The Payara, Hydrolycus scomberoides, or “Vampire fish” is a species of dogtooth tetra. The predatory fish is found in the Amazon Basin in tropical South America. Payara are hands down, one of the most incredible fish I have ever experienced on a fly, they look badass and getting the chance to come close to these fanged monsters was nothing slight from unforgettable.
Here are some tips I found that can help you increase your chances of landing one for yourself:
Tip #1 Proper Gear: Payara live in gnarly, fast, deep rapids so you will be fishing deep majority of the time. 400 to 500 grain sink tips or full sinking lines will help with keeping your fly down deep. You’ll want to pair that with 10wt to 12wt rods. Make sure you have a wire bite guard or tippet. You can fish 50lb mono or fluoro and 50-pound wire. 3 to 3.5 ft leader/tippet will work and test your knots!
Tip #2 Do Not Trout Set!!! You are stripping your fly through the deep, strong water so when you feel that line go tight, strip set as hard as you can. Payara have big strong mouths filled with big fanged teeth, which can make the strip set difficult to get them hooked, especially since at times, they will follow your fly all the way to the boat or shore and strike the fly close, so always be ready for a take at any moment.
Tip #3 Minimal Casting: No long casts are needed really, just cast into the rapids and mend your line to help your fly sink. After your fly hits the water, feed about 40 to 60 feet of line out and wait for your line to straighten or go tight and your fly has sunk a bit, then begin to strip. Try the slower water right next to the rapids. You can also cast upstream and then work your fly across the current. Try the swirls in water by casting and letting your fly sink a few seconds and stripping it back.
Tip #4 Proper Retrieve: You can strip with one hand, going from slow to fast, or what I liked best is the double hand strip. Payara are chasing swimming fish in fast water so the fast stripping worked the best for me. But always try slow and then increase the speed of your strip.
Tip #5 Be Prepared for a Battle: These fish fight just as hard as they look, so when you do hook into one be prepared for a fight. They will be into your backing in seconds and use the fast, strong rapids to their advantage and because of this don’t set your drag too hard initially, you risk breaking them off (or getting your rod pulled out of your hands) and there is no stopping them in that fast water, just increase the drag while fighting and enjoy the cartwheel show they put on!
Tip #6 Fly Selection! The bigger, flashier the better! In order to trigger a strike from a Payara, the fish needs to see that fly so the silhouette and flash appeal is necessary. I tied from 8-12 inch flies in red/white with some flash and also yellow/black/orange and pink/blue/yellow. It seemed all of these color combos worked, so just a matter of catching their attention.
Tip #7 Fish from a Boat: You may also drift in the boat, that is also a good way to fish for them just check out how secure you feel in those rapids while standing up.