SI Vault
Martin Kane
August 28, 1961
Brazil's finest game fish, the dourado, puts up a wearing fight, but between rounds a fisherman can live in luxury at a fine hotel deep in a tropical forest against the backdrop of Igua�� Falls
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August 28, 1961

Golden Savage Of The Jungle Rivers

Brazil's finest game fish, the dourado, puts up a wearing fight, but between rounds a fisherman can live in luxury at a fine hotel deep in a tropical forest against the backdrop of Igua�� Falls

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Proud of their land of curios and confusions—like fruit-eating game fish and whisky-soda that turns out to be whisky-lemon-pop—Brazilians brag that no fewer than 2,000 species of fish inhabit the Amazon River and its tributaries. Still other species, including recently introduced rainbow trout, flourish in still other rivers.

But, Brazilians go on, there is one special fish the visitor must catch if he is to appreciate the sporting possibilities of their vast, wild country. That fish is the dourado (Spanish: dorado), a golden river savage as vicious as a piranha; a cannibal sometimes surpassing 60 pounds in weight; an acrobat that jumps like a tarpon and yet, unlike the tarpon, cooks sweetly on the grill.

To take a dourado you don't have to paddle hundreds of miles up uncharted rivers, risking poisoned arrows, tarantulas or yellow fever. You can fly in. And one of the best places to fly to without leaving civilized comforts as well as Copacabana Beach far behind is Igua�� (pronounced ee-gwa-500) Falls, some 730 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. There the rose-colored, Brazilian colonial Hotel das Cataratas do Igua�� offers tropical semi luxury: a swimming pool, a tennis court of sorts and an oasis for the wife. While she sits and contemplates the splendor of the falls of Igua��, higher and wider than Niagara, her husband may fish downstream for the big dourado that abound there or for another fish the Brazilians call a salmon, though it is not, or for the delectable pac�, which likes to lie beneath jaracatia trees on the river's bank and eat their cherry-sized yellow fruit as it falls into the water. It is this diet, perhaps, that makes the pac�'s flesh so sweet. And on light tackle the pac� is a fair country fighter.

But light tackle is seldom seen on the Igua��. The fashionable way to go after dourado or any other fish there is with a stiff and powerful 12-foot cane pole and a line about one-third the diameter of a clothesline. No reel. The locals horse the fish in by main strength and ignorance. Franz, hotel bartender by night and fishing guide by day, prefers line of 120-pound test. Other part-time guides—Andrew, in charge of purifying the hotel's water, and Paraguaia, the night watchman—use similar tackle, even when they are bottom-fishing for passively nonresistant catfish in the water above the falls. They tell somber tales of poles wrenched from their hands by giant dourado and listen politely but unconvinced when the advantage of the spinning reel's drag is explained and demonstrated. Their preferred bait is the lambari, a fish some five inches long, but they also use large silver spoons.

Obviously, from these guides you will get no expert advice on tackle and casting methods—but there nothing much is needed. They will take you to the good spots, and the dourado is so voracious—when five days hatched he eats his siblings—that no delicacy of presentation is required.

"He'll strike at anything that moves," says Franz, though Hotel Manager Guilherme Martini does not believe the dourado can be induced to strike feather lures or bucktails.

Since the dourado needs a generous oxygen supply, he is found mostly in the rapids. The best method is to cast a spoon upstream and out and retrieve just fast enough to keep it two or three inches below the surface while leading it through the whitest water. With a spoon you strike immediately, but if bait is used the dourado may mouth it for as long as five minutes before it is advisable to strike. You must strike hard and hope your hooks are sharp because the dourado's mouth is tough. He has sharp teeth, so a short wire leader is necessary, and since he is likely to abrade the line against the river's many rocks, anything less durable than 12-pound monofilament, if spinning tackle is used, is a needless risk. If bait-casting tackle is your choice, a reel with a drag is indicated, or at least a leather thumbstall.

One 60-pound dourado has been taken from the Igua��. All local fishermen, like local fishermen the world over, remember the fish that got away and are certain even bigger fish are still in the river. The largest taken anywhere in Brazil went 70 pounds, according to Dr. Manoel Batista de Morais Filho of Brazil's Division of Fish and Game, who supervised its recent transplantation into rivers in which it is not native.

Big or small, the dourado jumps the instant he feels the hook. In the fight that follows he may jump half a dozen times, leaping six feet straight up on occasion.

During the best season—September, October and November—it is not unusual for a fisherman to take four or more dourado from the Igua�� in the course of a long morning's fishing. December through February is good, too, if you don't mind extreme heat. But in the rainy season, April through August, the river may swell in its deep gorge as much as 65 feet above flood stage.

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