For the past four years Joe Daniel has attempted to get clearance to travel into northeastern Colombia along the Venezuela border to the headwaters of the Tomo and Tuparro Rivers in search of fishing for truly record-size peacock bass and payara. Every year he gets a tentative okay but then it gets shut down at the last moment by the government. This region has been a major stronghold of the Colombia cocaine cartels for decades and hence has been pretty much off-limits for tourists. Each time he’s tried to go, the Colombian government has eventually deemed it too unsafe for gringos. It was also considered too dangerous for anyone else other than the indigenous indian tribes and those in the drug trade, so hundreds of miles of prime Amazonian jungle lagoons and waterways have been virtually unfished for twenty or thirty years.
Over the past two years the Colombian government has waged a highly successful war on the drug cartels, capturing the kingpins and destroying much of the infrastructure. There has been a lot of press on this lately including reports from 60 Minutes and CNN. This very positive development has reopened Colombia as a tourist destination, and has finally persuaded the powers-that-be to grant him the necessary permits to travel through Tuparro National Park into the honey water beyond. Of course upon hearing this we jumped at the opportunity to work with Joe on covering this story. Below is an update on how it’s going so far:
Hola Sage pescadors!
Out of the jungle, safe and sound after quite an amazing fishing adventure last week! It’s hard to believe we flew to Puerto Carreno on the Venezuela/Colombia border just a little over ten days ago. This part of the country is considered the wild frontier, and for good reason. Basically a sleepy little town that makes its living from the drug cartels and running contraband from Venezuela.
We spent the morning getting our final provisions – limes, yucca root, juice pulp and rum – then drove 200 kilometers due south out across these amazing open plains on a rutted, dusty dirt track. Got slammed by a torrential rain along a ridge of lava that left 300 foot high waterfalls cascading like thin silver ribbons down the black rock. It looked like the mountain was crying. We crossed three rivers and had to ferry our trucks across on these old flat barges. We were completely devoured by sand flies at these stops and my legs look like I had the pox.
We drove onto the little town of Garitas, which was the scene of a deadly shoot-out between the military and the local drug cartel about three years ago that left 13 soldiers dead. There are bullet marks on many of the houses! This is where we met our outfitter who had set us up a camp across the river on a huge beach. They had a big pot of fish soup ready for us to eat, which was all we could handle before everyone collapsed in sleeping bags right on the sand.
The next morning we got all sorted out, loaded all the boats properly, and headed up the Orinoco on our adventure. Huge river with lots of rapids, we finally got to the Rio Tuparro which is much smaller. We turned up the Tuparro and into the Tuparro National Park.
We began fishing in earnest, and it was fantastic. Peacock bass averaging three or four pounds but getting as large as twenty. Late in the evening of our second day as our Colombian host Nicolas and I were returning to camp the park ranger showed up in an orange Zodiac raft. He was agitated about something and pulled Nicolas aside to talk with him. I thought we might be in trouble for camping still within the park. (we knew our beach was right on the border), but it turns out that there was a cartel operating a hundred cocaine labs along the river above us and they had seen us filming and they were NOT happy. They had sent us a message that we had 24 hours to leave or else!
We actually didn’t want to leave but we also really didn’t want to find out what “or else” might be so we spent a fairly restless night and packed up everything early the next morning and retraced our route, portages and all, back down to the Orinoco and then to the Rio Tomo. Since we still had five days we decided to explore this river, which was larger than the Tuparro but had lots of smaller tributaries. We motored up the Tomo over a hundred miles and it was incredible. Caught hundreds of fish, found another excellent beach campsite, survived crocodiles, freshwater stingrays, bad bugs and more extreme weather, from dead still 110 degree heat to some kind of jungle typhoon that hit our camp like a tornado and sent tents tumbling a hundred yards down the beach.
Great adventure, great filming, great story! The Sage Peacock Bass rods truly worked phenomenally allowing us to throw the big flies required to catch big fish.
Many thanks again for the support!