Hunting A River Monster In Guyana’s Mystical Waterways

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My quest for a world-record sized Amazon Wolf fish started at the most remote and Southern village in Guyana, referred to as the Gunns Strip.
I arrived early in the morning, just as the fog cleared on a small bush strip. It was surrounded by 120 ft trees as far as the eye could see. It was the most beautiful place I have ever laid my eyes upon; a place that was home to the hospitable Wai Wai tribe.
Upon reaching the area, I realized what a tremendous privilege it was for me to be there. Not many foreigners are allowed to visit this protected area.
A good friend of mine and Missionary pilot had a flight to Shia in the South Rupununi carrying supplies to a Bible worker who has been there for a while. Luckily for my part, he had an open seat for me and my gear, and was happy to drop me off provided I supplied the Avgas for my leg of the flight. Being a bush pilot in Guyana myself, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to get to know the area better from the air.
This particular area is protected land belonging to the last remaining Wai Wai tribe in Guyana. It has the world’s most pristine jungle and rivers running through it.
It is also home to the origins of the mighty Essequibo River, which is the third largest river in Northern South America. The area is so isolated that it can only be accessed by aircraft via Gunns Strip or by a four day river journey from Parabara, a Wapishana village on the banks of the Cuyuni river.
After paying my respects to the village elders and Toshao, I was introduced to Anthony and Steven. They are ex-Rangers from the area and were to be my Wai Wai guides on this journey.
Together, we ventured into the unknown in a traditionally made 30ft dugout canoe with a small outboard motor. Our primary objective at the time was to scout potential campsites on both the Upper Essequibo and Kasekaitsu rivers for future guided fishing trips into the area, and catch as many different species as possible in my time there. As fate would have it, this very quickly turned into an obsession with the elusive river demon, the Wolf fish or Aymara, as the locals here call it.
Whilst talking to Steven about the different catfish species, some growing to over 400lbs like the Lau Lau (which is not found in this area ), I couldn’t help but lose myself in the beauty of the area; crystal clear waters, with rapids around every bend in the river.
The amount of wildlife was astonishing. We saw over 100 wild macaws in the first couple of hours; a gigantic Green Anaconda wrapped around a fallen tree and countless monkeys, which I would over the next couple days, learn is better tasting when roasted over the fire than the best Brazilian steak, especially the Spider Monkey.
It didn’t take long for me to realize the difficulty of our task, as our timing was a bit off since being in the middle of the rainy season, the river was extremely high and pushed at some points, more than 100ft into raw Amazon jungle.
The first three days of the 14 day expedition was spent casting lures for big peacock bass and arowana, with no success. After what felt like a million casts and catching countless Piranhas I realized I was wasting my time. The waters of the Essequibo and Kasekaitsu rivers were simply too high.
That night around the campfire, with the sweet smell of a freshly roasted Piranha, we decided to change our tactics and target the big Wolf fish that we have been hearing jumping in the jungle’s waterways.
Fishing for this giant on rod and line is extremely difficult. They inhabit the smaller creeks and are widely considered as the most elusive fish in the Amazon to target on rod and line, especially trophy-sized type.
They are mostly an ambush predator lurking in the shadows while feeding on other fish and small mammals that fall into the water. Once hooked, you have to hold on, as this fish will do all it can to get off, even jumping and biting at anglers.
The Aymara itself is absolutely beautiful. It has big black eyes and a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth that would make you think twice about taking your evening river baths. In fact, forget about the Piranha, the Aymara is the true apex predator of these waters. The official world record for such a catch is currently recorded at 36.7 lbs. But we were determined to break this. Judging by the sounds of the splashes, we were right on the honey hole concerning the big ones. They are primarily nocturnal hunters, although not uncommon to catch during the day, but in order to increase our chances of a big one, we decided to sleep during the day and fish through the night.
We were determined to catch one over the 50 lbs range, since my guides told me they grew to well over 60 lbs in that area. Like a disease, the thought of an Aymara that size consumed every bit of my thought process.
After catching four Aymaras breaking the 40 lbs range I knew it was going to happen, and having unofficially broken the world record a couple times, it just made us more determined to accomplish our goal.
Together Anthony, Steven and myself spent hours fishing through the night, some days without a single bite, targeting no species other than the elusive Wolf. Conditions were the most brutal that I have ever encountered.
We endured six hours of nonstop rain in our boat. Even though we were ankle-deep in water, our resolve did not falter. I remember telling Steven on more than one occasion that we are already wet so we might as well push through instead of heading to the comfort of our hammocks and campfire. When it didn’t rain we were being eaten alive by insects. Tired and sore, we ventured on like true champions do; giving up was not an option.
When my spirit was at an all time low, and running out of gear, we came across a group of hunters from the village, who gave me some raw spider monkey liver to use as bait. That night, armed with my new bait, Anthony took me to his secret spot, where he is convinced monsters lurked. Eight minutes after casting my monkey liver bait, I hooked onto what can be deemed as the fish of a lifetime. It was a massive 54 lbs Wolf Fish, a true river monster in every essence of the word.
The fish jumped four feet into the air as it tried to escape my hook. With the adrenaline running through my veins, I knew one mistake is all it would take to lose the fish of a lifetime.
After five minutes, I could sense the fish was starting to get tired, it made one last run for cover and my 80 lbs braided line did its job and held up under the pressure. Only after we got it to the side of the boat and Anthony had it safely secured with the lip grip, did the full emotions of what had just happened sink in.
At that moment, all the wait, pain and suffering faded away, we succeeded. But our job was not done just yet, only after taking a couple pictures of the monster and releasing it back safely again to grow more, did we celebrate.
That night, there was a sense of brotherhood around the campfire. Our hard work over the last couple of days paid off, and we finally got a good night’s rest before taking on the river journey to Parabara.
This trip was certainly an opportunity for me to fall in love all over again with the many splendours of this country, and I did. I cannot wait to visit the area again and someday, I hope you can too.

 

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Ecotourism · Issue 25 · Publication · Tourism and Culture

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