By Bruno Kelly
It was a dream come true for me to accompany the men who fish the pirarucu, South America’s largest freshwater fish. It was even more so to do it in the region of the Juruá River, one of the most inhospitable, winding and virgin rivers in the Amazon Basin.
The pirarucu, also known as the arapaima, is considered a living fossil. The adventure to fish them began from our departure from Manaus in an amphibious plane able to set down on dry land or water, called a Grand Caravan. Our pilot assured us that this is one of the few light aircraft certified to transport the president of the United States, and that left us much less nervous since we were heading into a region with nothing more than jungle and rivers below us.
During the flight I learned that the fishing would only take place during the night, which was a shock as I knew there would be absolutely no light.
We were received by the villagers in São Raimundo in a fiesta atmosphere, something close to a Christmas or New Year party. Fishing the pirarucu is permitted only once a year by the government’s environmental protection agency, IBAMA, so everyone awaits that day with great anticipation. For me, the energy surrounding our arrival excited me about what I was about to experience.
Around mid-afternoon we left for Manariã Lake where we would be fishing. Motorized canoes called “rabetas” took us the two hours along a stream until we reached the lake. With tree trunks and canvas we improvised a campsite at the lake’s mouth, and on the riverbank the fishermen prepared an area to measure and process the catch. In all there were around 50 local villagers in the camp, including men, women and children, all obviously pumped with adrenaline in anticipation of the event of the year.