On the afternoon after we arrived in the Amazon rainforest, our group left in a small boat to go piranha fishing. We got a later start than we had planned because, just as Brazil’s soccer match finished, an immense rainstorm passed by our camp. I noticed it coming, about half an hour before the first drops fell, as a massive front of dark clouds. Slowly they filled up the sky, turning the swelting tropical afternoon blustery, almost cool. At first, only a few drops fell, and then suddenly it let loose. The sound drowned out almost everything else, and the river seemed to sizzle and jump up to meet the rain.
Then, as if someone tunrned a knob, it stopped. Before long the clouds had also passed and it was sunny again. Once the rain had stopped (apparently boats wait storms like that out) we boarded our boat. It was essentially a large row boat, powered by what seemed to be a modified lawn mower engine.
We rode out in the middle of the river at first, but eventually pulled into an area that appeared to be a tributary. Our guide, Damien, handed out fishing polls, which were straight sticks with a five or six foot piece of line tied to one end. He also passed out bait, which was quarter-sized chunks of raw chicken. The boat driver cut the engine, and we coasted into a group of Lilly pads that were three feet or more across. Then, we began fishing for pirahnas.
Fishing for piranha is different than other types of fishing. Aside from the improvised equipment and atypical bait, we also had to try to attract the fish by slapping the water with out fishing polls. While other types of fishing require quiet, piranha need some noise.
We fished in that spot for a while, but eventually our boat driver and guide both agreed that there wasn’t anything to be caught there. So we moved on. The new spot we found was in the flooded forest. Because the water is so high right now, being on the river is almost like being in a series of lakes connected by marshes and swamps; what would be distinct rivers and tributaries in the dry season are connected because the land between them is underwater.
We began fishing beneath the trees. The water level actually reached well up into their branches, so our guide and the driver had to navigate the boat carefully. When we found a clearing, the driver stopped the boat and we began trying to attact the fish. Very quickly it became apparent that the waters had piranha in them because they were eating all of our raw chicken off our hooks. Still, though, no one was catching anything.
Then suddenly someone jerked his line and pulled a writhing piranha into the boat. After that, other members of the group started catching the fish. Not long before we left, I got one, though as our guide told us to start getting ready to go Laura still hadn’t. Then, Laura suddenly jerked her line and a piranha flew through the air. Before it got into the boat, however, it wiggled loose and got away. She kept trying, however, even as everyone was packing up the other fishing poles. Just as we were out of time and chicken, Laura jerked her line again and pulled in a tiny piranha. It was the first time she had ever gone fishing.
By this time it was dark and we went out into the open water to search for caimen (like alligators). After finding a young one (and passing it around), we headed back toward the lodge. As we cruised through the now glassy water, the river became so wide that the banks were just a sliver of black at the rim of the sky. Everything was blue with starlight and an eyelash moon, and floating through the water at the top of the forest felt almost like floating through the cosmos.