The Perfect Gamefish

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Photos by Louis Cahill

Photos by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

All hype aside, golden dorado may be the perfect gamefish.

Prior to my trip to Parana On The Fly Lodge, I had my own preconceived ideas of what fishing for Golden Dorado might be like. Everyone knows they have teeth. You’ve no doubt seen them in photos, jumping and thrashing in the water. But what you don’t know about them, and what I didn’t know about them, will make them even more badass than you ever thought.

DSC02228First off, they are some moody little bastards. Chucking hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of casts between fish is common. Not because the fish are scarce. There are plenty of fish living within the Parana’s waters. The Goldens just seem to have a particular set of requirements that must be met before they strike. Even the little guys can get picky and will inspect your fly all the way to the boat before turning away. I remember thinking to myself on the second day that this type of fishing reminded me of fishing for musky. Constantly pounding the banks and structure, over and over, fighting the urge to “zone out” from the repetitive nothingness of empty retrieves. Sometimes the only break in the monotony would be the occasional hang up in the bushes or trees, or maybe the hideous, haunting sound of howler monkeys blasting through the jungle. It took me a day and a half to land my first Golden Dorado. In other words, you have to work for them a little bit. You have to earn your stripes a little, and pay some dues. You’re not just going to step onto a boat, sling some line, and yank one in the boat. It takes a little bit of grit, and I like that.

Another thing that makes these apex river monsters awesome is where and how they hold in the river.

Like many of our favorite gamefish here in the states, they are ambush predators. Hiding amongst submerged trees, bushes, rocks, sand banks, and cut-banks, the mean-muggers blend in to the powerful, turbulent waters of the Parana, despite their golden flanks. They hold on the cushion in front of structure and use the branches of trees to hide their wicked smiles as they wait for unfortunate baitfish, such as Sabalo, to wander into their domain. Which brings me to the next characteristic that I love about these fish…

C0093-3-EditThey are vicious as hell! When you look at a Dorado, you know they have to be tough, apex predators, but it’s not until you see them rein down on your fly that you really see the full extent of their savagery. Their jaws are built like steel traps with dagger teeth that line the entire upper and lower jaw. They strike with such power and anger, the only response that seems appropriate is to shout expletives from the bow of the boat as you strip set for your life. Pretty much every species of fish here has teeth and requires wire when targeting them, so “ferocious” describes almost every species in this environment. Golden Dorado are born without the yolk sac that many fish rely on to survive the first couple weeks of life in their respective environments. From day one, these guys have to live a hardcore, eat-or-be-eaten life in a very harsh environment. Survival, even for Golden Dorado, is far from certain so the ones that have grown to ten, twenty, and thirty or more pounds are the baddest of the badasses.

DSC02237So what happens when you hook into a Dorado?

Chaos. Absolute beautiful, disastrous chaos. The only variable in this situation is the size of the Dorado. The bigger the fish, the heavier the chaos. When a Dorado takes your fly, it goes all in. 1000% Beast Mode. There’s no half-ass, inquisitive grab-assing going on. It’s kill time and I freakin’ love it! All of this requires an angler with the same demeanor. Poised and precise, until it’s time to unleash all hell. Your strip set must be hard. The moving mountains kind of shit that makes your guide flinch. I actually punched my guide, Carlos, in the face one day after a nice Dorado ate my fly as it blitzed towards the boat. In order to catch up with the fish and set the hook, my strip set was hard and long. As I reached back with my stripping hand in an attempt to bury the hook, my fist met Carlos’s kisser and knocked him back in the floor of the boat. I missed the fish, but Carlos was fine and we had a good laugh about it. Hey, it’s tough fishing and you’ve got to be willing to throw (and take) some punches along the way!

GOPR1227-2-EditOnce you do hook into one of these bad boys, it’s one hell of a fight! I loved watching my rod bend in half every time I hooked up. Their sheer power is amazing, but, then again, living in such a huge river I’m not surprised. And just like when they go all in to demolish your fly, they completely commit themselves to doing everything to get off of your hook. With acrobatic displays only shadowed by those of the Silver King himself, they glow in the sunlight as they thrash and writhe through the air. Rolling and twisting. Bulldogging their way into structure and making last-ditch dives under the boat in an attempt to put you at a disadvantage are to be expected with each fight. Not one time during a fight with a Golden Dorado can any angler say, “It’s over.” Not until a Golden is in the net, is the fight over. And even when on board the boat, it isn’t over in the Dorado’s eye. They are solid muscle and one of the most powerful fish that I’ve ever held in my hands. He, or she, is also pissed and wants redemption. Put your hand, camera, or anything else within the vicinity of their jaw and you can bet that it will try to chomp down on it. Consider them armed and dangerous.

The Golden Dorado is the epitome of awesomeness and badassery.

In my eyes, it’s the perfect combination of all things that I would desire in an ultimate gamefish. Their tenacity, size, fight, and the way they make you work for them in their unforgiving jungle environment is one hell of a rewarding challenge. It’s a crying shame that I’ll have to continue visiting Parana on the Fly Lodge to scratch my itch for them!

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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