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Amazon Fish Species

Giant Catfish

Giant Catfish

Of the myriad of different species of fish that inhabit the waters of the Rio Negro river basin 1,200 of them are one type of catfish or another. From the tiny inch long Candiru to the immense 10 ft. long Piraiba, the catfish of the Rio Negro and its tributaries offer a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and body conformations.


The southern ideal of spending a lazy aft.ernoon of fishing for a fried catfish dinner can take on a whole different twist in the Amazon! Dropping a chunk of cut bait, be it Piranha or a piece of chicken, will quite oft.en hook into much more than you bargained for. This is the one place in the world where the catfish would “noodle” for the fisherman, rather than the fisherman noodling for the catfish!

Most of the fishing for catfish is done in the aft.ernoon from 3:00 pm into the night when the catfish move into their feeding lanes in the currents around islands or sandbars. Captain Peacock Expeditions provides what looks like salt water tackle, short heavy pool cue like boat rods and heavy Penn Squidder type reels loaded with 80+ lb Dacron or monofilament line and 7/0 circle hooks! Live bait or cut bait is used, be it fish, chicken or whatever will entice these aggressive predators. Everyone needs to try this “game” one time as it adds a totally new dimension to your Amazon fishing trip. Of the 1,200 species of catfish that live in the waters of the Rio Negro, below is a short description of the 3 types you will most oft.en catch.

Piraiba is considered the largest catfish in the Amazon River basin, reportedly exceeding 8 feet in length and weighing in excess of 400 lbs. It belongs to the genius Brachyplayreatstoma , which contains 7 of the largest freshwater fish in the world. A monster weighing 295 lbs. is the largest verified member of this species ever caught on rod & reel. Sporting a grey body with a white underside, the Piraiba will oft.en have barbules nearly as long as it’s body. Extremely strong and agile, this fish will make long smoking runs and will occasionally jump clear of the water. It can be a little disconcerting when the fish you have been fighting surfaces and is half as long as the boat you’re fishing from! This fish grows so large that the people of the river call juvenile fish (under 200 lbs.) Filhote, and only mature fish over 200 lbs. are referred to as Piraiba!


Pirarara (Red Tail Catfish)

The Red Tail is the glitzy “painted lady” of the Amazon’s catfish family. Dark gray, sometimes with an almost a black upper body, a cream colored underbelly sporting a bright orange fringed dorsal fin & tail, this baby looks like you would expect your 4 year daughter to look like when she got into her mother’s make up kit without supervision!


Sporting a “polliwog” shaped body up to 5 ft. long and weighing upwards of 200 lbs. the Red Tail actually has plates on its head that give you the impression of a turtle’s shell. This monster does not display the agility of a Piraiba but makes up for it in reel emptying raw power. This species is the one you will most probably catch the most of and is excellent table fare.


Barred Sorubim (Tiger Catfish)

The Barred Sorubim is occasionally referred to as the “Tiger Catfish” and aptly so. This long, streamlined catfish can be up to 4 feet in length, has the shovel head and snout similar to a Northern Pike with a light silver gray body with a white under belly and cream to white sides sporting “racing stripes” down its body from head to tail.


Although this fish has been reported to reach 100 lbs., the majority of this species you will see will weigh 5 – 20 lbs. The Sorubim is more of a midlevel to topwater feeder than a bottom feeder like most catfish. It is not unusual to catch them while fishing a jerk bait or jig for Peacock Bass and they have been caught by fly fishermen using big Deceiver and Clouser pattern flies. These fish are exceptionally good eating.



You will have an opportunity to catch 3 species of Piranha fishing the areas Captain Peacock operates on the upper Rio Negro watershed, one of the Amazon River’s black water tributaries. White and Black Piranha are the most common, oft.en weighing over 5 lbs. The Red Piranha will weigh up to 1 lb and are the most aggressive.


The basic rule of thumb from the indigenous people of the region is if the water is moving, like the open river, it is safe to swim even though the water is loaded with Piranha. If the water is still, like a backwater lagoon or a land locked lake, you stay out of the water! You will almost always find these aggressive fish in large schools and when you catch one keep fishing in the same area if you want to have a meal of these very tasty fish. Piranha take little nips with their razor sharp teeth and can trim a fly back to the hook without you ever feeling a strike. They will readily strike Rattle Traps and small jerk baits as well as cut or live bait. Piranha are found throughout the regions in shallow or deep water. No trip to the Amazon is complete without catching a Piranha!

Arapaima (Pirarucu)

This prehistoric lung breather, dating from the Jurassic period grows up to 10 ft. long weighing over 400 lbs. Pirarucu, as they are called by the people of Brazil’s Amazon, are not a common fish but are occasionally caught on jerk baits while fishing for Peacock Bass.


Adapted to living in shallow oxygen depleted water these fish have the ability to gulp air while their gills are used mainly to eliminate CO2 from their blood stream. The indigenous peoples of the Amazon will use the scales of this fish, some larger than a silver dollar, as finger nail files. The flesh of the Pirarucu is some of the finest eating of any fish in the world. The majority of these huge fish are speared as they porpoise on the surface gulping air.

Silver Arowana

Silver Arowana (Water Monkey)

Commonly called the “Amazon Water Monkey,” due to its ability to jump 6 feet out of the water to snag small birds and insects from branches and vegetation overhanging the river, the Arowana is another ancient relic dating back unchanged nearly 170 million years.


To facilitate “making a living” above the water, scientist state this fish has the best eyesight of any fish in the world. These fish looking like a slant mouthed Tarpon on the front half of the body and a Grinnell on the back half sporting virtually no tail, can grow up to 48” in length and weigh upwards of 30 lbs. Arowana are mouth breeders with the males taking their young in their mouth when danger is present. Found mostly in shallow water under overhanging trees, these fish will jump repeatedly when hooked and can accelerate up to 25mpm in the water, giving a good account of themselves.


Bicuda or Picua

The bicuda/argulha is an agressive, fast water fish that can be found in the rivers Amazon. It can reach sizes of over 15-pounds and is a powerful, acrobatic fighter.


Once hooked, they launch themselves into the air, rattling their gills and throwing hooks. Larger specimens are found in the fast water rivers of northern Brazil.


Oscars & Jacunda (Rainbow Bass)

Oscars and Jacuda, commonly called Rainbow Bass by American anglers, are of the same family as the Peacock Bass, Cichlids. The Oscars, with a body conformation much like a Sunfish & weighing up to 2 lbs. know how to use their slab sided body to great advantage when hooked.


Oscars are caught around fallen trees and submerged brush on small crank baits or small bright flies. Jacuda is an interesting elongated fish with a myriad of dark stripes on its green body, a distinctive red spot just behind the gill plates and a dorsal fin running all the way to its tail. These fish, growing up to 18 inches and weighing up to 5 lbs., are most oft.en caught on small crank baits and flies and will put up a good fight on light tackle.


Traira (Dog Fish)

Traira, commonly called Dog Fish by American Anglers, are fairly small fish with a mouthful of triangle teeth that will definitely get your attention when you bring them aboard.


These fish, up to 18 inches and length and weighing up to 3 lbs., give you the impression of a freshwater mullet with a mouth full of teeth that look like they came out of a meat grinder! Found in shallow water with mud bottoms, Traira are very aggressive and will strike jerk baits and flies with a vengeance. Fishing guides are much more careful when taking a Traira off the hook than they are with a Piranha.

Amazon Baitifish

Amazon Baitfish (Aracu & Sardina)

The Amazon basin holds a myriad of small bait fish, many of which are netted by the indigenous people of the rivers to be sold to the tropical fish trade. Tetras, Angel Fish and many more provide food for the larger predatory fish of the river systems.


Two of the most important to the Peacock Bass fisherman are the Aracu, dirty yellow bait fish with dark gray stripes and orange fins and throat growing up to 15 inches & the Sardina, a perfect freshwater copy of the saltwater Sardine or Pilchard that will grow up to 6 inches. It is not unusual to see an Aracu suddenly jump and sail 20 feet across the water to get away from a pursuing Peacock Bass. My favorite fly patterns are tied about 6 inches long on a 4/0 heavy hook imitating an Aracu, Sardina or a juvenile Peacock Bass. A good part of the jigs and topwater woodchopper type lures used for Peacock Bass fishing are painted up in orange and black or silver and black to imitate Aracu or Sardinas.

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