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Pluma Lodge, Bolivia

Pluma Lodge is Tsimane’s most deluxe offering and one of the great lodges of the world. Pluma caters to eight anglers per week, all of whom enjoy tasteful double-occupancy cabins with private baths, ample storage and ceiling fans. Much of Pluma’s water is characterized by beautiful, rocky, freestone terrain, making it rather physical and best suited to stable waders. Anglers with lesser wading skills will have the option to fish from the boat on multiple beats. Pluma is unique for its wide variety of water types ranging from pocket water to long pools and has incredible sight fishing opportunities. Pluma fishes two remote tributaries (the upper Pluma and Itirizama), multiple beats of the main Pluma, and two beats on the larger main stem Secure, making for a highly varied program. Additionally, upriver out-camps allow anglers to become fully immersed in a stunningly beautiful deep-jungle experience. Overnights at the simple out-camps are voluntary and are perfect for the most adventuresome anglers.

Expert Q&A with Ken Morrish

Top Reasons to Go:

1. Fish for large aggressive golden dorado in a pristine and interesting environment.
2. Enjoy Tsimane’s largest and most comfortable lodge while fishing with skilled English speaking guides.
3. Experience the widest variety of Tsimane’s waters, ranging from smaller boulder strewn waters of the Itirizama to the broader flows of the lower Secure.
4. Navigate jungle rivers in traditional poled dugouts and motorized super-dugouts with skilled native boatmen.
5. Have the option to hike aggressively into Tsimane’s most remote headwaters and overnight in simple backpacking style camps.

Where is the lodge?

The lodges is located on one of the southernmost tributaries of the Amazon in north-central Bolivia.  All Tsimane operations are part of the the upper Secure system, which is approximately two hours (by charter flight) north of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Pluma Lodge is located on a tributary of the Secure called Pluma and is furthest downstream of the Tsimane lodges.

How do I get there?
There are a few options but the majority of guests fly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia through Miami on American Airlines, arriving in the morning. Guests will be picked up at the airport and taken to a nice hotel (included). The following morning guests will be taken to the domestic terminal and fly two hours in a small aircraft to a remote jungle airstrip. The last leg of the trip will be done in a motorized dugout.

Why should I go?
If you are keen on true adventure, pristine wilderness, big aggressive fish and interacting with interesting local people.

When should I go?
Pluma operates during Bolivia’s winter season which runs from late June to early October. This is their dry season, but the bottom line is that is can rain hard at anytime during the drier, cooler winter season. A bit of rain and a modest bump in water levels can be great for fishing, but too much rain can present the obvious issues. Their season opener tends to line up well with the sabalo bait fish migration. This draws lots of large migratory dorado up into their waters.

Where do they fish?
Pluma gusts fish two beats on the broad lower Secure, three beats on the Pluma River, as well as one boat accessible beat on the upper Pluma and Itirizama. Hearty anglers can also elect to hike into  primitive overnight camps on the both upper Pluma and upper Itirizama with the latter being physically challenging.

Who is best suited to visit this destination?
Anglers that are keen on true adventure travel and appreciate rugged and somewhat unpredictable conditions. Like with winter steelhead fishing, water conditions and success rates vary widely from day to day, week to week and month to month. If you have seen the videos from here, beware, as they highlight only the very finest conditions and catch rates.

What are the accommodations and meals like?
Accommodations and meals are very nice considering the remote location. Guests at Pluma enjoy nice double occupancy cabins with attached baths, lighting and ceiling fans. The main lodge has a complimentary open bar, sitting area and WiFi. Meals tend to be thoughtfully prepared, delicious and are accompanied by excellent Argentine wines.

Describe the atmosphere at the lodge.
The lodge is very casual. Guides tend to be in and out of the main building and service staff is always nearby if you need anything.

Is the owner on-site? If so, who is it? If not who is the manager?
Yes, the manager will always be around and entire staff is very helpful.

How do they fish?
Two anglers typically set out by boat with an English speaking guide and two native boatmen. Most of the fishing is done while wading but the lodge can accommodate anglers who prefer to fish from the boat. Guests will blind cast and sight cast depending on conditions. Flies are swung, stripped and dead-drifted. Wire leaders and big flies are the norm.

What fish will I catch?
The primary species are golden dorado which range from five to over 30 pounds. Guests might also have a chance to target pacu which can exceed 20 pounds. On rare occasions anglers might also catch smaller yaturana and large catfish.

How many fish will I catch?
The pendulum of catch rates swings widely at all the Tsimane operations. If anglers set the bar low, like in steelhead fishing, they are delighted by the trip. One or two quality fish a day is realistic under most conditions and when things really come together, guests might catch a good many fish in a single day.

Is there wade fishing?
Yes, there is lots of wade fishing and lots of walking. Some of the terrain, especially upstream of camp, is very challenging. Guests that prefer to fish from the boat can also be accommodated, especially in the lower beats.

Is there internet and cell service?
A wireless internet signal is available at the main lodge. There is no cell service.

Does the lodge provide equipment?
Yes, the lodge can provide rods, reels and lines. Flies can also be purchased on-site and are most often tied by the guides.

What is your favorite rod(s) for the trip?
A fast action 9 foot, 8 or 9-weight rod is ideal to chase these big dorado. Floating lines and lines with intermediate tips are the most popular.

Are there other activities?
Not really but the bird watching is very good.

What are the physical demands?
It is best that folks be fairly fit and have decent balance for this trip, especially if the want to see the upper beats and the Itirizama.

Are there other special skills required?
Intermediate to expert casting skills are a bonus, as the flies are very large and hard for novice anglers to cast.

Are there any dangers or annoyances?
There are many potential dangers in the heart of the Bolivian jungle. There are caimans and jaguars but the occasional freshwater stingray is more of a threat, though still very rare. Insect born disease is also a risk but can be largely avoided by covering up and using bug dope when needed. Otherwise the only annoyance is that these rivers can shift quickly from being too low to too high. It goes with the territory.

Are there health concerns?
The primary heath concerns surround insect-born diseases. Yellow fever vaccination is required and in 2010, before basic precautionary measures were put in place, several anglers contracted cutaneous leishmaniasis. It is not life threatening but it presents a considerable inconvenience.

What is your favorite memory of this trip?
I have a great many from weeks at Tsimane but one standout was a morning on the lower secure. I decided to hang out and take photos of my friends from the other side of the river, hoping to get some good jumping fish shots. I sat on a log in a shallow bay and was getting some good shots when a pack of large dorado pushed a large school of sabalo into the little bay. Next thing you know there was carnage all around me. Bait was flying through air as the big dorado slashed mercilessly through them. I let my camera hang around my neck, picked up my rod, took the fly out the hook keeper and flipped it into the frothing water just eight feet in front of me where it was immediately crushed by a fish that was nearly 20 pounds. It was not a good cast, but it was great experience!

Brad and Ali with a handsome dorado from the Itirizama.

Nice accommodations at Pluma.

The broad lower reaches of the Secure.

The remote and rugged reaches of the upper Itirizama.

Pacu are a special bonus that some lucky anglers get their hands on.