Tsimane Heli Fishing, Bolivia
Ken Morrish February 07, 2024
Tsimane Heli Program / Bolivia
This past October I was lucky enough to host a group of great guests to Tsimane’s new Heli Program. It was my third trip to Bolivia, and it was not only my very favorite trip to Tsimane, it was also one of the five best trips in my nearly 25 years since starting Fly Water Travel with Brian Gies in 1999. For me, it checked all the boxes. The experience was remote, wild, and scenic. It was hiking and walking intensive, there was lots of sight fishing and limited blind casting, the fish were big and strong and required thoughtful presentation, and at day’s end you returned to nice single accommodations, an open bar, and great meals. What is not to love!
Where did you go and how did you get there?
We flew Copa Airlines through Panama City to Santa Cruz Bolivia where we enjoyed an included overnight at a nice hotel called Tajibos. The next morning, we waited out a few rain squalls at the local airport and then boarded a nice Swiss built Pilatus aircraft and few 45 minutes to a remote dirt airstrip in the village of Oromomo. There were hoped into large, motorized dugouts and boated upstream 45 minutes to Pluma Lodge.
Where did you fish?
We fished the remote headwaters of our home drainage, the Pluma River, and it largest tributary the Itrizama River. We also flew up to 30 minutes to several more distant drainages. All of the systems we fished offered multiple beats. Some of the systems have remote lower reaches where the terrain is low gradient, and the walking and wading is easy. Lots of the beats are steeper gradient, rocky and rugged, and for those that want to really challenge themselves, there are some super-steep beats with really big rocks and lots of crossings. Generally speaking, the further up the systems the beats are, the more challenging the terrain becomes. All said, the Heli Program has more than 50 beats to choose from ensuring lots of well-rested water and lots of options in terms of the amount of energy needed to navigate the beats. All of the terrain is low elevation where the steep foothills of the Andes near the flat plains of the southern Amazon.
How was fishing?
By my standards it was fabulous, but by the lodge’s standards, I think they felt it was a good week and slightly better than average. This was due in large part to very low water conditions and an unprecedented heat wave. The lodge manager Chucky, who has spent the last 12 seasons there said it was the hottest weather he had ever seen, and there were times when that made the fish less active than usual. With that said, we had lots of sight fishing opportunities each day, lots of eats, and on most days, good numbers of landed fish. There were some days with lots of landed fish, and other days with fewer dorado landed but some big ones in the 20-pound class. We also caught pacu up to nearly 20 pounds, the largest yatorana I have ever seen, and tangled with some giant catfish (maturo). I hooked multiple catfish during our week, the smallest of which was about 60 pounds and the largest of which was over 100 pounds. I landed none of them, so I will be heading back to settle that score. I was really fired up by this trip and wanted to stay on for another week. The buzz from this trip lasted months and I already have a group set up for 2025. I can’t wait to return!
How did you fish?
The Heli Program is based off two anglers and a guide getting dropped at the bottom of a beat each morning, and then walk and wade sight fishing their way upstream all day to a pickup point. There are small pools and pockets that you will blind fish, but generally speaking this is high level sight fishing and the guides, who are typically from Argentina, are excellent spotters. Because of the low water conditions we approached most of our target from below and cast upstream to sighted fish and likely lies. For us it was important maintain control of the running line when shooting line and to strip aggressively the moment the fly touched down. Done properly, this would illicit violent strikes and high-speed follows from amazing fish. Sometimes several big dorado would be chasing the fly at the same time. We primarily fished with large 3/0 streamers and 40-pound wire leaders but we also caught some great dorado on big skating rats/mice.
Where did you stay?
We stayed at Pluma lodge overlooking the Pluma River. Heli guests all get single accommodations with attached bathrooms and we dined together in a lovely main lodge made from local hardwood that was milled on site. We had our own bar, great meals, and great service.
What equipment did you use and how did it perform?
I brought down two matching 9-foot eight-weight Sage R8’s. They were perfect, as they not only excel in mid to long-range situations, but they also perform really well when sneaking up on fish and making short precise casts. Our primary dorado rods were rigged with clear intermediate-tipped Predator lines and we also carried a rod rigged with a straight floating Predator line that we used when fishing dry flies for pacu and mice for dorado.
Tsimane Heli Fishing
Access remote jungle headwater systems where few anglers, let alone native people, have ever set foot