Sport: Amazon Warriors

  • Jeff Samsel

In his 40 years as an angler, Rick Schair has battled marlin, bluefin tuna, and numerous other trophy fish, but none of those finned adversaries was as ferocious as the peacock bass. “Pound for pound, it is the greatest fighting fish there is. It does things that are almost mystical,” Schair says of the peacock bass, which is found primarily in the Amazon River basin and rarely exceeds 20 pounds. “They can bend a 4X tempered steel hook, the strongest and heaviest made. I use fishing line made of Spectra material—a multifilament fiber that you could catch a thousand-pound marlin with—and they break it. That should be impossible to do; it’s like saying to a 10-year-old, ‘Go pick up that Volkswagen and bring it to the backyard.’ But they do it.”

As the founder and owner of Wet-A-Line Tours, a Gainesville, Ga., travel company that specializes in hosting fishing trips in the Amazon River basin, Schair has made it his business to introduce other anglers to this most feisty fish. He has at his disposal seven yachts, most of which accommodate 16 passengers plus the crew. An eighth yacht, a 135-foot all-suite vessel called La Pérola (The Pearl), will join the fleet next season. The new yacht is being added to meet increasing demand; last year, Wet-A-Line’s booking office had to turn away business.
 
In pairs, the passengers, accompanied by a guide, board the yacht’s skiffs each morning to reach the shallow waters inhabited by the peacock bass. “The fish begin biting around 10 am,” Schair says. “They explode on the bait. It’s like God dropping a cinder block in the water when they attack.” Wet-A-Line’s weeklong tours are strictly catch-and-release affairs, during which, Schair claims, his clients can expect to land from 50 to 100 peacock bass in a day. The fishing season runs from September through March, when the water levels in the Amazon’s many tributaries are low.
 
The days in the skiffs can be long, beginning at 6 am and finishing 13 hours later. Passengers then return to the Wet-A-Line yachts, which include Santana I, a 100-foot triple-decker that houses six spacious double cabins and two master suites, all of which have air-conditioning, private baths, and audio systems. The ship’s amenities also include Internet access, satellite phones, an aft deck bar, a third-deck entertainment room furnished with leather sofas, a hot tub on the flybridge, and a staff of 15. Guests returning from a day on the water are greeted by a waiter holding a tray of glasses filled with tropical fruit juices. Dinner soon follows, and the menu might include a soup made with black piranha, a fish that seemed far more fearsome prior to the day’s encounters with the peacocks.

Wet-A-Line Tours, 888.295.4665, www.wetaline.com

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