When Otter Pass co-founder Jonathan and his brothers were young, their dad used to take them fishing for piranhas. In fact, the name Otter Pass comes from their favorite fishing lodge in Brazil. The art of fishing for piranhas is a little-known skill in North America, but critical for anyone who finds themselves hungry and near piranha-infested waters. These are the lessons Jonathan passes on to his own kids, should the need arise.
Eight tips for a successful piranha fishing venture:
1) Carry a small bat with you at all times. When you catch a piranha, you have to kill it before you can take the hook out. The local way to kill a piranha is with a blow to the piranha’s head with a small bat. It wasn’t uncommon to run into people in Brazil who were missing fingers, usually because they tried to take the hook out without knocking the piranha out first. I wouldn’t recommend it.
2) Bring several large hooks with you and be prepared to lose them. Often while fishing, you’ll feel a big bump on the line, then the pole will go limp. After reeling the bait in, you’ll realize the piranha not only took the bait but it actually bit the hook in half! Be prepared to change your hooks multiple times till you successfully reel your prey in.
3) Avoid fishing under bird nesting grounds. Piranhas are smart and they know that baby chicks aren’t good at flying. Nesting grounds are like a candy store for hungry piranhas. The waters may be chock full, but too many piranhas are never a good thing. Speaking of which…
4) Never, ever get in to small pools of water during dry season. I can’t emphasize this enough. During the rainy season, piranhas have plenty of places to swim. However, during the dry season when the river goes down, piranhas and other fish can get caught in ever-shrinking pools of water. Once they eat up all the food, they’re especially dangerous. We’d often hear stories growing up of cowboys killing a cow downstream to attract the piranhas while the rest of the heard crossed the river upstream. If you look close enough at cows living in the Pantanal (the area out west that has the best piranha fishing), you’ll sometimes notice that a few are missing their lips. That’s because they tried to drink from a small pool in the dry season and the piranhas ate their lips!
5) Never, ever get in to the water next to where fish are being cleaned. Our guides would often clean the fish we caught right next to the river, throwing the fish guts right into the water next to them. The water would go crazy every time the guide threw a piece of flesh into it. The piranhas can get down to the bone in mere moments. You don’t want to be anywhere near a piranha feeding frenzy. If this doesn’t feel like your jam…
6) Weigh the bait down to bypass the piranhas entirely. Piranhas are not the biggest fish in the river. Hopefully, the weight will take your bait down to the bottom of the river quickly where the large catfish are before the piranhas get to it. Those catfish are fun to catch and—bonus—they don’t bite your fingers off.
7) Don’t get discouraged if you only get half a fish. Once, half the fish I caught was chewed off. That just makes for fresher bait! Throw it back in. The rest of the piranhas are sure to be on their way soon. The smell of fresh bait is like catnip to them. And finally…
8) Keep trying--piranhas make good soup. Piranha soup is some of the best food I ate while on fishing trips in the Pantanal, the region near where I grew up that has some of the best piranha fishing in Brazil. Believe me, it’s worth it. And soup is easy to eat if a piranha happens to catch one of your fingers, so no matter what happens, you’re good!