Piranha Fishing in Charo Lake (Peruvian Amazon)

It is Christmas day and I wake up to the beautiful view of lush, greenery lining the shores of the greatest river in the world.

After breakfast we head out on the skiffs for our first adventure. Aboard the skiffs we pass a very basic house made out of wood. A few men come down to the shoreline and our guides give them food that the crew have brought for Christmas. A pair of blue and yellow macaws fly above us as we make our way down the Tahuayo black water river.


We reach the entrance to Charo Lake where our group is planning to fish for piranhas, but a tree seems to have fallen and is blocking our path. Our skiff drivers try to move it by ramming the skiffs into it, but it is stuck. Out come the machetes and the skiff drivers and guides try to cut the log. This does not work either and eventually we head over to the shore, where we climb off the skiffs to allow the drivers to try to manoeuvre the skiffs over the trunk. When we reach the shore we notice that the  tree has not fallen over as we initially assumed, but has been purposely cut down to block the access.


We learn that local activists do not want people to fish the piranhas in the lagoon and the guides believe this is probably their work. I understand the concerns of the activists and am also against sport fishing, however the guides are determined and decide to find another entrance.

We eventually get into the lagoon and the three skiffs split up. I entertain myself by photographing the birds and bugs in the nearby trees while some other passengers try their hand at the traditional method of piranha fishing with wooden sticks and bits of meat stuck on hooks.

Piranhas are indigenous to the Amazon basin and are only found in the wild in South America. They are naturally found east of the Andes and inhabit almost every type of water there including rivers and basins connected to the ocean.

The red-bellied piranha is the Amazon’s most notorious animal; it has a very powerful bite, which could sever a finger or a toe (as one of our guides confirms by showing us a huge scar on his hand). However, people usually get bitten by piranhas when removing hooks from their mouth. Red-bellied piranhas feed either by charge or by ambush at dawn, in the late afternoon or at night. Their diet mostly consists of fish, insects, crustacean and worms, although they also eat algae.


Most of the passengers on my skiff catch and release at least one piranha each, however one of the guides has kept a fish. As we leave the lake we see that he has impaled it on a stick and is now waving it in the air. Soon we figure out why he is acting so strangely when a hawk takes off from a nearby tree and flies over to us.

The idea is that the hawk will swoop down and grab the piranha from the guide’s hand. The hawk seems to have other ideas and flies right past us. A little further down the river we see another hawk and our guide tries again. This hawk doesn’t seem interested either and eventually we give up and head back to the Aqua Amazon for lunch.


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