Proud of their land of curios and confusions—like fruit-eating game fish and whisky-soda that turns out to be whisky-lemon-pop—Brazilians brag that no fewer than 2,000 species of fish inhabit the Amazon River and its tributaries. Still other species, including recently introduced rainbow trout, flourish in still other rivers.
But, Brazilians go on, there is one special fish the visitor must catch if he is to appreciate the sporting possibilities of their vast, wild country. That fish is the dourado (Spanish: dorado), a golden river savage as vicious as a piranha; a cannibal sometimes surpassing 60 pounds in weight; an acrobat that jumps like a tarpon and yet, unlike the tarpon, cooks sweetly on the grill.
To take a dourado you don't have to paddle hundreds of miles up uncharted rivers, risking poisoned arrows, tarantulas or yellow fever. You can fly in. And one of the best places to fly to without leaving civilized comforts as well as Copacabana Beach far behind is Igua√ß√∫ (pronounced ee-gwa-500) Falls, some 730 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. There the rose-colored, Brazilian colonial Hotel das Cataratas do Igua√ß√∫ offers tropical semi luxury: a swimming pool, a tennis court of sorts and an oasis for the wife. While she sits and contemplates the splendor of the falls of Igua√ß√∫, higher and wider than Niagara, her husband may fish downstream for the big dourado that abound there or for another fish the Brazilians call a salmon, though it is not, or for the delectable pac√∫, which likes to lie beneath jaracatia trees on the river's bank and eat their cherry-sized yellow fruit as it falls into the water. It is this diet, perhaps, that makes the pac√∫'s flesh so sweet. And on light tackle the pac√∫ is a fair country fighter.
But light tackle is seldom seen on the Igua√ß√∫. The fashionable way to go after dourado or any other fish there is with a stiff and powerful 12-foot cane pole and a line about one-third the diameter of a clothesline. No reel. The locals horse the fish in by main strength and ignorance. Franz, hotel bartender by night and fishing guide by day, prefers line of 120-pound test. Other part-time guides—Andrew, in charge of purifying the hotel's water, and Paraguaia, the night watchman—use similar tackle, even when they are bottom-fishing for passively nonresistant catfish in the water above the falls. They tell somber tales of poles wrenched from their hands by giant dourado and listen politely but unconvinced when the advantage of the spinning reel's drag is explained and demonstrated. Their preferred bait is the lambari, a fish some five inches long, but they also use large silver spoons.
Obviously, from these guides you will get no expert advice on tackle and casting methods—but there nothing much is needed. They will take you to the good spots, and the dourado is so voracious—when five days hatched he eats his siblings—that no delicacy of presentation is required.
"He'll strike at anything that moves," says Franz, though Hotel Manager Guilherme Martini does not believe the dourado can be induced to strike feather lures or bucktails.
Since the dourado needs a generous oxygen supply, he is found mostly in the rapids. The best method is to cast a spoon upstream and out and retrieve just fast enough to keep it two or three inches below the surface while leading it through the whitest water. With a spoon you strike immediately, but if bait is used the dourado may mouth it for as long as five minutes before it is advisable to strike. You must strike hard and hope your hooks are sharp because the dourado's mouth is tough. He has sharp teeth, so a short wire leader is necessary, and since he is likely to abrade the line against the river's many rocks, anything less durable than 12-pound monofilament, if spinning tackle is used, is a needless risk. If bait-casting tackle is your choice, a reel with a drag is indicated, or at least a leather thumbstall.
One 60-pound dourado has been taken from the Igua√ß√∫. All local fishermen, like local fishermen the world over, remember the fish that got away and are certain even bigger fish are still in the river. The largest taken anywhere in Brazil went 70 pounds, according to Dr. Manoel Batista de Morais Filho of Brazil's Division of Fish and Game, who supervised its recent transplantation into rivers in which it is not native.
Big or small, the dourado jumps the instant he feels the hook. In the fight that follows he may jump half a dozen times, leaping six feet straight up on occasion.
During the best season—September, October and November—it is not unusual for a fisherman to take four or more dourado from the Igua√ß√∫ in the course of a long morning's fishing. December through February is good, too, if you don't mind extreme heat. But in the rainy season, April through August, the river may swell in its deep gorge as much as 65 feet above flood stage.
The fish Brazilians call a salmon runs up to 20 pounds in the Igua√ß√∫. It has pink meat and, as a table delicacy, is rated above the dourado and below the pac√∫. Like the pac√∫, which may go to 25 pounds and is shaped rather like an angelfish, it is a fruit-eater at times and quite a good fighter.
Between November and January the dourado go upstream to spawn and there encounter the impassable falls of Igua√ß√∫. Like salmon, they try to climb the falls, leaping prodigiously up through the cascades, falling back and leaping up again. Dourado are spectacular breeders, laying approximately 70,000 eggs per pound. This fertility encourages Brazilian ichthyologists to believe that no matter what the fishing pressure the dourado will survive.
There's much more than the dourado, the salmon and the pac√∫ to make Igua√ß√∫ Falls worth a visit. Situated near the point where Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil meet, the falls are near the southern extremity of the tropical forest. You won't see jaguars, but they are there in the woods surrounding the hotel, and there are tame coatis playing on the lawn, ripe yellow guavas to be plucked and eaten, giant bamboos, tall coconut palms, big spiders threading their webs across the trails and more kinds of butterflies than have yet been counted. The butterflies, filled with a charming curiosity about humans, like to light on your bare hands or arms.
The falls are part of the Parque Nacional de Igua√ß√∫, a tract of 1,920,000 square meters, with another tract one-third the size on the Argentine side of the river. Founded in 1939, the park's purpose is to preserve natural wildness, exotic trees and strange animals—not only jaguar but capybara (world's biggest rodent), tapir, deer, monkeys, coatis, wild pigs and anteaters. From the Argentine to the Brazilian side of the falls is one mile in a straight line, but some 11,800 feet if one follows the circular route of the falls. Total fall is 308 feet. For comparison, Niagara Falls is 3,500 feet wide and 167 feet high. (Africa's Victoria Falls measures 400 feet in width and is 350 feet high.)
Igua√ß√∫ is not yet tourist-trampled; there is at present no telephone communication with the outside, and all reservations are made by wireless. But a change may come with the government's recent authorization of another 100 rooms to be added to the 47 now available. And a new airstrip on which faster, more comfortable planes than DC-3s can land is certain to step up patronage.
Anyone who goes to Igua√ß√∫ is likely to stop over at Rio. Until this summer the man who wanted to fish the harbor or go outside could do so only if he had friends at the yacht club. There were neither guides nor charter boats. Now, however, David Sidi, a Yugoslav with a pretty Scottish wife, and Dr. Joaquim Belém, one of Brazil's leading physicians and a passionate fisherman, have established Diva Divertimentos Aquaticos, a plush guide-and-charter service that includes cocktails aboard the boat, served by a pretty English-speaking hostess, and luncheon at the late Clube do Brazile or the late Clube do Rio de Janeiro.
Most of the fish that inhabit Florida waters—dolphin, amberjacks, king-fish, blues, snook, groupers, jewfish and so on—are found in and near Rio's harbor. There are even bonefish and permit on the harbor flats. North and south of the city there is surf fishing for pompano and blues. One very productive spot at times is from the roof of a large cave, the Gruta da Impressa, only 15 minutes from downtown. Fish it only in good weather, however, for sometimes when the water is rough huge waves wash fishermen off the rock.
In addition to fishing with rod and reel, Sidi and Belém offer spearfishing, which is extremely popular in Brazil, possibly because the 1960 world champion spearfisherman, Bruno Hermanny, and the world's top deep-free diver, Americo Santarelli, are Brazilians. Those who don't care for either kind of fishing can just charter the 44-foot yawl Ondina for a day's cruise about the harbor.
Associated with Belem and Sidi are two young North Americans, Louis Nohl and Charles Cabell, who offer guided safaris into the interior to hunt for jaguar and, of course, to fish. At Cabo Frio, 75 miles east of Rio, there is sometimes superb fishing for dolphin—as many as 20 per rod have been taken in a day—but as yet neither guides nor boats are available for hire.
Brazilians, who have hitherto resigned themselves to the fact that touring North Americans generally prefer to go to Europe, are just beginning to develop the facilities that might divert some of this trade to South America. The basic ingredients—good sport, scenery that exhausts the average traveler's supply of film, and charming, eagerly helpful people—are there.
THE MAGNIFICENT FALLS of Igua√ß√∫, higher than Niagara, dominate the fishing scene, even as the fighting dourado dominates the river itself.
THE DOURADO'S CONFORMATION is similar to that of some fish in the salmon group. But actually the dourado is classed scientifically as a Salminus maxillosus Val. of the Characidae family. All rivers of the Plata Basin contain dourado and, in addition, rivers of the San Francisco Basin are the habitat of related fighting species.
IGUA√á√ö FALLS TRAVEL FACTS
Getting there: Real-Brasilia Airlines has daily flights from Sao Paulo. DC-3s or Convairs take four or five hours, cost $66 round trip. Argentine Airlines flies DC-3s Monday, Wednesday, Friday from Buenos Aires. Flight takes six hours. Though any good travel agent can make arrangements, hotel reservations can also be made through Real-Brasilia.
Staying there: Hotel das Cataratas is comfortably first class, with many rooms overlooking falls. Rooms are $8 to $12 per person with breakfast. Abundant lunch and dinner average $2. Food is well-cooked, Brazilian-flavored, features steaks, roasts, tropical fruits and, of course, fish. Chef will cook your catch for you. Wines are good—especially Brazilian Liebfraumilch—and cost about SI per bottle.
Playing there: Hotel has pool, tennis courts, billiards, table tennis, movies. Standard tours of fall regions and rain forests are $4. Fishing guides are $10 per day, boat extra.