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Ankle Biters

ADMITTEDLY, I’M A LITTLE LATE late to this party. The Bolivian Tsimane golden dorado adventure has been online for several years, but I’ve just recently found my way down there. When the first snippets of dorado video began filtering north from the Bolivian jungle, I immediately took note of a fishery that I knew I’d enjoy. What’s not to like about huge predators blitzing baitfish among clear tumbling rapids in a Jurassic Park-like setting? While I’ve done my share of “exploratory” fishing over the years, these days I’m more inclined to sit back and observe while the initial rush of anglers dash and scramble for the early spots. And such was the case with Bolivia.

As with any river fishery, there are trade-offs with weather and water levels. At “normal” flows a fishery is at max efficiency with predators and prey able to disperse and use cover to their advantage. At high-chocolate flows the predators hunker down, forcing us to blind cast and hope for the best. At low flows, the fish are easier to find, but often more difficult to catch. Such was the case during our trip…but when the catching happened, the catching was spectacular.

When Blake and I first looked at this trip, we both decided that low and clear was what we’d angle for. Just like in the videos, we wanted to sight-cast to big dorado in clear shallow boulder gardens. And we wanted to witness the feeding melees when hunting packs of dorado pushed schools of sabalo into the shallows and hacked them to bits. On those fronts we were not disappointed, but between those events we put in a lot of boot miles and slung heavy streamers into thousands of fishy-looking spots. Was it an easy fishery during our visit? No, it wasn’t. Was it rewarding? Yes, off the scale.

For me the highlight came on the third morning when a wolfpack mob blew up a shoal of sabalo and sent them dashing between my feet. That gave me a head-on shot at a big dorado that ate my fly at about 1.5 rod lengths. I was looking right down his maw when he inhaled the streamer. For Blake, it happened on the last afternoon when we spotted a massive dorado laid up in a shallow slot on the Upper Itirizama. It was a tough lie, with opposing currents, rocks, and not much room to land the fly without spooking the fish. From his perch atop a huge boulder, Blake laid the fly inches from the fish’s nose and it sipped his steamer like a rainbow eating caddis. From there all hell broke loose and Blake’s only option was to lean into the fish and keep it from diving down a deep chute between massive boulders. The fight was over within minutes, and I’ve never seen my son more excited. He had jumped off a couple of big ones the day before and this fish was a fitting end to a great trip.

Beyond the fishing, we also give a huge hat tip to the team at Tsimane Pluma Lodge. Manager “Chuky” Lorente and his guides are as skilled a team as we’ve encountered, the lodge and meals were exceptional, the native Tsimane boatmen were an invaluable part of the equation, and the jungle setting was even more spectacular than I imagined. During our week we saw scarlet and blue macaws, raptors, caimans, a tapir, jaguar tracks on the sandbars, and more tropical bird and butterfly species than I could count. It was buggy at times, but never overwhelming, and we had no problems with dengue fever, bot flies, narcos with Uzi’s, natives with poison darts, or giant constricting snakes. Not that we were worried about those things, but…hey…

Thanks, as always, to the team at Frontiers International Travel for their impeccable planning services.

If you’d like to see the entire shoot, please click here.

Jungle commute

Morning rigging and bull session at Pluma Lodge

Low-water maneuvers on the Pluma River

Blake Brown tight to a jumper on the Lower Secure

Alejandro Gatti holding the part that doesn’t bite

Go catch one of these, they’re awesome

Oh sure, he SEEMS nice…

From a deep clear bucket on the Itirizama

Working a pool on the Pluma

Bring wire, heavy wire

Tsimane native subsistence program

Me and Augusto on the Lower Secure

Measuring a good one    

Look up “work ethic” in the dictionary and you’ll find this man’s photo

Blake working the boulder gardens on the Upper Itirizama

Skinny water cage fight

The winner

Release

Guide Lucas Mora cooling off after a marathon walk-n-wade

Farewell asado at Pluma Lodge

Piñata party at the Oromomo airstrip

Pah Nah Mah

I’M NOT EXACTLY SURE HOW, but in my 30-plus years of photography and fishing travel I have somehow missed out on one the world’s more fertile angling playgrounds. I’ve lurked around the perimeter of Panama, but until last week the stars have never properly aligned for entry. Thanks to Mike Fitzgerald and Joe Codd at Frontiers for lining up a great photo assignment, and to Mike Augat at Pesca Panama for running a really cool fishing operation.

Our week started with a departure downriver from the town of David (Dah-veed in local parlance.) When the fleet of sportfishers caught up with our floating accommodations we dropped bags, ate lunch, rigged tackle and set out on a six-day odyssey that would cover over 100 miles of open ocean, jagged shorelines, and submerged seamounts. By day we fished while the lodge/barge “Hannibal” relocated to pre-arranged mooring spots. Each evening we gathered on Hannibal’s fantail for happy hour, fresh catch-of-the-day, and plenty of chin-wagging.

Panama is widely-known for it’s billfish opportunities, but it’s also a phenomenal fishery for the inshore angler. We spent the majority of our week fishing around Coiba Island which offers the opportunity to fish both bluewater and inshore in a single day. On a couple of mornings we started with a trolling session at Hannibal Bank for billfish, then motored inshore after lunch for light-tackle brawls with jacks, roosters, snappers, et al. The marlin bite was off during our trip, but we did find decent numbers of sailfish, tuna and dorado. The captains were well-versed in all techniques and the fly casters in our group appreciated their tireless enthusiasm for chunking hookless teasers over rockpiles and current rips. That technique turned up lots of fights, mainly with floating lines and streamers.

By week’s end we tallied over 30 different species of fish and our evening confab sessions turned toward Advil bartering and finger taping. Big thanks to Mary, our bartender; the captains and deckhands; and to Mike Reilly and Chris Deelsnyder who tag-teamed in the octagon with 150 pounds of tuna steak and sashimi.

Frontiers will be hosting a couple of weeks again next year with Pesca Panama. If you’d like to jump aboard, call them at 800 245-1950.

To see the rest of this shoot, please click here.

The floating lodge “Hannibal”. Yes, that’s the bar on the starboard bow

Pre-dawn boat prep

Chi Chi and Chris tailing a jack

The tuna arrived like this…

And departed as such

Comb-over

See any color yet? Si, señor…dark blue…

Mike with a bluefin trevally

A cubera snapper depth-charging for the rocks

Inshore ordinance

Slinging streamers over rockpiles

The Spaniard

End of the day

Safety in numbers at Hannibal Bank

Captain Hebert

Bridled blue runners are like chicken nuggets for pelagic predators

Stewart and Dick working a Coiba shoreline

Thomas with a reef donkey

Evenings on the fantail

2016 In Review

TWENTY-SIXTEEN WAS A BIG YEAR. New clients were booked, revenue milestones were reached, shutter clicks were off the scale, and the official year-end tally of My Butt In An Airline Seat surpassed 15,000 miles.

In this video, you’ll find a smattering of my 2016 work from The Olympic Range to the Seychelles. Much appreciation to YETI and Frontiers International Travel, and to all involved in the commission, planning, capturing, and licensing of these images. 2016 was a magical year filled with epic scenes, great gear, and wonderful people.

The first shoot of 2017 is booked for January 4th. By then I should be sufficiently recovered from the holiday gustation coma in which I’m currently residing.

Happy New Year to you all, and thanks for riding along.