August 25, 2015
While floods have ravaged the two best-known fly-fishing lodges in the golden dorado waters of Bolivia's Tsimane Rainforest, local aboriginal tribes and the Argentina-based company Untamed Angling have proven that the jungle people (and jungle dorado) are incredibly resilient.
In February 2014 the largest flood in recorded history (and local memory) destroyed the Secure River Lodge (built in 2010) forcing a complete rebuild that was finished in just 70 days, and right in time for the 2014 season. The next year, a March flood in the same region wiped out Pluma Lodge, and this time Untamed Angling and the local tribal community built a new lodge—relocated to higher ground downstream—in just 60 days.
The lodges (both originally built in 2010) represent one of the first cooperative efforts between a fly-fishing outfitter and aboriginal tribes in South America. The land and the lodges themselves are owned by the local Indian Association. The furniture and all the equipment were brought in and owned by Untamed Angling. The Indian Association is made up of three different ethnic groups: the Chimanes, Yuracarés, and Moxeños.
The founding agreement between the tribes, the Bolivia government, and the outfitter preserves the land, the cultures, and ensures only catch-and-release fishing for dorado (and sustainable harvest only for other species).
After each flood, Marcelo Pérez, CEO and founder of Untamed Angling, knew the facilities could be rebuilt but wondered how the dorado fishing would stand up after the devastating scouring. As it turns out, the fishery is just as healthy as ever.
"When I came I expected a lot, and it was a lot more than I expected," said Mike Michalak, owner of The Fly Shop at Redding, California. In his post-flood week on the Secure River, there were 31 dorado between 15 and 30 pounds landed, and 16 fish that were over 30 pounds—including a 32-pound fish landed by Michalak.
"I personally think that these 100-year floods happen a lot more frequently than we think," said Patrick Pendergast, director of travel at The Fly Shop. He fished the Secure River for 18 days after the 2014 flood. "It's part of the ecology of the rainforest. I think the rivers need a good flush once in a while to move the gravel around, push some rocks around, take out some of the dead trees, bring in new trees, and to scour the riverbank. The fish are used to it, and within four to six weeks the river was already reclaiming the riverbank."
Pérez has sponsored a short film showing the rebuild of the facilities, and some highlights of Bolivia's greatest gamefish.