Arapaima Fishing: Learn About This Fascinating Fish Species

Last Updated: February 14, 2022

The arapaima or pirarucu is a living dinosaur, with fossils of the species dating back 23 million years, making it one of the oldest living fish species on the planet. 

They are river monsters in the truest sense, they grow to huge sizes and are incredibly difficult to catch. 

The exotic nature of the species coupled with the incredible challenge in catching them has made them a popular target among hardcore traveling anglers. 

At times anglers will travel for days into the deep Amazon rainforests of South America, far from civilization for a chance to fish untouched waters full of giant arapaima. 

The adventure to reach the isolated waters in the Amazon and the challenge of catching the fish itself, make Arapaima fishing one of the ultimate fishing trips. 

How Do You Catch Arapaima?

arapaima swimming

Fishing for arapaima requires certain techniques and gear, let’s take a look into what you will need to do to be successful when fishing for arapaima. 

Stealth Is Critical

Arapaima are very sensitive to noise and vibration, and to fish for these in the Amazon pools where they live requires you to take stealth to a level beyond that of fishing for other fish species. 

Talking at a normal volume is enough to scare away arapaima, so start off by talking quietly or even whispering. 

Fish Fact: Arapaima regularly surface to gulp air as a way to breathe, and if you are talking as one surfaces the jig is up. 

Other critical stealth practices rely on not dropping things in the boat if you are in one, or knocking your fishing rod against the side of the boat, all these things need to be avoided, and it will cause you to think about every move you make. 

Spot and Cast

Arapaima fishing can be a waiting game, and as you stand in the boat or onshore in total silence you need to observe the surface of the water for fish signs. 

When you see an arapaima come to the surface to gulp air or explode on the surface as it attempts to eat potential prey, you need to follow up with a cast in the immediate area. 

The fish might take your bait nearly immediately, or you may need to play the waiting game, and leave the bait to sit for an extended amount of time before the fish commits. 

These fishing methods seem simple on paper, but on the water, it will become a challenge. 

Get Ready For a Fight 

When an arapaima takes your offering it is crucial that you set the hook very hard.

The arapaima has a very bony mouth, which means that you need to ensure that your hook buries deep enough into the fishes’ flesh and bone, otherwise it will come un-hooked. 

Top Tip: It is very important to maintain pressure to avoid losing the fish as it fights you, so your drag adjustments need to be a high priority. 

There is typically a large number of tree branches and other large obstacles in the Amazonian waters you will be fishing, so it is also important to ensure that you do not allow the fish to take your line into these areas. 

Conventional Fishing Gear 

A variety of fishing reels

Rods

Some of the best rods for arapaima are saltwater rods that can handle fish that can weigh anywhere from 100 to 250 pounds. 

Rods like the Rampage and Regiment models by Penn, and the Nomad rod by Okuma are great examples. 

Multi-piece rods are a great option for traveling, and they can be used, but keep in mind that rods that break down into multiple segments have more potential failure points, and the arapaima is a large fish. 

If you are concerned about a multi-piece rod breaking a one-piece rod is going to be what you want to bring. 

Reels

Like with fishing rods, your reels need to be built heavy-duty to handle the rigors of fighting a monster fish. 

Saltwater reels like the Penn Warfare 20LW or the Shimano Tranx are a great option if you are running a baitcasting reel. 

The Shimano Thunnus and Oceanic reels are great options for spinning reel setups. 

Lures

There are a few lures that work well for these monster fish of the Amazon.

Glide baits, plugs/crankbaits, topwater, and jigs can all work at certain times, but by far the most popular method when fishing for arapaima on conventional tackle is to use dead bait.  

Dead bait or cut bait pair with a large single hook is by far the most productive way to catch an arapaima and circle hooks that range from 6/0 to 10/0 should be used. 

It is also recommended that the circle hooks be the barbless variety. 

Despite arapaima being living dinosaurs, this monster fish is actually quite fragile.

Author Note: Guide services in South America are typically catch and release only when it comes to arapaima. 

Despite the care taken to ensure a healthy release, some fish are still lost when fish they are gut hooked with barbed hooks.  

Fly Fishing Gear 

Saltwater Fishing Fly

Fly Rod 

When it comes to catching the arapaima gigas on a fly rod, you will want to have a rod that is 9 feet in length. 

A 12 weight rod is also recommended for these freshwater river monsters, and 4-piece breakdown rods will work just fine. 

Fly Lines and Leaders

For Fishing the Amazonian waterways for these fish, you will want to use an aggressively tapered fly line. 

Integrated shooting tapers are a necessity, and the standard weight forward lines will make you exhausted quickly when trying to cast a 4/0 streamer all day. 

Scientific Anglers makes some great fly lines for this type of fishing, with the Sonar jungle custom tip line, and mastery titan taper line being some of the best choices. 

For leaders, you will want to run an 80-pound fluorocarbon line. 80-pound leaders are a necessity for fish that can approach 300 pounds in weight, and many anglers and guides will tell you that even this can break during a fight. 

Fly Reel

Larger saltwater reels are the best option for wrestling in big Arapaima. 

Reels with a sealed disk drag are a necessity, and 20 pounds of drag with a reel that has an easily accessible side knob are preferred. 

Many anglers also recommend that you get machined aluminum reels as well, as the drag system and reel will run smoother than a cheaper cast reel. 

Flies

The best flies for arapaima are saltwater streamer fly with heavy-duty 4/0 to 6/0 sized hooks. 

Large streamers that are darker in color perform very well and create the best silhouettes in the murky Amazonian or Essequibo waters, but bright colors also have their time and place. 

Flies like the girl next door, bad attitude baitfish, and the tarpon snake are notable fly patterns that work well. 

Where Can I Fish for Arapaima?

Aerial View of Rainforest

The Arapaima is found in the bodies of water of the Amazon and Essequibo basins. 

The countries of Brazil, Guyana, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador all have Arapaima present, though the largest populations are in Brazil. They enjoy living in similar environments to Rainbow Bass.

Author Note: Through artificial introduction, the arapaima can also be found in Thailand

While fish in native waterways are incredibly rare, there are commercial fishing ponds and other fisheries in Thailand that have stocked arapaima. 

How Big are Arapaima?

Large Arapaima

The Arapaima Gigas is the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world. 

Author Note: They can grow to be close to 10 feet in length and the largest fish ever recorded was 440 pounds, but 100-200 pound fish are far more common. 

Due to overfishing in some regions, it is rare to catch fish over 6.5 feet in length and is the reason why trophy anglers travel into the rainforest to find isolated river monsters. 

How Long does an Arapaima Live?

The Arapaima can live for up to 20 years, and sexual maturity for the species occurs at about 4 or 5 years of age. 

It is rare for fish to reach this age around populated areas, and while they have a much better chance of reaching the age of 20 years in isolated regions, it still is uncommon. 

Arapaima Conservation

men catching arapaima

Arapaima populations have been dropping in many areas due to overharvesting. 

Many governments have put a ban on the harvest of the fish, but even so, poaching and illegal harvest are still major issues in some regions. 

Author Note: In Brazil, tens of thousands of tons of illegally harvested Arapaima have been seized in the last few years. 

In the more rural and isolated parts of the Arapaimas’ range, many governments have started programs with the local villages and towns to manage arapaima populations for sustainable harvesting practices with great success. 

The management areas have also created a fishing industry for traveling anglers, and created a local economy for these small villages and towns.

Final Thoughts

Taking an adventure down the Amazon river or its’ countless tributaries in search of monster arapaima is something that will stick with you for the rest of your life. 

It is on the bucket list of many avid anglers, and the arapaima is undoubtedly one of the top sportfish in the world. 

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