Collecting Fish in the Brazilian Amazon

by Vinny Kutty

I t is a humbling experience, and surely a healthy one, to enter a landscape that man has not been able to alter, to dominate, to twist to his own purposes. - Marston Bates/ WHERE WINTER NEVER COMES

Birth of an Idea

It began decades ago. It was during my early years in the tropical fish hobby. I'd see these marvelous, brightly colored fish in pet shops and in the tanks of other aquarists. They went by names like Tetras and Angelfish, beautiful creatures from far away land. Not yet a teenager, but already living in Africa with my parents, I'd had a taste of travel and cross-cultural experiences, traits that would later define my adulthood. Some of my fondest memories are of me sitting on a rock by a riverside pool, in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, watching the fish swim below and the birds fly above. I'd sit for hours on the rock, oblivious of the equatorial sun beating down on my shirtless back. There is endless joy in nature, brief glimpses of which can be had for Tampa Bay residents in lush forested parks like Lettuce Lake Park on the Hillsborough River. Florida wilderness is the closest thing us Americans can get to African and Amazonian rainforests. So, having harbored an intense bond with tropical aquatic life, it was only a matter of time before I visited the ultimate in habitats - the mighty Amazon basin.

As a subscriber to Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine in the 80s, I'd sit and read Heiko Bleher articles about adventures and collecting over and over again. I'd fantasize about running around in the woods and streams of the Amazon, like Heiko, except not in my Speedos. Enjoying the aquarium hobby is, for me, only a tease compared to the real joy of observing aquatic life in the wild. I knew I was going to visit the Amazon someday, but just didn't know when. In 1994, Jeff Cardwell, a friend and a Tetra-sponsored speaker, visited Tampa to give a lecture on his adventures in the Amazon, collecting tropical fish. Jeff visits the Amazon on a yearly basis. After listening to his talk, I decided to go with him on one of his trips. Then came reality. How much was it going to cost me? When can I take two weeks off work? The hows, whens and wheres bothered me for a while, but I decided to go. I see Jeff every year at the American Cichlid Assoc. conventions and the next time I saw him, I said to him. I wanna go to the Amazon with you, I don't care about bothersome details, all I know is I'm going to the Amazon! And I did. The following is a rather detailed journal of my trip to the Amazon, specifically to Rio Uatuma and Rio Jatapu in central Amazon, in the Brazilian State of Amazonas.


I'd been thinking about the trip everyday for about a year. The closer the trip got, the more I obsessed about it. It meant so much to me that I must have sounded like a first-time mother, constantly talking about her baby. I certainly had something to say when people asked me What's new with you? I talked so much about it that now, my dental hygienist and my chiropractor insist on my bringing in pictures from the trip. I stopped short of yakking to the checkout girls at the grocery store about my trip. I swear people at work were avoiding me. People had polar reactions to the idea - they either belonged to the I'm-jealous-I-wish-I-could-go or to the What-are-you? -A-lunatic? schools of thought. My parents, being globetrotters themselves, were very supportive, except I sensed some nervousness in my mother's voice the day before I left. My dad called it field work ; a term often used in his profession - aquaculture. It certainly was fieldwork because I brought back a lot of water measurements like pH, conductivity, temperature etc.

Jeff was the leader of the trip and he organized everything. This was fine with me, as I just wanted to have a good time. We'd initially planned on going to Rio Tefe in remote western Amazon, near the Peruvian border but that would have involved a domestic flight within Brazil, from Manaus to the little town of Tefe. This would have made the trip shorter and more expensive, regardless of the size of the group traveling. Fortunately, this decision was made for us when one by one, individuals who'd originally showed interest in going, cancelled their plans. So, a location closer to Manaus was chosen for exploration. Jeff arranged the flight tickets, travel in Brazil (both bus and boat) and the meals while on the boat. All this came up to about $2000. Of course, we were responsible for all the gear, immunizations and getting ourselves to Miami before the international flight. If you decide to go, you'll need the following: sunscreen, wide-brim hat, a wear-n-give-away T-shirt for everyday there, swim trunks, wading shoes, hiking boots, insect repellent, first-aid kit, flash light, large dip-nets for fishing, plastic bags to ship fish back in, 100-quart coolers to hold and ship fish back in, duct tape, camera and photo equipment, snacks (chocolates melt!) and of course, your passport and proof of Yellow Fever immunizations. You'll probably get what fellow traveler Fred Krauss described as "soup ass" after eating and drinking some things down there, so pack some Immodium-AD or the like.

As far as immunizations, the only one you must have is a Yellow Fever shot - I believe one shot is effective for ten years. I also got a Tetanus booster and a shot for Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B requires two shots with a 6-month interval or so between shots. The first one gives you 85% immunity to the mosquito-transmitted disease and the second improves it to over 95%. I took a gamble on 85%. I also asked my doctor for a prescription for Malaria pills. Total cost of immunizations was about $250 - stiff but most of them are a one time expense.

It was now time to get ready, get all the gear purchased and wait. The few days before the trip seemed like a waste of time, like waiting for your doctor in that boring little room. I was at time's mercy. All I could do was get a few 55-gal tanks ready to receive all the fish I could bring back. I knew I was going to be in Blackwater rivers, a kind of water found in the Amazon with no discernable hardness and a very acidic pH. So, I borrowed Darin Gasperson's Reverse Osmosis unit and went about making blackwater at home. I first filled the tanks up with pure R.O. water and then added Tetra Blackwater Extract and drops of very dilute sulfuric acid to get the pH down to about 5.0.

I'd mail ordered a 12-foot seine and a 6-foot radius cast net for collecting, through the Florida Tropical Fish Farmers Assoc. (FTFFA) and had to learn the art of castnetting. I practiced casting on my lawn outside my apartment. To cast a net in a perfect circle, you need to bite down on the outer perimeter of the net and using both hands and twisting at the waist, cast it at a 45 angle. Of course, you release your bite on the net as you cast. On my very first cast, I was late releasing the bite, so the net cut my lip a bit and there was blood around my mouth. A neighbor walked by eyeing me quizzically. "Grass", I said to her "I'm catchin' grass". My neighbors don't talk to me anymore.

Larium Trips

Mefloquine. It is the new drug of choice for tropical travelers for Malaria prevention. Other quinine-based forms of anti-malarials that worked well while I was in Africa 15 years ago are apparently ineffective today. Enter Mefloquine. Reputed to be partially effective at best and at $8 a pop, it was the best protection I had. I was instructed to take a pill every week for two weeks prior to the trip, during the trip and for a few weeks after the trip. Be close to a restroom, warned the pharmacist as she handed me the prescription. No problemo, I thought, I got guts of steel.

I d taken two pills and the night before the journey, I took the third one. My stomach had no problem handling it. I wanted to be rested, so I went to bed early. I lay in bed, in semi-sleep and I began seeing images in my mind's eye. In the beginning, they were not anything special, but after a few minutes, the images became clearer. I was having visions. Wondrous, color-coordinated, dali-esque images. I saw no melted clocks but the wild and surreal scenes were beautiful and frightening at the same time. I was enjoying it. It was like being in a museum but I was in bed, trying to fall asleep. I'd have a different image every ten seconds. Some of them were spectacular...a little too spectacular for me to conjure up spontaneously. This lasted for almost thirty minutes and then the images began to dim, until it stopped. I then became quite awake and alert. I felt someone was going to burglarize my apartment while I was away. So, I jumped out of bed, dressed up and drove to K-mart. I returned with three light bulb timers. After hooking up all the lamps in the house to timers, I began worrying about Darin. Damn him! He's a lazy bum and he's going to forget to pick me up to go to the airport tomorrow morning. He's jealous of me. He doesn't want me to go because I'm living his dream. I knew it! I'll just take a taxi to the airport. I fell asleep angry and paranoid. Darin knocked on the door promptly as planned and happily drove me to the airport.

Something was wrong with me. I thought I'd enjoy this moment more, but I was tense and irritable. I got on a little plane in Tampa and arrived at Miami. I sat at the Varig (Brazilian airline) counter for three hours next to a burly guy, watching CNN's round-the-clock coverage of Princess Di's death.

The burly guy might steal my coolers full of fish collecting stuff, I thought. Then, burly guy turns to me with a warm smile and says, Are you going to Brazil with Jeff Cardwell? Ah! He's one of us; he won't steal my things...or will he? Burly guy turned out to be Paul Thoms of Carlyle, Illinois, going on his fifth trip to the Amazon.

I'd tried to call him the day before but his number was unlisted - his wife works in a mental institution and they did not want paranoid people on medication calling them. How paranoid of them, I thought. Sheesh!

So we went to lunch. While talking over lunch, Paul asked how I was doing with my Malaria medication. "Fine..." I said. "Really? That thing does a number on me...the last time I took it before our last trip to Brazil, I had all kinds of irrational fears and paranoia...I thought my boss was going to fire me!"

Wait a minute...may be...nah...OH MY GOD!! It all made sense to me now. The Dali slide show in my head, imaginary burglars, fear and anger towards all made sense.

"Yeah, Larium is psychotropic...messes with your mind." said Paul. I haven't eaten another Larium since. I'm storing it for a rainy day when I feel like going to a museum.

The Characters

The day finally arrived. It was September 1st, 1997. I'd waited a very long time for this. As mentioned above, I wasn't enjoying the first leg of the trip. Of course, I met Paul at the airport. Paul is a happy, content, incisor-challenged guy who knows the first few verses to a million songs. And he sings them all. Some would consider him a teddy bear. No matter how tough the jungle got, he always smiled and said, "Isn't this great?" Soon, Bob and Laura Matthews, who were going with us on their honeymoon, joined us. I am sure people who prefer malls to parks called their sanity into question but they're not the kind to care. I'd known Laura for a few years, being a fellow cichlidiot and photographer. It was going to be nice to catch up with her.

Fred Krauss, recovering from treatments for thyroid cancer, was able to make it. Fred is an unpretentious guy with a heart of gold. He'd been deported from a few South American countries for illegally entering and collecting fish in - he sports a braided mustache in his passport photo. I bet he has a tattoo somewhere I care not to see. Fred's talent at transporting and keeping fish alive is uncanny.

Steve Davis of Utah and Rob Schreiman of Chicago rounded out the fish people. Our two surprise travelers were Veronica "Ronnie" DeNardo from Arlington, VA and Cathy Hamlin from Atlanta. Ronnie just wanted to see the Amazon, having already been to places like Africa. Cathy is a student of Tropical Ecology. She'd spent a year working in a Costa Rican national forest park and wanted to experience the Amazon before going back to grad. school. I'm glad they came along because a bunch of fish guys together would have concentrated on fish and missed out on all the other marvels of the rain forest. Besides, as I got to know them personally, they turned out to be wonderful human beings.

Just before the flight, we all went atop the Miami airport to have dinner. We ordered fried alligator. I was afraid that was a harbinger of things to come. Varig was a decent airline but we certainly didn t get to Manaus at a decent time. As the plane descended towards the airport, I caught a glimmering reflection of the city lights on the Rio Negro. WOW! We were greeted by Miguel Rocha da Silva and Eduardo aka Doo-doo. Miguel was the Captain of the boat we were going to be on for the duration of the trip. Doo-doo, whose photograph often appears in Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine, was a friend of Jeff and some of the others and was going to join us to help us catch fish. They had rented a bus for us and we immediately got out of Manaus. It was 3 a.m. when we boarded the bus - the air was still, humid and warm, the kind of climate that promotes the proliferation of life.

As the bus left sleeping Manaus, some of us fell back to sleep. The excitement was too much to bear. I was wide awake at 5 a.m. and waiting for the sunrise. Cathy Hamlin was sitting next to me, writing in her diary about everything that she saw. We were on the only road in that part of the country, connecting Manaus to Itacotiara (pronounced ee-ta-kwa-shah). Itacotiara is closer to Rio Jatapu and Uatuma and taking the bus there would save us two days of river travel. By now, the sun was starting to rise and I could discern silhouettes of incredibly tall trees along the road. The landscape and village architecture was reminiscent of other isolated tropical areas in Africa and Asia. The reality of it all started to dawn with the sun. Most of us were silenced by the seemingly unending sprawl of dense jungle. Imagine the number and variety of creatures that lived within a few feet of the bus.

I saw a creek and I wanted to beg the bus driver to stop, so I could begin collecting! We finally stopped in a little village to get some breakfast the nocturnal insects and creatures were in retreat and we ran around photographing some of the strange insects. Our breakfast consisted of strong coffee and a few varieties of Manioc-based starchy pastries. Just before we were about to board the bus, a troop of army trucks pulled up and spilled a couple of dozen soldiers. Oh-oh! Images of military atrocities as seen on TV crossed my mind. Our Brazilian counterparts assured us that the soldiers were there to fix the roads. Hmmm. Now there's an idea ready for America.

The Amazon

After four hours, we finally reached Itacotiara and the banks of the Amazon, where out boat was docked. It was a little town almost entirely dependent on the river and the forest. It was only 10 a.m. and we were already drenched in sweat. But we didn't care - we headed straight for the markets, to check out the fish for sale. It was a great photo opportunity. Oscars, Peacock Basses, Pacus, Arowana and even the giant Pirarucu ( Arapima gigas ). We finally walked the plank on to our boat, our home for the next week or so. It was a 38-foot boat with three levels, bunk beds for each person, a kitchen and two bathrooms. All in all, more than I expected.

Once the boat was moving, we were very comfortable in the breeze. Those of us who had been to the Amazon before, didn't seem as excited as I was. We had a few hours to settle down, have a few drinks, watch the river go by and get to know the crew. An hour or so into the down river journey, we came upon a sight that put the actual size of the river in perspective. Apparently, the banks that we were seeing were only islands. We then reached a gap between the islands and were able to see the real banks the other bank was barely visible! An hour before sunset, we arrived at the mouth of Rio Uatuma, a white water river, small compared to the mighty Amazon. This is where I saw my first Pink River Dolphin; they seem to relish fishing near the confluence of rivers. Although not as acrobatic and curious as the Atlantic Bottlenose in Florida, these near-blind creatures were just as interesting. The riverbanks were densely forested and a tree with large red pods, called Mungubu fascinated me. We saw numerous Parrolets and Parakeets, Kingfishers, Fish Eagles and a few Cara Caras and a large Toucan hopping from tree to tree. We were to spend sometime collecting in this area before dark, so I knew we would anchor soon. And we did, a few miles up the river, past the town of Itapiranga.

It was barely 30 seconds after we had stopped when we were all casting hooks and lines into the water almost all if us instantly hooked Red Bellied Piranha! It was the very first fish I ever caught in the Amazon. These juvenile Piranhas were so numerous and easy to catch that we were quickly bored. So we left the boat and made our way to the banks using a 16-foot motor boat. As we were about to make a landing and get into the water, Steve Davis, who was still on the big boat, reeled in an 18 inch Black Piranha. We all looked at each other nervously and hesitated a bit. The excitement of collecting fish in the Amazon outweighed any fear, so I stepped out on to the bank. My leg immediately sank knee-deep into the mud. So did the other leg. When I pulled the first leg out of the mud, I found my shoe missing at the bottom of the leg hole. I reached my hand in and fetched my shoes and took another step. Now my other shoe was missing, and I was only 3 feet away from the boat! Was I ever going to catch any fish if I spent all my time retrieving my lost shoes? Jeff Warned me not to walk around without shoes, so I fought with the mud till we got to a little stream.

Mental note: next time, bring wading shoes with laces and tie them TIGHT!

The water was warm near the shores and cool at spots deeper in the stream. The stream emptied a vast marsh that was treeless, possibly from deforestation for cattle grazing. We could see hundreds of wading birds; some of them were quite upset by our presence but not as much as the Howler Monkeys at the edge of the marsh, who protested our presence audibly. The pH of the water was 6.3 with a conductivity of 70uS. As we caught fish, mostly Characins and catfish, we bagged them and floated them near the shore, to be retrieved on our way back to the boat. After we collected for almost an hour, we were returning back to the boat and found that all our plastic bags that we d stored fish in had been ransacked! There were circular holes in the bags and there were no fish to be found in the bags. The Piranhas had sensed the distressed fish and bit through the bags to get at the hapless fish. The Piranhas were absolutely merciless with the less than healthy members of the aquatic kingdom. Only the healthy and robust specimens get to survive in this habitat.

We were all still in the water while this was going on and none of us were hurt or bit by Piranhas. We were, however, repeatedly warned by Miguel, our Captain and Jeff to shuffle our feet as much as we could to scare off Stingrays - the real menace in the water. We were soon in our little boat, headed out of the stream, when we decided to cast net. After just one cast, we found it was easier to just sit and wait for the fish to jump into the boat because that is just what they did. Schools of yellow and white striped Schizodon schizodon leapt up 5 feet in the air and landed in the boat! How convenient! We wanted some bait for catching catfish and possibly get some fish for dinner.

The Fish

Among the fish we caught there were:

Acaronia nassa (Basketmouth cichlid)
Aphyocharax albus
Farlowella acus
Sorubim lima (Shovelnose catfish)
Hoplias malabaricus (Wolf Fish)
Bumble bee cat
Hypoptopoma sp. (Giant Otocinclus)
Pygocentrus nattereri (Redbellied Piranha)
Serrasalmus rhombeus (Black Piranha)
Serrasalmus elongatus (Elongate Piranha)
Spotside Piranha
Triportheus albus (Yellow Hatchetfish)
Raphiodon vulpinis (Dog Fish)
Mesonauta cf. insignis
Cichlasoma cf. amazonarum
Apistogramma sp. regani complex
Geophagus cf. surinamensis
Laetacara curviceps
Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Mylossoma sp. (Pacu-type)
Corydoras sp. Spotted
Triportheus sp.
Leporinus fasciatus
Unifasciatus Pencilfish
Crenicichla regani
Spotted Moenkhausia Tetra
Loricaria sp.
Charax gibbosus
Charax sp. Spotside
Leporinus cf. fredericki
Tetragonopterus argenteus
Carnegiella marthae
Lyretail Brown Pleco
Silver Spilurus Tetra
Laetacara curviceps

I am sure there were other fish that I could not identify or collect. This was certainly one of the most productive fish collecting spots we encountered.

On our return to Manaus, we stopped here briefly and to our surprise, we caught a lot of Crenicichla reticulata using cast nets. They were hiding in the Loricariid caves (Pleco holes) along the mud banks and the vibration of the lead weights on the net scared them out into the net and we caught up to 4 of these typically solitary fish per cast. Some of the larger females were very colorful, with bright orange bands above the lateral bands. This was such a rich habitat for fish and, unfortunately, mosquitoes as well, so we were forced to get back in the boat and ride around for an hour during dusk until the throngs of pests had dissipated. This is an expensive but effective way to avoid mosquito bites. After 8 PM, mosquitoes are not as numerous as they are between 6:30 and 7 PM. Since handling live, sensitive fish is a priority, the use of mosquito repellents, however well stocked we were, was not ideal.

After acclimation and a quick shower, we were served dinner we had a chef onboard and were quite thankful about it. "Caboclas Delicias", said the plates. Caboclas are the people who live by the river in the Amazon, they are of mixed ancestry, usually Portuguese and native, and speak a Portuguese dialect. Rice, beans and catfish. Miguel knew us well - he had stocked his ice chest with 500 cans of beer, all of which was consumed by the end of the trip. Afraid of dehydration, I never had more than two a day. This would point to Fred Krauss as the culprit since he seemed to be the happiest guy on the trip.

We had luckily timed our trip a week or so after the full moon and as a result, we had clear and dark skies to observe the stars. Having originated from highly light-polluted areas of the United States, we were awestruck by the numbers of stars, their intensity and grandeur. We spotted orbiting satellites, shooting stars and a heart-shaped constellation that I dubbed Constellation Corazon.

The next morning, we anchored near the confluence of Uatuma and Jatapu. Rio Jatapu, which became the focus of our attention for the next week, is a black water river that originates in Northern Brazil and drains the forests. Rivers that drain the Andes are typically white water; rivers that drain ancient rocky highlands are usually clear water and those that empty forests are black water. After a breakfast of highly astringent Cashew juice and toast, we began exploring a riverside lake with a pH of 5.4 and 10uS conductivity. Here, I was able to observe numerous cichlids in their natural habitat, interacting with each other and feeding. This is why I was in the Amazon - to observe nature the way it was supposed to function. A few Acarichthys heckelli, Mesonauta festivum and some Biotodoma cupido shared a few square feet of shallow lakeside with clear, still water and lot of fallen tree logs. The water here was very warm, about 90°F in the shallows and 88°F in deeper areas.

We also collected the following:

Fluviphylax pygmaeus
Crenicichla lugubris
Laetacara curviceps
Cichla intermedia
Cichla temensis
Heros severus 
Hypselecara coryphaenoides
numerous Knifefishes
Hoplias malabaricus
Uaru amphiacanthoides
Crenicichla regani
Apistogramma agassizi
A . cf. regani
A. cf. meinkeni
A . cf. paucisquamis
Boulengerella maculata
Pinktail Chalceus
Geophagus cf. surinamensis
Satanoperca cf. jurupari
Satanoperca lilith
Satanoperca acuticeps
Acaronia nassa

Fluviphylax pygmaeus is a tiny livebearing fish that mimics surface air bubbles with its eyes. This place is obviously a paradise for cichlidophiles. I wish I could have stayed there for a year instead of a week.

The lake we fished in was fairly large and had a healthy population of Cichla species. These large cichlids are pursuit predators and often chase schools of Hatchet fishes to the surface and gulp a few. Being winged, Hatchet fishes all take to the air and hover a foot or so above the water for a couple of seconds while beating their pectoral fins rapidly. This unique escape mechanism is fascinating to watch and probably saves man of them from being devoured by the chasing Cichla. The gape and suck of a Cichla can be heard as a loud pop similar to the sound that Bass and Snook fisherman are familiar with.

Black water areas a remarkably devoid of minerals and this reduces the diversity and density of animal life compared to white water areas a little but the insects, particularly a species of wasp and bees were the first to find a new source of minerals - our sweat! At first when they began landing on me, I was quite nervous but they were not interested in stinging, just my salts. They were using me as a salt lick and would not take No for an answer. I complied and eventually began perversely enjoying my new friends. My new friends were in for a feast as the daytime temperatures were usually above 100°F with a humidity of about 85%, and we were all sweating profusely. It cooled down to a balmy 85°F at night. Fortunately, black waters areas a free of mosquitoes at night. We weren't that lucky after all, as there was a highly aggressive Night Wasp species that stung most of us at least once.

The crew had caught a few very large Uaru amphiacanthoides which were dead by the time we saw them. They were going to be our lunch. I had never eaten a South American cichlid before. I'd eaten Tilapia but that doesn't count. So, I watched the crew descale and fry a 12-inch Uaru! It was sad but we had to eat something. I must admit that it tasted very good with rice and beans.

The next day, we woke up early to go Cichla fishing. That morning was so peaceful and quiet that I wanted it to go on forever. On our way to a prime spot, we saw some Spider Monkeys in the trees again, my first. The technique for Cichla fishing was cast-far-and-reel-in. We caught a few this way but we also got a lot of Boulengerella species.

That afternoon, we went to another lake, Lago Leandro, a riverside lake with white sandy beaches. Perfect Surinamensoid habitat. I thought. I was right. That night, we caught two species of Surinamensoids, one was about 5 times as common as the other was. Of course, the rare one was the most brilliantly colored with a lot of red markings, even on juveniles. There were thousands of large bats all over this area and a very loud tree frog that we could hear a mile away. Jeff and I tracked down one of these and caught it to take pictures it was quite large, almost the size of a toad, with a lime green color. Sandy beaches are ideal spots for Stingrays, so we were very careful. Jeff saw a large Stingray.

The next day, I would learn something fascinating about cichlid ecology: during the heat of the midday, I took a nap while Jeff and the others were catching Taeniacara candidi. Wanting to collect it, I set out at about 4 PM to collect some along the lakeshore, but the fish fauna had changed like shift change at a factory. There were no Taeniacara candidi at all to be found anywhere near the shore, which was apparently their habitat during midday. Now, all we could catch were Laetacara curviceps , which were relatively scarce during midday. Where did the Taeniacara go at dusk? If they are not near the shore, where can they go to hide from large predatory catfish during the night? Where were the curviceps during the midday? I would like to have stayed there for a few more days to study this phenomena more thoroughly but we had to move on to other sites. The next day, we saw a dead young river dolphin floating on the river and two magnificent and rarely seen King Vultures waiting for us to leave before they came down to feed. The common Black Vultures were already there at the carcass but most vultures in the Amazon rely on the heavy beaks of King Vultures to help break through the skin or hide. These are large birds with a read and yellow head and large black and white wings that span more than 8 feet. It was truly impressive.

That day, we caught a few large Laetacara thayeri and a beautiful yellow tetra that reminded me of the African Congo Tetra. Unfortunately, the tetra was impossible to keep alive. That afternoon, some of the group, including all the women, went into the jungle, exploring. They made a hasty retreat after they ran into fresh Jaguar tracks it had just rained heavily an hour ago. We were almost 100 miles upriver now and were finally beginning to see the wildlife. Constantly raucous parrots and Macaws were everywhere.

A dwarf pike cichlid ( Crenicichla sp.) that I caught and thought was C. regani, the commonly caught species, turned out to be C. notophthalmus ! C. notophthalmus was believed to be a Rio Negro endemic. What was it doing over 200 miles from its supposed habitat? I knew they were C. notophthalmus after 6 months when the males developed long freestanding dorsal fin spines (only the first few spines.) We also found many other fish that we thought were Rio Negro endemics there must be a rainy season connection between the two rivers in its upper courses.

So, we came to the end of out collecting trip. We bagged our fish, put them in our coolers and headed out to Manaus. We spent a day touring Prestige, a tropical fish exporter. That was as much fun as collecting. We gathered a lot of fishes that we could not have collected. Discus and Angels were hard to find. So were Oscars. The adult Angels were $0.50 each and the Discus were $5 for any size or color. Healthy Cardinal Tetras could be had by the thousands for mere pennies each. We rebagged our fish with oxygen and got our export permits and were on our way to explore Manaus. Miguel was kind to invite us to his house and use his pool to cool off. We ate dinner at a place where everything was skewered and grilled - it is all-you-can-eat and the servers shave off little pieces of everything onto your plate.

Having spent the last week on a boat, our equilibrium was off kilter. We all felt that the restaurant and the airport were wobbly. The wobbliness stayed with me for more than a week after returning home. It was sad to return home after such a wonderful trip but all good things come to an end. We went down there as strangers but came back best of friends. Most of our fish made it back alive and their progeny is being spread around the country.

It is just a matter of time before we all get together and do it again.


First published in the newsletter of The Vancouver Aquatic Hobbyist Club