In the rivers and lakes of the Orinoco, fishing is done most of the time from a boat. That should tell you a little bit about some of the factors to ponder when determining what kind of rod to use. The first consideration is that fishing from these boat conditions is best done with single-hand rods, the standard rods for fly fishing. For fishing from the beach or from the rocky outcrops of the Orinoco you could consider leveraging Spey Casting, but in practice this is very cumbersome because, although you can reach much farther and with less effort, fishing in these rivers is not done via dead drift or down and across as it can be done for trout or salmon, but requires very fast retrieves, which with a two-handed rod all day long in sweltering heat, is not very practical.
Since fishing is done standing on a boat, the rod’s height is not a concerning factor , but since large and sometimes heavy flies are used, when making a long back cast the fly may touch the water, so you should consider using rods with the standard 9 feet of length. It is tempting to think of rods that are 10 feet long or longer, but because of the characteristics that manufacturers have embedded in these rods for specific types of fishing, they may perform with a slower action than required, and mat not be as strong as needed since they are lighter by design in order to compensate the weight felt by the fisherman's hand, due to the extra length. Rods that are 8'6 " in practice perform in a similar way as the 9 feet long versions and are totally viable for the Orinoco. You can even use some rods that are only 8 feet long designed for sea fishing, as they usually portray extra fast action, and that compensates somewhat sacrificing a foot less in length.
It is also necessary to carry rods that have active warranties on them. Fishing equipment tends to suffer a lot in the Orinoco trips because of the weather, the water quality, the strength of the fish and the fact itself that you are fishing from a boat. Rods fully set and ready to fish are transported on the benches of the boat or improvised sticks shaped to hold them and tend to smash against each other or against the hull of the boat without the fisherman noticing, and so when you least expect it, the rod breaks because it has been already debilitated, without applying any significant pressure. If you want to spend your time fishing without wasting the precious allotted hours or the few days you may have, it is strongly recommended to bring one or two spare rods to cover for any eventuality. All the efforts to exercise a warranty with the manufacturer, plus the costs involved including shipping, are errands that can easily be dealt with from home, but there is nothing you could do by having the best of warranties when you are on a river in the jungle in the middle of some insane fishing. From my very own experience and after many years fly fishing these rivers, I can say that ,the for the most part, my spare rods have returned home without coming out of the protective liner, but it definitely generates peace of mind just knowing they are there, if one of the rods you are using suddenly breaks.
For this type of fishing in the Orinoco it is best to bring strong and fast action rods. The rods will be required to respond at times, preventing large peacocks you connect with, to beeline straight to the snags and sharp rocks, as they always seek refuge in these types of structures; and if they manage to get there, it is very likely they will wrap the leader around the submerged branches or rocky sharp corners and break off. Rods designed for saltwater fishing are indeed in those instances, quite fitted for the job as they have reinforcements of various materials in the butt and lower sections providing enough pressure against big fish that may want to take off. Moreover, when fishing for peacock bass and payara, you should use lines with larger and thicker heads in order to throw big and sometimes heavy flies in windy conditions. Line control becomes a major issue here, in order to accomplish casting farther and more accurately, hence the use fast action rods, which as you may know, are definitely stiffer than rods designed for trout or salmon, allowing the angler to manage the line successfully in demanding conditions. Indeed those lines that are designed to turn large flies usually have a disproportionately heavy weight towards the tip. This translates into dealing with an already-heavy line while casting to targets in intermediate distances but also for longer distances, a much heavier line in relation to the rod itself, requiring again, leveraging these fast action type of rods or in order words, using the ones that flex less when loading the line appropriately without any noticeable burden and delivering casts with close tight loops. Another important reason for choosing this type of fast action rods is that sinking tips are used during a significant part of the fishing time down there, and lines with these tips tend to be a little unwieldy if loaded by slow action rods, as the front sections of the line do not necessarily follow the same pattern of movement due to the difference in density and weight associated with the front versus the section of floating line immediately behind; which leads us again to the point discussed above of leveraging exclusively fast action rods
There are several reasons as to why consider rods that are more attuned with different line weights, so let’s take a closer look at them, from the most common and widely recommended option to the one we should probably use the least in those waters:
8wt.Rods: In my view it is THE ideal rod for fishing in these rivers. 8 wt. rods are almost always designed to be both strong and light. A rod of this type looks and feels much stronger than a 7 wt., but is indeed lighter than a 9 wt. After many years fishing peacock bass and payaras in these waters I came to the conclusion that I do not need anything bigger or smaller than an 8 wt. to do this type of fishing, although sometimes during the fight with a really big peacock or a payara, the angler should be aware of not forcing the rod too much, because they seem sometimes to be almost overpowered by these giant fish, although I never had broken a rod fighting any big fish of these 2 species. The real problem lies with the size of flies. Sometimes a fly that is about 25 cm. long (or about 9.84’’) on a 5/0 hook feels like it is offering too much resistance to the wind or is indeed too heavy when loading it with an 8wt. that has been fitted with a line head that is not thick enough to do the job. The solution to this recurrent issue is to match a 9wt. line to an 8wt. rod and with that setup you can manage bigger flies easily, although you will compromise a bit of casting distance versus the other scenario when you are matching line and rod of the same weight. The trick to solve this apparent distance disadvantage is to use fast action rods, as the distance penalized is not truly significant. One thing though that I’d like to stress is that this does not happen with all lines, but only with the lines that are not designed for casting big flies. In the article that we will dedicate to explaining fly fishing lines to fish the Orinoco basin, we will expand on this very subject, since there are indeed serious studies that support the usage of heavier lines that are 1 weight above the weight of any given rod to solve specific problems on the water.
9wt.Rods: Although they are only slightly heavier than the 8 wt. rods, they have a considerably higher marginal effect on the angler hand. They are an excellent option for stopping those big ol’ peacocks on their tracks that always want to snag you through the submerged branches and for fishing payaras in strong currents. However, if you consider the fact that these trips last between 6 to 7 days, and that most of the time you have to blind cast, a few additional gram on the fishing equipment can make for a very tired arm during the last two days of the trip. On the other hand, if you are used to casting with a 9wt. rod for several days in a row, by all means, bring it on!
10wt.Rods: They are already way too heavy for this type of fishing, although very useful when fishing for payara in swift waters for about a couple of hours. From experience I can say that after casting for 5 or 6 days with an 8wt. rod, all day long in a tributary and then heading back to the Orinoco river itself to cast with a 10wt., it immediately feels too heavy. There are however some fishermen that bring their 10wt equipment with them but is truly not necessary.
6 or 7 wt. Rods: They are perfect for fishing peacocks averaging sizes of about 5 to 8 pounds, making them feel like an 18 pounder with an 8wt. The smaller sizes of flies you can use with these lighter setups usually prevent the bigger fish to get interested in your imitation, which otherwise would translate into very serious trouble! Casting becomes quite relaxing with the caveat of fly size and compromising the strength of the rods in case you hook a big fish, so in other words not very practical options
3 or 4 wt. Rods: If you are a trout fisherman you would experience the fishing of a Lifetime with all the different types of smaller game fish that you can target in the rivers of the Orinoco basin, by using small flies like wooly buggers, foam hoppers, small poppers and even small nymph imitations. But it is only an alternative for certain specific times because you would typically fish these rivers targeting only big fish. For example, on the beaches during the day, when breaking for lunch or to take a bath in the river, you can see around the boat and sand bar drop-offs several “bocones”, fish of the genus Brycon, and other small species up to one pound, that are eager to attack streamers and dry flies providing a memorable fight with a light rod.
Final Tip: The best you can do to maximize your time on the water is to carry on the boat two or three rods on the ready with the flies tied to the tippet so you can choose any of them according to the circumstances. To prevent breaking the rods, I personally carry one on my hand to avoid banging it against the boat and to be ready upon arriving to a promising spot, and then also have by my side, two or three other setups ready with flies but split in two sections, saving them inside those liners made of fabric for carrying conventional rods on the boat, and on top of that, all rigs stored within one of those lightweight architect blueprint tubes, protected from the abuse and ready to be pulled out quickly in case I need a specific rig when arriving to a good spot. I usually carry a rod with a sinking tip, the most useful for most circumstances while fishing in these rivers, then one with intermediate line for somewhat shallower lagoons and sand pockets in the river, and one with a floating line and a popper for those specific times of the day when peacocks would nail surface flies non–stop.
Many thanks to Andres Parra for all his help on this article!