A South American expedition in search of one of
the greatest game fish in the world.
[by Gary Kramer]
CEFE WAS READY AND WAITING FOR US. He had two 8-weight rods rigged with sinking-tip lines, steel leaders, and Lefty’s Deceivers. Alan and I must have had puzzled looks on our faces when we inspected the steel leaders. Cefe looked at us and said, “Muchos dientes.” Translation: many teeth.
The Paran River was running a bit high because of unseasonable rainfall, which meant productive fishing locations would be more limited than normal. Cefe had a couple of areas in mind about 15 minutes downstream from the ramp. Once there, he set the boat up to drift past a 30-yard wide channel off the main river and instructed us to cast. I grabbed a rod and took a position on the casting platform at the bow of the boat. Seconds later, Cefe pointed to an imaginary spot 40 yards in front of the boat and said, “Good Dorado!”
It took me a few moments to locate what he was pointing at; a fin barely breaking the water’s surface. I began false casting as the boat drifted closer, eventually took a deep breath, and released the Deceiver, aiming for a spot just ahead of the fish. But my placement was off and Cefe barked.
“Recast! Forty feet, one o’clock.”
But I missed the opportunity, and the fish sank. I cast again anyway, waited a second or two, then started to retrieve. The fly suddenly stopped on the third strip. I set the hook twice with a strip strike, and a dorado blasted out of the water like a missile shattering the stillness of the afternoon. Line raced off the reel. The fish jumped again, and I dropped the rod tip hoping the fly would stay solidly attached to the berserk fish. Cefe looked at me with a smile that almost cracked his face.
“Good Dorado!” he said.
Back in the 1980s, Buck Rogers, one of the most respected fishing writers of the day, identified the dorado as one of the six greatest game fish in the world. Yet the freshwater dorado (Salminus maxillosus) has suffered somewhat of an identity crisis ever since.
Dorado are hard-hitting, incredibly-strong, acrobatic fighters that have long been one of the most admired fish in South America, but until recently, have been largely unfamiliar to the rest of the world; in some cases, anglers simply confuse it with other species.
Although the dorado’s body is reminiscent of, and closely related to, a salmon, the two fish don’t share a direct connection. The dorado does not die after spawning and it never ventures beyond a river’s mouth into the open sea, and while its common name is similar, the golden dorado is a freshwater fish not to be confused with the saltwater dolphin fish, or dorado as it’s referred to in Spanish-speaking countries.
The golden dorado is best described as a prehistoric salmon with the aggressiveness of a northern pike, the fighting tenacity of a largemouth bass, and the jumping ability of a rainbow trout. It’s a pretty good recipe for a game fish!
Dorado typically range between five to 10 pounds, though some reach 20 pounds or more. In fact, the current world fly rod record is 48 pounds. Holographic, black stripes mottle the dorado’s intense, radiant, golden color, though there’s a shock of blue in the center of its otherwise red tail. The fish’s color patterns, coupled with their powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth, have earned it the nickname River Tiger in Argentina. The dorado is a serious adversary and their arm-wrenching strike is a testament to their ferocity. As soon as you set the hook, these wild, leaping fish explode out of the water.
My quest for dorado took me to the famed Los Laureles Lodge on a portion of the Paran River in the Entre Rios Province, Argentina. Named after indigenous trees of the region, the lodge sits on 5,000 deeded acres that border the river where livestock grazing and farming are the dominant land uses.
Large numbers of dorado live in the Paraguay and Paran River systems of Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Other populations exist in Bolivia, Brazil, and Columbia, though they are not found in the Amazon or Orinoco Basins as once believed. In fact, of the seven International Game Fish Association fly rod tippet records, four came from Argentina and one each from Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia.