Finally, the plane arrived at Kendjam and we loaded and left. It was only a 25-minute flight as promised and fun to fly over the jungle that we now knew so well.
In an outrageously thoughtless move, because he was late, the pilot dropped us at the far end of the runway with our bags and supplies and left. It was mid-afternoon and hot. We allowed him to do this naively thinking a truck or something would drive up the runway but no, along with guides and Kayapo helpers we had to drag ourselves, our bags and supplies for the week over a mile down the runway and to the boats. One of our party suffered heat exhaustion but we brought him round before things got worse. Mr Pilot, if you are out there and read this – that was a thoughtless act – you thought of only yourself not what you were doing to the people you were leaving behind.
Xingu is just buggier than Kendjam – fact – so come ready for mosquitos and sandflies and they start to attack you on arrival but particularly when loading into the boats. The Xingu river is bigger so the boats are bigger and so are the rapids. The Kayapo boat drivers do a good job driving the boats through them but there are some serious whirlpools below some of the rapids therefore, in my view, when travelling any distance on the river, full lifejackets should be worn, non-negotiable.
The boat journey was also as advertised, about 20-minutes to the lodge. I actually liked the lodge design more than Kendjam. Again, the rooms are spacious, this time with high ceilings and plenty of air through them. It is a compact lodge with a large dining/sitting area, then four rooms to the right as you look at the lodge.
The lodge has a lovely view over the river which is not far away. It faces east so gets the sunrise avoiding the heat of the setting sun. If anything, the space, the bedding and the large bathrooms with toilets in their own little room was better than Kendjam. We had been told it might be hotter, but it was cooler except when a storm was brewing, and it became very humid pre-storm. I really liked this lodge and although there were more bugs, they seemed easier to keep out of the bedrooms.
One word of warning (which the lodge has now been warning about) the big walk-in showers have a smooth floor and are like ice-rinks. Be very careful. One other warning, when the rainstorms come, they are heavy and usually with severe wind and so the rain gets blown into the rooms either at the front or back. So, when you go out, especially in the afternoons when the rain comes most often, do not leave your belongings, especially electronics, anywhere near the windows. There is plenty of storage in the bathroom area to safely put all your belongings. Lastly, the lodge is right next to a Kayapo village. The two do not really intermingle at all and there are no noise issues. One is most aware of it seeing the Kayapo get in and out of their boats from time to time.
It did not take long to realise that we had been short staffed. Our Welcome letter said five guides, we had four; it said a butler, but Giovanni was still at Kendjam… you get the picture. We had one experienced guide, Everton (Arsenal beat Everton in the Premiere league the day we arrived!) but Everton the guide made up for it – he was a super-nice, lovely guy. His colleagues were equally positive and helpful, but they lacked experience which ranged from 3 days guiding at this lodge to no days at all! As I will explain, that did not matter much.
We did not have the correct chef either but the team we did have get full marks for rising to the occasion to overcome the position their managers had put them in, and my team really appreciated it. We had four guides, four butlers and four repairmen because they all did everything! They did deserve some teasing however for picking dusk as the time to rig rods. That is prime bug time and we all quickly retreated to our rooms. Dinner followed and our lovely interim chef Fabricio did a nice job throughout our stay even if his options remained meat and potato heavy.
Things get off to a start earlier at Xingu. Breakfast at 6.30 and we leave at 7 am. The breakfast was very similar to Kendjam, fruit, toast, freshly cooked eggs, tea and coffee. There is no making lunch for the day because the team comes back at 11.30 for a midday lunch and siesta before going out again at 2.30 or 3 pm. Water is handled the same way at Kendjam – each guest has a Yeti container which they fill for you as often as you wish from larger storage containers both in the boat and at the lodge. This works very well and I suggest you drink A LOT of water. I would also suggest you bring your own Yeti because I am not 100% certain how they handle the hygiene for their Yetis. Best size to buy are these – 36 oz/1.4l or 1.9l bottle with chug cap.
They have four main ‘beats’ for payara and so, at 7 am we set off for our beats. It was here that the big surprise or ‘reveal’ came. Our lovely guide instructed us to flick our large brush fly with tandem hooks into the river just a yard or two from the boat. Strip off all the fly line and waggle the rod tip until the entire line was out of the end of the rod. We could then chat, have a drink, apply sunscreen or whatever (one boat had fun thinking of all the things you could do while waiting for your fly and sink-tip to sink) while your line and fly sank to the point that it was hanging directly down from your rod tip. With a 350-grain sink-tip and maybe a couple of lead shots near the fly, it takes about two to three minutes to sink and then you slooooowwwwly strip it back up only to dump it all in the river again and do it again.
I suggested to the guide that we were doing this because it was early season but was assured that for 80% of the season, this is what everyone does if they wish to catch a payara at Xingu. He said that on occasion, when it has rained significantly the fish get lively and will take nearer the surface or even off the top but that is very much the exception. Perhaps now you understand why guiding experience was not necessary!
Needless to say, there was chat about comparisons to Colombia where the fishing is genuinely in fast water (I have done it) or in places where payara are actively on the feed. The guide assured me that they have tried and tried in the fast water through the season and at different times of day etc but never with any success. The Management explanation for this was that our group were not that great at casting, and they did not want to hurt our feelings! I am no casting champion but that was a load of baloney!
Needless to say, when we all returned for lunch there was a massive comparing of notes, reviewing of marketing material and ‘social media influencers’ who had been to Xingu. NOWHERE, could we find that this, in truth, is how the payara of the legendary Xingu river are caught. This must be the best-kept secret in flyfishing or maybe I should say fishing because we were NOT fly fishing! There was no casting involved!
Perhaps the most staggering part is the social media influencers who were clearly willing to say nothing and pretend this is a whizzy, exciting, amazing payara fishery just to maintain their free fishing. It is going to be hard to believe an ‘influencer’ ever again! There is one more issue with the payara, either because it was hot or because of the depth they were holding at. Of the five fish my boat caught in the three days, three died despite some very long, patient attempts to revive them.
I could not really get to the bottom of whether this was just this time of year or all season long, but I suspect once the water cools with rain they do not die as readily. Certainly, the fish in Colombia did not die as easily. Again, Management response was that you cannot judge a fishery in a week which I entirely agree with but the guides (one who has guided since 2019) were clear, this way of fishing is 80% how Xingu payara are caught.
Being ruthlessly fair, the rest of the fishery can be fun and a few days at Xingu pre-or-post Kendjam is not a total write-off. For example, once the payara stopped rolling about 9 am the chances of catching them reduces so we went off in search of other species. We found an amazing ant hatch and about a one hundred metre line of rising rubber pacu. We were not correctly equipped with rather too thick leader material, but we got one or two. Had we had the right leader material we would have had an amazing morning.
On other mornings and evenings, we caught big bicuda, good-sized peacocks, some nice piranha, other pacu and there was even a double hook-up and landing of a pair of wolf fish. A 30 lbs wolf fish was also lost at the boat. The point being that the payara might be a bust but the fishery itself has plenty to offer and if I found myself there again, I would give the payara an hour in the morning and an hour at last light, otherwise I would enjoy what else the Xingu fishery has to offer. It is much bigger water than Kendjam so getting around is quick and easy and there are tons of nooks and crannies to explore.
For information on Manaus travel, the Kayapo, the species you might catch and how to catch them please refer to the sister piece The Kayapo’s Kendjam. In terms of clothing and equipment for all other species and the lodge and required medication and bug protection, follow the advice in the above-mentioned article. Loose trousers while in the boat and around the lodge are likely your best defence to mosquitoes and sand flies. Avoid tight fitting clothes where insects can bite through your clothing.
The ideal rod for payara is an 8 or 9 weight – a warm water or jungle sink-tip line with a 350 to 500 grain tip and intermediate or sinking running line. Leaders should be 40 lbs of fluorocarbon or mono with 12 inches of 40 lbs wire before the fly. Flies should be large and colourful with big, strong tandem hooks – white, silver and green most effective for us. Tape, known as Vetrap in the UK, is ideal for stripping and strip striking.
I would not be telling the truth if I did not admit that the payara fishing was a severe disappointment especially having experienced such amazing fishing in Colombia. The fish we did catch were not even that big or strong whereas Colombia was amazing with fish up to 25 lbs.
My fellow guests lost interest quickly and went for catfish and other species. As an addict for sighted fishing, I enjoyed everything else the Xingu fishery had to offer and had we been there for more than three days I would have set about exploring it more thoroughly.
In summary, my advice has to be, do not go for the payara fishing, the way you fish for them is just too dull and there are better options. Would I go again if offered along with Kendjam, probably, because I liked what else the fishery had to offer and felt I had only scratched the surface. My biggest lesson from this experience is recognising the power of marketing and social media. Xingu and battling with the big payara was to be our highlight but all that hype and all those so-called influencers have proven to be ‘fake news’ and those putting out this material should be ashamed of themselves.