopping experience when a big peacock explodes on a surface lure almost at your feet – it reminded me of a giant trevally attacking a popper in the sea. Except for finding fish at the river’s edge, our guide also took us to the many hidden and secret lagoons that form when the water level drops. Fishing these lagoons is a magical experience. Most of the time you have to chop through fallen trees that block access to the lagoons, so you are therefore assured to be the first person in years to fish there. Be careful however, since these lagoons are the hiding place of monster anacondas. Our bigger fish were caught at the edge and entrance to these lagoons, but big fish also lurk in the cooler centre.
Although we took a whole tackle store along, the two most successful lures for the peacock bass were a spinnerbait in various colours and a white Whopper Plopper. We fished it aggressively with long pulls using a spinning rod with a soft tip to enable the lure to dig into the water without jumping out. Use at least 40# braid, but many guides recommend 60# and above. Other lures that were successful were the so-called “Woodchopper”, Zara Puppy and normal spinners. The Bita holds a huge variety of fish and we were lucky to catch three species of peacock bass: the giant, the royal and the butterfly. We also caught blue arawana, pirapitinga and other strange fish with big teeth.
Fishing the Orinoco River
After fishing the Bita for a number of days, we headed downriver to the Orinoco in search of the mystical payara or vampire fish. This must surely be the scariest looking freshwater fish alive. The area about an hour up river from Puerto Carreño contains a number of rapids and rocky outcrops that hold monster payara. We set up camp close to the rapids and caught payara straight from the rocks and boat. Payara are strong fighters and act very much like tiger fish, except that they have a lot more stamina and will take a long run downstream when hooked. They are also keen jumpers and cause a lot of headaches when hooked on treble hooks. I lost two monsters on our first day so changed all my hooks to singles. The payaras were not as lucky during the rest of our trip! I used an eight-foot travel rod for the payaras and a reel spooled with 350m of 40# braid. This stood in good stead when a hooked payara rushed downstream and enabled me to get the necessary casting distance from the rocks. It goes without saying that a steel leader is essential. We mostly used brightly coloured shallow running crankbaits to catch the payaras, but be warned, these fish destroy lures! Our lures were also attacked and destroyed by hungry piranhas, so one must take enough lures along.
A final word
If you are looking for a fishing adventure of a lifetime, look no further than the Vichadia Department of Colombia. It will satisfy all your desires. This adventure does not, however, cure a midlife crisis. They say that one should visit the place twice in order for this to happen. Hopefully our wives will understand!
WHEN YOU GO
Except for the usual sunscreen, stomach pills etc., the first thing I am taking along on my next visit to the Vichadia Department is some industrial strength insect repellent. The sand fleas taught us a lesson that we will never forget, and I will most probably walk around with scars for the rest of the year. Wearing long sleeved clothes also helps a lot against a sand flea attack. It is important to exchange your US Dollars for Pesos at the airport or to get Pesos from an ATM or bank, since we struggled to have our US Dollars accepted in the areas we travelled.
There are direct flights to Puerto Carreño from Bogota with Satena Airlines, but often flights leave from Villavicencio, a town about a 100km south-east of Bogota. Fortunately, it is easy to catch a taxi or bus in order to get to Villavicencio. Alternatively, one can take a bus to Puerto Gaitán and travel by speedboat to Puerto Carreño. There is also a bus from Bogota to Puerto Carreño, but this option should be avoided.
For fishing adventures around the Vichadia Department of Colombia, contact Michiel Remmelink at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +31 6 26 11 9710 (Whatsapp). He was very helpful in arranging our trip and has a lot of fishing experience in the area.