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Matt Brandon

On the trail of the Amazon's biggest fish

Posted from: Jaraua
Mamiraua is beautiful. 90% of the reserve is flooded by the end of the wet season in May - the water rises about 15 metres. Everyone and everything here is ready to adapt to the change. The houses in Jaraua are either built on stilts or floating ready for the floods. Still, the inside walls of the front room of Dona Lourdes' house are stained at about neck height by the mark of high water from a few years ago.

The people here have been so warm and welcoming - I'm sure it's helped that we have been going back to the Spectrum to sleep at night. Tapioca has taken Bruce out fishing in the flooded forest for the past three days. If it wasn't for the battalions of biting things it would be the most magical wonderland. It's so very beautiful. Tapioca is hoping to spear a Pirarucu - a massive fresh-water fish that can weigh up to 200 kilos.

As is normally the way with filming, after one day of being polite, Tapioca and Bruce decided that the crew were hampering their chances of catching the fish. So we hatched a perfect plan: Keith took the chance to film some wildlife from one of the Institutes' floating platforms; Marina stayed with him; and Dudu took Zubin, me, the smaller camera, soundgear, some hooks and fishing line as close as we could get to the serious fishermen without disturbing them.

Pirarucu come to the surface every 15 minutes to breathe. During the dry season they are confined to lakes, but now that the water has risen, it's more difficult to spear them. If they did we each had a walkie-talkie, and Bruce had a whistle with him, just in case he couldn't raise us on the radio.

So we were set. After full 15 quiet and patient minutes of nothing happening Dudu spotted a couple of grasshoppers amongst some floating grass. He caught them with ease and set about teaching us to fish Amazon style. We moved to the edge of the flooded forest and Dudu threw in the hand-line, bait and hook. A second later he was pulling out his catch - a red bellied Piranha. It was small but as you'd expect, its teeth looked savage and could easily have a finger or toe off given half a chance and I wished that I hadn't left my shoes behind.

Noisy fishing

That Piranha became bait for slightly bigger fish, and soon we had quite a catch (that Tapioca later took to add to his family meal). It was a great opportunity to get to know Dudu better, and how often do you go fishing on the Amazon with your best mate? Our fun was interrupted by an insistent crackle on the radio. While Dudu and Zubin remained intently focused on fishing, I had a small panic trying to find the radio, eventually persuading them that we were in fact here to film Bruce and Tapioca rather than to add to our personal Piranha catch.

It was Tapioca on the radio and I was convinced that he must have speared a Piriracu. We waited while he spoke at length, excited to hear the translation: "Tapioca wants us to shut up, he can hear us from the opposite side of the river and says that we're scaring the fish!"

Quietly we went back to fishing. So absorbed that next time I turned to look out of the forest, the river had completely disappeared. Floating grass had completely blocked off the main channel. I say floating grass, what I mean is a floating park - a mass of grass almost as far as the eye could see. This time it was Dudu's turn to panic - we had to get out of here fast. We had one paddle between us so Zubin and me couldn't help anymore than pathetically pulling on clumps of grass to try and help as Dudu fought a path through to the new start of the channel. After about forty minutes we finally made it. Dudu was exhausted, while us two had a bit of a sweat on because the sun was quite hot.

And that wasn't the end of it. After no more than 30 seconds of rest for Dudu, we heard a shrill whistle. Action stations again. We tried to raise Bruce on the radio but got not reply. We couldn't get straight to where the whistle was because of the grass, so we headed back for the floating house to get Keith and a bigger boat. On the bigger boat we could at least make some progress through the floating grass. We could see Tapioca and Bruce paddling sedately towards us. We were so excited, but they didn't seem like fishermen who had just caught one of the world's biggest freshwater fish. After an age we were level with them, and sure enough the two fish flapping around in the bottom of the tiny canoe were definitely not Piriracu. Tapioca was disappointed, but he was still going home with plenty of food for the table - a couple of Tambaqui.

The initial plan had seemed so easy, it must have been our execution that was less than perfect. Secretly I'm not too upset that they haven't caught a Pirarucu. I'm sure that we'll see it sometime, and if possible it will be great to film that on the HD camera. Tapioca is an incredible fisherman and he wants to show us exactly how good, but with the water still rising it's getting more and more difficult. Somehow, to us, spearing the Tambaqui is more impressive than spearing a massive air-breathing fish. Or am I just making myself feel better? I hope that he can forgive us for making so much noise.

Find out more about Amazonas wildlife.

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