Were the massive Amazon basin to have an Eden, it would be on the banks of the immaculate Iriri River. Home of the Kayapo people, the noble painted natives that inspired the script for Avatar, the Iriri, with its clear green waters, countless braids and rocky islands, is an other-worldly place that floats far above what most envision the jungle to be.
Here adventuresome anglers can interface with one of the most fortunate and unaffected native groups in the New World as they enjoy the finest light-tackle multi-species fishing experience available. From the comfort of a deluxe native hardwood cabin camp, groups of six anglers will explore the riches of the Iriri by boat and on foot sight casting to a host of exotic jungle game fish including a unique species of peacock bass, wolf fish, pacu and jaturana. Armed with little more than a 7 wt. rod, a floating line and popper, anglers can wet wade and sight fish a wide range of interesting water types in the midst of one of the most pristine and biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. For anglers, adventurers and lovers of the wildest and most remote reaches of our planet, this epic journey into the Amazon's most pristine jungle paradise is truly without equal.
The Kayapo and Kendjam:
The Kayapo’s miraculous emergence into the 21st century with their land, culture and largely subsistence-based lifestyle all still intact is one of indigenous culture’s greatest success stories. When European involvement in the Amazon took off in 1900, there were 4,000 Kayapo. By 1970 there were less than 1,400, due largely to measles and other introduced diseases. Today, however, the Kayapo are thriving with over 9,000 members and 45 villages spread across a road less, legally recognized territory half the size of the state of Washington. They are also indirectly famous, as their connectivity to their natural world and the fierceness with which they defend it, inspired the storyline of Avatar. Of Brazil’s 250 indigenous tribes, the Kayapo are considered the most prosperous and powerful. Of even greater significance is that their connection to their traditions and the natural world upon which they depend remains continuous and unbroken.
Of the 45 Kayapo villages, Kendjam may be the most unique. Established only in 1993, Kendjam was the result of a deliberate move by chief Pukatire and his followers to break away from an existing village/band in an effort to create a more traditional community, free of the influences of alcohol and the timber industry. The duty of chief is now collectively shared by the younger Budyou and Djyty. On a recent trip of ours however, Pukatire was there to observe and greet our plane as it unloaded near the shade tree on the red dirt airstrip. Neither he, nor any of the Kayapo, are particularly outgoing, but rather relaxed, observant and conversationally reserved with outsiders and one another. Pukatire was once quoted as saying, “we only need the white man for three things: eyeglasses, flip-flops and flashlights”. And while he feels strongly about preserving his people’s traditional lifestyles, he is now embracing a new sustainable model that he hopes will benefit his people without compromising the natural world upon which they depended.
The Iriri River:
The 810-mile Iriri River is the 15th longest river in the Amazon and the 116th longest in the world. The Iriri originates near the Bolivian border and is a north-flowing tributary of the mighty Xingu, which in volume is the world’s 60th largest river, averaging more than 340,000 cfs. But unlike most of the Amazon’s 1,100 dark, winding, snake-like tributaries, the Iriri cuts a steeper, more direct course through the southern basin’s ancient, jungle-coated granite. Each epoch, the boulders here become softer, more artistically stacked, more pleasing to the eye. The beaches are coarse, clean, peach-colored decomposed granite and the water is a heavenly clear blue-green. Slowly motoring across long pools, you watch countless turtles dive meters into the deepening green before disappearing.
Each hour you motor downstream of Kendjam, the river becomes more intricate, astounding and full of life. The nearest settlement of any helpful size is 15 days down river during high water. The bottom line is this river is about as deep into a rich, untouched ecosystem as presently possible. There are no bridges or roads or even contrails, just the vast continuity of a robust and highly functioning natural world.
The Xingu basin (pronounced Shingu), of which the Iriri is part, is home to more than 450 fish species, 25 of which are endemic. The Iriri itself has quite a few species with at least 10-12 viable species that anglers can target with flies. Of those, there are five species really stand out, any of which alone, could carry an average fishing program elsewhere.
Xingu Peacock Bass (Cichla melaniae):
This is a unique species of peacock bass endemic to the Xingu basin. These bass, which Brazilians generically refer to as tucunare, prefer fast-water environments where they often hold in soft shallows and eddies on the fringes of the current’s force. They average 3-6 pounds with the largest topping 12 pounds. These bass are strong, explode on poppers and provide incredible sport on a favorite 6 to 7-weight rod. Over the course of the week, an estimated 60% of your catch will be made up of these fly-friendly bruisers.
Wolf Fish (Hoplias lacerdae):
If you can imagine a cross between a wicked toothy ling cod and an air-breathing coelacanth, you can imagine what the Brazilians call trairao, or wolf fish. Averaging 10-15 pounds on the Iriri, they lie like giant fossilized sculpin on the bottom of smaller, glassy, off-current pools waiting to ambush large prey like peacock bass. They are among the most bizarre, passive-aggressive, primitive fish ever pursued. They are hard to spook and at times hard to wake up. You often stand rather near them, slapping and slowly chugging poppers above them. They may take slowly or explosively but more often than not you lose them on a tarpon-like jump or because their brutal teeth break 30-pound wire. No worries. Once they settle down they will be more motivated than ever to crush the same fly! When it comes to offering anglers a second or a third chance, no game fish compares. For the surefooted, the Iriri offers miles of braided bedrock terrain perfect for sight fishing the fierce wolf fish and other jungle species.
Pacu-borracha (Tometes sp. Valenciennes):
These curious, flat-bodied, algae-eating pacu add immeasurably to the Kendjam angling experience, due in part to the fast-water environments they inhabit. The Iriri has multiple areas where the river braids and drops steeply with falls, whitewater chutes, powerful runs and long broken riffles. These areas are best fished on foot and often entail exciting wet wading coupled with somewhat technical trout-like dead-drift presentations. Anglers are best served by a 6 to 7-weight rod with a floating line and wide range of green or olive flies tied to a wire leader. These fish will hold in incredibly fast water, even in whitewater, and can be spotted flashing as they tip sideways to feed. Best of all, these fish, which run from 2-4 pounds, fight like steelhead more than twice their weight, complete with strong runs and wild jumps.
Matrinxa (Brycon Amazonicus):
Known also as jatuarana, these strong, spooky trout-like fish provide great sport on a 6 weight rod. These fish are very plentiful and often school near shoreline structure and shadows. They are the most wary of the jungle species and present a spring-creek-like challenge that serious trout fishermen will find most appealing. Also, matrinxa go on and off the bite, making them easy at times and near bulletproof at others. They are best fished with rubber-legged dries on long leaders and they jump wildly when hooked. While they can grow to over 10 pounds, most of them are in the 2-5 pound class.
Bicuda (Boulengerella maculata):
Best described as freshwater barracuda, bicuda are fierce, incredibly fast predatory fish that may well be the wildest fighters of all the Kendjam species. They are not plentiful and often hold in the upper gut of larger pools. The largest specimens are near three feet long and are horribly hard to hook and land.
While the Kendjam project remains a work in progress, their program will be based around anglers moving between beats in 25-30’ aluminum canoes propelled by long-tailed outboards. While these boats are slow, they are stable to cast from and well suited to the environment. For every two anglers, there will be a professional fly fishing guide and a Kayapo boatmen. The river is divided into a number of beats that anglers will rotate between. Virtually all the beats will have plenty of wade fishing and plenty of boat fishing, depending on what you prefer or the species you most want to target. For those keen on sight fishing, time spent on foot exploring coves and braids is particularly fruitful.
The Kendjam camp will operate from June through the end of August. It accommodates six anglers in deluxe double occupancy hardwood cabins built on large wooden decks overlooking a remote beach some 40 km downstream of the village of Kendjam. Tents feature comfortable bedding, ceiling fans, showers, toilets, a dining tent as well as a solar charging station for guests to use. Considering the location, these may be the best-appointed accommodations in a 700-mile radius. In addition, there is a simple camping-style spike camp 25 km down river that opens up several additional large beats of water. Anglers have the option of spending two nights at this camp.
Despite the relative comforts of the main camp, Kendjam remains a place for hearty adventure travelers. It entails a significant effort to reach the unspoiled riches of the Iriri, and once there, it will mandate a willingness to interface with the jungle in all its glory. While there will be flocks of parrots, three colors of macaws, tapirs, and capybara, there will also be jaguars, rapids, and at times guests will need to help push the boats up channels too skinny to navigate. Likewise, in the river there are countless freshwater stingrays, two species of piranha, lots of curious caimans, seven-foot-long electric eels and the occasional anaconda. Despite that, the Iriri has a bright, friendly, safe feel to it that is sublime and surreal; rife with colors, creatures and compelling native culture.
Day 1 (Saturday): Arrive in Manaus where you will be met by a member of the Kendjam team who will transfer you to your hotel.
Day 2 (Sunday): After breakfast (approximately 7:00 AM), you will be transferred to the local airport to meet your charter flight to the Kendjam Indian Community. Once on the ground, you will meet your guides and staff for the trip, as well as members of the Kayapo community. After lunch you will make your way to the first camp, get settled in and prepare for the upcoming days of fishing.
Day 3-8 (Monday - Saturday): Six days of guided fishing and exploring the Iriri river. Each group of two anglers will be accompanied by a professional fly fishing guide as well as a native guide.
Day 9 (Sunday): In the morning, guests will be transferred by boat to the Kendjam Indian Community landing strip to fly back to Manaus, weather permitting. You will stop in Novo Progresso to refuel before arriving in Manaus at approximately 3:30 PM. You will be met by a member of the Kendjam team who will transfer you to the airport for your return flight home.
2019 Rate: $6,250 plus $530 native fee per person for an 8 night/6 day package
Included: Accommodation and meals at Kendjam, arrival night lodging in Manaus, transfers in Manaus, charter flights and boat transfers to camp, guided fishing, fishing licenses
Not Included: $530 Native Community Fee (cash required), round trip airfare, gratuities for camp staff and guides, meals in Manaus, departure tax, all tackle
Species: Peacock bass, wolf fish, bacu, matrinza, bicuda and more
Season: June to August
Capacity: Six anglers
Time: GMT/UTC - 04:00 hour. Daylight Saving Time not in use.