It’s not every day that you get to go fishing in the Amazon rainforest for piranhas which is unfortunate because I think I could spend hours upon hours doing it. Our last module, Freshwater Ecology, got to take place in the Amazon. 95% humidity, no service, and the most biodiverse place in the world, it was an unforgettable experience for sure.
This particular morning, we started like most: 6:30a.m. breakfast, check my boots for spiders, and off we went on the trails with our guide, professor, and the rest of the class. We had about an hour walk through the forest until we got to the lagoon where we were doing some preliminary research on what we wanted to do our independent projects on for the next two weeks. The guides were so impressive. They noticed everything no matter how big or small from every sense. Constantly seeing things that we couldn’t, smelling new and different smells and knowing where they came from, and listening to all the sounds of the jungle and knowing exactly what animal it was and where it was coming from. Meanwhile, I would be looking up and then trip on something from the ground, look down and subsequently hit my head on a branch; there is a slight learning curve to walking in the forest.
Once we arrived to the lake, we put on our life jackets and took turns fishing in the five-person canoe. We had some leftover scraps of meat from the dining hall from last night’s dinner so waste wise it worked out perfectly. Ramíero, our guide, explained that we were baiting the hook and casting as far as you can throw since the “rod” was essentially just some fishing line wrapped around some wood with a reinforced steel hook on the end (that way piranhas couldn’t bite through it). From there, keep the bait pretty still so it mimics a dead/injured fish and they’re more likely to go for it. Lastly, and the most important step, once you get a bite PULL IMMEDIATELY!! They’re tricky little guys and can come off the hook so once you start pulling you gotta keep going until the fish is in the boat.
Ok, I felt ready and started casting and waiting. Per usual fishing, there wasn’t much going on for the majority of the time and it took a bit to get the hang of pulling the line once the fish tugs but not to mistake it with the fish just nibbling. Eventually, though, I got a bite! This was the moment I was waiting for! I started pulling frantically as Ramíero was shouting “eso eso!!” Pulled the fish into the boat though I was a little bit confused. I’m not a fish expert or anything but I’m pretty sure what I caught wasn’t a piranha. It was brown and green, longer, with a more cylindrical shape instead of being shorter and flatter. Ramíero informed me that I caught a pez colebra, or "snake fish" in English which was still super cool! After a couple other people caught and released piranhas, I got to go again and try for one. Waited for the strong bite… immediately pulled… and… a piranha! Wait, no? Similar to a piranha? It was a flat and short fish with sharp teeth, but the eyes weren’t red, and the belly was orange. Once again, I somehow caught a different random fish. This time it was a cachama and we were able to hike with it and cook it for lunch! It was some of the best fish I had ever had but that could’ve also been due to the fact that I was sweating out my body weight and was very much ready for lunch. Either way getting to fish in the Amazon was an insane experience and one of my highlights of the past module.
Also, photo credit to Alison Loftis! You can check out her other photos on Instagram at @alison.loftis_photography!
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<p>Hello! My name is Rachel Seyler and I'm going into my junior year and I am studying ecology and evolutionary biology & environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. I'm studying abroad in Quito and the Galapagos Islands via direct enrollment during fall 2021. During my free time I enjoy snowboarding, hanging out with friends, and hiking. During my time abroad I'm very excited to expand my Spanish skills, learn about the local culture, and explore in depth the unique flora and fauna that the Galapagos and rainforest entails.</p>