Brazil 2019 — In Praise of Ugly Fish

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For American bass anglers, the peacock bass, which is not a bass at all, is the ultimate foe. They eat topwaters, rip drag, jump clean out of the water, and resemble a psychedelic canvas. No two are the same, but none of them are ugly. Their good looks just round out the complete package.

The same cannot be said of some of the Amazon region’s other fish. They are mostly toothy, slimy and prehistoric. The phrase that comes to mind for most bass anglers would be “trash fish.” I went into my recent trip to Brazil’s Mato Grosso state with that attitude. I’d been spoiled by supermodel peacocks on two prior trips, and now we were searching for wolf fish, which resemble nothing so much as an oversized grinnel, and possibly payara, whose charm rests largely in their incredible fangs. Many of us put down catfish and snakeheads and carp for similar reasons – they don’t have the visual “wow” factor, even if they’re fine quarry for other reasons.

Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. The wolf fish, which grow to record proportions in the area we visited, eat topwaters and squarebills and cut 80-pound braid like it’s nothing. Oh yeah, they jump, too. For me, though, the real star of the show were the payara. Some bulldog, some jump, but they are the meanest and trickiest and most Houdini-like sonsabitches I’ve fought in a long time. We didn’t catch many of them on artificials, but I let my bait snobbery rest for a week. One 20-plus pounder after another will do that to you. If I had it to do over again, I might spend the whole trip soaking bait, drinking Brahmas (with a water to match each one and fend off dehydration) and battling the sabertooths until I couldn’t feel my arms anymore.