A Little Bit More About my Past: Fishing in "Riacho Grande," São Paulo, Brazil.

Hello, Blog Readers!

As you may have already read about, I used to go fishing all the time with my father back when I was a young lad. Usually on weekends, we would hit this certain reservoir in the state of São Paulo (Billings/Guarapiranga), and fish mainly in the city of Riacho Grande. If you haven't read about any of this yet, you can click here to go to my Multi-Species post and read a little bit about my past. 

I've decided to write this post because I think it's important for anglers in this country to know and understand that fishing is very different from place to place; and that culture, economy, and even politics indirectly influence this sport everywhere. "Broaden your horizons," right? When I mentioned in another post that "we are blessed for having such good fisheries here," I wasn't lying or being delusional (heh). We are truly blessed for having such a fish diversity and good quality in this country, and we should be more than satisfied with what we have.

I've fished in Brazil, in China, and now in the United Stated. I've seen big fisheries suffer from over-harvesting (not even by poachers) and eventually dying over the years. My father always tells me on the phone: "some of our wonderful spots in Brazil are now empty. There's no fish left." I've seen non-point source pollution happen on a daily basis, polluting streams and rivers until no life was present anymore. Even more tragic -- I've even seen "dams of trash" blocking the water of streams, back in the days.

So...I'm here to talk a little bit more about how fishing was back in Brazil, during 1998-2005. I asked my father to take some photos on some of his recent fishing trips to "Riacho Grande," so I could show you guys how different is the fishing there compared to here, and how those differences have influenced the fishing over the years. Notice that I'll be using some words in Portuguese, but that shouldn't be a problem for you guys -- the readers. You don't necessarily need any Portuguese here to understand the subject, but I'm emphasizing my native language so that you can have an idea of how we -- Brazilians -- call certain fish in Portuguese. Also, I'm linking significant Portuguese words to external links in English, so the reader can have an idea of what I'm talking about.

First, here is a map of a portion of the Billings/Guarapiranga Reservoir from Google Earth (Notice that the Billings Reservoir was named after an American), so you can have an idea of where exactly my father and I used to fish. We chose this particular area to fish because the left side is the west end of the Guarapiranga Reservoir whereas the right side is the East end of the Billings Reservoir. In other words, this part is a junction of two different bodies of water; thus, having different Species of fish!

Note that you can also just type in "Riacho Grande" on your Google Earth, and locate the portion of the map below, so you can have a magnified view of it. If you do so, you will notice that there are 4 pumps just below the number "2" in the map, which pump water from Billings to Guarapiranga and vice-versa, so the levels of water between both reservoirs are closely the same (notice that there's land below that bridge; therefore, the water between both reservoirs are divided). The neat fact about this little fishing place is that the water would always overflow after heavy periods of rain, meaning that the pumps would get entirely covered, and fish from Guarapiranga and Billings were able to pass from one side to the other! I guess my father was an interesting person even when it came to choosing his fishing spots.

Fishing spots, 1-4:

(1) Great pool with Tilápia-Do-Nilo (Nile Tilapia -- Oreochromis niloticus) and Carás (Pearl Cichlid -- Geophagus brasiliensis), if cast towards its inside. If cast towards the outside area, great spot for Carpa-Comum (Common Carp) and Bagre (A type of Catfish of the Rhamdia Sp. I couldn't find a picture or good page of it). My father and I used to fish this spot very often: it was our favorite fishing spot. For the Tilapias and Pearl Cichlids, we used just regular garden worms or wax worms, on floats or on the bottom. My father's PB (personal best) for Nile Tilapia came from this spot: 4.5lbs. For the Carp, it was a little bit more complicated: we always made a special dough for it, either peanut and sugar or banana and honey flavor. Chum and cast. This is where I caught my first Koi (white and yellow), measuring about 7lbs. As for the Catfish...oh well, they would eat ANYTHING, and we would always catch them by accident.

(2) That's the beginning of the Billings Reservoir. We used to catch all the Species above there, plus another two types of fish. One was called the "Lambari Vermelho " (Astyanax fasciatus), which is a DELICIOUS fish. Brazilians love to eat it deep-fried, and my dad always ate it with a Bohemia beer and some lime and salt on the side. But anyways...The finickiness of this little fish is unbelievable! If you read the Lambari link, you should know about it. In order to catch the big Lambaris (15-20 cm long -- 6-9 inches), my father and I used to cook Spaghetti, cut it in small pieces on a size 14 hook, and dip it and leave it in Parmesan cheese for a couple days (Italian fish, perhaps? Hah). The big ones there measured only 6 inches, but the feeling of catching one of those was great. It was similar as to catching a Largemouth Bass -- through skills and plans. I believe that it's from the Lambaris that I first attained this love for fishing for different small Species of fish. It was really my first Micro-fish. Unfortunately, due to overharvesting and the construction of many dams and blockages, the Lambari Vermelho is currently endangered in Brazil.

Another type of fish present there was the Muçum (Marbled Swamp Eel -- Synbranchus marmoratus). They were lots of fun to catch as well, especially because they lived between the rocks! They had two color variations: one was light grey, and the other one was even more beautiful -- it had yellow spots on its body. The fishing process was quite complicated, though. First, we had to dig a little "well." In other words, we had to create a little hole by moving rocks from one location to another, until we could see water. After some tiresome work, we would drop a metal leader fishing line in with a piece of fish, chicken, or beef, and just wait! Heh. It was fun because you could see them coming out of the rocks, and even grabbing the bait! They were big and long, reaching even 1.5lbs! It was lots of fun...

(3) That was my father's best spot for Nile Tilapias (up to 2.5lbs). The sizes weren't very big, but he could easily fill a 20lb bucket in an hour or so. Fishing there deteriorated over the years, since the people from the "favelas" turned spot 3 and 4 into their own little "urban beaches." Now these spots are reserved for swimming, even though nobody is supposed to swim there.

(4) This spot is well-known for big Traíras (Freshwater Wolf Fish -- I gave credit to Jeremy Wade, and linked it to River Monsters. Hahaha. But it's really a fish of the Hoplias Sp.). The picture at the end of the post is of my father holding a baby one, but there are big ones in this spot, especially after dark. That particular spot was where I got my first Freshwater Wolf Fish, on a piece of cut Lambari Vermelho, measuring 2lbs (a small one). Notice through the picture above that there's vegetation there, all year long (since Winter in Brazil is as low as 10 degrees Celsius -- 50F), and this fish loves to stay in the shallows. As a matter of fact, there used to be a good population of frogs there before, but now they are scarce. They have all been eaten! Brazilians catch all of them with live or cut bait. Can you imagine if you gave it a try with your favorite frog lure? They would hit it for sure!

Fishing for all those different Species of fish was certainly very entertaining. However, for many different reasons, the sport deteriorated as time passed:

(1) Due to economical factors, people would harvest 100% of their catches for human consumption, diminishing fish populations over the years. Notice that there was no such thing as "fishing licenses" or "creel limits" in São Paulo, and even other states. Now, there's a governmental agency that sells licenses online, but the main point is that the country is not able to maintain the law. The execute branch is really bad. Or better saying -- the country itself is not interested in investing in this field for many different reasons. Over there, you will NEVER see someone come over to check your licenses, and even more -- who would go to the favelas to check for fishing licenses?! That's like...asking to die, seriously. I don't recall how many times my father and I have fished among people with light weapons, or even guns. All of us were bounded by our love for the sport; therefore, nobody hurt each other (Brazilians are actually very charismatic towards friends and acquaintances); however, if the Game Warden ever showed up there, they would very likely end up dead in the mountains or floating down the River. Plus, how would the poor people be able to purchase the license ONLINE without a computer? In the favelas, they barely have TVs. If you have a TV or microwave, you are a wealthy person in your neighborhood.

Sadly enough, as mentioned above, the country wouldn't be able to enforce environmental conservation even if they wanted to. The Brazilian government is very corrupted, and they can barely control all the criminal activity in the favelas...Although the country is economically progressing, the social aspects of São Paulo and Rio are still deteriorating.  

So, if someone actually got 200 fish a day, they would take all 200 home (no creel limit -- sizes or numbers) and probably partake among his poor neighbors, family, and be a hero for bringing food home. I remember that some people would release the small fish to "let them grow," but the huge part of uneducated anglers would take even the smallest fish to "deep-fry them." Different than this country, fish there is still a good source of "free-food," and there is no law enforcement that supports a sustainable aquatic environment. It's truly a shame...

(2) Due to point and non-point source pollution, the quality of the aquatic ecosystem decreased. Littering (from plastic bags to gigantic tires), toxic waste from certain local industrial facilities, illegal dumping of toxic substances...everything contributed to a decrease in water quality. The pH of the water decreased over the years, some areas becoming more acidic than others (like spot 1 and 2). Certain fishes started to migrate to other areas and even spawn in different locations due to pollution! Not only that, the amount of snags in certain fishing spots became unbearable, making those places "unfishable."

Sadly enough (again), the government doesn't give enough attention to that at the moment. With low-educated individuals in the favelas, most of them don't even have the slight idea of the consequences their actions are bringing. Worse than that, they are not educated not because they are lazy or don't want to be educated; they have not been educated because of many different social economical aspects that I'll not cite here. It's seriously not their fault -- the government really fails to provide at certain times. 

Well...I could continue on the list, but I'll stop here because I'm getting frustrated. I love my country, but I'm also a very realistic person. These two examples are good enough to show you how social, economical, and political factors can actually affect the population, and eventually the sport of fishing. I hope you can compare both scenarios: Brazil and USA, and have the big idea of how things are actually better here even when it comes to fishing.

Sometimes people here complain about others not respecting the laws, or they find the laws or government agencies lacking; however, it's good to realize that it's not easy to maintain this "order." It requires a lot of education, labor, common sense from the public, and a good budget as well. It would be nice if everyone woke up every morning and looked at life in a positive way: "This is how much we have accomplished here, and every little bit of my actions every day contribute to the whole" (that's actually part of Emile Durkheim's Functionalism theory in Sociology). For those who never saw something worse, it's hard to fully comprehend and value what they currently have.

It's because of my past experiences in Brazil, and all the things that I've observed during the years of my youth, that I firmly believe in social shaping as a solution for certain problems related to fishing. Rather than saving fishing spots for myself, and just thinking about how am I going to enjoy fishing tomorrow, next week, next year; I really prefer to go "all out" and share all my knowledge with the public. This is what this Blog is about, isn't it? Recreational and Sustainable Fishing.

Well...below are a couple pictures that my father took during his last fishing sessions at Riacho Grande, on spot 4:

Did you ever get annoyed because someone that you don't know was fishing too close to you? Well..as I mentioned in the other post, fishing in São Paulo is like looking at a line of fishing rods. There is no limit of rods per person; therefore, some anglers use as much as 12 rods at once. Now, in 2012, there are more spin casters and baitcasters; however, there are still variations of the old bamboo rod fishing style. In the picture above, my father got his rod holders and his two PENN baitcasters in the water. 

This is another spot where my father and I used to fish at. Other than all the Species of fish mentioned in this post, another one that can be caught here is the Piau-Flamengo or Ferreirinha (its slang name -- Leporinus fasciatus). Believe it or not, a common bait for this type of fish is suspended cheese (usually mozzarela). Talk about a finicky fish, huh?

My father giving an overhead cast with his PENN reel. He's seriously the only one who uses conventional reels there. Back in the days, some of the anglers used to come around and ask us "what kind of reel was that."   

A very good spot for the Freshwater Wolf-Fish (Traíra). Cast a live Lambari or some cutbait during dusk and they will certainly strike.

As I have mentioned earlier in this post, the city of Riacho Grande is now an "urban beach," one of the few places around for the poor people to have some entertainment. Due to that, fish has deteriorates dramatically on spots 3 and 4. 

A photo of the Guarapiranga Reservoir. On the other size of that building starts the Billings Reservoir.

A typical Brazilian family fishing around the Reservoir. They even brought their pet chicken out for a walk. When spending some family time close to the favelas, the kids usually fish, the father does the BBQ, and the mother gets a tan. Very traditional. 

A photo of multiple Lambaris, but not the red-tailed ones. Though, they are from the Astyanax family. 

My father and his friend holding up a set of Freshwater Wolf Fish (small ones -- Hoplias Sp.) caught on live minnows. The guy is obviously going to dip it into flour and deep-fry that little guy, and probably eat it with lime and a beer. Hah.

A Brazilian Pearl Cichlid. This one is already considered a medium size nowadays. Back in the days, this was a small one, and the big ones would get up to a pound. Due to over harvest, the results are quite obvious.

One of my father's friend holding a nice-sized Pearl Cichlid. If you click on the photo to magnify it, you will see that he was using a rig with two small hooks, bullet sinker, and earthworms.

My father holding a nice Pearl Cichlid, also caught on earthworms. Never mind the Extreme Philly Fishing Under Armour T-shirt and the NY cap... Hehe.

A variation of the Tilapia Species that can be found in the Guarapiranga Reservoir. I have yet to identify it; however, it's certainly a member of the Tilapia family (Tilapiine Cichlid)

Well...I hope you guys enjoyed reading a little bit more about my past, back in Brazil. I truly miss those days, but I can't say that I regret coming to USA and fishing here. I'm having a blast, after all!

Best of luck for all of us,

Long Days and Pleasant Nights,


Leo S.