Teeth, Tents, and Tight Lines on the Tupparo River

BOGATA, Colombia — In early 2018, a group of 10 North American anglers converged on the northernmost tip of South America. Their mission: to journey deep into the rural heart of the Tupparo River basin in search of grande peacock bass, and other foreign species. Embedded within the group, tackle industry veteran Gary Abernethy wet a line and a lens, leaving civilization behind and returning with this exclusive FTR photo report.

The following is a direct account from Abernethy:

Navigation to the fishing grounds was an adventure by itself, and allowed for some great views of the river savannah grasslands and a most varied terrain vistas.  Our 105 mile trek in 4×4 vehicles, included two uses of remote river ferries, we forded several small streams with no bridges, and bumped across miles of sandy and red clay unimproved roads. Fishing was to be found at a far, far distant location, but there was a lot to see along the way.

On the road trek, along with the remote ferries, were a few bridges that were engineered using local timbers and planking. This was one of the “better” ones that spanned a small creek. January is the dry season in Colombia, so these small streams were flowing mildly. Just the 4×4 portion of the trip took about five hours to reach our stop-over camping destination.

Our interim camping spot for the first night was at an abandoned facility on the banks of the Orinoco River. The Orinoco River creates the border between Venezuela and Columbia. Huge river smoothed rock, almost glazed in appearance, became the riverbank at this overnight interim stop. After the day of travel guys had to test the water at evening sunset, and a few Payara were caught here from shore.

The next day, passage to the Peacock fishing area was by boat, up the Orinoco and into the Tuparro River. This image is just inside the Tuparro entrance, and is much more narrow and rocky than became the common view for the next 70 miles upstream. The local boats used for the trip were impressive on three major issues:  they transported huge amounts of gear and people upstream, they navigated the whitewater rapids quite effectively, and they later became great fishing platforms. I was very impressed with these local boats.

Okay, we were camping, but we had help. Fish Columbia was the outfitter on this trip, and they set up this custom campsite just for our group, hacked out of the woods along the river. The locals who set up and worked camp were quite adept at making tables out of the available underbrush.  Note the tables engineered out of sticks that were all around camp. These went up in minutes.

This is what we came for.  Of our 10 anglers, almost everyone caught multiple “double digit” Peacocks.  The topwater bite was off during our trip, but some were still caught that way.  Best lures were generally something moving extremely erratic in the water, 6”-8” in length, and of brightest colors.  Big jerkbaits, shallow wake baits were top choices for many, but for me personally, a big spinnerbait with double willow blades outfished everything else both in quantity and size of fish.  Master angler Steve Ryan popped the two biggest Peacocks on the trip, both 19 and 21 lb. trophies.

After 5 days of Peacock fishing, we ventured back downstream and got in two half days of Payara fishing on the Orinoco River.  Let me state very openly—this photo does no justice to presenting the raging rapids on the Orinoco, which were well beyond Class V whitewater. Fish bit right out of the raging whitewater, and harpooned the lures with as vicious a strike as you might imagine in fast current.

I later learned that the Orinoco River is ranked No. 4 of all world rivers in flow, and at these rapids I could believe it.

As we ventured on our return navigation on the 4×4 route, we witnessed at several locations on the extensive grass savannahs fires that burned clean the fields and undoubtedly kept the underbrush at check. I’m sure when rainy season returns this makes for some lush, fresh growth.

The ferryboat operator had these dried Payara heads hanging on the ferry as we crossed on the way back.  Since we released all the fish caught during our trip, a couple of our guys negotiated a purchase of these as mementos of the trip. As we returned safely to Puerto Carreno and later Bogata, everyone was rewarded with both an adventure and fishing trip of a lifetime.