The Golden Kings of Bolivia

A journey to a simpler past for golden dorado.

[by Sekhar Bahadur]


THE V-SHAPED BOW WAVE FROM A PACK OF MARAUDING GOLDEN DORADO WAS 50 FEET IN FRONT OF ME AND COMING ON FAST. I could just about make out the fish themselves. After a couple of heart-pounding false casts, I managed to drop my red and black Andino Deceiver in front of the nose of the lead fish, and all hell broke loose. The dorado attacked my fly with a mighty splash, and I remembered to strip-set hard, twice. The 20-pound fish went airborne, its black-speckled golden sides and shiny gill plates sparkling in the sun, propelled aloft by a powerful orange tail with a dark stripe down the middle. After a spirited tussle involving more head-shaking leaps and a few powerful runs toward cover, I brought the fish to hand, and after extracting my mangled fly from its powerful jaws and razor-sharp teeth, I released my first dorado.

“In addition to their brute strength and aerobatic leaps, dorado have the attitude of pit bulls, and catching and landing these fabled fish on the fly is among the most demanding freshwater-angling experiences around.”

The dorado of Bolivia travel up the Mamoré River in the Amazon basin to the tributaries near Tsimane’s Pluma Lodge. We fished freestone rivers where the Amazon rain forest meets the foothills of the Andes. The Itirizama is a small, rocky, fast-flowing, and usually clear stream emerging from just visible hills, which slows and widens after it meets the Pluma just upstream from the lodge. Downstream from the lodge, the Pluma joins the Sécure, a slower river with lots of sunken tree cover, and then becomes a wider, gently flowing river with islands and flats. All these waters are bordered by dense vegetation, with almost no sign of human presence except for the lodge.

The golden predators are usually in hot pursuit of sábalo, shadlike baitfish that migrate upstream to spawn in huge numbers. Sábalo somewhat confusingly share the name given to tarpon in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, and we saw many of them that must have weighed a couple of pounds or more. Massive schools of sábalo with their distinctive black tails congregate in the river, and when the dorado attack, the baitfish flee in splashy terror and create what looks like a saltwater blitz.

In addition to their brute strength and aerobatic leaps, dorado have the attitude of pit bulls, and catching and landing these fabled fish on the fly is among the most demanding freshwater-angling experiences around. One reason is that there are challenges other than a formidable fish. The weather is hot and humid, and long hikes over sunbaked, beach ball–shaped rocks and through tough, slippery, uneven and obstacle-strewn jungle paths are commonplace. The wading gives no respite, as the smooth rocks are greased with slimy algae, requiring studded-felt boots, wading sticks, and great care. Wading quite a few times turned into swimming, sometimes to retrieve flies stuck on cover. We used 40-pound or heavier straight fluorocarbon leaders with wire bite tippets, so a quick tug to snap off a hopelessly marooned fly was not always a practical option. As in some saltwater fishing, long accurate deliveries of very large flies to moving fish were often required.

At other times, when rains in the mountains upstream discolored the rivers, we had to blind-cast into murky water—the marketing phrase “gin-clear freestone waters” contains some hype. When we couldn’t see the fish, we cast to cover, seams, and confluences while managing line—all that plus wading in deep and fast currents proved a handful for even the most experienced anglers.

Outwitting spooky trout in crystal clear spring creeks on sunny days may arguably require more finesse, but rarely does one need to cast 70 feet just to be in the game. Specialized overweight jungle fly lines with heavy front tapers to turn over big flies are helpful. And next time I’ll also take a stripping basket and not attempt to tame dorado with any outfit lighter than a 9-weight. Penetrating the hard bony mouths of the fish requires a timely, powerful, and low tarponlike strip strike, often more than one, and they then need to be vigorously prevented from heading for tangly cover with a good rod and reel with drag locked down tight. A golden dorado is a worthy adversary and a hard-earned prize indeed.

WHILE SOMEWHAT OVERSHADOWED BY THEIR GLAMOROUS GOLDEN BRETHREN, other species of hard-fighting game fish filled the rivers. They include the omnivorous fruit-eating pacu, dubbed the freshwater permit for its finickiness and shape, which it uses to great effect in the current when hooked; the yatorana, an aggressive smaller, sharp-toothed relative of the golden dorado; and the spectacular surubí or striped catfish. Pacu are often targeted with flies that resemble the small round fruits they eat, but they will sometimes take streamers left to drift.

But the fish are just icing on the cake. The rivers we fished are in the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory that is home to the Tsimané, Yuracaré, and Moxeño–Trinitario ethnic groups. It is beautiful, very sparsely populated, untouched, and well protected. The local people watch over their lands and waters vigilantly, and the Bolivian authorities have little patience with trespassers, poachers, and the like, sometimes rooting them out with tough, anti-narcotics troops accustomed to locating jungle drug labs and dealing with whomever they find there. Our guides shared a cautionary tale about would-be fishermen from abroad who bribed a local guide to take them on an illegal expedition—ending in arrests and imprisonments.

The first slice of the cake is the journey into a simpler past. Anglers fly on small single-engine planes into a tightly situated jungle airstrip in a 90-minute journey from Santa Cruz, a fast-growing and prosperous city with several restaurants that would hold their own against those of any of the world’s capitals. The Saturday arrivals and departures at the Oromomo village airstrip on the lower Sécure River are major events for the villagers, who turned up in force. Bread is not available in the village, so the planes bring large plastic bags of rolls for the village children. The children scarf them down and when the planes start up and begin to taxi, the children stand behind them in order to enjoy the cooling breeze of the prop wash.

THE VILLAGE HAS RECEIVED CONSIDERABLE FUNDS THROUGH ITS PARTNERSHIP IN THE FLY FISHING OPERATIONS, and while it remains basic, we did see quite a bit of new infrastructure investment, which we understand includes a small airplane for medical emergencies. Smiles and seemingly good health were in good supply. After landing and gathering our gear, we then traveled for nearly an hour upstream from the village to the Pluma Lodge in wooden dugout canoes.

The second added benefit was the spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. We saw several jaguar prints and a tapir. Beautiful butterflies and birds were all around us, including the blackand-yellow crested oropendola with its distinctive xylophone-like pinging call. We sent birdsong recordings with deciphering requests to our mad-keen birder friend and fishing buddy Michael, who after hearing them while walking down London’s Oxford Street, was even more disappointed he couldn’t make this trip. A birdsong version of the Shazam app that can identify the feathered creatures that make beautiful sounds may or may not be commercially feasible, but it would definitely have come in handy.

AS I THINK BACK ON OUR TRIP, HOWEVER, the local people themselves are easily the most memorable aspect. Each group of two anglers fished with an Argentinian professional guide and two indigenous boatmen. The boatmen are assigned to the lodge’s fishing program on a two-week rotating basis by the village’s reputedly formidable elected mayoress (whom we saw running a no-nonsense village meeting). The boatmen grew up on the rivers and know every inch of them and the surrounding forests. The professional guides wisely listened very closely to them. Their skill and strength in navigating rapids in our low-sided vessels were nothing short of miraculous. The boatmen knew the names of every plant and animal we came across, and while caiman evoked no particular reaction from them, a particularly dangerous poisonous caterpillar above a jungle path most certainly did.

The boatmen enjoy eating sábalo and would hunt the baitfish with simple handmade bows and arrows. Not only did we never see them miss a shot, but they also hit just above the midline of the sábalo, a few inches behind the gill plate—every time. We also were told they have deep respect for dorado, historically for driving sábalo into the shallows within range of their arrows, and now their appreciation of dorado is augmented by the tourism revenue the game fish generates.

These small, fit men—coca leaves frequently in cheek, carrying their few belongings in small simple woven satchels slung over their shoulders—had a quiet stoic dignity that left a lasting impression. I noticed one of our boatmen had a deep open gash on his toe. Fortunately, our surgeon friend Dr. Joe was on hand to take care of him, but I am sure if I had not said anything he would have carried on without a murmur of protest. We brought waterproof watches as gifts for the boatmen and lodge staff, and they were a big hit. On our last day I was heartbroken to see our wounded but recovering friend, who had worked so hard for us all week, sadly tapping his bare wrist as we were pushing off—we thought we had taken care of everyone but had inadvertently not done so. Fortunately, an impromptu one-off payment in lieu of merchandise seemed to do the trick, but it just underscored how much we take for granted.

Meeting these incredibly humble, hardworking, and accomplished persons made us all a bit ashamed of many of our first-world worries and concerns and being able to tame a few beautiful golden dorado in such special surroundings made us feel even more fortunate. We hope this special sanctuary and its people remain undisturbed.


Sekhar Bahadur lives in London and Greenwich, Connecticut. He holds advanced fly casting–instructor qualifications from Fly Fishers International and the Game Angling Instructors’ Association.

If You Go

Sekhar and his friends traveled with Untamed Angling (untamedangling.com), which operates the Tsimane Lodge and arranges round-trip transportation to and from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which is fairly well served by direct international flights. Before you go, make sure your inoculations are up to date, and consider antimalarial precautions. You might also want to hit the gym before you go or otherwise work on your stamina for hiking long distances, wading strong currents, and fighting big fish. Further, you will need to pack the following:

  • tropical saltwater fishing clothing
  • sun and insect protection
  • full wading boots with felt soles and metal studs
  • wading stick and stripping basket
  • 9- or 10-weight rods with specialized floating and intermediate sinking jungle fly lines
  • solid, saltwater reels with good drag systems
  • decent gratuities for your guides.

Trout Season – The Misfit Saviors

Here’s a great new video from the folk’s at Sage about photographer and Gray’s contributor, Bryan Gregson.

The Undeath of Trapshooting

Trap lives on, and for good reason.

[by Terry Wieland]


THERE WAS A TIME, 20 years ago, when you could hop in your car, drive around Arizona, and find all kinds of top-notch trap guns gathering dust in gunshops. Every rack had a few in the corner. There were Ithacas and Parkers, Berettas and Krieghoffs, and even exotic numbers like the Ljutic. The asking prices were sometimes ridiculously low; even so, there were few takers.

The reason was simple: Arizona is where old trap shooters go to die. When they do, their widows cart the guns off to the nearest gunshop and are paid a pittance for them. “No interest anymore, ma’am.” And these formerly cherished firearms are offered at a fraction of their value.

A few writers in the 1990s noted this with sadness, but put it down to the general view that trap was a dying sport, the province of old men and older times. Sporting clays was the new game, and trap ranges around the country were half-deserted on those balmy spring days when a shooter’s heart turns to thoughts of gunpowder.

BUT, TO PARAPHRASE MARK TWAIN, reports of trap’s death were exaggerated. Trap, we’re happy to report, is back. New trap guns are appearing, and those half-deserted trap ranges are thriving.

There are several reasons for this, but the main one can be summed up quite simply: Trap is no longer an old man’s game. In fact, it isn’t a “man’s” game at all. It’s now a young person’s game, in the form of rapidly growing collegiate shooting. The very characteristics of trap that caused many to lose interest through the 1990s makes it the ideal shooting sport for schools and colleges.

“In a bizarre way, it’s a team sport with all the drawbacks and none of the virtues. How you shoot can be affected by the behavior of the other people on the squad. A good trap squad gets into a rhythm, with no delays and no chatter.”

Full disclosure: I’m a non-recovering trap addict from way back. I’m not particularly good at it, and I’ve never shot a registered target in my life, but three things about trap fascinate me: first, its history; second, the highly specialized guns involved; and third, the fact that in informal trap you can have a lot of fun competing, not with others on the line but simply with yourself.

For these reasons, it was sad to watch trap shooting decline from the most aristocratic of shooting sports to become a backwater as sporting clays ranges sprang up all over the country. But an odd thing happened to sporting clays, and in a remarkably short time: Many of the things about trap that caused declining interest are now afflicting sporting clays, and it’s a self-inflicted wound.

People lost interest in trap because it became so regimented it was no longer fun. At the highest levels, shooters were so good that missing a single bird was enough to put you out of even a state-level competition, never mind standing on the line at the Grand.

But it was more than that. In trap shooting, as in no other shotgun sport, the psychological aspects are paramount. It’s a game of concentration, a game in which the shooter is at war with himself. When you’re on the line, you’re not so much competing against the other four shooters on the squad as you are enfolded in a cocoon of concentration, battling your own weaknesses.

In formal trap, there are five positions on the line, and you shoot your birds one at a time, in order; after five birds, you all move over one position, shoot five more, then move again. A round of trap is 25 shots.

In a bizarre way, it’s a team sport with all the drawbacks and none of the virtues. How you shoot can be affected by the behavior of the other people on the squad. A good trap squad gets into a rhythm, with no delays and no chatter. Having a complainer on the line, or someone who mutters every time he misses a bird, upsets the rhythm and concentration. There are enough things to cause you to miss without adding boorish behavior.

Trap also, sad to say, brings out the worst in some people. Some guys become so wrapped up in it they become complete jerks. They complain about anything and everything to the point where they’re not fun to shoot with, and the shooting itself loses its appeal. That, I believe, was a major factor in trap’s decline.

To have fun shooting a round of trap, it’s ideal to have four other shooters about the same level as you, or maybe a little better. They should know the rules and take it seriously enough to allow everyone to concentrate and try to do their best, but they should also realize that their manhood doesn’t hang on one missed bird.

The key is sportsmanship, not gamesmanship, regardless of what’s at stake.

Sage’s New TROUT SPEY HD Makes Casts Effortless

(From Sage)

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. (June 12, 2019) – Trout Spey is now a common method for anglers searching for trout, so Sage introduced the TROUT SPEY HD to capitalize on technology tailored to Trout Spey lines in development and to make the cast effortless.

“Featuring KonneticHD technology and a new fast-action, the TROUT SPEY HD series brings ease to lightweight Spey techniques,” said Sage R&D design engineer Peter Knox. “A more stable tip and smooth power transfer better handles Trout Spey specific lines for an improved casting experience.”

The new TROUT SPEY has Sage’s KonneticHD technology and comes in 5 different sizes.

Five models from 10’3” to 11’3” excel with a variety of Trout Spey lines currently offered in the 200-350 grain size range, and its action is designed for Skagit and Scandi style casting techniques with trout appropriate sized flies. The varied models in this family offer anglers more options to select appropriate sizes for each fishery (i.e. fly size, fish size, and environment), while the lengths allow closer retrievals of flies and fish as well as open opportunities in tighter quarters and the ability to cover water most effectively.

With accented classic spey cork handles, wood insert and a composite butt, the new TROUT SPEY has a classic look with modern performance.

The TROUT SPEY HD has a conifer blank color highlighted with Dijon primary thread wraps and tan trim wraps. The Vera wood insert with down-locking reel seat combines nicely with the super plus, full-wells cork handle with decorative composite accent rings and a composite cork fighting butt. The hard-chromed snake guides and tip top and tangle-free, Fuji ceramic stripper guides round out the features.

Available in 1-4-weights in varying lengths, each model will come in a tan rod bag in a tactical green rod tube and retail for $900. Available to consumers in August 2019, attendees of EFTTEX can see this rod June 13-15 at booth CP26.

About Sage:

Founded in 1980, Sage was created with one idea in mind—to build the world’s finest performance fly rods. From the start, Sage has maintained that singular focus on delivering the finest performance fly fishing rods, reels, and equipment to the avid angler. We are a company of passionate anglers and craftsmen, continually seeking performance advantages through new materials, designs, and engagement with the fly fishing community. We fly fish. You can feel our passion for fly fishing in everything we do. For more information, please visit www.sageflyfish.com.  FacebookInstagramVimeo.

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Hells’s Bay + Captains for Clean Water Giveaway

Our friends at Hell’s Bay Boatworks and Captains for Clean Water have put together a giveaway worthy of one of North America’s most distinct and endangered landscapes, The Florida Everglades.

“Hell’s Bay Boatworks was created to go deep into the Everglades–hence our name. Hell’s Bay is named after a really unique and biodiverse area. The old timers used to say it was ‘hell to get into, hell to get out of.’ We created a boat to go back into those places and to be environmentally friendly for those places.”

To help raise awareness about water quality in the Everglades, these companies are giving away a Hell’s Bay Waterman skiff equipped with everything you’ll need to tackle the flats and the backwater bays of Florida and beyond!

CLICK HERE to enter or learn more.

Gray’s Gear & Lifestyle – Fly Fishing 2019

While we’d all like to fish for weeks at a time from rustic lodges far from home, the truth of the matter is, most of our windows of opportunity come on short notice, in one- or two-day stretches, within driving distance of the house. For these far-more-common scenarios, wise fishermen know packing light and remaining nimble are the secret to quickly escaping for a brief sojourn to nearby water. Filson knows it, too. That’s why it created the Rugged Twill Compact Rod Case ($375), a water-repellent, abrasion-resistant carrier with room for a pair of 9-foot, four-piece rods with tubes plus plenty of space in its two outer pockets for reels, fly boxes, and accessories. With its stylish bridle-leather strap, the case is perfect for hanging on a hook beside your back door, where it will not only wait patiently for your next opportunity to slip away, but also make sure you look good doing it. www.filson.com

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Orvis and Michelin have long been highly respected industry leaders in their respective fields, but the closest you’ve probably come to putting them together is rolling your rig to a favorite fishing spot atop a trusty set of tires. That’s about to change with the Orvis Pro Wading Boots ($229), a collaborative effort between the Orvis Research and Development team and engineers from Michelin’s rubber division. While the boots are designed for the angler who walks miles over rough terrain and fishes hard all day, they’re also perfect for those who need a bit more support and stability to stay steady in the stream. A generously padded tongue and collar, paired with a pull tab at the heel, give the Pro comfort and accessibility that rival a favorite pair of hiking boots. But it’s the exclusive tread pattern, inspired by Michelin’s agricultural tractor tires, that makes for better adhesion to slippery surfaces. A self-cleaning design makes sure each step washes the boot free of mud, clay, or river slime to ensure maximum traction. www.orvis.com

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Every fisherman understands that not all reels are created equal, and thanks to Finn Utility, the same can now be said of the cases that store them. The Sutherland Reel Case is made of extremely soft, 3 /8-inch felted wool, and its simple, hand-sewn pocket comes in two different sizes to suit your needs. The smaller ($78) fits reels 3/4/5 and measures 3½ inches deep by 3½ inches long, while the larger ($98) is designed for sizes 7/8/9 with two additional inches of depth and length. Each lives up to the Vermont-based company’s goal of creating uniquely beautiful products that get better with age. www.finnutility.com

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Hook & Gaff recognizes that outdoorsmen and gentlemen are often one and the same. That’s why it creates timepieces that are equally at home on the boat or in the boardroom. The newest addition to its hand-assembled, American-made product line is the King Tide ($525), an analog watch that tracks the tide at your specific location. Meanwhile, 24-hour tritium technology gives it continuously illuminated hour markers and hands, making it the ideal choice for any angler who leaves port before the sun comes up. Watertight to 200 meters, it’s available in white, blue, or gray dial colors and can be dressed up or down for most any occasion, thanks to a wide variety of band options. The result is high performance on the water paired with stylish practicality ashore. www.hookandgaff.com

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Since its inception in 1973, Ross Reels has carved an enviable niche for itself in the fly fishing world by consistently building overperforming, underpriced reels from its home base of Montrose, Colorado. For many anglers, its Gunnison and Cimmaron models of years ago were the first high-quality reels we ever owned—and the fortunate among us still have them in our arsenals. Now, Ross is at it again with the newly designed Animas ($295), which features an increased arbor size, a canvas reel handle, and a machined silhouette of the Rocky Mountains on the back side of the reel. It’s also substantially lighter than its predecessors, while upgraded components increase the strength of an already reliable drag system. www.rossreels.com

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Few sporting apparel companies today are threading the needle between tailored excellence and rugged quality as well as Ball & Buck. With its new dry-waxed cotton, water-resistant pullover, the Anorak 2.0 ($348), it has again created a highly functional garment that is both outstanding afield while maintaining a look of gentlemanly refinement. Solid brass antique hardware, genuine leather cording, and roll-tab dual breast pockets make sure you’re covered from a style perspective, while tool attachment D-Rings, a generous front pouch, adjustable Velcro cuffs, and their proprietary Versa Patch attachable fly system mean you’re always prepared on the stream. A waist leather drawstring clinches tight to keep the foul weather out and your body heat intact. www.ballandbuck.com