Mano A Mano With Jungle Beasts:
Part 2
We’d located and landed a giant arapaima. Now we focused on other jungle fish, including payara, pacu and wolfish.
By Gil Greenberg

I visited Guyana in January 2018 and spent six days trying to catch a massive arapaima. Having succeeded in that goal, and having also landed numerous peacock bass, we headed upriver, hoping to find a variety of fish, including payara, which are a saber-toothed fish found throughout Guyana’s Essequibo River system.

They are especially abundant in the upper river near Corona Falls, but our upstream progression was challenging, if not somewhat dangerous—unusual low water conditions gave us very little water to work with.

Payara are found in rapids and in pools formed by large rock deposits and boulders. They are extremely strong swimmers and rely on their lateral lines to detect vibrations given off by their prey. These perfectly formed predators absolutely crush poppers. However, they aren’t total pushovers—they may become suspicious after a couple errant swipes at a pattern, and anglers may need to change things up.

To land a payara you need to set the hook hard, and ease up a bit once the fish is on, or you might rip the hook right out of its mouth. Payara are extremely strong and agile fighters that dive deep before taking to the air as they approach the boat. As we worked our way toward Corona Falls we stopped and fished numerous spots.With good luck: I landed around a dozen payara , the largest pushing about 10 pounds.

The following day we continued toward the falls with our goals being wolfish and pacu. Having already caught arapaima and payara, pacu was at the top of my hit list. In the morning of the ninth day, while we worked upstream toward the falls, our guide, Terry, spotted a large tapir on the riverbank. The other guides sprang into action as the tapir leaped into the water and raced downstream, trying to evade us. Ultimately, that tapir was no match for the guides. After dispatching the animal the boys quickly cleaned the kill and we were on our way, knowing we’d have “bush cow” for dinner.

I was still dreaming of pacu when our adventure hit a roadblock: the water was too low to ascend a set of rapids that rested just a kilometer below the falls. We headed downriver empty-handed. And as we did so, in the back of my mind, I knew I’d fallen short of my goals. I vowed to return.

And that’s what I did. Fast forward 11 months and 23 days. It’s now February 2019 and I’m headed up the Essequibo with good friend Darryl Rosalin and cameraman Dan Favato. My clients had completed their trip the day prior and landed three arapaima, and a ton of payara, peacock bass, piranha and arowana. Now it was my turn to catch up on unfinished business with Mr. Pacu.

Fortunately, higher water levels in 2019 meant we could reach Corona Falls without difficulty. Even so, the trip from camp to the falls took about six hours. We would have reached the falls sooner, but we stopped and fished for payara and peacocks, and beached the canoes to eat a hearty shore lunch.

When we reached the falls and started setting up camp, fish were rising everywhere. We took the boat across the river and caught a few payara for dinner. That was fun fishing for sure, and it satisfied the protein side of dinner, but those rising fish really caught held my attention—some looked like pacu. I drifted foam seed flies and swung green streamers, to no avail.

The next morning we headed out bright and early. We crossed the river and portaged the 10-foot long duck boat and the 18-foot long riverboat, along with our gear, about a half kilometer around the waterfall. Dan and I fished the base of the falls while Darryl worked the water around the top of the portage. I’d rigged a weighted seed fly for high-stick nymphing and as we worked our way up the rapids and plunge pools of Corona Falls, we heard a Tarzan-like cry ringing through the jungle. Darryl was on! Dan and I quickly scaled the last rockface just as Darryl landed an absolutely beautiful, dark-red pacu. After taking a few photos of Darryl’s fish, Dan and I worked the upper falls thoroughly, but without success.

Desperate to join the exclusive “Guyananese Pacu Club”, we travelled farther upriver than I’d been before. Three sets of rapids and a portage later, we arrived at Monkey Falls, a true pacu nirvana. This large waterfall fed into a massive pool where pods of pacu rose continuously, feeding on floating seeds. We spent the rest of the morning trying to get a surface eat, but the pacu were stubborn.

In the afternoon we worked our way up the falls, nymphing pocket water and ripping streamers across pools.We saw a ton of fish, but we couldn’t get a solid hookup.

At the top of the falls I tied on the same green streamer that worked for Darryl, and decided to work the mouth of the falls. On the first cast, three pacu bolted out of a crevasse and chased my fly. I slowed my retrieve as the fish followed, just inches behind the green hackle tail, and bam, fish on. The pacu ripped upstream rubbing my line on the edge of a submerged rock ledge. Then it turned and took off towards the falls. I angled my rod, putting as much side pressure on the 16-pound tippet as I thought it could take. The fish again changed its tactics, heading under the rock ledge and into the boulders. Somehow, I managed to get the fish out of the current and into a small back eddy where we were able to land it. Victory.

After a couple swigs of rum and a round of hi-fives, it was Dan’s turn. Within three casts he was hooked up, ending our session with another solid pacu. I could not imagine a better way to end our trip—three friends landing three solid pacu in the middle of a jungle wilderness. We agreed: Life is good in Guyana.

Look for Part 1 of this Guyana adventure in the February edition of Fly Fishing International Magazine.

Gil Greenberg
Gil Greenberg is the founder of Gil’s Fly Fishing International. He holds a degree in marine biology and has always felt most at home on the water. At age 18, Gil bought his first fly rod and took it on his family’s annual walleye fishing trip. Just like so many fly-fishers before him, he was instantly hooked on the fly. To date, Gil has thrown flies at fish in over 25 countries, spanning five continents. Before getting into the fly-fishing industry, Gil served in the IDF and worked as a fisheries consultant in the Solomon Islands.