Peters Hosted Travel Log | Secure Lodge Bolivia
It is always exciting to visit a destination for the first time and for my very first Golden Dorado fishing trips to Tsimane Secure Lodge in Bolivia was no exception. It has been a while since I had been this excited to a new trip and as Golden Dorado fishing trips go, this was going to be special. After many conversations with Marcelo and guides who have become great friends over the years as they also do all our Sea Trout guiding in Argentina. The excitement and expectations were very high.
Getting ready to leave
With a full group, we arrived at Santa Cruz and was quickly and smoothly met buy our Tsimane representative and escorted to our overnight hotel. Pick up time was to be around 8.30 am the next morning.
Overnight it was hard to sleep, one from excitement, two from jet lag and three the wind overnight increased to an unbelievable level. At breakfast, we discussed that we had all accepted there would be no way we would be flying in small planes deep into the Bolivian jungle. Wrong, Carlos an old friend who manages the ground operations in Santa Cruz for Tsimane turns up at the hotel and says are you ready. Looking outside and seeing trees being thrashed by the wind I said can we fly in this? Yes, it’s all go, let’s go to the internal airport.
At the airport
After a quick check-in procedure one which sees you having to be weighed carrying your hand luggage, we walked outside to your two planes. There they stood or should I say there they stood and rattled in the wind, two single-prop planes to carry 7 of us including all our luggage. After a few team pictures, we climb aboard engines started blocks removed and … Stop with one of the ground crew banging on the door saying stop engines.
Was it now too windy to fly? No report had just come in that it was raining at the lodge, which means low cloud so the planes cannot see to land. We all disembark from the planes back to the terminal building, luckily it was only for 20 mins before we were all back on board and ready for take-off. Turning on to the runway the pilot had hardly got the plane going when with such a strong headwind we were lifted straight up in the air and on our way.
The flight is intriguing as once you fly out of the city limits you start to get a glimpse of the Bolivia Jungle, slowly but surely evidence of human occupation on the ground below starts to disappear replaced by a carpet of treetops of all different species and sizes. Looking out of the plane to the ground below does look a bit like looking at the top of a bunch of broccoli. One thing that struck me was the watershed, everywhere you looked you can see dry or semi-dry river beds which in the wet season are full of water.
The other was the tons and tons of oxbow lakes and remains of past ones, which were formed by the river cutting the corner and taking a new direction as it meanders along its way. There are literally hundreds you can see with the landscape slowly reclaiming them with grass and trees.
After a short 1.5 hour flight, we started to descend at which time everyone naturally starts to look out of the front window for the runway. Nope cannot see it, we get lower and closer, nope still not sure where he is going to land. Then all of a sudden there is a small clearing in the jungle and with a few bumps, we are down and racing towards the end of the runway. Immediately as we land people form the local tribe come running from their village to see what bright strange faces the aeroplanes have brought them this week.
Once both planes had landed we were met by Fernando the lodge manager and all the guides. After the legal requirements to sign in with the park ranges as we are inside a protected national park it was off on the short 10 min boat ride to the lodge. This short boat ride gave us all the first glimpse of the Secure River and the surrounding jungle that fringes each side.
Immediately I knew I was right to be so excited before the trip as there was that magical feeling, something special in the air. Exploring one of our Golden Dorado fishing trips has been on my wish-list for quite a long time. Something that cannot be described to a non-angler but if you are an angler/hunter you will know exactly what I am trying to describe.
Arriving at the lodge
On arrival at the lodge walking up the steps from the riverbank, you gain your first view of the lodge and what will be home for the week. The long boarded walkway with steps up to the final deck draws you into what is an amazing set up in the jungle. There are 3 twin safari tents which all have their own private bathroom and showers, inside there are two beds and ample storage shelving to fit comfortably two anglers. Each tent also has both generated electrical power and solar lighting for when the generator is not running. There are ample plug sockets to charge all your electrical devices. The en-suite bathrooms have a washbasin, ceramic flushing toilet and hot water showers.
Outside each tent, there are two chairs and a table for you to sit outside and relax plus plenty of room to store your fishing rods at the end of each day. Further along, there is the main dining area/lounge which is complete with large dining room table to seat everyone for breakfast and evening meals, along with low-level seating in the lounge area with the all import drinks bar. The lodge is then further made up of ancillary buildings for kitchens, laundry/store rooms along with all the staff quarters. The whole lodge is a testament to Tsimane as it’s a real delicate balance of providing a lodge in the jungle that fits its environment, while at the same time provides enough creature comforts for people to visit and enjoy their stay.
Once unpacked and set up it was our first trip to the river just for a few hours in the evening when everyone goes to the home pool to learn about the fishing in the week ahead and also a great opportunity to stretch some lines and get back in to the swing of casting large flies with 8# singlehanded rods. It was here that a few of us got our first experience of what Golden Dorado fishing trips had to offer.
Second cast and bang a Dorado hit me in some rapids from nowhere a quick jump before I had the chance to set the hook and it was gone. Others also had some quick hookups or flashes of fish as they only just missed the fly. Before long it was time to return back to the lodge. On our return was Maria with welcoming drinks and pre-dinner snacks.
Our first night
Our first night in camp the temperature dropped down to around 5 degrees which for this part of the world is extremely cold. In fact, it was the coldest temperatures that the lodge has known in 10 years of operation. Also during the night, it rained hard and for a long time, it was only when we awoke in the morning that we could see the effect this rain had on the river. The Secure River had risen overnight by about 2 feet and was muddy brown colour. Not the perfect conditions it was on our arrival. Our guides explained that this happens and as long as we do not get much more rain it will start to clear in a day or two.
We had 6 full days fishing ahead of us and everyone was still as determined as to when we arrived. I was paired up with Tim and we were the first pair to go upriver to a remote camp which meant we would be out from the lodge for the next two days. Setting off from the camp as you head further upriver the scenery and river totally starts to change. As the landscape starts to become more mountainous the fall in the river becomes steeper and therefore the river also narrows and the flow increases. The scenery and the boat journey upriver were nothing short of spectacular. Along your journey virtually around every corner, we found Dorado chasing baitfish in the margins as the muddy water gave them the advantage of getting closer to their prey before striking.
First days fishing
We fished several likely looking spots as we moved upriver, the canoes would stop before reaching each pool. We would then approach quietly for although the Dorado is a fierce predator they are still a shy fish. Once we had fished through the pools the canoe and the local Indian boatmen would expertly navigate the canoes through the rapids allowing us to return to the canoe and on to the next likely looking spots. Unfortunately, due to the dirty water, we had no action to report of, however, as the day progressed and we ventured even further upstream we noticed the colour starting to drop out of the water.
It was then we got our first action from Golden Dorado, Tim my partner for the first two days landed two really nice fish in quick succession before I got and landed my first very Dorado. It was getting later in the day and fishing the head of a pool swinging a popper around in the current while twitching it this fish cam clean out of the water at least 1 meter in the air with my popper firmly in its jaws. This time there was no mistake a hard hook set and short fight and she was mine. Not a big fish but it was my first ever one.
Later that day before we arrived at our overnight camp we came across our first ever feeding frenzy. Just up the bank from us, the water was turning to foam as Dorado torpedoed into the river edge chasing the hundreds of Sabalo the Golden Dorado’s staple diet. Creeping up the bank both Tim and myself managed to cast in amongst all the commotion and hook some more fish. This was some of the most exciting fishing I have encountered with a fly rod in my hand. Golden Dorado fishing trips are living up to their reputation so far.
At the end of the day, we arrived at the remote camp which is a temporary campsite of tents and campfire. This is a real campsite and not with the creature comforts of the main lodge, however, to get the real jungle experience I recommend that everyone on the week comes up and experiences this part of the remote adventure.
Our food was all cooked on an open fire right on the banks for the Secure river, the animal and birdlife all around you, even fresh Panther footprints in the sand just to remind you that we are in a real jungle.
Going up the river
On awaking the second morning it was a welcome sight to see that the river had dropped and was already very clear. After a welcome breakfast and a warm-up around the campfire as the evening temperatures had dropped very low again it was time to depart for the fishing again. We fished further and further upriver exploring some amazing places, the fish just kept on coming and we were having a great time. At one point we went to a large set of rapids which had some huge boulders in the middle.
Our guide Juan put Tim at the bottom of the pool as we were going to fish the top. Before we had walked off a few feet, Tim was into a monster which unfortunately got away. Juan was gutted as he said that fish was close to 30LB, a huge fish. Tim carried on as we then made our way to the top of the pool, after about 5 or 6 casts a huge fish appeared from nowhere, deep from the bottom and hit my fly so hard the vibration down the line to the fly rod in my hand was like I had just been punched.
“When we took a closer look at the fly we were amazed to see that the fish had not straightened the hook but crushed it like it was nothing at all”
I naturally set the hook hard with several strip strikes and the fish was on. Juan immediately got so excited and was shouting instructions at me from all angles. Lift the rod, lower the rod, come this way, stay there. Boy, what a panic. Then the fish moved downstream which left the fly line running around a rock. Instinct told me to hop from rock to rock to chase the fish down and get the line clear of the rock. At this point, our Juan shouted: “be careful, be careful!”. I took this as him saying don’t jump from rock to rock and be more careful as the water was so powerful so I stopped moving.
At this point, the line was right around a huge boulder and when the fish rolled on the surface before returning back deep but at the same time the fly rod straightened and the line felt slack. It all happened so quick I did not really know what had happened or even appreciated what might have just of been. Juan just had to walk off and sit down he was lost for words. I walked over to him and said buddy let’s not worry that was a great bit of excitement I am sure we will land more. It was then when he told me that in all his many years of guiding on the river that was the largest Golden Dorado he has ever had a customer hooked.
I knew it was big fish but had not appreciated just how big. Juan said why did you stop why did you not run after that fish, for a fish that size he would have jumped in the river and swam down the rapids to stand a chance of landing it. It was then when I explained that when he shouted to be careful I thought he did not want me to fall in. There you go a quick bit of miss-communication between me and the guide and it was all over, however when we took a closer look at the fly we were amazed to see that the fish had not straightened the hook but crushed it like it was nothing at all.
This may sound strange to some people, but in a way, I am glad I had the excitement as that gives me something to look forward another day. However, I was also glad that I did not land that fish for it was only my 2nd day of Golden Dorado fishing and to go from catching 10lb fish so far to one of the biggest I would miss out on all that excitement of keep catching personal best fish.
One perfect cast
Later that same afternoon while walking from one pool to another we spotted a wake moving down our margin ahead of us and coming our way. I said to Tim you cast at it as it looked like a large single fish from the wake. We all crouched down and waited for the fish to come closer. “Don’t mess this up, Tim!” I said, “you’re only going to get one cast”. As the fish approached Tim cast his popper about 2 feet in front of the fish. Just as he was about to start twitching the popper when this huge Golden head and beady eye came so slowly and softly out of the water all in slow motion just like a brown trout rising for a dry fly.
The fish just sucked Tim’s popper into its hungry jaws, it was a breathtaking sight and one I can still vividly see in my mind and I think I will for many years to come. After a short strong battle, Tim had the fish safely in the margins where Juan tailed the fish, Huge cheers all round as it was obvious we had landed the first 20lb fish of the trip. The fish was measured and weighed at 22.5LB what a cracking fish Tim and well deserved.
After a few more fish some which also came close to 20lb it was all to soon to start to make our way back down rive to main the lodge. It was at this point we realised just how far up river we had come and fished for it was a 3-hour non-stop boat ride back to the Lodge.
Back at Secure Lodge
On returning to the lodge it was time to catch up with the rest of the group and exchange stories and fish captures so far. Chris fishing the lower section had only gone and managed to catch and land one of the most stunning catfish available in the waters, known by many names but mainly as a barred Sorubim Catfish. Plans were made for the next two days and that both Kevin and Andy would venture upstream to the remote camp and I was to fish with Chris for the next 2 days.
On the morning of day three, both Chris and I walked down to the waiting canoes and just as we did, a huge feeding frenzy happened just up from us. I ran up the bank to try and get there in time but alas by the time my legs had carried me there the frenzy was all over. Golden Dorado or more accurately just Dorado as the meaning of Dorado itself means gold are amazing predators.
The way the feed is always trying to ambush their prey makes for some spectacular sights. Watching these fish start to hunt as they push their prey, the Sabalo, which range from a few ounces to about a 1lb tighter and tighter against the shore. They often work as a team with military precision, each Dorado knows its place. It’s no different than watching a pride of lions on the hunt.
Once the trap is set they all charge into the tight shoal of baitfish causing a huge commotion and blind panic which allows the Dorado to pick off individual fish.
Making our way downriver from the camp to the lower section was like entering a different world, the further we made our way downstream the wider the river became, there are hardly any rapids, just hundreds of dead washed down trees in the river. I have never seen so much structure in a river in my life and it was this structure that made the perfect habitat for Dorado to ambush any passing baitfish.
This was a completely different way of fishing, this time it was all from the boat drifting slowly downstream all the time casting tight to the trees and into any likely looking holes. There is a real learning curve just how tight you had to get you flies, many times if you cast 12 inches short of the tree trunk you would not get a take, however a cast very tight to the tree left for a few seconds so it can sink and start to get under and bang you would get hits from fish.
This became great fishing as it is target fishing, we quickly came up with a saying that you “had to be in it to win it” what we meant by that it is it does not matter how many times you get snagged on the tree of branches as the guides just expertly take you over to recover your fly.
In fact, I never lost a fly in any structure all week. We had a great day with lots more fish caught and many lost. The highlight of the day was right downstream in the slower water while fishing for Dorado something hit Chris’s fly and tore off strangely if all directions. We backed the boat to the shore so Chris could land the fish which turned out to be a small Pauc which as a juvenile had a stunning red underbelly making it look more like a Parana.
Chris was very pleased for now, as in just three days he had the slammed the Dorado, Catfish and Pacu.
Two is better than one
As the days moved on everyone in the group started catching more fish and the unseasonal weather even stared to improve, two more memorable days that happened for me personally was first on day 5. I was fishing with Kevin again in the downstream section when we came across a feeding frenzy right close to us on a shallow sandy bank.
We both reacted by jumping out of the boat and both put in a cast amongst the feeding fish. Immediately my fly was hit hard which was followed by a big fish just managing to clear the water. Kevin was also into a fish soon after so we had the fun of a double hook up.
Thankfully we landed both fish and mine went just over 22lb so it was my first ever 20lb fish, after some quick pictures they swam off safely and we carried on fishing.
Last days fishing
As they say, keep the best till last. Well on the last day for the whole trip I was fishing with a very old friend who I had not fished with for 24 years so we had lots to laughs and a good catch up while out on the boat that day. To make things even more special our guide for the day was Santi who I have fished within Argentina for Sea trout before.
This day we are fishing in the top section of the river. It was a hard day we worked very hard even though the weather had now returned back to normal with high daytime temperatures and warm nights the river was still cooler than normal. We witnessed many feeding frenzies, however, the timing was wrong every time, they always happened too far in front of us and by the time we reached them all the commotion had finished.
“Our voices started to whisper as not to make too much sound as we felt that we were delving deeper and deeper into the environment.”
After lunch Santi suggested did we fancy making our way to the top of the Top zone where a small creek joins the Secure River, Santi explained that this was a special place with not many places to fish but worth a look. We agreed and fished our way up the river until we reached the creek. Santi explained that with the short time left in the day before we would have to return that there would only be 4 places to fish and that we could only fish each place with one person, so, therefore, we would take it in turns.
We entered the creek which was another different environment all on its own again. A Deep steep-walled canyon with walls of vegetation, at times the water was only just deep enough for us to all pull the canoe through shallow rapids. A few feet further and the depth would be down to 20 feet. The air was cooler and damper there was that magical sense. Our voices started to whisper as not to make too much sound as we felt that we were delving deeper and deeper into the environment.
Up a creek
On the first mark, we quietly got out of the boat to take a look with our rods as it was Andy to go first. As we approached we all stared hard into the water which was a small pool at the end of a small rapid only about 10 feet wide. Alas, we could not see any fish. Andy covered the pool with a couple of casts just to be sure but no takers. We continued this approach to the next spot and this time it was my turn, but yet again no fish waiting for a nice juicy fly. On arrival to the third mark and Andy’s turn this time we could see 2 nice fish one which was very big.
Unfortunately, Andy could not make out the fish from his casting position so overcast which resulted in the fish-spooking.
It was quite a hike to the next spot many times the Indian guides expertly pulling the boat around corners hardly wide enough for the boat to turn. They did this all the time just with push poles and hardly made a sound. Along the way we spotted many Dorado in the deep pools which spooked from our boat and these fish are always unfishable in that kind of water from a boat.
We also watch huge Pacu swimming out down the creek right under our boat and it is then you realise just how big some of those fish are, but it did beg the question considering how low the water was in places to get this far in the creek how do these fish get in and out. Santi quickly answered that question the fish come and go with the rise and fall of water every few weeks there will be a rise and it is then when the big fish enter or leave the creeks.
The final mark
Santi whispered to all be very very quiet as we need to get out the boat and walk to the final mark. Santi and I crept up the sandy bank next to some vegetation to peer into the head of the pool. We could clearly see two nice fish one monster and one mid-double. Andy stayed a little way back and filmed the whole event on his camera. As I left Santi keeping an eye on the fish I tried to paint a mental picture in my head of exactly where the fish were lying in the rapids.
I slowly crept down the sandy bank trying to keep a low profile while stripping outline to make the cast. It was at that exact moment I realised and remembered why I love sight fishing so much. My body was completely alive with my veins pumping full of adrenaline and a heartbeat I was sure the fish could sense as it felt to me it was going to burst through my chest. A voice appears in my head, steady Peter this is going to be the last cast of the day and also the last cast of the week do not mess this up.
A quick glance over my shoulder to make sure I had a safe backcast and also that I was not going to hit Andy who was filming just to make me feel even more under pressure. A couple of short false casts just to get the line out of the rings and bang the cast falls perfect. As it was an upstream cast I had to remember not to let go of the running line with my right hand as I needed to strip the seconds the fly hit the water as the current was washing it back to me.
The seconded I moved the fly the water started to just rise, all I could see from my position was the water and waves moving in a mad commotion. At the same time as that satisfying tug on the line, Santi screams: “set the hook! set the hook!”. I’m on it as I strip strike and also run backwards at the same time.
The echoes of laughter and cheers rattled around the canon we were in and I am sure that everyone for hundreds of miles could sense our joy. Santi shouted: “be careful! (Not that saying again) do not play the fish too hard as it is a good fish”. Which after a couple of great jumps which the poor fish struggled to clear the water and a great fight Santi tailed the fish.
From watching the video the whole event from spotting the fish to landing the fish took a mere 6 minutes but I can tell you it felt like ages. However, there it was, a huge fat and broad Golden Dorado in its prime of 26lb What a way to end a fabulous week with great customers and friends.
Hell of a ride
In summary, it was an amazing week and one which everyone learned a lot. You can read up on our Golden Dorado fishing trips and watch all the videos but there is nothing like experiencing it for yourself. Our week was hit with cold conditions which made the river cooler than normal which also meant the Dorado were less active especially in the mornings. However, we knew no different and were pleased with the amount of fish we caught.
We even had 5 fish between us that were over 20lb and lost other and bigger ones. Tim was the top rod for the week, landing over 26 fish and losing many more. So if no one had told us that the fishing was slow because of the weather we would have never known. It just makes me even more excited to be returning for 2 weeks the same time next year, for if this trip was anything to go by we are in for one hell of a ride.
If you would like to join me on either of my hosted Golden Dorado fishing trips in 2020 please feel free to get in touch and ask any questions. I will only be too pleased to help and talk you through my experiences.