Fishing in the Pantanal – Best places, baits, methods and seasons

The Pantanal is an excellent destination for those who like travelling and fishing. In the Pantanal region, there are several rivers and around 300 species of fish.

When it comes to fish, what is striking about the Pantanal is not the variety but the quantity.

Although there are currently around 300 described species in the region – a modest number compared to the 1,800 in the Amazon – there are fish in their thousands.

The explanation for this abundance is simple.

Fishing in the Matogrossense Pantanal
Fishing in the Matogrossense Pantanal

During the rainy season, between November and March, a large area of the Pantanal is under water.

The bays, however, remain shallow, which means there is an intense incidence of light, making the environment favourable for the growth of plants, microalgae and macrophytes, the basis of the food chain for small invertebrates and fish, which find plenty of food in the Pantanal waters.

Partially isolated from the big rivers, the bays are an excellent nursery for small fish, which are safe from predators.

Fishing in the Pantanal, including sport fishing, is showing signs of being seriously jeopardised by over-exploitation.

There is speculation that the current model may not be sustainable, as it concentrates on around twenty species.

The size of the goldfish, for example, is decreasing, as is their quantity. Surveillance of fishing boats, meanwhile, has become stricter.

It’s worth remembering that the waters of the Pantanal are also home to caimans, capybaras, giant otters, among other animals, as well as aquatic birds, which makes the region especially rich and interesting.

Hence the necessary and obligatory preservation of the environment and the maintenance of the respective habitats of all species.

Pescaria no Pantanal

FISHING IN THE PANTANAL

1. BEST FISHING DESTINATIONS

1.1. MATO GROSSO

Cáceres and Porto Jofre. Rivers: Cuiabá, das Mortes, Liberdade, Paraguai, Piquiri and São Lourenço.

1.2. MATO GROSSO DO SUL

Aquidauana, Corumbá and Porto Murtinho. Rivers: Paraguay, Miranda and Aquidauana.

2. FISHING MODALITIES IN THE PANTANAL

2.1. FISHING AND RELEASE

This method doesn’t just consist of returning the fish to the water.

Concern for the animal’s survival must take into account care in handling and the use of appropriate equipment, such as barbless hooks, so as not to harm it.

2.2. GROUND FISHING

The angler chooses the most interesting spots and throws the baits there, either natural or artificial (in this case, they must be moved in the water to give the impression that they are alive).

2.3. CORRICO FISHING

The boat in which the angler finds himself remains at low speed. Short, strong rods are used for this type of fishing.

2.4. BARRANCO FISHING

The most popular type of fishing worldwide, it uses simple bamboo rods, carbon rods or even the traditional handline.

The favourite places for fans to build their ranches or set up camp are on the banks of rivers, lakes or reservoirs.

Bank fishing is perhaps the most affected by the effects of human activity, which result in water pollution and deforestation.

With the removal of riparian forest, for example, fish suffer from a lack of shade and fruit, which make up part of the diet of species such as pacu.

2.5. MOSCAGE FISHING

One of the oldest forms of fishing, fly fishing owes its name to the bait used, since it imitates insects, the natural food of some fish.

Nowadays there are some lures that also look like frogs and even those that simulate small fish.

2.6. ROUTE FISHING

The boat drifts down the river with the current, while the bait crawls along the bottom. Silence and little movement in the boat are basic rules for successful fishing.

3. MOST APPROPRIATE TIMES FOR FISHING

Between the beginning of November and the end of February, the so-called piracema period – when the fish go up to the headwaters of the rivers to breed – fishing is prohibited in the Pantanal.

At this time, the most that is allowed is fishing from the banks with a single rod, without a reel.

When a river is very full, it’s more difficult to catch fish because they spread out.

However, the rains give rise to lagoons and corixos, which concentrate a large number of species and so, between March and May, with many areas still flooded, pacus, for example, usually stay near trees whose fruit falls into the water, feeding on tucuns, jenipapos, wild figs, quinces and others; it doesn’t take much effort to catch them in such spots.

When the rains stop, the fish that were close to the banks return to the riverbed.

From August to October  the most recommended fishing is for pintado and other leather fish – the name refers to the smooth skin that covers their bodies – such as jaú and barbado, which are concentrated due to the low water levels.

In June and July, the arrival of cold fronts can hinder fishing.

In any of these periods, however, tourists should look for a good pirangueiro – a local fishing guide who knows the best places to fish – who can be hired directly from most hotels.

3.1. FISHING FESTIVALS

There are two traditional fishing events in the Pantanal:

  • International Fishing Festival (FIP)
  • Pantanal International Fishing Festival

The first has been held since 1979 in Cáceres, Mato Grosso, during the month of September. It is the largest freshwater competition in the country.

In 2005, the 26th edition took place, with eight days of festivities and shows that move the whole city.

Although less representative, the second event, held annually in Corumbá, Mato Grosso do Sul, in October, attracts many tourists to the region.

The 22nd edition took place in 2005, with 167 teams taking part.

At the same time as publicising the region, the festivals often have harmful consequences for the Pantanal.

The large number of tourists often leads to a lack of respect for nature and the encouragement of sexual exploitation, including of children.

Some of the so-called hotel boats, which host travellers during the fishing season, have unfortunately become a vector for the local prostitution industry, a fact that constitutes a regrettable reality.

4. FISHING LICENCES

Both commercial and sport fishing are regulated.

To fish from a boat or from a ravine, the interested party must apply for a licence from the State Department of the Environment (Sema) or from Ibama, whose licence is valid throughout the country.

Once licensed by Ibama, the user can fish in any region of the country without having to pay for a state licence.

The exception is the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the local government requires a licence issued by the Department of the Environment.

In the other states, state regulations must be respected when they are more restrictive than federal regulations.

Currently, the transport of fish in Mato Grosso is limited to 10 kilos of fish plus one specimen.

In Mato Grosso do Sul, each fisherman can take one leather fish, one scaled fish and five piranhas.

Some equipment, such as spinners, tarrafas, nets, slingshots and harpoons are prohibited, as are the modalities ligeirinho (with garatéia, a device with three hooks on the same line) and joão-bobo (also called bóia or cavalinho, it consists of fishing in which you follow the movement of gallons or cans, which act as buoys, tied to lines with hooks attached to the ends).

On certain rivers, such as the Taquari, Coxim, Piquiri and Jauru, only sport fishing is allowed, using the catch-and-release system.

There are no guarantees, however, that this model is less predatory than the others, which is why anglers are advised not to hold the fish by the gills, to gently return it to the water, and to avoid hitting the bottom of the boat, among other precautions.

In any form of fishing, fish smaller than the size established for the catch must be returned to the river immediately.

There are species, however – such as piranha, botoado and catfish – that are not subject to any restrictions.

Pantanal Sport Fishing
Pantanal Sport Fishing
Among those with a stipulated minimum size for fishing are the following:
  • Fish                   cm
  • Barbado          60
  • Dourado          65
  • Pacupeva        20
  • Bicuda              40
  • Jaú                      90
  • Piavuçu            35
  • Cachara            80
  • Jurupensém   35
  • Pintado             85
  • Caranha           40
  • Jurupoca         40
  • Piraputanga   30
  • Curimbatá       30
  • Pacu                   45
  • Ximburé            25

Fishing boats are only authorised to sail from six in the morning until six in the evening.

General, legal and regulatory rules can be found on the Sema MT and Sema MS websites.

5. EQUIPMENT REQUIRED FOR FISHING

5.1. Thickness of fishing line

The size and species of the fish you want to catch is what determines the selection of rods, lures, lines and hooks.

Lines, apart from their thickness, which is directly proportional to their strength, can be of two basic types: monofilament and multifilament.

The former are characterised by greater elasticity and less resistance, at a lower cost.

The latter, on the other hand, have high resistance, greater ease in undoing “hair” (knots), low elasticity and, therefore, a more efficient hooking.

5.2. baits

Live bait is still widely used by fishermen who frequent the Pantanal, but the use of artificial bait has been increasingly encouraged, as it avoids potential imbalances in the environment.

Artificial lures work very well for catching dorado, but the same can’t be said for pintados, cacharas and jaús.

To catch piraputangas, you should use fruit and green corn.

Pacu prefer wild fruits – jenipapo, for example.

It can also be used as bait.

Other important pieces of equipment are a hook (it should be used with a sinker because fish with strong or serrated teeth tend to cut the line), a reel, a passageway, a samburá, an ocean reel, hooks or snaps, ties, jaws, a knife, a penknife, a torch, pliers, sinkers and a float (the latter for surface fish such as piraputanga).

5.3. CLOTHING

Fishermen should always wear a long-sleeved shirt to protect themselves from the sun and insects. Water-repellent fabrics make wet clothes feel unpleasant on the body. A waistcoat is

useful for storing equipment. Equally indispensable are a raincoat, a cap or hat – the carandá, a common palm tree in the Pantanal, provides good ventilation, polarised glasses, high boots and gloves. A life jacket is compulsory. Always take warm clothes – when the 30-plus degree sun starts to dip, you’ll need them.

5.4. SPECIAL CARE

On the banks of rivers, be careful not to get bitten by snakes.

The jararaca snake – called boca-de-sapo in the Pantanal, for example – is quite common in the region.

When entering the water to fish, you need to be very careful of piranhas, known for their razor-sharp teeth, as well as catfish and stingrays, which can cause very painful wounds.

On the Paraguay River, which is very wide, when the winds are strong, the waves can reach over 1 metre and easily capsize small boats.

Avoid using them, especially in June and July, when large boats are more advisable.

You should carefully check the safety of the boat you will be on while fishing and find out about the weather conditions.

A first aid kit containing antiallergic, anti-inflammatory and painkillers, bought under medical supervision, is essential in some emergencies.

Another essential item is sunscreen with at least factor 30. In the Pantanal, the sun is so strong that it penetrates through your clothes.

This means that you only need to drink plenty of water to withstand the heat and avoid health problems.

See the following publications on the Pantanal of Mato Grosso:

  1. Watching Mammals and Reptiles in the Pantanal
  2. Fishing in the Pantanal – Best places, baits, methods and seasons
  3. Most common fish species in the Pantanal
  4. Bird watching in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  5. Most common bird species in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  6. Flora of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  7. Fauna of the Pantanal of Mato Grosso
  8. Mato Grosso Pantanal – Geography, Climate, Soil and Rivers
  9. History of the Mato Grosso Pantanal – Discovery and Economic Development
  10. Southern Pantanal Region
  11. North Pantanal Region
  12. Why go to the Pantanal in Mato Grosso?

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