Simms Pro Team Member, Rooster Leavens Explores the World’s Most Notorious Jungle.
With an appetite to “fish where there ain’t nobody”, owner of the Stonefly Inn & Outfitters, SImms Pro, Dan “Rooster” Leavens has never been one to pass up an opportunity to explore a new fishery. Because of his willingness to say yes, Rooster has fished some truly wild and remote places but according to him, none hold a candle to what he recently experienced on the Amazon’s Iriri River.
Simms: Tell us about your exploratory fishing experience?
Leavens: I’ve been pretty fortunate. I’d say that I’ve done a fair bit of exploratory fishing in Southeast Alaska, parts of Mexico and along the Colombian/Panamanian border, but nothing like Brazil. Compared to all the remote places I’ve been and fished, where we were in Brazil makes all the others look like child’s play.
Simms: Would you say that most fly anglers have at least a small itch to explore?
Leavens: Absolutely. Fishing the same water day after day is certainly the easy route but I think in general, fly fishermen are always searching for something new. On one hand, you could say there aren’t any secret spots anymore, but you know what, that’s not exactly the case, that is if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to find them.
Simms: So you flew from Miami to Manaus. From there you guys jumped on a small plane and landed in the Amazon, right? Tell us a little more about the specific area you guys fished.
Leavens: That’s right. Specifically, we fished the Iriri River. I didn’t actually have a GPS but I’d say in total, we fished roughly 25 miles of the river. The Iriri (at least when we were there) was gin-clear, surprisingly chilly in the morning and absolutely full of life, especially during the low light hours. It has a series of natural rock dams and pools followed by class 3 rapids. I’d say the majority of the best fishing we found was in the water following those rapids.
Simms: Talk a little bit about the terrain, climate and overall environment.
Leavens: Other than where we camped each night, flat surfaces were nowhere to be found. There were lots of sharp rock edges, boulder after boulder after boulder and so on. We hiked and waded which meant we were constantly climbing up banks, to get out of the water and sliding down banks to get back in. In the jungle, you’re constantly wet, dry, wet, dry and let me tell you — it was hot, blisteringly hot.
Simms: In that kind of environment, especially being that remote, how important is your gear?
Leavens: It’s everything. Seriously, in an environment like that, your clothing, boots and packs are vital. Any kind of gear failure could completely ruin your trip in more ways than one. The Dry Creek® Sling and Dry Creek® Backpack were awesome because like I said, you’re constantly in and out of the water. As far as sun protection goes, I’m pretty sure we wore just about every piece of sun protective gear Simms makes. SolarFlex™ Shirts, GT Tricomp Shirts, SunGaiters™, SunGloves™ and Arapaima Pants were life savers. As far footwear goes, I’ll just say the Amazon Rainforest is one of the last places on earth you want to have a boot blow out. We were literally on our feet all day and the combination of hiking and wading made the Intruder® Boot the perfect choice.
Simms: What is it like to fish a jungle river that nobody has every really explored?
Leavens: It’s one of the most exhilarating things ever. To rig up a 9-weight with a popper and literally have no idea what might eat is a pretty awesome feeling. That notion is really what kept me going. Like I say, the environment was extremely demanding and I can honestly say, I’ve never fished that hard. No matter how tired I was at the end of each day, I wanted to keep fishing, I just couldn’t get enough casts in. In water like that, your efforts pay off but it can also be disappointing in some cases.
Simms: Disappointing in what way?
Leavens: Well, take payara for example. We knew they were there, we saw them — in fact, I caught a small one on the first day on one of my first casts. After that, I thought I was going to be the best payara fisherman that ever walked the earth. Finally, after 10 days of trying to catch a bigger one, I hooked one — but, it chewed through 30 pound wire and I lost it. As much as I wanted to get my hands on a big payara, I didn’t, but on the other hand, I sure caught some great fish in the process of trying.
Simms: What were some of the other species you and the crew found?
Leavens: I should start by saying other than the peacock bass, if it wasn’t for our guide, Ramiro Badessich, I wouldn’t have known what any of the fish we caught were. Peacocks were readily available and we caught those up to I’d say around 15 pounds, but we got into all kinds of other species as well. There was a fish call a matrinxsa that was pretty cool. They kind of suspended in the current and we found the best way to catch them was to drift grasshopper or cicada patterns to them. There was another fish called a bicuda that was kind of like a cross between a pike and a barracuda. These guys were about three feet long and were super aggressive and acrobatic. Probably my favorite of all the fish we caught was the wolf fish. It looked a lot like a lingcod. We probably caught 15 or 20 of these and very rarely did you catch one that you didn’t see, stalk and hunt. They kind of hung around the side channels in the hottest parts of the river. The best way to find them was to climb up high on a bank, a rock or a tree and spot them. They really didn’t move much until they saw the popper.
Simms: What would you say is the most redeeming quality of fishing to the limit like you did on the Iriri?
Leavens: I’d say it’s the feeling of satisfaction that when you put all your tackle away, most of it is broken. I brought 11 fly rods with me and by the end of the trip, only two were in tact. As far as flies go, well, I clearly didn’t bring enough, virtually every one I did bring was chewed up and destroyed.
Simms: Talk to us a little bit about what it was like sleeping in the jungle each night?
Leavens: Like I said before, every day, we fished as hard as we possibly could but man, when the sun went down, the canopy just came alive. Between all the insects and monkeys, there was almost too much noise to sleep even with how tired we were. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many crazy spiders and snakes (including a few anacondas) we saw each day so obviously, that kept you on edge laying in your hammock each night. When we arrived, their was a big jaguar that was consistently being spotted by the Kayapo indian village so obviously, that was a concern at night as well. All I can say, you had to sleep fast.
Simms: What is it that makes fly fishermen completely willing to fish this hard in such a harsh environment and sleep in the middle of a jungle full of jaguars, snakes, bugs etc, etc?
Leavens: It’s like these guys that climb mountains. There really isn’t a limit. To cast a fly in new water is not something that comes easy anymore. It’s kind of like the cowboys use to say, to ride a horse in a new country. I think it’s that as our world shrinks due to the internet and social media, there’s really not a lot of mysteries anymore. I could go and google tiger fishing in the Zambizi and in no time, I could tell you most of everything you’d need to go and do it. But that’s the difference, to be the guy who actually goes and does it is what makes it all worth while.