Posted by: 1000fish | May 20, 2020

The Jau of Steve

Dateline: October 13, 2019 – Entre Rios, Argentina

The main point of this trip was to get back to Mar del Plata and catch the Argentinean Sand Perch I had missed in February. But there are no direct flights from San Francisco to Mar del Plata, and even if there were, I don’t think my company would be very thrilled sending me to a resort town that has no customers nearby. (Never mind what the sales and marketing people do.) So I had several stops in Latin America before I got to the South Atlantic. The first of these was Sao Paulo, Brazil. I increasingly struggle for fishing ideas close to Sao Paulo. It’s an amazing town, especially if you’re single, but I have caught almost everything that can be caught within a day trip of downtown. Fish I mean. Get your minds out of the gutter.

My old contact Ian-Arthur Sulocki is never at a loss for ideas, and he steered me to a pond that was supposed to harbor some local cyprinids I hadn’t caught.

Ian-Arthur. Yes, he looks like John Travolta, and no, Cousin Chuck, you cannot have his Instagram.

Most notable among the fish he mentioned was the corimba, a bream-looking thing that rarely eats. Still, it was a shot. I connected with Dennis, my trusted driver in the area, and we headed to the Santa Clara ponds. There are very few places I go regularly that have big batches of new species available, so one or two targets is worth an afternoon if I’m in the neighborhood anyway. It was about an hour out to the pond, where we met the manager, Emerson.

We arrive at Santa Clara.

Despite the language barrier, Daniel managed to communicate my special needs, and Emerson did everything he could to find my fish. The corimba did not cooperate, but I kept busy catching all kinds of neat catfish. Sometimes it’s just nice to bend a rod, and the pond was stuffed with unusual species. The first thing I got was a “pintado” – a spotted sorobim. It took me years to catch my first one of these. I hooked and lost one in August of 1999, but it wasn’t until March of 2002 that I finally put one on a boat, on an otherwise miserable trip to Paraguay.

This is the sorubim. I would have traded my aunt for one of these in 1999. I still would.

An African Sharptooth catfish, quite a bit larger than the examples I caught in Ethiopia. That’s Emerson on the right.

Emerson doesn’t speak a ton of English, but my Portuguese is a disaster. I know the names of the best cuts of beef, my two favorite drinks, and, of course, all the fish. While Emerson and Dennis were chatting, one word grabbed my attention – “Jau.” A Jau is a monstrous catfish that lives in the Amazon, one of those special “short list” fish I have always lusted for. Emerson was asking if I had caught one. I used the universal signal for “no” – I said “No.”

It was also quite clear, either from my panting or my drooling, that I wanted to catch one very badly. Emerson smiled, and he and Dennis spoke at some length. It turns out that there is a special, private pond nearby that they have stocked with Jau and some other trophies, which is available only for select groups. Generously, he invited me over there for the rest of the afternoon. First, we had to gather the bait – two dozen one pound tilapia. This was an excuse to break out the light tackle and have some fun, and then we got in the cars and took a short drive. The new pond was gorgeous – set up for overnight camping and barbecues – and it was jammed with fish. Emerson threw a handful of feed into the water and it was immediately swarmed – you could say the fish were packed in there cheek by jau.

The rigging was impressive – 10/0 Octopus hook, 60 pound leader, 50# class jigging rod, and a Stella 8000 with 60 pound braid. We flipped live tilapia out against the far bank, and it was a bad day to be a tilapia. The redtail catfish were relentless, and my first dozen or so bites were pirarara.

It was awesome to get something pulling hard on my new Sportex jigging rod, (courtesy of old friend Jens Koller.)

As the tilapia started running low, I got a vicious bite and hookup. Whatever it was, it was strong, fought differently than the redtails, and didn’t want to meet me. It broke me off in the pillars of one of the patios. Emerson announced “Jau.” I was sick to my stomach. We had only a few tilapia left, and each of these, in turn, got eaten by a redtail. The only remaining bait was a ragged one that had semi-survived a redtail bite earlier in the day. I tried casting it and working it along the bank, and on the third toss, something picked it up and ran hard. I gave it about 10 yards and locked up, and the fish took off like Martini running from a Dairy Queen. I had screwed the drag down as tight as advisable and then some, and miraculously, the rod didn’t snap. The fish banged up against the structure, and I just kept yanking it out, fearing a breakoff at any moment. It finally took off into open water, and I started breathing again and backed off the drag. The fish was heavy, plowed into the bottom, and wasn’t a redtail. It took about five more minutes to get it close, and the water was murky enough where I couldn’t see the fish until they netted it.

Oh yes it was. That’s Daniel on the right – none of this would have happened without him.

They are designed to eat big stuff. Like noodlers.

It wasn’t a particularly big Jau – at around 40 pounds, it was less than half of the monstrous 109 pound world record.

Russell Jensen’s world record jau. For perspective, he’s not all that tall.

But it was a Jau, and this was a major triumph for me. I even forgot the corimba – briefly – and celebrated that night in Sao Paulo with an assortment of steaks and caipirinhas. I had a trip to the Amazon planned for this summer, but that will need to wait until next year now. I will be very happy to get a jau “in the wild” – this is always preferable in the Tao of the species hunter – but it was great to get it on the board. A huge thanks to Emerson and Daniel.

Emerson – all around superstar.

Sunset on the way back to the Hyatt Sao Paulo, which has the most neurotic maids this side of Germany.

I think she alphabetized my socks.

Buenos Aires was my next destination. It’s supposed to be an easy four-hour flight, and United wasn’t involved, so you would think I would be safe. But this was before I met Gol Airlines. Gol must be the global dumping ground for airline employees who are too incompetent, too rude, or too indifferent for even the low standards we expect. Gol’s breathtaking lack of operational and technical competence, combined with aggressively poor customer service, puts them light years behind any other carrier globally, including Air Yak. I grant you, there was a storm in Argentina, but other airlines somehow managed to get all of their aircraft through, even with some delays. But Gol took off, flew two hours south, then turned north again. I noticed the turn, and began asking the stewardess why we were heading away from Buenos Aires. She, and all the other flight crew I approached, responded with shifty-eyed evasiveness, even when it was clear we were approaching Sao Paulo again. When we landed and GOT TO THE GATE, the crew finally announced that we were “delayed” and directed us to get off the plane and get our bags. (Hint – if they make you get your bags, you aren’t “delayed.” You are “canceled.”) That was the last I heard of Gol. Their customer service lines were some 4-6 hours long, and the people who actually got to the front of it were given a warm bottle of water and told to come back in the morning.

Perhaps a touch more experienced than the average traveler, I went looking for another airline. Qatar Airways had a Buenos Aires flight that evening, and they treated me like an actual paying customer and got me there. There were two people who suffered through all this with me – the concierge at the Hilton Buenos Aires, and Oscar Ferreira, the fabled fishing guide, who was trying to get me out onto the Parana River the next day. The concierge was extraordinarily patient, and kept up with my ever-changing itinerary, until the moment I walked into the lobby, when he met me in person and handed me a Pisco Sour. (One of the great drinks in bartending history.) Oscar was equally patient through dozens of “it’s off again/it’s on again” texts, and he organized a day trip for us to hunt whatever would bite in the river delta above Buenos Aires.

Morning came quickly, especially because my dinner consisted of more pisco sours. Oscar planned to run about two hours north into Entre Rios and go after white sea catfish. Because very few people care about sea catfish, I actually have the world record on this species, but Oscar had seen some huge examples in the area, so it was worth a shot. From the moment he picked me up, it was clear the weather wasn’t going to cooperate – it was dark and blustery, a holdover from the storm that confused Gol so badly. Still, I was here, and a day fishing is a chance to catch something new, and I wasn’t going to miss it. It was a long run up to our spot, but the wind was at our backs, so we didn’t get beaten up too badly.

When we finally stopped and set up, I was encouraged by the fact there were a lot of boats there. We dropped big squid baits, and began drifting the channel edges. We got nothing. The other boats got nothing.

We got uncomfortably close to a couple of freighters who were avoiding boats illegally anchored in the channel. The Spanish word for someone who anchors in a channel is “Dumbass.”

I did what I always do in these circumstances – downsize. While we kept running one rod for the sea cats, I dropped a baited sabiki to see what else was down there. About an hour later, I got some bites, and finally hooked into a few yellow suckermouth catfish, a species I had gotten with Oscar in 2012.

We celebrate not getting skunked.

Do not put this in your pants.

This was progress, although the bigger fish seemed to be taking the day off. The wind picked up hard around noon, so we moved into some calmer sloughs and back channels.

Typical Entre Rios backwaters.

As my hangover waned, I began to notice that I was very hungry, and that the single bag of chips I had brought from the hotel minibar wasn’t going to cut it. There are no 7-11s in this part of the river. Oscar again saved the day, with an unexpected and lovely spread of cold cuts, cheese, and bread.

I began to feel human again.

More importantly, the bites picked up. For about two hours, we had constant action, with plenty of decent-sized fish to match up on light tackle.

One of the first catches was a solid South American catfish – a dignified version of the creature I got in Miami last year.

Imagine my surprise when I found out I would need one five times bigger to qualify for a world record. So it goes.

We got bogas, a few different catfish, small dorados, and a lovely jacunda that turned out to be a new species.

A moncholo amarillo catfish, not quite big enough to beat the record. I would love to break this record – the guy who has it is a JERK, at least according to Marta. Oh wait – I have the record.

The Pike Jacunda – species 1898.

Any day with a new species is a worthwhile day, and it was great to catch up with Oscar. I highly recommend him if you ever have a day free in the area. The ride back to port, however, was a challenge – the same wind that had pushed us north was in our face for two-plus hours, and it ended up like Cousin Chuck’s honeymoon – cold, wet, and nauseating.

Oscar and the Ichi Iana.

Still, we ended up safely back in El Tigre, and shortly thereafter, to the Hilton Buenos Aires, where another ill-advised Pisco Sour was waiting for me.

It didn’t wait long.

Then dinner with some of my Argentina co-workers, who kindly came out on a local holiday to eat with me. From left to right, that’s Max, Agustina, and Chris.  (Chris is Miami-based and runs all of Latam in my department. You can tell he is dynamic and fearless because he wore a white sweater to a steakhouse.) None of them are single, so stop asking.

Buenos Aires is a lovely, cosmopolitan town, often considered the most European in Latin America. In its heyday, it was positively stuffed with world-class restaurants and shopping. Argentina’s economy has struggled badly in the past decade, with triple-digit inflation and businesses collapsing faster than they can spring up, but it was reassuring that my favorite steakhouse, Las Nazarenas, is still there and still serves an amazing filet.

A pound of meat. This, and some sort of potato, is all the food pyramid I need.

This was the check. Thirty bucks – and this place is as good as any steakhouse in the USA. Not a bad idea for a vacation when we can travel again – the dollar is going to go pretty darn far.

After a few days of meetings in town, I would be heading to Mar del Plata for my rematch with the sand perch. Naturally, I started checking the weather. It couldn’t possibly be a disaster two trips in row, right? Especially when I was making a 14,000 mile round trip each time, right? Right?

Steve

 

SPECIAL BONUS SECTION – THE FARLOWS HAT

The aforementioned Farlows hat.

Over the past year or two, I had gotten a number of questions on my Farlows hats, so I thought I would take a moment to explain. Farlows (https://www.farlows.co.uk/) is an amazing tackle store in Central London, a place I usually visit before getting to any other cultural stops, like the Imperial War Museum or my favorite Polish restaurant. Almost all of my European-style travel gear was purchased here, along with a number of my heavier travel setups – they are truly set up for the global angler. The staff is amazingly knowledgeable and has helped me with everything from my Atlantic Salmon to emergency pike lures when United sent my tackle to Nepal. Terrifyingly, they always remember me, which makes the place seem even more like home – sort of like Hi’s Tackle Box without Michelle’s vicious attacks on my haircut.

That’s Fred Richardson on the left, and Sam Edmonds in the middle. They have both sold me a lot of tackle, as well as the very hat that started this whole discussion.

I even took some of my employees there on a recent trip. At least Gary pretended to be interested.

And yes, we did go to some other points of interest. Interestingly, the building across the river on the right is the London Aquarium, which, in my defense, we did not visit, because we would still be there if we had.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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