Tsimane Heli Fishing, Bolivia
Brian Gies November 18, 2022
Tsimane, Pluma Lodge New Heli-Program
I remember the day I met Marcel Perez, co-founder of Untamed Angling. I was in Terre del Fuego checking out a new sea trout destination, Far End Rivers (now Worlds End Lodge). It was at dinner the first night and I was extremely excited about where I was. The river was spectacular, and the new little lodge was spot-on. When Marcelo arrived, I expected him to talk me up about the new lodge but after just a few minutes he opened his computer and started showing me incredible photos of what became Tsimane. I said right then I wanted to see the destination as soon as possible and in 2009 I hosted the third group into Tsimane. For me, the trip was truly transformative. I came home feeling their program in Bolivia was the best adventure-travel, fly fishing program I had ever seen. It had it all. Pristine jungle wilderness, native culture, and gorgeous rivers filled with fierce, hard-fighting golden dorado. The program was a sensation and a success, and through its evolution, I still consider it among the top freshwater fishing experiences in the world today. So why mess with a good thing? As good as Tsimane is, Marcel could not help but notice how much water was far out of reach of the current modes of river transportation (dugout boats and hiking). The clear headwaters beckoned. So last summer he took the plunge and hired an army helicopter to start exploring the waters that lay beyond what any angler had seen. What he found was amazing and led him to initiate the process of the first season of the Heli-Program. This time I brought the second-ever group in, and once again my mind was blown by the rivers and the fishing we experienced.
Where did you go and how did you get there?
The Heli-Program is based out of Tsimane's Pluma lodge. To get there all guests need to get to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. This season there were two ways to get there. You could fly to Maimi on the airline of your choice and then tat the Boliviana - BAO flight from Miami to Santa Cruz. Or you can use United and Copa connecting to Santa Cruz through Panama. I chose the United / Copa option. To be frank, it is not the best itinerary, but the price was reasonable, and given the state of international flights these days you need to take what you can get. Once you are in Santa Cruz the Tsimane crew takes care of you. They meet you at the airport and transfer you to the Los Tajibos Hotel (Heli guests get single rooms). The next morning, they pick you up and take you to the charter terminal for your approximately 1.5-hour flight to the grass airstrip at the Oromomo Indian Community. From there it is just about a one-hour boat ride in the dugout canoes upstream to the lodge.
How was the fishing?
In a word, spectacular. People might throw rocks at me for saying this, but for me, it was almost too good. This takes some explaining. Early on in my fishing carrier, I realized my passion was in the hunting and visual aspect of the sport. I also thoroughly enjoy walking long distances and climbing around on rocks and I find the allure of what's behind the next bend completely irresistible. In addition, my favorite days often include just a few memorable fish. Like everyone I hope to land those memorable fish but the experience of trying to get them is what I am really after. This said I had an ample number of memorable opportunities each day. Some days the number was closer to a dozen and others it went beyond several dozen. We caught good numbers of dorado ranging from 5 to 25-pounds and more impressively the group landed multiple pacu each day, with quite a few of them on dries! I have given a fair bit of thought to trying to set realistic expectations for the average day. In the end, I think this is a place that will have quite significant swings based on the anglers' physical and fishing ability as well as fishing conditions. The simple fact will be the more water you can cover the more opportunities you will have.
How did you fish?
100% of the fishing was walk and wade, and it was all accessed by a Robinson R44 helicopter. As of right now, the program has about 50 different beats on four major river systems and a few smaller tributaries. Flight times varied from 10 to 30 minutes. Each day the helicopter would fire up at about 8:30 AM to take the first two anglers and their guide to their beat, immediately returning to pick up the second group. At the end of the day (approx. 4:30-5:00 PM) reverse commute would happen. The goal was to have everyone back at the lodge by about 5:30 or just about an hour before dark. Once the helicopter dropped us off, the guide and two clients were on their own for the day. We would fish upstream to the next designated pick-up spot. As the program is still new, they are still trying to figure out just how long each beat needs to be. This will always be a moving target because some days you may be able to spend hours in one pool and every pocket will hold a fish. On other days when fishing is slower, you will need to cover more ground to find them. For this reason, I think it will be really important to travel with a fishing partner with similar physical abilities.
Although the rivers in the entire region are similar, each beat had different characteristics. Some had more gravel bars, sand banks, and big pools making for relatively easy going and others were full of large boulders and required swimming the river on one or more occasions to continue moving upstream. A good percentage of our fishing was sight fishing with floating lines and large streamers or skaters but would also spend time blind fishing likely spots and well as rugged pocket water.
Where did you stay?
We stayed at Pluma Lodge. To accommodate the four extra guests on the trip they have added an extra dining room and single cabins just for the helicopter guests. Each cabin has its own bathroom and shower, and they have good space for gear storage. Like all the Taimane destinations the accommodations are quite nice, especially considering where you are. One thing to note is there is no AC. They do have ceiling fans and most nights cool off to make it comfortable but there will be nights that stay quite warm.
What equipment did you use?
For this trip, I took two new Sage R8 Cores, an 8-weight, and a 9-weight. I loaded both with RIO Jungle lines in floating and floating with a clear intermediate tip. This was my first experience with the new R8s. I had planned to go back and forth from 8 to 9, but after spending a bit of time with each the 8-weight loaded with the clear intermediate head was the ticket for me. Before the trip, several people I really respect told me they really liked this new rod, but I was a total fan of the X and didn't really think I would be able to tell the difference. Much to my surprise, I could absolutely tell a difference. I am not the best at describing rod actions, but my feeling is that the R8 is a bit slower but even more powerful than the X. When I took my time and got it loaded right it was totally effortless. To me, it was the closest thing to the feeling when you get a Spey cast just right (only much easier). I used the Sage Spectrum Max reel on both rods. One thing I like about it is that it is light. This is not a place that requires a big beefy reel, and you are casting a lot so having a light set up just makes the day more pleasurable. My business partner Ken Morrish also hooked me up with some prototypes of his soon-to-be-released RIO Morrish Skate Rats. They are really large, they cast easily, and I am happy to report the dorado loved them!
Tsimane Heli Fishing, Bolivia
Explore magical and untouched places where few humans have set foot.