Kayak Fishing the Amazon River
Bending Branches’ ProStaffer Jason Schall and his wife, Jennifer, kayak fish together regularly. In the fall of 2022 they took a dream fishing trip together to the Amazon River in Colombia, South America.
Jennifer with her first red piranha—one of the fish they had really hoped to catch on their Amazon trip
They experienced the trip of a lifetime—successfully fishing many of the unique species native to that region while immersed in a completely new, and sometimes hostile, environment.
Here’s our interview with Jason and Jennifer:
Branches: When did you first start thinking of an Amazon kayak fishing trip?
JASON & JENNIFER: It’s been a dream fishing trip for me (Jason) for as long as I can remember. Jennifer and I met when we were 12 years old. I was born and raised on a brackish river and have fished and paddled since I was a little kid. I think I got my first canoe when I was about eight.
I don’t remember where I first saw it—National Geographic or something—some of the fish species that can only be found in the Amazon. They’re pretty intriguing, maybe because they’re scary-looking and so unique! It was something I’ve always dreamed of.
We follow different pages and groups that do trips, and have shown the types of fish they catch. So we’ve been talking about it for a while.
In terms of planning and logistics, it’s pretty difficult. You can’t just follow signs to the local boat ramp and go fishing.
Prepared for anything!
Towards the end of last year, a friend of ours said he was friends with somebody who knew somebody who was from Colombia. That man had been fishing in the Amazon and was going to start organizing small fishing trips there. Would we be interested?
It was the first time a door of opportunity was open with someone we knew who could put us in touch with the people we needed to be in touch with. So we started talking seriously about it last year.
We found a trip that worked with our schedule and everything fell into place. We decided to go ahead and do it.
We love to take unique trips every year. We’ve traveled to other countries and all over the US with our kayaks, and have adventured out in different places. But this was by far the most remote and intricate trip we’ve ever done. There wasn’t a lot of information and not many people have done it. It was exciting and a little scary at the same time!
Branches: What were your highlights of your trip?
JASON & JENNIFER: We love chasing after unique species, and it’s gotten really difficult to find new ones around where we live. We’ve caught over 750 unique species so far.
So, obviously, we were looking at some of the more iconic species we could experience in the Amazon. There were a couple we really wanted to cross off our list, and we got all the main ones.
One of them was the piranha. After the great white shark, it’s probably the most vilified fish in the world, and they’re only found in the Amazon area. We caught three species of piranha: the red-belly—which is the most aggressive, the black—which is a little bigger, and the yellow.
The black piranha has one of the most powerful bites of any animal. An 8-inch fish can exert a bite force 30 times its body weight.
Another iconic fish we really hoped to catch is the payara, commonly called the vampire fish—the one with the big fangs. It’s got some of the scariest teeth of any fish in the world! And it’s only found in the Amazon.
Jennifer was fortunate to get a potential IGFA world record for a payara she caught
The last one that would be sort of iconic is the peacock bass. Now we’ve caught them in other places, but the giant peacock bass are really only found in the Amazon. They were very exciting to catch.
I (Jason) always wanted to catch a big peacock bass, and got a couple giant ones. We had one on the line that was easily over 20 pounds. A couple people in our group caught ones in that range, too.
To be able to feel that on the line and hold it in my hands for a little bit was pretty incredible. To look at those bright red eyes and beautiful yellows, blues and reds on them—I absolutely loved it.
And we were catching them on top water. That was a lot of fun to see a 20-pound fish come up and just explode. Everything’s nice and quiet, you’re surrounded by this beautiful jungle and the water’s completely still. All of a sudden this explosion comes from underneath, this fish comes flying up in the air and all craziness breaks loose! I love that.
Jason with a peacock bass. Prior to this trip, Jason’s personal best peacock bass was 7 pounds. The giant peacock bass is considered one of the biggest Amazon fishing prizes due to its fight and beautiful coloring.
We were fortunate that we could submit nine potential IGFA world records from this trip, which is really incredible. We’re super excited about that.
It's an incredible experience to think that you may be the first person or the only person to be fishing there in who-knows-how-long, or ever.
Branches: What's different about fishing the Amazon than other environments where you've been?
Jason & Jennifer: EVERYTHING has teeth! You have to make a conscious effort not to lip anything when you catch it. You have to wear gloves, and be prepared for the teeth. Even the little freshwater drum had teeth.
Because you’re in such a remote area you have to make sure you’re prepared for any kind of emergency. You have to by hyper-careful of the gear, of moving around in the boat, of taking the hooks out of the fish, of getting the fish out of the water. If you get injured or if something happens, you’re a long way from help.
We were aware of it when planning for the trip, but we became a lot more aware of some of the dangers while we were there. We were 20-plus hours away from civilization. Of course, no cell phone service or electricity.
We were sitting around eating dinner at the end of one day. Like all the dinners, it was prepared over a campfire. We heard a little noise, looked down and saw a giant scorpion about the size of Jennifer’s foot. It was huge! When we got back and looked it up, here it was one of the world’s most deadly scorpions. It kills 50 people a year in the Amazon area. That thing was crawling around our feet while we were wearing flip-flops!
Colombia has several species of deadly scorpions. We learned quickly to check our clothes and shoes in the morning to make sure none were hiding there. We spotted a species of scorpion which happens to be one of the largest in the world, after it crawled across Jason’s foot one evening.
And there were ants crawling on our tent that were a couple inches long. We later found out they were bullet ants—they have the worst bit of any insect in the world. There was a frog on our tent a couple different nights. At home we’d just scoop them up and toss them out. But there you don’t want to touch them—you have no idea if it’s got poisonous secretions.
One night I saw a spider as big as my head. Another night a frog was sitting on the ground that was as big as our little dog!
There were a lot of situations that could’ve gone wrong very easily. We’re so fortunate that everything was fine. Our guides were prepared, we had First Aid kits, but we just had to be hyper-aware of safety and what was around us all the time.
On the other hand, it was like paradise. The environment itself was so different. There were monkeys swinging through the trees. Parrots with long tails were flying all around. Toucans, macaws and others we couldn’t identify.
One of the things we love about kayak fishing is getting into the small places, the untouched areas that a lot of people can’t go. We love that! And we did a lot of that on this trip. We would have to duck down because the branches were so low, and use our paddle to push us through these tight mazes of trees and branches.
Then it would open up into this beautiful jungle lagoon. It was like heaven in those situations where you’re fishing in areas where you may be the first person there.
If you wanted any protein with your meals, you had to catch it! Smoking some fresh-caught fish over a warm fire one evening for dinner.
Branches: What was the most unexpected thing you experienced there?
JASON & JENNIFER: From a fishing standpoint, Jason did an excellent job of doing the research, finding the lures and line we should use, what fish to target. We had the right rods and reels. He approached it like he would any trip.
What was really different was the environment and all the things that could go wrong. 20 years ago we might not have worried about that as much, but as you get older self-preservation is more important!
It was even difficult to find guides or information because so few people have fished where we were. It was a lot more remote that what some people do on the Amazon. Even our guides had only been fishing there for about a year, so they were pretty new to the area, too.
It was much more remote than we had imagined. No running water, no bathrooms, you’re cooking your meals in the dirt over a flame, no conveniences. You’re just in the jungle where there are so many different risks.
There were times when we were in certain situations that I (Jason) was thinking, “Gosh, I hope Jennifer’s okay with this!” If I brought my wife all the way out here and something happens to her, I’m gonna be in so much trouble! But she was a champ. She just dove right in, literally.
(Jennifer) I’m not the first one to say, “Let’s go camping!” We were going off the advice of other people, and others had helped arrange the trip. We were surprised at the primitiveness of everything. But at that point, what are you going to do? There’s no reason to get upset or complain, because you’re there. And it was very temporary and it was a great experience. There were so many cool things.
Jason with a sardinata. This fish is one of nine pending IGFA World Records from the Schall’s trip.
Branches: What advice do you have for other anglers who want to plan a trip to the Amazon?
JASON & JENNIFER: Manage expectations. Do your research, know where you’re going to go and what type of trip you want to do.
If we had decided to do this when we were much older I think it would’ve been more of a difficult trip. Do it when you’re young and agile and healthy.
Expect that a trip like this is going to be very primitive. You’re not going to Disney World. You don’t ever let your guard down—your head needs to be on a swivel!
(Jennifer) I’d take fewer clothes and more supplies in terms of bug sprays and anti-itch creams—things that keep you comfortable. We had some of that but nobody else did, so our stash was used by everyone.
There are some fancy fishing lodges that are technically in the Amazon. They have a private air strip and gourmet meals. They’re also fishing where a lot of other people are fishing. That’s one way of doing it.
Looking back, we’re glad we did it the way we did. We were in an area that was as primitive as it could be. We slept in a tent on the ground, got up, walked out and paddled out to fish in areas where we saw no one else. To even get there we took a boat ride of nine or ten hours, not to mention the 4-wheel drives to get to the boat launch.
The fishing was incredible because of that. It was relatively untouched waters that hadn’t seen many anglers, if any. It also meant a lot more wildlife. It was like an eco-tour. There are animals only found there that have adapted to living there, like the freshwater drums we saw, and freshwater dolphins.
Jason and Jennifer as they prepare to leave the Amazon. After 10 days in the jungle, it would be nearly 20 hours of boat rides, four-wheel drive trucks, cars, buses, and planes before they would finally make it back to Bogota.
If we had to do it again, we’d do the same trip. It just would’ve been nice to have the right expectations. On the other hand, the surprise was part of the experience, too. Not knowing what we were in for.
But we made it back in one piece, and it’s provided a lifetime of memories for us.
Thanks to Jason and Jennifer for your time, your story and your photos! To see more of their photos and stories, visit their Facebook page: On the Water with the Schalls.
Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]
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