By Louis Cahill
There’s nothing cooler than catching a new species on the fly.
I recently had my first encounter with the golden dorado, a species I have coveted for some time. I hosted a group at the Parana On The Fly lodge with Andes Drifters for a week and we caught an amazing array of species including piranha, pacu, pirapita, boga and, the king of the river, the golden dorado.
The dorado has quite a reputation as a sport fish and it does not disappoint. A beautiful fish and an acrobatic fighter, it’s known primarily for its unchecked aggression. The first couple of dorado to eat my fly scared the daylights out of me. Their predatory response goes way beyond simply eating the fly. They destroy it. They eat with pure rage.
Beyond the thrill of tackling such an aggressive predictor, the challenge of catching a dorado is compelling in itself. These fish are not easily caught and the fishing is both technical and demanding in ways I did not expect. I found myself combining skills in a way that was unlike any fishing I’ve done before and, for me, this made the whole experience much more rewarding.
What does it take to catch a golden dorado on a fly?
I have come to think of dorado fishing as a hybrid of fresh and saltwater techniques. It is essentially streamer fishing. Though we used rat patterns quite a bit, you are basically fishing them as top-water streamers. Like streamer fishing for trout or smallmouth, you’re working structure. Casting from a boat and covering water looking for the fish that’s in the right frame of mind.
Dorado utilize many different types of structure, which I will go into in detail in another article. They use that structure in interesting ways and they sometimes remind me of redfish and other times striped bass or trout. The key to success is understanding the different holding zones and how the dorado uses them, then rapidly identifying those zones and making the right presentation to each as they appear.
It’s fast paced and it’s a thinking game. You’re not just pounding the bank. You’re making a planned presentation, much like you would for tarpon or bonefish, in rapid succession as you float the river. It’s demanding both mentally and physically. Four days after arriving home, I still have a few sore muscles.
Dorado fishing can be a sight fishing game and during certain times of year guides pole huge sand flats calling shots just like in the salt. This being an El Niño year, we did not have that luxury. The Parana river, roughly the size of the Mississippi, was on the fall from flood levels 18 meters above normal when we arrived. The river was chocolate brown and I was concerned, but the fishing was still great. It did mean that we had to cover more water with our flies, so rather than sight fishing to specific fish, we would identify the potential holding zones, picture the fish there and make the presentation. With the help of our guides it became automatic and paid off in gold.
We fished two anglers to a boat, just like floating a trout river but in Carolina Skiffs, modified with casting decks front and rear. Some situations require the classic lead-and-cross presentation used in saltwater fly fishing. A tight line presentation is an absolute must. It’s key that the fly be moving in a lifelike manner as soon as the fish sees it. The strike comes fast and a dead drifting fly means missed opportunities. When the strike comes, don’t even think about trout setting. A firm strip-set is the only way to hook these beasts.
Like the techniques, the gear for catching dorado is a mix of fresh and saltwater. Eight and nine weight rods are the norm and a fast action saltwater rod is nice when the wind picks up, although on calm days a slower rod is less fatiguing. Large arbor reels with powerful drag are an important tool. These fish are powerful and you have to fight them like saltwater fish, not trout.
It’s over a hundred degrees some days so tropical saltwater lines, floating and intermediate, are best even though the water is fresh. Hard alloy mono leaders turn over big flies and 40lb wire bite guard is absolutely necessary. We used some saltwater knots as well and I plan a whole post on rigging for dorado.
The sun in the northern Argentine jungle is brutal, so good SPF clothing is important, as is good sun screen. Standing on a flats boat, in all of my flats gear, throwing streamers felt odd at first but it does help you remember to strip set. I also found that fishing in sock feet, like I do in the salt, was a big help with line management.
Dorado flies have evolved to uniquely meet the demands of this intense fishing style. The streamer patterns are about six inches long, tied on 3/0 saltwater hooks, but they are surprisingly light. The light weight helps in making fast, accurate presentations at varying distances. They have dark silhouettes with a splash of color and just a bit of flash.
The tails are usually hackle feathers and the heads are almost always black and tied from craft fur or buck tail. The hooks have short shanks and are at the front of the flies. Dorado inhale the fly, there’s no need for trailing hooks.
Dorado don’t come easily. You have to fish well and fish hard to land one of these monsters but that makes them so much more rewarding. Chasing dorado on the Parana river was a truly unique experience that I’ll never forget. I highly recommend it.
We will be announcing dates for a 2017 dorado trip soon, so stay tuned and shoot me an email at email@example.com if you think you’re interested.
Louis Cahill Gink & Gasoline www.ginkandgasoline.com firstname.lastname@example.org Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!