Sport Fishing in the Pantanal
In recent years, more international anglers have begun travelling into the Pantanal and elsewhere in South America, keen to try the fishing in exotic locations and to pit themselves against new species. However, the great fishing of the Pantanal is no secret to Brazilians who have been visiting for decades - with extensive infrastructure already in place for visiting fishing enthusiasts.
With around 260 fish species in the Pantanal, the region offers a huge variety for sports fishermen - although species will vary by specific location and time of year. The prized target species for most anglers is the Dorado, but with Pacu, Tambaqui and large catfish such as Pintado also proven favourites. However, these aren't always easy to find - so making use of local guides and expertise is a must. Around 700,000 tourists (mostly domestic Brazilian tourists) go to the Pantanal every year - with an estimated 65% of them have fishing as their main reason to visit.
If fishing is the main purpose of your visit to the Pantanal, then the best months are Mar-Jun. Although fishing is possible in the dry season (Jul-Oct), but water levels are low, with a many fish species having migrated further south. These migratory species typically return when the rains arrive in late-October. Seasons in the Pantanal are as follow:
- December to March: Wet season - hot, humid and lots of rain - bringing new life back to the environment after the dry season. Birds and other animals migrate onto high ground - including roads which have been raised to avoid the flooding. Fish migrate upriver as part of their annual spawning.
- April/May: the rains cease, but landscape remains the same with waters at their high level.
- June/July: Water level begins to drop. Fish, birds and animals are more abundant. This is winter, with occasional cold fronts arriving from the Andes.
- August to November: Water levels drop more significantly, uncovering the cliffs and beaches along the river.
Catch and Release
Although the majority of local fishermen still like to take their catch for eating (most fishing lodges and barco-hotels will store and cook them for you), an increasing number have adopted the more sustainable practice of catch and release fishing. Many of the large fishing competitions are also strongly encouraging this practice - reducing the depletion of valuable fish stock. In some areas such as the Rio Abobral, Rio Negro, Rio Perdido, and Rio Vermelho.
Although visitors can guide themselves to their own favourite fishing spots, or fish the local streams, there are other options worth exploring.
Note that Pantanal Escapes has no affiliation with, and hasn't reviewed the lodges, hotels or barco-hotels listed. The details shown are intended only as a starting point for your own research, and we recommend you check reviews and confirm details with companies about facilities, availability and transfers before making any final choice.
Option 1: Fishing Lodges
A fishing lodge is exactly that - usually a simple hotel or pousada, and very often in remote locations. What they lack in luxuries they make up for with infrastructure designed to make the most of your fishing stay - including availability of fishing equipment and baits, boats for hire, guides, freezers for your catch, and local expertise. Most of these are fairly basic - but some higher end options are also available.
Barão de Melgaço
Option 2: Barco-Hotels
Barco-Hotels are another popular option for fishing tourists in the Pantanal. Although most aren't that luxurious, the nice thing is that the hotel comes to pick you up - generally from the port of towns such as Cáceres, Corumbá and Porto Murtinho. Instead of waking up early to travel out to your favourite fishing spot you're already there when you wake up ... and (if fishing off the main boat) you have a kitchen, a bar, and an entertainment area. Some boats also come with luxuries such as a jacuzzi and spa baths if it all gets too much. Obviously, some boats are better than others, and the best ones can get expensive. They have air-conditioned cabins, satellite TV, and advanced communications. Most carry a complement of smaller boats (towed or mounted along the sides of the main vessel) enabling guests to leave the barco-hotel, exploring smaller channels and more secluded fishing spots.
The down side of Barco-Hotels is lack of flexibility, and difficulty if you're travelling independently. This is because boats need to keep schedule, plus they typically only take bookings for groups booking out the entire boat. Brazilians often make up these numbers by booking passage together with friends, work colleagues, or acquaintances they've met in earlier trips. Fortunately, a few tour companies will book out the entire boat then sell individual passage.
Links below contain information for several barco-hotels and agencies operating in the Pantanal. Please note, that we haven't reviewed any of these companies.
A licence is essential for fishing in the Pantanal, with checks carried out by the Policia Florestal in conjunction with IBAMA (Brazil's environmental agency). If booking a trip from overseas, the easiest option to is to obtain a license arranged through your tour provider, if possible. This approach is likely to be a little more expensive, but will save you time and bureaucracy. However, in event you still need to procure a licence locally then the information below may help.
Fishing Licence - Brazilian Federal-Issued
In Brazil, the two names commonly used for amateur fishing licenses are Licença da Pesca Amadora or Carteira de Pescador Amador. National licenses are issued by the Ministry of Fishing and Aquaculture (MPA) and are valid across Brazil. These are split into:
- Cat A - Desembarcada: This is a simple angler's licence allowing you to fish from riverbanks. R$ 20 (USD 7)
- Cat B - Embarcada: This allows you to fish from boats and dinghies (in addition to angling). More expensive - but this is the most practical option for visitors on organised fishing tours. R$ 60 (USD 20)
http://sinpesq.mpa.gov.br/pndpa/web (portuguese only)
Fishing Licence - Brazilian State-Issued
Although the national licence theoretically grants permission to fish throughout Brazil, there are some exclusions. The state government of Mato Grosso do Sul, which controls the southern Pantanal region, has enacted its own legislation to ensure that it also receives a cut of the fishing revenue. Although the national licence is sufficient for larger rivers which cross state boundaries and are therefore subject to Brazilian Federal Law, you'll need a state licence to fish the smaller rivers and streams entirely contained within the state.
In essence, a national licence lets you fish in the large rivers and is good if you plan to fish in various other Brazilian states. It covers major rivers such as Paraguai, Paraná, Apa, Paranaíba, Aporé, Correntes, Piquiri and the Taquari (up until Coxim). However, if you plan to fish in smaller rivers and streams - or plan to limit your fishing within Mato Grosso do Sul, then the state-issued licence is better ... and is a little cheaper. Rather than paying for an entire year, the licence can be issued for shorter periods - down to one month, costing R$9.30 (USD 2.90). State-issue licenses can also be completed online with payment made at Banco do Brasil.
Sadly, the above website is Portuguese-only, and isn't well designed. First you need to register yourself (using the passport option if non-Brazilian), then register through the Seriema system.
Fortunately, the state government of Mato Grosso (which controls the northern Pantanal region) hasn't yet followed suit with a requirement for state-issued licenses. However, it does have state-issued licenses as an option which can be issued for short periods, such as one month, as opposed to the one year national licence.
Fishing Licence - Bolivia/Paraguay
Licenses will also be needed if fishing in Bolivian and Paraguayan regions of the Pantanal - however we have no information at this time. If planning to travel and fish within those areas we suggest that you get local advice. Although there's probably less chance of encountering a police or a fisheries patrol ensuring you have the correct documentation will reduce your risk of problems with local officials.
There are slight differences in rules for the two Brazilian states covering the Pantanal - but they are broadly similar. These are:
- Fishing is prohibited during the Piracema period.
Mato Grosso: Nov - 1 Mar
Mato Grosso do Sul: 1 Oct - 1 Feb
- Be aware of daily catch (and transport) limits.
National licence: 10kg + 1 fish
Mato Grosso licence: 5kg + 1 fish
Mato Grosso do Sul licence: 10kg + 1 fish + 5 piranha.
Transport of fish inter-state may also be prohibited (applies for Mato Grosso).
- Be aware of minimum size restrictions varying by species.
- Be aware of rivers or lakes with prohibited fishing, or where fishing is restricted to Catch and Release.
- Some restrictions apply for fishing equipment.
Cáceres - International Fishing Festival
The Festival Internacional de Pesca (FIP) in Cáceres is the billed as the world biggest freshwater fishing competition (gaining the Guinness Book of Records title in 1992). The competition runs for a week each year - with around 30,000 people participating each day. There are big prizes, including cars, to the teams gaining the most points - and is a major event attracting fishermen from across Brazil and neighbouring countries. With so many people converging on Cáceres there are also lots of other attractions including shows by popular music artists, beach volleyball, football, canoe and kayak races and more.
This is now the biggest annual tourist event within the state of Mato Grosso and provides a major boost for the local economy - typically occurring in May or June. The event has been running since 1980. There are several categories including men's, women's, and children's divisions, and boat/canoe fishing categories. From 1995, the competition's emphasis was changed to catch and release fishing - where participants are required to keep the fish alive until they're measured, and points are lost for each dead fish. Points are also awarded based on the type of fish - with prized species such as dorado and pacu being the most valuable.
Video: FIP Cáceres (advert)
Video: FIP Cáceres (report)
Other Fishing Regions Nearby
Although the Pantanal has the advantage if you want to balance your fishing with other activities, such as spotting wildlife, there are several other great fishing locations nearby which merit mention. Waters of the Pantanal are part of the wider Paraguay-Paraná river system - meaning that lodges in Northern Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia offer many of the same fish species to those of the Pantanal. These alternative downriver locations can be better options for fishing large migratory species such as Dorado and Pintado in the dry season (Aug-Oct) due to them having migrated southwards, or to avoid the piracema period when fishing is prohibited.
Northern Argentina / Uruguay
Northern Argentina and Uruguay are establishing themselves as popular fishing destinations. They lack the species variety of the Pantanal, but have gained popularity due to specialisation in Dorado - one of the world's most beautiful and most challenging sports fish. Although fishing is possible all year round, the best months are Oct-Feb. La Zona, near the Salto Grande hydroelectric dam has one of the best reputations.
Although close to the Pantanal, fishing along the Guaporé river is a different experience. The waters of the Guaporé are part of the Amazon eco-system - with more tropical species, and the chance to see Amazon river dolphins such as pink boto and the smaller grey-coloured tucuxi. This also provides visitors with an opportunity to enjoy views of dramatic table-top mountains in Ricardo Franco State Park and the nearby Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (Bolivia). The river flows northwards into the Brazilian state of Rondônia, and forms the border with Bolivia along much of its course. It flows into the Madeira and, eventually, the Amazon. The easiest way for Pantanal visitors to experience the Guaporé region by a visit to the towns of Pontes e Lacerda or Vila Bela da Santíssima Trindade. However, serious fishing enthusiasts might also consider visiting a specialised fishing lodge such as the ones listed below:
The Araguaia river is located in eastern Mato Grosso, marking it's border with neighbouring states of Goías and Tocantins, before continuing up into the Amazon state of Pará. As with the Guaporé, this is another Amazon river system containing river dolphins (the newly acknowledged Araguaia sub-species of the boto), and especially famous for its large catfish such as the Paraíba and Pirarara (red-tailed catfish) which reach over two metres. There are numerous fishing lodges in the region - although the most convenient locations are Barra do Garças, close to the Serra do Roncador in Mato Grosso, and the town of Luiz Alves just across the state border in Goías.
Located in the southern Amazon rainforest, in a remote and pristine area that was set to become a test site for Brazil's nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s (which fortunately never occurred) - its one of the best spots to experience the rainforest, especially if visiting the acclaimed Cristalino Lodge. Alta Floresta is smaller and less busy than the going through the main Amazon city of Manaus, and is physically closer - meaning less time spent travelling if combining this with a visit to the Pantanal. There's also great fishing available within the region.
Although less developed and less accessible than the Brazilian side of the frontier, this has some advantages if looking for a remote fishing getaway. There are some fishing lodges located on the Bolivian side of the Guaporé river and other remote locations within the Bolivian Amazon.