A big dorado in the Paraná Delta would just scratch 20 pounds, while fish over 10 pounds are considered a good catch for a single day. Anglers do catch the massive 30- and 40-pound fish more commonly seen in Bolivia, but they typically do so by dredging dark flies down low near the main channel. We employed that method—fly fishing’s version of sinking bait—but could not have anticipated the near-comical results.
After setting ourselves up with 400-grain fast-sinking lines, Witt and I bombed casts across the tailout of a wide creek, counting the fly down to depths of 20 feet or more. An oncoming storm ripped across the marsh, rattling the leaves off nearby trees, sending scores of teal and shorebirds sailing for more comfortable climes. Just as the water started to hit whitecap-level chop, Justin hooked up with something big, which surged through the water—this could well be our “ten-kilo” fish, indicated Enzo, our guide. He backed off the trolling motor, allowing us to float with the current. As Justin fought his fish, I continued crashing the bank, swinging the fly almost like a steelheader to get it down.
After one of these casts, I heard the sickening snick of a knot failing and line rattling through the guides, followed by a number of Spanish phrases. Then, my own rod doubled over, but the pulse on the end was all wrong; too wriggly for dorado, not loggish enough for sábalo. Within minutes I landed my second-ever saber-toothed payara. Payara have tusks, much like a boar, that stand straight from their lower jaw, like jagged hypodermic needles. Just as I was hamming it up for Becca’s camera, the fish gave a weird wriggle, and slipped free. It fell in a perfect belly flop, executing exactly one half barrel roll before sticking the karmic landing, literally, by burying its teeth in the top of my foot. Ten points from the Russian judges.
I blanched, laughing weakly but somewhat aghast, as Justin calmly noted, “Zach, your foot is turning green.” The payara had clipped a vein, which was rapidly bleeding out under my skin. I bent over and wrenched the fish free, flooding the scuppers with impressive spurts of my own blood. Becca, a trained EMT, flipped some kind of internal switch and took command. Within moments I was lying by the transom, my foot held firmly, elevated, and continuing to bleed. I obeyed all medical direction (most notably one about calmly drinking my beer “instead of whining”). Two beers and a surprising amount of gauze later, I was back on my feet, and we were headed for a different flat. So much for headhunting.
TO BE FAIR, fishing the Paraná Delta isn’t about trophies. Instead, you fish here for action. Like “puppy drum” fishing in the Louisiana marshes, there is seemingly no end to the five- to seven-pound fish. I didn’t even know mouse flies were an option until our third day of fishing, when Enzo seized upon my well-traveled but little-used row of mice. They didn’t last long, but I’ve never been more excited to lose flies.
As the light failed on our last evening, with a distant lightning storm searing the horizon and our supply of mice thoroughly exhausted, I sat on the deck of a Carolina Skiff. My face was sunburned (in January); my arms were tired from reeling in fish; I was slightly buzzed from beer and mapacho tobacco; and I was thoroughly happy. Fishing is supposed to be fun, and the golden dorado seems custom-designed to make angling a blast. Roll in world-class food and a mobile lodge experience, and you’ve got a truly satisfying South American adventure.
Zach Matthews is a longtime contributor to American Angler as well as many other publications. He also is the host of The Itinerant Angler podcast, now in its 12th season. When he’s not traveling, writing or podcasting, Zach is a working trial attorney in Alpharetta, Georgia.
- The Golden Dorado River Cruiser is a mobile operation, so its distance from Buenos Aires varies with the fishing and seasons. When we arrived, the boat was a short, couple-hour car transfer outside Buenos Aires.
- Lodging is all-inclusive, with in-room bathroom suites and showers powered by (filtered but stained) river water. Due to Argentina’s currency fluctuations, U.S. dollars are king, especially for staff tips.
- The GDRC operation is best accessed through its American booking partner, Hemispheres Unlimited (hemispheresunlimited.com; 404-783-2114). Hemispheres employs actual Argentineans to help navigate the country’s bureaucracy, which is extremely helpful given its occasionally volatile politics. Travel regulations may change with little warning.
- This is a great fishing trip for first-time anglers. And the boat is a perfect playland for 8- to 12-year-old kids who have an interest in fishing. The dorado are so prolific, hot angling is basically guaranteed. The marsh is also a birder’s paradise, with parakeets, ducks, egrets, and herons, not to mention a rich buffet of harriers, caracaras, and other birds of prey.
- Note: The CDC lists Argentina within the Zika zone, but a closer look shows that only four Argentine provinces, all along the Brazilian border and hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires, have confirmed cases of the disease. This area is well outside the malaria zone, too. Mosquitoes on the Paraná are also surprisingly dedicated to a dinnertime window of approximately 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Fortunately, that’s when you’ll be inside, eating dinner yourself. Outside that time window, we saw no mosquitoes.