In search of Dinosaurs

Published May 12th 2011

Fly fishing for Wolf Fish AKA Tararira, Hoplias malabaricus, in Argentina

By ,

Hunting the wolf

September, Lake Salto Grande, Argentine, It has been a long and rough winter down here, usually we are used to fish in short sleeved shirts during this period, but this time we used our equipment equivalent to Patagonia and enjoyed hearty meals like homemade stews and tons of homemade cakes.
Even the lake dwellers suffered from the crispy low water temperatures, fairly big numbers of dead fish of all species were washed on shore this time and it seemed the entire population of Piranhas was wiped out...
Since then the strong cold wind settled and temperature rose, Carolina and I were in great expectation and excitement to get a shoot for the most astonishing predator of these waters.

Neither seen nor heard, his strategy to survive as well is exceptional: he is capable of leaving his environment and absorb oxygen through the air.
His name is Hoplias malabaricus, and he belongs to the "telostei family" - the bonefish, one of the oldest living species on our planet. We call him Tararira or Tarucha.
His dark brown body is designed for short powerful attacks, muscular with blackish stripes and a long dorsal and huge pectoral fins. He is almost bullet proof, his bone plate armored head can't even be crushed by an golden Dorado and his six fangs and razor sharp teeth complete this prehistoric predator.


The search
The spring brings up the undeniable advantage to fish for the Tararira. He leaves the dark depths of the lake to enter the shallow waters of the shoreline in order to charge his prey.
While water temperatures until November are rather cold, hardly exceeding 16°C or 68°F. The shallows easily reach up to 20°C or 68°F.
But if you think that hooking a Tararira during spring is a walk in the park, consider this: lake Salto is an man made reservoir, water levels rise and fall. Some of you readers might know our recent article on GFF and recall how moody the lake can be. And again we are talking about a water level in between 34 and 35 meters, which means that the shoreline is scattered with timber, driftwood and dense vegetation. But outside summertime we are not seeing any kind of water hyacinths or related plants, which makes access and presenting a fly much easier!

Gear and more

Because the Tararira really is a shy fish, he needs shelter, preferably in the most dense labyrinths of plants and branches, he doesn't give up this behavior during his "sunbathing" either. He must be around somewhere due to the more comfortable temp.
Now we are in the game! Getting ready our tackle wasn't that different, its comparable to the stalk for the other lake beauties : #5 rods, floating WF lines or shooting heads and our homemade leaders with bite tippet. To complete this setup flies tied on hooks between 0/1 - 2/0 mostly unweighted.

Shame on me

Carolina and I reached one of those lagoons well hidden behind orange plantations. Julian who battled around with a spinning rod twice as big as himself gave us permission to trespass his property. Aca, over there, pointing his finger in direction of the huge fallen tree, there I lost my lure, "algo re grande", something real big... No doubt, looking in those frightened eyes of our little friend, something must be out there.

Anyway, I entered the water first, not without spooking a bunch of Tarariras, which is difficult to avoid when getting into casting position where you won't hook an orange tree. After casting half an hour from a hip deep position and zero Tararira, it was time to take over the digi cam and tape Carolina's approach to hook this monster who ate Julian's lure.
Did you try here? she asked. Sure! I am not a fool. Tried everything but nothing worked.
So far my response
Whee, whee, two false casts later and the unweighted fly landed on the green roof, working its way through the dense green and partly open water. Nothing!
After scrambling another green obstacle and than finally reaching open water, a dark shadow appeared out of the dark, broke the surface and vanished into the brownish stained water. He missed the fly and I wondered: it must have been something which seduced this Tararira, which was a fairly good one, estimated in the 5 lbs range.
And indeed, Carolina was working the fly much slower than I did, and even after the fly landed on the plants she gave it a rest, just enough to trigger attention to the Tararira which was lurking in his hide.
Nevertheless, I mentioned with a smile on my face, got the whole scene in here, pointing to the camera, pushing some knobs to activate the replay, but, holy crap, something went wrong during taping the video. There was the casting sequences and the next sequence showed just wiggly blue sky. Somehow I must have interrupted the taping process. Shame over me. No retake. What a disappointment. And it wasn't going to be the last time...
Two more Tarariras missed my fly, but significantly smaller than Carolina's.

Snacks, iguana and Tararira

The Lagoon Iguana
During the following weeks I created one or two new killer designs inspired by a nice Argentine red wine.
And so well stocked I was on my way to the lake, worked my way through the traffic jam and instantly felt this relief when the tires touched the gravel of the "camino ripio".
Water levels were still very promising. I put the flyboxes into my chestpack, strapped on the camera to my belt and entered the pine and eucalyptus forest, which sheltered the lagoon from the stiff breeze.
Two large iguana, which certainly were at least as surprised as me, escaped into the lake. Today I was fishing alone, Carolina was a bit further south, in Patagonia.
Approaching cautiously, a school of juvenile Dorados swimming in tight circles, warming up in this thermal waters which pours into the lake. I stood there for a while and enjoyed this awakening of nature.
I carried on walking and finally arrived to the green covered inner part of the lagoon. I gave it a try with my recently developed fly design: a muddler style green head, silver sparkling body, slightly weighted and with weed guard.
Confidently I cast my fly into the green. Soon after starting I had the first violent take, nothing huge, but its amazing to see how voraciously the small ones attack the fly.
Luckily I was able to wade and fish the entire stretch without the necessity to get out of the water because of any sudden hole and spook away the Tarariras. Another cast, plop, the fly landed in a mixed zone of dense vegetation and free water, now weeks later while writing these lines, I honestly don't remember exactly what happened first, whether the schools of big Sabalos stampeded or this beast first broke through the green and fell back.
Immediately I rose my rod and there was no slack in my line and jump after jump I came to the clue that this hook was well set.
So I battled and taped the entire time. I mentally prepared myself for the final shoot and release, but then something went horribly wrong... While still more out of the water in stead under, I forgot to put down my rod tip and what remained is the certainty of a trophy Tararira, which was in the 10 lbs class, and here it comes: not expecting such a fish I used a snap which was simply destroyed... and well I mentioned my camera hassle, but this time I taped it perfectly nice, but later on totally lost overview while selecting and deleting dozens of sequences. You know what comes: I accidentally deleted the video.

How to find him and the hot spots
Because the Tararira is an invisible hunter you either train your ability to hear them or to search for the hidings. Both ways are the keys to a successful fishing day. When the Tararira are feeding in the surface you hear them sipping in the prey. It's a unique noise best described as the last drop of water which pours your bathtub. But you better rely on all senses and watch out for any kind of dense vegetation, submerged timber and driftwood. As mentioned before, the best shot you have is during springtime when the inshore water on the banks increase in temperature. Later in the year it gets harder to find them.


Which fly to use
In general we use strong wire hooks in sizes between 0/1 and 2/0. Because the stalk for Tararira is almost exclusively done in areas with "some" vegetation, the weed guard will save your day.... unless your patience is indefinite.
There are situations where we use unweighted fluffy flies but only in the early spring when we are not faced with the jungle like green. When the plant growth reaches its peak time we are going for slightly weighted patterns to get them a bit faster through the weeds. It seems we can disregard the choice of colour. If the Tararira miss the fly, it might be a wise choice to change your fly to another color and size. Use your common sense, bright sunny days might require a pattern not too dark and in the opposite way a darker color is good for an overcast day, but this really depends on your tries.

How to tie the flies
I like to use different tying materials, a mix of the classic bucktail and synthetic fibers. Always add some glitter. After trying the most common way to attach the weed guard which seemed to be to tie in mono and then secure it with meters of yarn and tones of glue, I decided not to adopt this technique: I choose the simple way to atach a plastic pearl make a hole with a hot needle and insert and secure a small piece of hard mono with any kind of superglue. The use of hard mono is important, otherwise it won't keep the slightly curved shape.
Also all kind of poppers and gurglers work very well.

How to work the fly
Slow, slow, slow!
The Tararira does not chase a prey he ambushes it by short and incredibly fast sprints. Therefore when the fly touches the water or lands above the weeds, be patient and wait before you strip in the fly.
Do it with short strips with your wrist, whether you are using a streamer or a gurgler or popper. A pattern worked slowly in the surface doesn't mean a quiet presentation! Make it as noisy as possible! You've got to trigger attention and the deeper the Tararia hides the more noise your fly should generate.

Strong and beautiful

The bite tippet and the take
You might wonder what they have in common. It's the way the Tararira normally ambush its prey by literally sucking it in, which means the takes under the surface are sometimes comparable to snags.
Very often you think, "shit just another piece of timber or more likely weed on the end of the line", until this plant moves away. Too late. Tararira gone, most likely because your bite tippet was curled and you didn't recognize the take. If the bite tippet is curled, change it for another straight 20 lbs piece.

The leader
Still homemade, total length 2,50 meters.
55% butt 0.70 1.4 meters.
25% 0.60 0.6 meters
20% 0.50 0.5 meters
Bite tippet 20 lbs 0.2 meters

The knots
To connect the different monos for the leader, the slim beauty outruns the Albright knot.
The slim beauty is a knot you can easily made under rough conditions. To connect the tippet to the fly line we use the Perfection loop, another sturdy knot. If you like, add a drop of superglue.
The bite tippet to leader is also done with a slim beauty.
And the final step will be the fly to bite tippet knot, which simply is a figure-of-eight knot.

Landing devices
Well, the bigger the Tarariras the more explosive they are. The eel-like skin makes it impossible to safely hold this fish to remove the hook or even to take a picture. Therefore we use a landing device. If you are fishing for the same species and don't want to get the fish out of the water lip him vertically to remove the hook and don't crank his jaws. Otherwise you damage the cartilage in its jaws. If you want to take a snapshot always use your hand and the device to distribute the weight of the fish.

Landing, releasing

About Concordia
Concordia is situated in the province of Entre Rios, Mesopotamia directly on the banks of the mighty Uruguay river. It's a busy town, founded in 1831, and has lots of old architecture like the first hotel "Colon" directly on the "Plaza 25 de Mayo", or the Palace "Arrubarena" which today is one of the most important museums of the region.
The Castillo "San Carlos", or better it remains in the parque San Carlos, remembers the french Antoine de Saint-Exépery, best remembered as the writer of his novel "The little Prince" who various times was a guest of the family Fuchs during his time in Concordia.
After lots of history, take a stroll on the recently completed promenade directly on the banks of the river Uruguay or relax in of the two thermal springs Concordia offers. Also famous for its carnival, which is celebrated in its unique "hot" Latin American way during February. And by the way, there is a pretty good Golden Dorado fishing in the river itself. You reach Concordia by taking one of the comfortable first class overnight buses or by plane.

Worth it

User comments
From: Heiko Schneider  Link
Submitted August 10th 2011

Because I like to fish and not fumble arround with knots and sidecutter and it has proofed sturdy for the average Tararira / Dorado. Another reason, after several fly changes your bite tippet is getting significantly shorter and than I got to change the entire leader, because neither do I knot on a new bite tippet ! But as I wrote, since I lost my "beast" I admitt to use a figure eight knot to connect the fly to the tippet.

best Heiko Schneider / Latitud Sur Anglers

From: Simon Goldseker · sggfly1·at·  Link
Submitted August 8th 2011

Great report & pictures but why are you using a snap to att. the fly to the leader??

From: Joao Nicacio · nicaciofilho·at·  Link
Submitted May 26th 2011

Wow! This is our most brave fish in to South America! From Venezuela to Argentina, and entire Brazil, this is a first predator fish of all kids! If this fish had appeared in the northern hemisphere, would complete lines of equipment for him!
Congratulations for this fishing

From: Heiko · info·at·  Link
Submitted May 25th 2011

Thanks for the credits folks !

Carolina & Heiko

From: Cosmin, from Bucharest, Romania, Europe · kundalini4all·at·  Link
Submitted May 21st 2011

Very nice article, very nice fish, very good pictures. Very very interesting every thing I've read in this article. Congratulations for Carolina&Heiko&friends.Good job guys :D !

Comment to an image
From: Hernan Tula · hernantula·at·  Link
Submitted May 19th 2011

Excellent article, congratulations and special mention for photographs

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