Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

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Tuesday, July 16th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

An Amazon adventure leads to massive fish for Minnesotans

A predatory fish of freshwater basins of South America, peacock bass are an important food and sport fish in the region. Adam Van Tassell, of Orr, Minn., caught this massive specimen (among other unique species) during a trip to the Amazon this past winter. (Photos courtesy of Adam Van Tassell)

Adam Van Tassell and his 13-year-old son, Brock, are experts in exotic fishing travel. They’ve been to Brazil, Costa Rica, Belize, and other destinations around the world for once-in-a-lifetime fishing experiences.

Not surprisingly, the father-son duo’s YouTube fishing channel motto is, “We live to fish.” But this winter the Van Tassells had an adventure in the Amazon that surpassed even their own lofty standards. Adam Van Tassell hooked into and landed a fire peacock bass (Cichla miraenae) that he believes is the biggest ever caught.

Here’s how two Minnesotans came out of the Amazon alive, with a record fish to boot.

Northern origins

Adam Van Tassell knows the fishing tourism industry well – he’s the owner of Birch Forest Lodge on Pelican Lake, in Orr. His customers come from Indianapolis, Chicago, and even Florida and California.

The Van Tassells have tried making the lodge a winter destination as well, but ultimately found it was not profitable to do so. This decision has given Van Tassell winters off – all the better to feed his South American fishing addiction.

So why South America, and how did Van Tassell home in on the Amazon?

“I’ve been to dozens of fishing trade shows for my lodge around the Midwest, and when we have some down time, I like to walk around and meet other lodge hosts. I met some Brazilians at a show, and they described fishing for hundreds of unique species,” Van Tassel said.

The Amazon alone holds more than 3,000 species of fish. Considering his own personal goal of netting at least 101 different species of fish in his lifetime, Van Tassell was hooked.

Fishing the Amazon, Minnesota’s Adam Van Tassell caught this massive payara – also known as a “vampire fish” for obvious reasons. (Photos courtesy of Adam Van Tassell)
Heading to the Amazon

Primarily a bass fisherman back home, Van Tassell fishes the robust largemouth/smallmouth bass fishery on Pelican Lake. Peacock bass, however, are a whole different game.

“The extreme force with which they hit separates them from our Minnesota bass. I’ve had peacocks strike and miss a topwater lure, and send it flying several feet in the air,” he said.

With peacocks on their minds, Adam and Brock flew to Brazil. They purposely go during the dry season, when water levels drop.


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“Whatever you do, don’t go to the Amazon during monsoon season,” Adam Van Tassell says. “The water can rise 10 feet in a day, and fishing becomes really hard as fish spread out everywhere. We go in November, when water levels are lowest.”

Getting to Brazil is one thing, but getting to the Amazon is something else entirely.

“It’s huge,” he says. “We flew three hours deep into the Amazon on a twin-prop plane just to get to our fishing area. And it wasn’t a slow float plane.”

Snakes and crocs, but no bugs

The Amazon requires “a certain willingness to rough it,” Van Tassel explained. Unlike Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, biting bugs are not the main issue. Rather, it’s snakes and crocodiles, electric eels and stingrays, that can surround a boat at any time during a day’s fishing.

After a few productive days with their local guides, the insatiable Van Tassells were ready for bigger adventure, and bigger fish. The guides hauled the boats to an unfished lagoon deep in the jungle. The team cut logs and laid them perpendicularly across the ground, and then dragged the metal boats down the rolling log path through the jungle, eventually connecting to a 6-inch-deep creek bed.

They then continued dragging the boats for a couple of hours up the creek, hacking away at thick brush as they went, before reaching the desired backwater lagoon. Such places effectively “trap” the peacock bass during dry season, making fishing more concentrated.

World record

Adam Van Tassell figured there was trophy potential in the unfished backwater. He kept changing lures and pushing hard for a double-digit peacock. Then a monster struck – the biggest peacock of the whole trip.

The net was hardly big enough to fit the orange-yellow-green fireball. Brock filmed the scene while Adam admired his catch.

Meanwhile, Elleton, the Van Tassell’s guide, was shocked by the fish’s rare size, and insisted on measuring it. The fire peacock weighed 12 pounds and was 66 centimeters (26 inches) long.

Elleton knew something special had happened, and between him and Brock, the catch was documented on camera. Adam and Brock left Brazil feeling a fine sense of accomplishment.

Little did Adam Van Tassell know when he released his Cichla miraenae that the official world record for the subspecies is only 10.6 pounds. There are more than a dozen subspecies of peacock bass in the world, and Van Tassell easily broke the fire peacock record.

Certification saga

Weeks later, when the Van Tassells had returned stateside, they got a big surprise. It turns out Elleton and the fishing camp director had submitted the fish’s measurements to the Brazilian Game Fish Association, which then contacted Adam Van Tassell.

The association asked to see Brock’s video footage, and later confirmed that Adam’s fish would have qualified as a new world record for fire peacock bass.

Because the fish was not weighed on a certified scale, however, it will not be recognized by the International Game Fish Association as a world record. Moreover, because Adam Van Tassell is not a Brazilian citizen, the Brazilian GFA won’t officially recognize his fish as a Brazilian record, either.

Nevertheless, the association issued a certificate to Adam for landing the largest fire peacock bass (“tucunaré fogo” in Portuguese) ever caught in the country of Brazil.

“It’s still awesome. I know I broke that record, and I’m really honored to have the certificate issued in my name,” Van Tassell said.

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