The call phone with our guide assures the state of Paraná River: water level 4.5 m, downstream, completely unsettled sewage, 1.5 meters of visibility and 15 °C ... "The golden dorados are awakening”.
Few weeks before departure, I can feel the pre-trip anxiety and joy of running away again in search of the river tigers. We are at the bus terminal in Buenos Aires, with Nicolas Schwint, Martin Tagliabue and Joaquin Muro with all our bags, tubes, rods and gear… finally we leave!
It is early in the morning, the sun is starting to show up and we are dealing with the last arrangements. The silent river shows us the best reflection of sunrise while lots of water swirls make the picture more unique. The air begins to warm up and I can smell the scent of the blooming pink lapachos* while I amble along the streets of Esquina enjoying the colonial architecture of each construction. It seems as though time had stopped, bringing us beautiful memories back to our times. I took a deep breath of pure air and broke into a smile; we had 3 adventurous fishing days ahead.
Daniel, our guide, appears ready to go! We got on the boat and started sailing bundled up as the air is still cold. Slowly, we get into de delta welcomed by a pair of caranchos* that are trying to heat up with the first rays of the warm sun. A chajá* rests on top of a timbó* watching us pass. We sail through the intricate water channels, and not so far we can distinguish a flock of biguas at the top of a dry tree, warming up and preparing for hunting day.
We started fishing. The water level is high, temperature reaches 14°C and runs crystal clear. As the sun begins to rise, temperature starts to warm up the environment and after a while we get our first bites noticing that the average weight was higher than previous years. Daniel takes us to one of the few blowouts of the place, and when we come close we see shad shoals escaping frightened because of our presence. It is a perfect place; water pours in the right speed in a wide curve, while the golden dorados hunt up in a bank of sand stuck to the water hyacinths. Day passes by in the middle of a picturesque scenario. Hopefully, the forecast assures that the days to come are going to be wonderful as well.
Saturday dawns with mist, and after an unsuccessful morning in different channels of the delta, we decided to go to the coast of Santa Fe, the opposite site of Parana River. We witness how golden dorados hunt small shad and while we make a drifting pass we catch some, and sight a couple of large ones. We stopped to have lunch in a very quiet spot, from where we could see how the fish moved, but a sudden pressure and wind change made the golden dorados disappear.
We step down from the boat to fish from shore in a place from where we could see behind us sewage lagoons totally unsettled. The sun begins to tighten raising the temperature to 28 °C, and we start wondering about the season and if there was any chance to fish Wolf fish (Tarariras). I am staring at the water and suddenly I see some timid movements on the water surface. I call Nicolas and a few minutes later we put on our wading boots and keblar ray shields to prevent the possibility of any attack. They have a very powerful and dangerous sting in the tail base, able to make a wooden oar, as we happen to see in a previous trip. I've heard stories about how painful these stings are and that it takes almost a year to heal.
The wind has calmed and the atmosphere is humid product of the evaporation from the lake. We went into the water and frightened some wolf fish that were resting camouflaged. Several of these, during the spawning period are moving in couples. We walk very close to each other trying to make as little noise as possible, paying attention to every patch with sequins, every clearing without aquatic vegetation. Suddenly, we witness how a large wolf fish gets scare and rapidly swims away a few meters, it is still close enough to lets us study its movements and characteristics. This is certainly a male guarding their territory. I start with a large popper and in the first tries we can see how irritated it gets, arching the back, looking forward to intimidate the aggressor who invades its place. In the mean time, Martin arrives to the scene. After a couple of shots the fish attacks for the first time with a great burst to the surface, but releases. I relaunch and it strikes but liberates again. Nico recommends me to change the popper for a smaller one. With a small and dark popper in the first try it bites and finally catches it. The scene was spectacular, a team working together to get the prized bite, we took some photos and release it. I'll always remember this magic moment.
Minutes later, Martin fishes a magnificent specimen. I was not there, but Nico describes it as a spectacular catch. It is unbelievable that being in September we are having such a great fishing weekend. I feel a special connection with this species, I have the best memories as a kid paddling in the shore of a lagoon, looking for some wolf fish, where there always were some leeches trying to grab to our legs.
The lagoon is quite large and so it is great extension of water to cover. We waded and Nico lost a good Wolf fish, we are fascinated with their sizes. A few meters further on there, is another opportunity. There it is, a great specimen resting a couple of meters ahead, we have the chance to observe all its movements. Fishing only with the leader, Nico suggests using a popper and after a couple attemps he achieve some attacks without catching it. There is tension in the air, I'm fully focused in the scene watching how Nicolás changes to a streamer. He lets it down in front of the wolf fish mouth and overflowing with anger attacks. The fish bites half of the streamer while the hook is still out. It stood silent for a moment that seemed forever, finally in a second attempt, the fish bites the hook and an everlasting struggle initiates. Lastly out of the water, we take some pictures to remember our triumph and release the trout back to water. Hope another fisherman has the joy of catching it. It is a very valuable sport fishing species, often underestimated. As Nicolás states, "few species present such a psychological challenge in which you have the chance to measure the situation from a close distance."
We keep on wading, and now it is my turn to lead. Nicolás comes just a few meters behind me. I look to my right and parallel to the shore I can see an 80 cm width ray sunbathing somewhat numb. It is just five feet ahead of me in 30 cm depth; I can see its moles while it shakes the thin layer of mire above it. I look up and a little further I distinguish a little ray beside the large one. As I stare at them, I have the feeling of being observed; there it is, a ñacanina snake threatening with its inflated hood as a fake cobra. Nico arrives to witness the scene, the snake is still facing us with a steady gaze. It's a very aggressive constrictor species that can grow up to three meters long. We call Joaquin who was 80 meters from us, a few minutes later he shows up and by that time, the snake went away.
We go back to the boat, and on the way we set our eyes on three groups of black spiders hanging on their webs. They are a community of social spiders that belong to Parawixia genre, a group ofarachnids with nocturnal hunting habits that during their youth are grouped in colonies. Its webs are remarkably resistant.
It's Sunday and our journey is coming to an end. On the bank of Parana River, from Corrientes side, we spot lots of white herons trying to take advantage of another natural spectacle: the late arrival of baitfish. The golden dorados hunt at 30 cm from the surface, and every now and then we see explosions of water on the surface where baitfish fly through the air in despair, trying to escape from the unexpected attacks. Esquina farewells us with golden dorados, lapachos and the magic of their environment. I hope to return soon!
Luis M. San Miguel.
September 15th, 2011
(*) Lapachos and Timbó: typical trees from northern Argentina.
(*) Caranchos and Chajá: kind bird with carnivorous habits.