Right in the middle of South America in south-west Brazil is a place called the Pantanal Wetlands. It was a hot and dry day and I was standing knee deep in water on the edge of a river. I hadn’t gone fishing for quite some time but I had always grown up knowing how. But this was no ordinary fishing experience. I was fishing for piranhas.
Knee deep in the water, I curled my toes under and dug them into the sand so as not to attract the baby piranhas which were swimming nearby in the shallow waters. I liked my toes and didn’t want them to be a nice little appetiser. I kept a close eye on a crocodile (known as ‘caiman’ in South America) who was swimming with his head above the water not 10 metres away from where I was standing. I had fresh, raw beef on a bamboo fishing rod that had a line and hook on the end. I cast out the line thinking I was going to be waiting a while but as soon as the bait hit the water the piranhas latched on and started biting. In less than 20 seconds and I had lost all my bait, so I re-baited and re-cast. I was determined to catch this small, carnivorous fish of South America.
The trick with piranha fishing is to yank the rod up as soon as it hits the water and before this fearsome predator devours the beef. The goal is to hook the fish with a forceful pull upwards, as they sneakily move quick though the water, with razor sharp teeth ready to tear any meat apart in seconds. Even more terrifying was seeing the crocodile who had been floating by (and watching me closely) suddenly disappear under the murky, muddy water. I took it as an dangerous sign and immediately got out of the river and waited until he had popped his head back up and surfaced – I wasn’t taking any chances.
When I did finally hooked my first piranha I was so proud. I brought in the line and let the guide take it off the hook, as I sure as hell was not going to get my fingers near those sharp teeth. It was only a small pinky-silver fish, but its the jaws and knifelike teeth were absolutely incredible – an outstanding catch and one that met my every adventourous expectation.
Go fishing for piranhas –
When: The best time of the year is in the dryer seasons as the fish have less food choice and there will be plentiful. Dry season is between May-October.
Where to go: You can go throughout South America but I went in the Pantanal, Brazil and in northern Bolivia in one of the many thousands of tributaries from the Amazon River (check out departing from the town of Rurrenbaque).
How much: A three day trip out to the Pantanal including food, accommodation (in a dorm style), transport and guiding will cost around $400. If you can get there and book it locally you should be able to organise a great rate.
How to get there: To either Rurrenbaque, Bolivia or Campo Grande, Brazil, both base towns for your exploration, you can organise a bus (a very long 12+ hour bus ride) or fly in on a small plane. The flight option is obviously going to be much more expensive though.
What to bring: Wear sun protection (hat, sunnies and sunscreen) because it can get very hot out there. You can always wear your swim suit however it will be the fastest “dip” of your life. You don’t want the fish coming after you!