Striking Gold in South America: Fishing for Golden Dorado on the Uruguay River

   05.29.12

Whenever you hear the name “dorado,” most immediately think of the greenish-blue, saltwater fish synonymous with big game fishing. Not so in South America!

When the Wild Fish Wild Places team arrived in Salto, Uruguay last October, we had already heard stories and seen knee-trembling, images-of-leviathan Golden Dorado river fish exceeding 50 pounds in mass, accompanied by their reputation for sheer brute strength and fighting ability like no other freshwater fish we had ever encountered. These tales of the legendary Golden Dorado played through our conversations for months before finally laying our eyes on the muddy banks of the Uruguay River. The impressive Uruguay River forms part of the international boundary between Argentina and Uruguay and our hosts River Plate Outfitters have secured the exclusive rights from the Uruguayan side of this boundary water to fish the one mile section of river just below the internationally shared, large hydroelectric dam.

While our 20ft shallow draft skiff made its way toward the dam, punching through the hair-raising, upwelling, and turbulent water, Alan and I smiled and laughed like little kids as the anticipation built.

Just as I took the front casting deck position, our guide Julio pointed to the large chartreuse and silver minnow-bait and directed me to cast toward the boiling, muddy water. Those same fish stories and pictures ran through my head making the excitement almost too much to handle.

I started casting toward the violent, swirling pools of muddy water. I was forced to take up a much wider stance than normal as the boat was catching the edges of these eddies and whirlpools, violently spinning like a plastic bottle in a vortex, making it difficult to just stay in the boat. This is the only time I have ever felt happy to have a life jacket on!

It didn’t take long for the first giant Dorado to crush my lure with the most unbelievable power I have ever felt exerted by a freshwater fish. As the beast peeled out yards of line and leaped in the air numerous times like a glinting, golden missile, it was all I could do to keep my balance and land this fish. As the first Golden Dorado of the trip started to reveal itself to the cameras, we could scarcely believe the size and beauty of this magnificent fish. When Julio leaned over the side of the boat and tailed the big Golden Dorado, he started giggling and I just knew it was a good fish! The sure-footed and deft-handling Julio lifted the golden leviathan into the boat so I could remove the hook, but when I started on the lure with the pliers I immediately realized what makes these unique fish so hard to land. Their mouths comprise jaws of solid bone with teeth that wouldn’t look out of place on a chainsaw. The big Dorado started to chomp down on my lure and pliers while I attempted to remove the hooks. What an angry fish!

Julio then handed me the fish and a Boga for a proper weighing – 28 pounds! Not bad for the first fish of the trip. Alan was up next and landed a handful of nice Golden Dorado before leaving the water around 11:00AM. Due to the nature of this fishery you are only able to fish from 7AM to 11AM and 3PM to sundown as the locals are determined to ensure this unique water remains a world class, sustainable fishery. We hooked, played, lost and landed countless big fish over the next couple of days, with true trophies of 26lb, 32lb, 34lb and a fabulous arm-wrenching 39 pounder, the best of the trip. We could scarcely believe then and even now at this distant remove, find that we all are constantly “pinching ourselves” at just what a mind-blowing experience the tail-water fishery on the Uruguay River actually is. It is simply awesome!

Drawing toward the end of a morning fishing session, Alan made one of the worst and dangerous mistakes of any filming trip we have been on to date…

Check out the Uruguay episode on Sportsman Channel this week during Strike & Set Saturday at 10:30 EST.

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