tffj-exclusive-mono

Cutbank

A Spool of Mono

ABOVE A large peacock bass from the Amazon River drainage grabs big air. On these rivers, everything from voracious piranha to 100-pound catfish to vampire-fanged payara is ready to throw down. Bring wire tippet and beefy sticks.
Photo: Rafael Costa

Kopky is a giant Kayapo warrior with bulging scars running down his arms, marks from the tests of his youth when the chief dragged payara fangs through his flesh. He says he wants a fly and I hand him an orange and chartreuse deceiver. He shakes his head and hands it back.

“Give one that catch fish,” he demands in broken Portuguese.

I open my streamer box and tell him to choose. I instantly regret it. He grabs the last white muddler that has not been chewed up by piranhas. The one on the end of my line is falling apart and I still have a lot more water to cover after tonight. His face glows, the most fly-fascinated warrior I’ve met yet.

“Don’t lose it,” I assert, trying not to seem too uptight. “Please.”

These Kayapo tribesmen catch 100-pound catfish, giant payara, tiny minnows and all manner of crazy Amazonian fish with nothing more than a spool of mono, a hook and bait. Over and over I have seen them flick and chuck their offerings with a level of accuracy and dexterity that rivals angling masters.

Still, Kopky with a fly nearly identical to mine will likely see little action. First, I have the bow of the boat—the fish will see my fly well before his. Second, I know how to work a streamer. Third, he doesn’t even have a rod.

Kopky pinches a couple lead pellets onto the wire above his fly. To cast he twirls line over his head or at his side and lets it rip. We both throw about 45 feet—all that’s needed to hit the boulder edges and eddies where the bass sulk and plot.

Kopky pinches a couple lead pellets onto the wire above his fly. To cast he twirls line over his head or at his side and lets it rip. We both throw about 45 feet—all that’s needed to hit the boulder edges and eddies where the bass sulk and plot. 

ABOVE Bôte is a Kayapo who lives with the Kendjam tribe in northern Brazil. He speaks very little Portuguese, but is extremely fluent in fish.
Photo: Rafael Costa

Behind a boulder, a peacock bass eats my fly. Then a bass eats Kopky’s. Competition? I sense it.

Another Kayopo steers the boat in the gentle current with a hand-carved paddle. The sky turns pink over the rainforest and howler monkeys bark from the shore.

A mouth that could engulf a coconut explodes on Kopky’s fly. It’s a wolf fish, which can weigh more than 30 pounds here on the Rio Xingu in northern Brazil’s remote rain forest.

Kopky proves more daring than me, probing pockets and jiggling his fly over ridges of basalt that frequently grab hooks and hold tight. Even when he does snag, he pulls on the line, tickles the tension and releases. It works.

Another peacock whacks his fly. I turn and watch his hand-over-hand retrieve. The white concoction of fur and feathers dances and shimmies across pools and seams way more enticingly than my twitch-pause-twitch-pause method. I want to keep watching.

I add some spice to my retrieve. My expensive rod throws tight loops over the water and my space-age reel is here to stop a runaway horse if needed. I have thousands of dollars in gear and I can’t buy an eat. Kopky sits in tattered soccer shorts and fishes with a loose heap of monofilament between his bare feet.

The sky turns purple. Another fish detonates Kopky’s fly—my last good white muddler.

Kopky-03

ABOVE “Accompanied by Kayapo tribal members on a scouting expedition in October 2013, we were the first to fish a fly rod on the Iriri River in northeastern Brazil. A tributary of the Xingu River, the Iriri is in a protected conservation area and much of it is still unexplored.”
Photo: Rodrigo Salles


This story originally appeared in The Flyfish Journal Volume 8 Issue 4.

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