Among the rocks and torrid river waters of the uncharted Colombian Jungle lives the feared and famed “Vampire fish”…the Payara
This species can reach in weights of over 30lbs . The IGFA world record is currently 39 lbs on tackle.
Being an obsessive aquarium hobbyist growing up – I had a collection of Tetra fish. Now in 2018, I landed the real deal – full sized tetra -The Payara, Hydrolycus scomberoides, is a species of “dogtooth tetra”. This predatory fish is found in the Amazon Basin in tropical South America.
Ever since I was a young teen, I loved the fish with frightening huge teeth. Pike being my all time fav, the payara are up there on my list behind Pike and a possible tie with the Tiger Fish of Tanzania.
When I fished for these vamps in Colombia I witnessed some incredible sights that I wish I could have filmed. Once evening my team and I witnessed Payara jumping up and out of the water along the steep rock wall that lined the rivers edge . They where jumping up handout of the water, body slamming , tail smacking the rock wall…. I was watching intently trying to see if they where ambushing small fish, perhaps insects, or was is parasite removal? I still don’t really know what they where doing, but it was an incredible act to watch, at least a handful of Payara all at once , repeatedly bashing against the rock wall.
There are some handle with caution instructions I will pass on to you, the reader:
1: Be very careful of the fishes spines that line every fin but the tail. The spines are teaming with bacteria and I stabbed my self good between my fingers and my skin took about 2 months to heal.
2: Watch for the tiny micro catfish that lurk in the waters: ” Candiru ” is a species of parasitic freshwater catfish and pose a threat to the Payara once they are caught and held by the angler – these tiny, nasty blood suckers quickly swim into the Payara’s gills as the angler holds it for the release. I saw this 1st hand. DO NOT hold your prized fish in the water , you must bring it in and take it out the water to remove the fly, and then for the release – “torpedo” the fish into the water head first- trust me, you’re doing it a favour by literally throwing it back. I witnessed the Candiru hoarding into one of the payara’s gills as I let my fish breath and rest before release – they looked like a school of minnows squirming into my catches gills 🙁 – we had to take them off by hand and release my fish in a new spot , in the quick moving water. It was a lesson learned.
Here is a video on the nasty fish:
Lets get on with the gear….
Avidly chasing these Vampires of the jungle rivers – I can say you will need heavy duty gear to master these fish on the fly!
ROD: 9 or 10 weight fast action rod. My favourite rod is Thomas and Thomas 10 wt Exocett
REEL: Abel Reels / Ross Reels large arbour reel like the super series, Sealed Drag 9/10 , Ross Evolution. You will need a reel that has exceptional stopping power, smooth drag and a large enough around to quickly pick up the line once the fish is on the reel.
FYI: I used the sinking line more than the floating.
LEADER/ Tippet. I advise using a tarpon shock tippet. I was taught by some Master fly casters and guides that a home made tarpon shock tippet was the best leader/ tippet to use: I’ve included an IGFA video on how to built your own.
FLY: They eat bait fish patterns, the purple and white colour combo was very successful for me. There are many preferences for different rivers , but the usual streamer (much like a pike fly) can be used.
Here are some exceptional flies tied and sold by : https://www.orinocoflies.com
Technique : Now, hooking these fish is a huge task, they are very tricky as they take a fly differently than a pike, snook, bass and more. They strike with their fangs so fast it’s very tricky to get a hook in the mouth in time, but with some keen intensity you can get a set on them. Always be ready. There is a very small fraction of time you can set the fly, and when you do, you’ll know it. They jump, cartwheel and bull dog – hold on!!! Some times the fangs get caught in the fly and that acts as the hook set. I hooked mine in the corner of the mouth and the fly was tangled in the fangs – double duty!
Don’t forget your deet bug spray, and sunblock. The sun is extremely harsh any time of year in SA. I cover up with UPF clothing as much as possible.