Virgin waters. Endless, pristine wilderness. Fish that have never seen a fly. Check that. Record-class fish that have never seen a fly. Gorgeous, aggressive, acrobatic, record-class fish that have never seen a fly. If you are a fly angler, I’d bet my favorite rod that you have dreamt of these things. But they don’t really exist, right? Or if they do, it would take a full-blown exploratory expedition to experience them — which means more time and money than any of us have to spare — right? A fishing lodge could never offer these things, because with guests coming every week, year after year, the same water gets fished over and over again, right? Right?!
If you’re nodding your head, then you’ve never heard of Untamed Angling’s operation on the Rio Marié. If not, you may want to sit down before reading on. 500 miles WNW of Manaus, Brazil, the Rio Marié is smack dab in the middle of the Amazon jungle — the most pristine part of the Amazon jungle. Peacock bass thrive there. BIG peacock bass. World-class peacock bass. The new fly caught world record peacock bass — 28.5 pounds — was caught there last year. More 20+ pound peacock bass are landed in a typical week on the Rio Marié than in whole seasons at most peacock bass operations. Local peoples have long referred to it as the “Rio de Gigantes” (River of Giants), but it was only recently “discovered” by the international angling community as the best peacock bass fishery on earth. And it’s not even close.
So here’s the story. The intrepid fishermen at Untamed Angling teamed up with the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources to study peacock bass in the Brazilian Amazon. On the Rio Marié, they found more and bigger peacock bass than any other river system they studied. Much bigger. But the river system lay in a vast territory controlled by indigenous peoples. What followed should be held up as a model of conservation and collaboration between groups whose interests don’t always line up. The Brazilian government designated an area of 5 million (!) acres as catch and release, fly fishing only — the largest fly fishing-only preserve on the planet. The area includes over 500 miles of fishable water, including the Rio Marié, three major tributaries, 180 known creeks, and 60 lakes. Anglers pay a user fee to the native associations, helping them to sustain their culture and improve quality of life, and the operation also creates a number of jobs for locals. Because it is catch and release, the endeavor is 100% sustainable with very little impact — and it helps prevent the area from falling victim to some other, darker fate, as we have seen so often around the world.
Endless, pristine wilderness . . . check. Gorgeous, aggressive, acrobatic, record-class fish . . . check. But with a fly fishing operation in place for several years, there’s no more virgin water or fish that have never seen a fly, right? Surely there is no way for a fishing lodge to cover so many miles of water — meaning that guests end up fishing the same beats within range of home base, right? Enter the Untamed Amazon mothership: a state-of-the-art yacht built in 2015 specifically for the Rio Marié operation. Three stories tall, 92 feet long, 26 feet wide, but drafting only four feet, this mobile base of operations flouts the limitations that normally apply to fishing such a vast, inhospitable wilderness.
The Untamed Amazon ventures into uncharted waters, both literally and figuratively. It sets new standards in ship design, luxury, and safety — especially in middle-of-nowhere jungle. Six guest suites (for a max of 12 anglers) have floor-to-ceiling views of the jungle outside, air conditioning, and private bathrooms. Technology includes 96 solar panels and three tons of solar batteries that provide all electricity for the vessel, water filtration and wastewater treatment systems, AIS transponder system, radar, sonar, GPS, and satellite phone. It even has wireless internet, and two Jacuzzis in the top floor open-air lounge. The list goes on, but from a fishing standpoint, the Untamed Amazon’s most important quality is its mobility.
The vessel’s twin propulsion engines and shallow draft enables it to access the entire Rio Marié system, and the floatplane charter from Manaus delivers anglers directly to the Untamed Amazon no matter where it is within the river system. This unheard-of mobility means several things. First, it will allow the operation to utilize the entire vast fishery (although it has only scratched the surface so far) instead of being confined to a relatively small area. Second, even though water levels can, and do, fluctuate on Amazonian rivers, the Untamed Amazon’s ability to move allows it to be at the right place at the right time under all but the most extreme river conditions. Last, but definitely not least, it means that fishing pressure is spread out over such a large area that it is virtually nil.
In fact, hundreds of miles of the river system have not been touched at all yet. Despite the supreme mobility of the Untamed Amazon, it’s a matter of “so much water, so little time” — the operation is only a few years old, the fishing season is three months per year, and the amount of water is almost unfathomable. Even in the areas that have been accessed so far, much water has only seen a skiff a handful of times and has not been truly fished. Fishing skiffs run past or skip over sections of river, they fish one bank but not the other, many of the giant peacocks may be back in the sticks or otherwise inaccessible when the few anglers pass by slinging flies, and so forth.
So, virgin waters and fish that have never seen a fly . . . check and check. That is, gorgeous, aggressive, acrobatic, record-class fish that have never seen a fly. The stuff dreams are made of, but a reality on the Rio Marié. Say a prayer to the fishing gods, a thanks to all those who made it possible, and then go see for yourself.
As a final note, waters like these are only protected if anglers go visit them. Fly fishing tourism — which is virtually all catch and release — offers local people a sustainable alternative to other livelihoods and practices that use up natural resources, such as commercial or subsistence fishing. Do your part for conservation by going fishing.