When you hear the word piranha, what comes to mind? For me it’s a little fish with ginormous teeth that can eat a person alive. So needless to say, when fishing for piranhas was on the Guyana things to do itinerary there was a wee bit or nerves that set in. I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to be floating in a boat in a murky river on top of the scary fish, much less catching one and willingly inviting them inside the vessel.
But, it turns out that this bucket list experience was one of my favorite things I did in this South American country, and possibly the world.
What is a Piranha (Pirana)
Piranhas (also known as piranas) are freshwater fish infamous for their very sharp triangle-shaped teeth and strong jaws that produce a forceful bite (have you ever seen the scary movie of the same name?). They are a freshwater fish that can be found throughout South American rivers and lakes, with some of the largest known being spotted in Guyana’s Amazon Basin (I can attest to that!).
Though compared to Guyana’s popular Arapaima fish they are relatively small in size, ranging on average from 5-14 inches, their reputation as a predator makes them one of the most feared fishes in the world. But, the good news is that they typically don’t attack humans, unless they are in a stressful environment. Still, I wasn’t about to take any chances by dipping my toes in the water!
Where in Guyana can you go Piranha Fishing?
About 90% of the rivers and lakes in Guyana have piranha, so they won’t be hard to find. There are many tour operators around the country that can take you on an adventurous fishing excursion. Because I was staying at Rewa Eco Lodge in North Rupununi, we went right on the Rewa River with staff of the lodge and wildlife specialist/tour operator Leon of Leon Moore Nature Experiences.
How to Fish for Pirana in Guayna
Making a Fishing Rod
From Rewa Lodge we took a motorized dingy upstream to a landing spot on the Rewa River. This is where we would make our fishing poles and catch the piranha bait. For the rod you may need to go deep in the rainforest to find the yari-yari tree—this type of wood makes the best rod because of its small diameter, strength and flexibility. Not only did they have to be made from a specific type of wood, but also had to be just the right length of branches, an 8-foot one makes for the perfect fishing pole.
After the poles were found, the guides showed me how to attach fishing line and a large hook. That’s it—simplicity’s at it finest.
Collecting Piranha Bait
Pirana mostly feed off of fish, so we needed to catch some small ones. In order to do this we used live grub (a little beetle) that was found inside of a kokerit seed. When a kokerit nut gets buried in the ground for around a month, a tiny beetle goes inside to call it home. You can eat these beetles live for protein (our guide did!) or use them for bait to catch small fish.
Once our grub was baited and in the water, it took about 3 minutes to catch the first fish. That was great, but we’d need at least a dozen more before heading out to the river for piranha fishing. As I was fishing for small bait off the shoreline, I actually caught a small piranha (my first one!) and we were able to cut that one up into a few smaller pieces to use as bait too.
It took about a half an hour to catch all of the bait needed and then we headed out to the Rewa River to catch the fish that most people feared.
There was a special technique the locals used to catch the piranha that was as simple as the stick rod. You bait the hook, drop the line in the water and splash vigorously with your stick for about ten seconds. This is supposed to make them think there’s something moving in the water, coming to inspect and hopefully smelling your bait at the same time.
You will feel lots of little nibbles, but the trick is to pull your wooden rod straight up when you get a big nibble, this will cause them to get hooked. I definitely lost quite a few in the beginning, but got better at it as the day went on. In just a couple hours, I caught 10 piranhas and one vampire (payara) fish!
- You have to be really careful not to swing your hook around and hit someone on the boat or yourself, like I did!
- Wear sunglasses, in case of flying hooks.
- When you catch a fish, be extra careful when bringing it in the boat in case the piranha unattaches itself from the hook. It’s best to let your guide handle it once it’s on your line.
Cooking & Eating
After a successful day fishing, it was time to be rewarded for the hard work. We found a clear spot along the river bank and the guides created a delicious lunch with our catch. They expertly cleaned the fish and made a fire by piling sticks into a pyramid. The grill top was created using random tree branches.
The piranha (and a catfish that someone else had caught) was then coated with Chief’s All-Purpose Seasoning before being placed on the makeshift barbecue. They were grilled to perfection and served with a side of farine (as everything always was), a dish similar to couscous that is made from the root of the local cassava plant, and a thermos full of lime juice.
I know your next question—what does piranha taste like? It tastes like a mild, very dry white fish. Though some claim it to be really fishy, I did not find that to be true. But, it does have a lot of tiny little bones to watch out for!
How to Book this Experience
This experience can be booked through almost any tour operator in Guyana. It can also be booked through the lodge we stayed at, Rewa Eco Lodge in North Rupununi, and wildlife specialist/tour operator who was with me my entire time in Guyana, Leon of Leon Moore Nature Experiences.
Want more ideas of things to do in Guyana? Check out these Guyana tours.
What to Bring
- Sunglasses: sunglasses will not only protect you from the bugs getting into your eyes when the boat is moving at high speeds, but also for flying fishing hooks.
- Sun Hat: there is not much shade on the river so you will want to protect your face from the hot sun. I brought the Bodvera Outdoor Wide Brim Hat and it worked like a charm.
- Sunscreen: it will be a long day in the sun, so make sure you are protected.
- Bug Repellent: the bugs in Guyana can be fierce, so you will want to have all your bases covered. I used a healthy spray of Off! Deep Woods, plus these Mosquito Repellent Patches.
I have been fortunate enough to have had many unique experiences around the world, like kayaking with beluga whales and swimming with pigs on Exuma Island, and now I can add fishing for (and eating!) piranhas to that list.