There’s something fishy going on when a stranger approaches, offers to be your friend, and leads you to River of Doubt fishing. Dan Simmons was the stranger, the Safari Club Convention was the meeting place, and Brazil turned out to be the fishy part of the business that ensued.
From Convention to River of Doubt Fishing
So let’s sort this out. Safari Club International is one of those hunter/conservation groups that raises millions for wildlife management programs. But instead of dedicating them to just one species on one continent (like wild turkeys in North America,) SCI spreads its money around the world. SCI programs benefit mule deer as well as markhors, pronghorns as well as polar bears, vultures and lions, rhinos, cheetahs, villagers and much, much more.
To raise this money, SCI flatters and caters to the sources of money — people who have it; wealthy folks (ok, fat cats) of all stripes who can lavish dollars on outfitters, guides, game wardens, biologists, rural people and ordinary, workaday folks who also enjoy hunting. This emphasis on the affluent has tainted SCI with a whiff of exclusivity, yet many members are solidly middle class. They just happen to have a deep appreciation for all the world’s wildlife, the necessity to conserve and increase it, and a desire to explore and hunt the exotic habitats in which it lives — even the odd safari to an exotic locale. Don’t kid yourself. Many safaris are less expensive than many elk and moose hunts. And they all pump dollars into wildlife and habitat improvement programs where they are conducted. But there’s something fishy at the SCI conventions, too, as we’ll soon discover.
Trolling SCI for Bargains
Like most SCI members, I’m a workaday dreamer who appreciates the organization for saving and reinvigorating populations of wildlife of all kinds. And, like my many workaday friends who attend the annual SCI convention, I troll for bargain hunts, rubbing shoulders with the rich and powerful from time to time, but mostly the poor and enthusiastic who man the booths trying to sell gear and trips to the rich and famous. It’s an eclectic mob. And one of its members at the last convention, the one who approached me for a self-introduction, was one of us ne’er-do-well writers.
Dan Simmons is a people person. He has more friends than Trump and Pelosi have enemies. And he wanted to make another. So he walked right up and introduced himself, wisely adding a bit of flattery about liking my writing. I’ll forgive him his poor literary taste because my career hinges on folks having poor literary appreciation.
Renaissance Man Went River of Doubt Fishing
Turns out Dan had been a wildlife biologist, wilderness game warden, university professor (I’ll forgive him for that,) chef, and newspaper outdoors columnist. And here things get really interesting.
When you combine a people person with an outdoor passion, SCI membership, and writing deadlines, you get a world class hunter-fisherman who’s been around the block. Heck, around the mile. Heck, around the globe. Including Brazil’s infamous River of Doubt. Hang on, we’re getting there.
Within hours of meeting, my new friend Dan gave me his book, Sportsman’s Quest, and I really began to understand what a world-class adventurer he is. Holy cow. I thought I’d been places. Well, Dan’s been there too. Plus all the places I haven’t. Page after page in Sportsman’s Quest reveals Dan and his multitudinous friends with salmon, gar, caribou, sheep, buffalo, marlin, kudu, rhino, cougars, bears, sturgeon, sailfish and peacock bass.
“You’ve fished the Amazon too?” I asked. “Pretty exotic for a British Columbia game warden.”
“Oh yes. My friend Phil outfits in Brazil. And not just peacock bass. We catch piranha, payara, arapaima…”
“Whoa whoa whoa. Back up a second. Are all your friends outfitters?”
“No. Just the best ones.”
Two Amazon Pioneers, One River of Doubt
Dan was joking, but that didn’t stop him from introducing me to Phil Marsteller. Marsteller, raised by missionary parents in the Amazon, is to jungle fishing in the Amazon what Jeff Bezos is to selling stuff on Amazon. Phil pioneered recreational catch-and-release fishing in the Brazilian Amazon. He launched the Amazon Queen floating fishing lodge in 1992. Later he initiated sport fishing on the Rio Negro. His clients zipped out daily on modern bass boats, targeting those black-striped, yellow-and-green peacock bass, fang-toothed vampire fish (payara) plus croaker, bicuda, palmito, barbado and various other Amazon fishes I’d never heard of before. And then they returned to comfort and fine dining in the lodge.
“Brazil is one bucket list adventure my wife and I haven’t done yet,” I admitted to Dan and Phil. “We’ve never been any closer to the tropical jungle than the coast of Belize. And the closest we’ve come to a peacock bass was catching a largemouth while a Missouri farmer’s peacock called in the distance.”
“We can fix that,” Phil said.
River of Doubt Fishing in Roosevelt’s Shadow
Long story short, in five months we’ll be fishing the jungle waters of Brazil. But not just any waters. We’ll be fishing in the footsteps (or more accurately the wake) of the starving Theodore Roosevelt.
Oh yes, this complicated story twists its way to some remarkable places, the most remarkable of which is Mr. Roosevelt’s River of Doubt. After Roosevelt lost his third presidential race in 1912, he joined a scientific expedition to explore a then recently discovered tributary of the Amazon. Through a combination of poor planning and brutal jungle conditions, the Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition suffered mightily from hunger, malaria, rapids, insects, jaguars, pythons, piranhas, and disease. Roosevelt became so weak and sick from infection that he seriously contemplated suicide before the team made it out, two men short — one murdered, one run away to die in the jungle.
No Starvation This Time, No Doubt
Fortunately, Phil assures us, we won’t replicate the Roosevelt-Rondon scientific expedition’s suffering. Phil has built a new lodge on the lower section of what’s now called the Roosevelt River near the location where its namesake almost shot himself. It is flanked on two sides by national parks and guarded upstream and down by rapids and falls. Instead of chopping heavy, clumsy canoes from jungle trees, we’ll ride in modern bass boats. Instead of dangling hand lines in pools, we’ll cast with beefy Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris spinning rods and reels toward overhanging jungle foliage beneath which lurk ravenous, aerobatic peacock bass, fang-toothed payara, and all the other piscatorial denizens of the Amazon basin, most of which have never seen a hook in this stretch of river.
Giant Arapaima and Parrots, Too
Our bonus round will be a cross-jungle jaunt to a new reservoir where the long, tarpon-like arapaima grow to 200 pounds! Along the way we’ll see, hear, and discover Amazonian birds and beasts from blue and scarlet parrots to emerald and crimson hummingbirds. There’s a good chance for a jaguar sighting, too. Phil showed us phone videos of a pair of the big cats walking down a jungle trail.
If you’re interested in possibly joining us this summer and ticking off your jungle fishing bucket list, send contact information in the comments section below. We’ll keep it private. We have room for four more jungle adventurers.
The author has caught more fish through holes in the ice than gaps in jungle foliage. He thinks that will soon change.