Fishing: All that glistens

By Geoff Thomas

Geoff's first golden dorado in hand. Photo / Geoff Thomas
Geoff's first golden dorado in hand. Photo / Geoff Thomas

Hunting for gold in Argentina's labrythine Parana River.

Long cast! Fish there!" said Omar. It was a long cast; the live bait, short trace and lead weight flying in a long arc to splash into the river 70m downstream. The rod bowed and the fish jumped - a flash of gleaming gold against the silver water.

Omar was our guide, an expert on finding fish among the labyrinth of channels and banks of thick weed and islands that make up the Parana River in Corrientes, Argentina.

He was all smiles as the fish used the strong current and its powerful wedge-shaped tail to battle against the rod. But that is not unusual, because like all the people we encountered here, a smile comes easily.

The fish was soon at the net. And what a fish. Similar to a trout or salmon, the golden dorado has the wide head and eyes of a predator. It has the same fins, even down to the nub of an adipose fin ahead of the tail. But there all similarity ended, for this was a supremely handsome fish with rows of black spots lining its golden flanks, tapering down to a red tail.

Spanish for gold, the name dorado is also given to the Atlantic dolphinfish, a tribute to its sparkling green and gold colouring, and which is known in the Pacific by the Polynesian term mahi-mahi.

The dorado of the Parana River have to share their waters with a multitude of other species, including the deadly piranha which have a tendency to chew their tails ragged. Not to mention about a 100 different types of catfish, and another 100 or so species of other strange fish. It is a very rich environment.

But the dorado of Argentina is a fish with an international reputation. The nearby town of La Paz greets visitors with a giant monument of a dorado, a bit like the sculpted rainbow trout at Turangi or the brown trout at Gore.

It draws fishing aficionados from around the world, for it is found only in these river systems which are born in the high country of Bolivia and flow through Argentina to meet the Atlantic Ocean at the Mar del Plata.

Braided rivers like the Parana spread their rich waters across hundreds of kilometres of plains and come together to create the River Plate. There is a historical New Zealand connection with the Battle of the River Plate, the first major naval battle of World War II where HMS Achilles joined the British warships HMS Exeter and HMS Ajax to hunt for the German pocket battleship Graf Spee in December, 1939. The engagement was a victory for the smaller British ships, sinking the Graf Spee, and today the Uruguayan Government is reported to be planning on raising the Graf Spee.

Our trip to this part of the world was in the week prior to Anzac Day, and the only shooting involved now is wing-shooting. Sportsmen come here in large numbers to hunt the birds which are as prolific as the fish.

Our dorado was the first we had encountered, and as Omar explained, it is all about the water temperature. Just like fishing everywhere.

"Sometimes they will bite. Sometimes they won't," he added.

Just like fishing everywhere.

These magnificent predatory fish will take lures like a metal spinner, and they are highly regarded by fly fishermen.

But the most effective way to hook a dorado is to present it with a live bait.

The day before our river expedition Omar had purchased a plastic container of 40 small brown fish, wriggly slimy little things about 15cm long, and while we were shooting doves he just put the fish in the shade of a tree.

"Won't they die without fresh water pumped in?" we asked.

"No, they will be okay. We just take the lid off so the wind can get in."

That is all the oxygen they need. A 10-litre container of live baits wouldn't last 30 minutes in our waters without a pump circulating seawater continuously. But like everything in this country, they have to be tough to survive. Our eel-like livies would probably be quite happy overnight in a wet cloth. On a previous trip Omar had picked up a strange-looking fish floating on the surface, a victim of cool temperatures, and just left it on the bottom of the boat.

"It is for my daughter's fish bowl," he explained.

But the fish were biting on this morning and a dozen dorado between 1kg and 4kg came to the net. Although Omar said they were popular table fish our catch went back into the river. They can grow to 15kg, but if these babies are any indication of how they perform when hooked we will have to take some serious tackle next time.

Our mate Omar is also an expert on finding the doves which fly in their millions, and the wild pigeons and Spanish partridge or perdiz, and the many different species of ducks that lure shooters to this land of warm people, vast distances, meat-lovers' barbecues and lovely wines. But that is another story.

- Herald on Sunday

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