There are around 1,300 species of catfish inhabiting the waters of Brazil’s Amazon, from an inch long to 6 foot monsters weighing 400 lbs or better, some smooth skinned and others with heavily armor plated sides. Sport fishermen usually target 3 species the most common of which is the Red Tail weighing 100 lbs or better. Also available are a couple of species of Sorubim (the catfish with racing stripes seldom weighing 100 lbs) and the Piraiba or Giant Catfish going over 400 lbs! These 3 species of Catfish provide an alternative game for the Peacock Bass fisherman using live or cut bait in the evenings. It can seem comical when you go out in the evening to catfish and your guide puts a slice of watermelon, a chicken head or a chunk of Piranha on a 10/0 circle hook and drops it into the depths of a black water Amazon river. Many weird thoughts go through your head and when the reel begins to click, you pick up your rod and ask yourself if you really want to set the hook on whatever is on the other end of your line?
The Piraiba is aptly named the “Giant Catfish” attaining weights of over 400 lbs and exceeding 6’ in length! This giant will take the bait very gingerly but is very athletic, often making reel smoking runs and jumping completely clear of the water once hooked. If you are not prepared they will make a quick one sided fight, leaving you with an empty reel and not really sure what just happened. These fish are so big that juveniles are referred to as “filote” and do not gain the respect of being called Piraiba by the natives of the Amazon until they exceed 100 lbs! Don’t expect to catch numbers of these monsters, but occasionally....hang on!
Pirarara/Red Tail Catfish
The Pirarara, known to the American angler as the Red Tail Catfish, is the most prevalent species of catfish encountered in Brazil’s Amazon. The big pollywog shaped Red Tails look like a yellow cat that thrashed around in the wife’s cosmetic case. It has a cream colored body with fins and tail trimmed in red. These tough, durable fighters will occasionally weigh 100 lbs and will eat most anything from watermelon rind, cut Piranha or Dog Fish, top water baits, flies (if they are in shallow water) and chicken heads and feet! There is not much finesse when a Red Tail picks up a bait and begins to run with it. They will produce a good rough and tumble fight for the angler. This catfish can be found in most any water, moving or still, deep or shallow, black water or silty. Red Tails will have several noticeable plates on the top of and just behind their heads.
Sorubim /Barred Shovelnose Catfish
Sorubim are undeniably the most outrageous looking catfish you will ever catch. It has a flat Pike type nose, an elongated body which is steel gray on the top etched with what looks to be hieroglyphics and pure white on the lower body etched with either racing stripes or dots, depending upon the subspecies. Seldom weighing 100 lbs., these fish are preferred table fare for the indigenous people of the river. Sorubium inhabit moving water and will readily hit jerk baits and flies as well as cut bait giving a good account of themselves when hooked. I have fished for them in shallow areas where moving water is constricted providing shallow feeding lanes.