Adapting tenkara to catch an exciting new species
The first and obvious question is “what the heck is a machaca?”. The short answer is “the most perfect tenkara sportfish species you’ve never heard of”. The more precise answer is that the machaca is relative of the piranha that inhabits rivers and lakes in Central America. They share the piranha’s intimidating dental hardware, but have a vaguely carp-like body. They take flies aggressively, and fight like
smallmouth bass...only angrier! And, dare I say it, stronger.
Despite those impressive teeth, they mostly eat plant matter. They will eat flowers, seed pods and fruit that fall from trees - so, they are very, very surface oriented. Stealthy casting is not required. In fact, the splashier the presentation the better! The most active fish we saw on our trip were positioned under tree
where a troop of howler monkeys were feeding, knocking fruits into the water. It was quite a scene with the dominant male whooping it up because we were in his territory, knocking fruit into the water, which was making the fish even more aggressive...and I forgot to turn on my GoPro. While machaca will eat bait fish, frogs, small lizards and aquatic insects, once they are adults their main diet is plant matter that falls into the river.
Now, a bit more about how this whole trip happened. We planned a family vacation to Costa Rica to have some down time after the kids’ school year. This was to be a family trip, not a fishing trip, but when I brought the idea of a guided trip up to my wife, and God bless her, she suggested I book it as a Father’s Day present.
I got in touch with Peter Gorinsky of Fly Fish Costa Rica. We chatted by email. He suggested a float trip for machaca. I had never heard of machaca, but I have a “trust the recommendation of the local guide policy”, so I went with it.
Mr. Gorinsky is a remarkable character. He’s one of those guys who, no matter what you have done with your life, makes you feel that perhaps your decisions have been safe and a little dull. Born in Guyana, he grew up playing in the jungle and rivers surrounding his village. He survived an attack by caiman when he was 7 (“The trick is you roll with them, don’t try to pull away. That’s how they tear you apart. Then you go for their eyes”). He started fly fishing as a young man. He was the first known person to catch an arapima on the fly. He started his guide business, Fly Fish Costa Rica in the 1970’s. He’s fished all over Central and South America, as well as the US and probably some other places we didn’t talk about. He speaks eight languages, and yes, English is one of them. And he’s a hell of a nice guy and a joy to be around. It turns out that he is also a convert to the Way of Tenkara, committed to popularizing the method in Central America. He was excited about the idea of testing out tenkara for machaca!
We started getting hits from fish within a few minutes of our launch. Since machaca mostly feed on plant matter that falls into the river, they were primarily holding along the banks, preferring shady spots. Their takes are fast. Really fast! In fact, I have never missed so many fish on a single outing. I would estimate that I missed several dozen fish before I had a solid hook up. I will admit that I was a little slow on my sets that morning, but I was simply not prepared for the ferocious, lightning fast takes of these fish. Unlike many of our North American species that suck or slurp in their food (think bass and to some degree trout) these fish actually bite their targets, which I think leads to their rapid fraud detection. Eventually, I did get dialed in started hooking fish more frequently.
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