The arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche are any large species of bonytongue in the genus Arapaima native to the Amazon and Essequibo basins of South America. Arapaima can reach lengths of more than 2 m (6 ft 7 in), in some exceptional cases even more than 2.5 m (8 ft 2 in) and over 100 kg (220 lb). The maximum recorded weight for the species is 200 kg (440 lb), while the longest recorded length was 4.52 m (15 ft).
Arapaima are the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 9 feet long and weighting up to 440 pounds. They are an air-breathing fish, resembling tarpon in both size and shape, though with more coloration and distinctly prehistoric fins. They have a wide, scaly, gray-hued body and a tapered head, often with deep red coloration along their fins. Arapaima can stay underwater for long periods of time (up to 20 minutes), but they tend to hold closer to the water's surface where they can hunt smaller fish. When hooked, they are acrobatic fighters, leaping repeatedly out of the water and making long, reel-busting runs well into the backing.
The arapaima is torpedo-shaped with large blackish-green scales and red markings. It is streamlined and sleek, with its dorsal and anal fin set near its tail.
Arapaima scales have a mineralised, hard, outer layer with a corrugated surface under which lie several layers of collagen fibres. In a structure similar to plywood, the fibres in each successive layer are oriented at right angles to those in the previous layer, increasing toughness. The hard, corrugated surface of the outer layer, the soft but tough internal orthogonal collagen layers and the
hydration of the scales all contribute to their ability to flex and deform while providing strength—a solution that allows the fish to remain mobile while heavily armored.
The arapaima has a fundamental dependence on surface air to breathe. In addition to gills, it has a modified and enlarged swim bladder, composed of lung-like tissue, which enables it to extract oxygen from the air.
Top on the list of new fly fishing experiences may be fishing for Arapaima, the largest scaled freshwater fish on Earth. And there's no better place in the tropics to try your hand at landing these monsters than the inland lakes of Pirarucu.
While fishing for a true river monster is appealing for a lot of adventure anglers, Pirarucú has much more to offer than just big fish. In our 2015 exploratory season we did land giant arapaima of up to 150 kilos (330 pounds!), we also discovered several other remarkable, unique, and exhilarating fisheries here in the Mamirauá Reserve. In addition to the large fish, we found vibrant populations of "juvenile" arapaima from 20-60 pounds, which readily take large streamers on floating fly lines in the shallow lagoons of the reserve.
Big Arapaima: Arapaima are the largest scaled freshwater fish on earth, and the current world record on the fly is 440 pounds. You will see fish in the 100, 200, 300, even 400 pound range on a daily basis at Pirarucú, as they roll and splash on the surface. We find these bigger fish in the lagoons at times, while they are more concentrated in the deeper channels and near the lagoon mouths. A 12 weight rod is the best tool for these river monsters, with a heavy-sinking (450-500 grain) line.
"Small" Arapaima: These fish range from 20-100 pounds and are found in good numbers in the shallow lagoons, inland lakes, and along the edges of the lake and channels. These fish hit a fly incredibly hard and, once hooked, they pull extremely hard and frequently explode in acrobatic aerial displays. Floating or Intermediate lines are best, on either a 10 or 12 weight rod. When these "small" arapaima are actively feeding in shallow water, they offer consistent action with multiple hookups.
Since there are as many varieties of fish found in the Amazon as have been identified in the entire Atlantic Ocean, it is hardly any wonder that exciting new fly fishing targets are being recognized every year.
Pirarucú is situated in the heart of the largest Arapaima and wildlife refuge in the world and surrounded by an astounding 2.6 acres. The remote location can be reached only via a 1.5 hour motor launch ride from the city of Tefe. The Pirarucú lodge was built of stunning hardwoods. Each of the four duplex cabins have en suite baths and are connected on the water to a larger dining room, kitchen, living area, and bar.
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