Native to South America, Golden Dorado are a fierce, predacious species that are becoming increasingly popular for destination anglers – and for good reason! Golden Dorado fly fishing destinations are spread from the marshes of Uruguay to gin clear rivers of Argentina and Bolivia. Each habitat provides unique opportunities for the fly angler to brawl with the fieriest fish in South America!
What to Expect when Golden Dorado Fly Fishing
The Golden Dorado experience is can vary greatly depending on the fishery. However, a few similarities never change between destinations. For example, while types of water and fish habitats change along with the destinations, knowing how to set the hook is universal for these bony-mouthed predators.
Expect to hunt: It’s cliche, but to catch a predator, you’ve got to think like one! Golden Dorado are an incredibly unique as a sport fish. They often hunt in packs and use group tactics to coral baitfish into the shallows. Just as often, however, an individual fish will maintain its own territory. They’re almost like a hybrid of a bass, brown trout and giant trevally all wrapped into one golden, toothy fish!
Expect the a hard strip set: Fast stripping gets rewarded when the dorado inhales a fleeing fly – but that’s the easy part. These fish have mouths built of bone, so bury the freaking hook! Trout sets, or lifting the rod tip, don’t work in the jungle.
Expect them to jump:
Golden Dorado are jumpers. An odd fish might run a little, and a rare one might pull some line from the reel. By and large, though, they just try to throw the hook rather than flee. Expect them to jump a few times immediately after a solid strip-set buries the hook. Don’t forget to ‘bow your tip’ like you would a tarpon when they jump! After the initial jumps, the fight usually turns to bulldog head-shakes as it comes to it’s end.
Expect to handle the fish with respect: In some fisheries, like in Bolivia, proper fish handling for golden dorado goes very differently than most keep ’em wet guidelines. Why? Because some areas in golden dorado country have a little parasitic fish called a candiru. Candiru are the same fish that are accused, in legend, of swimming up urethras. In actuality, they’re known for attacking and lethally biting the gills of fish in distress, like a dorado being released. To avoid this, revive dorado in deep fast water and check their gills for the parasitic candiru before release.
All About Golden Dorado
The mighty Golden Dorado, salminus brasiliensis, is notorious to fly anglers for their predacious mannerisms and fierce appearance. Mature fish have large heads, with cavernous mouths that are lined with serrated teeth for capturing prey. From their large heads, their bodies taper back to a powerful tail for maximum speed and agility.
Lifecycle: In most watersheds, golden dorado are highly migratory, both for spawning purposes and for staying within their ideal water temperatures. They move up their natal watershed, sometimes over 250 miles, during the hot summer months. Spawning occurs in spring and summer.
While not much is confirmed on their spawning habits, they are likely scatter-spawners. This means that females and males simultaneously release milt and eggs into the water column. Females hold up to 2 million eggs and reach sexual maturity in 4 – 5 years.
Identification: Average mature golden dorado weigh 6 – 22 pounds. Some ecosystems grow dorado to much larger sizes, however. Males typically top out around 20 pounds with females growing much larger.
Immature dorado display a yellow-silver coloration and are easily confused with their cousin species the Tobarano (Silver Dorado). As they age and mature they become a deeper gold color. All golden dorado have black-tipped scales on their flanks and a black strip in the middle of their tails. Some individuals have shades of red that appear on fins and tails.
Fun Facts: Dorado can jump up to one meter out of the water. This is commonly witnessed when they are hooked by fly anglers!
Golden Dorado are a very slow-growing fish. They can live over 15 years!
IGFA current world record golden dorado weighed 55 lbs 11 oz from the Uruguay River in Argentina!
Where to go Golden Dorado fly fishing
Native ranges include northern Argentina, southern Brasil, central Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay.
The dorado’s native ranges have been constricted due to dams, overfishing and the illicit narco industry.
Most destination fly anglers travel to Argentina or Bolivia. Smaller lodges and guide outfits are also available in Paraguay and Uruguay but are not as westernized.
When to Fly Fish for Golden Dorado
The fly fishing season for Golden Dorado is largely dependent on the fishery.
Headwater tributaries to the Amazon, like the fisheries in Bolivia, are prime during the low water season. This is typically the months of June through October. Once the rainy season begins, the fish spread out and migrate lower in the watersheds.
The low-land and marsh fisheries in Argentina and Uruguay are accessible year round. This fisheries can vary on peak season, it’s important to research this prior to booking.
Argentina headwater fisheries are fished most of the year, with February through November as the bulk of the season.
What Set-Up to Fly Fish for Golden Dorado
There’s a lot of different fisheries for golden dorado. Each fishery has hits unique attributes and size range of fish. This simply means that there is a variety of gear and fly tackle that will work. Below, we’ve outlined our recommended gear from guiding for golden dorado.
A fast action rod from a 7 wt to a 9 wt will get the job done! Dorado eat big flies so having a rod that can quickly turnover a large fly is a requirement. While slower action rods work, they just don’t generate the line speed most anglers need for getting the flies where they need to go!
FlyTramp recommendation: Scott Wave (8 wt)
Once hooked, these fish jump! As they don’t run into your backing, or for that matter, run far at all, the reel is the least important part of your set up. However, having a well-balanced set up does make a difference. Don’t forget, buy nice or buy twice – a reel for golden dorado can be used for mahi mahi fly fishing too!
FlyTramp recommendation: We find the Nautilus Reels CCF-x2 8/10 Reel to be a good bang for your buck!
Fly lines are important! A floating weight forward line will be the ticket for most golden dorado fly fishing. The line taper needs to be able to turnover a large fly with accuracy. Don’t forget to bring a couple extra lines, and having a spare intermediate line is always a good idea!
FlyTramp recommendation: RIO Jungle Series
Leader & Tippet
For golden dorado, leaders need to be strong! Not only that, but wire tippets are required due to their sharp teeth. Seriously, monofilament and fluorocarbon don’t stand a chance! Guides in Bolivia have dialed homemade leaders down to simple 40 or 50 lb fluorocarbon with about tippets of 40 -50 lb bite wire.
Guides will build your leaders for you, but bring leader materials with you. There are not fly shops near golden dorado fisheries.
FlyTramp recommendation: Rio Saltwater Flouroflex Tippet 40/50 LB & Rio Powerflex Wire Bite Tippet 40 Lb
Building your own leader: Start with about 6.5-7 feet of 40/50 Lb fluorocarbon leader material. Create a perfection loop for the leader to line connection on one end. We prefer and trust using a figure eight knot for our leader to bite wire connection. Make sure this leaves 16-20″ of bite wire on your leader. Create another perfection loop when attaching the fly – it works well with bite wire.
(Guide Tip : monitor your bite wire for fraying. We’ve also seen heart breaks when clients fish to short of wire tippets – other dorado can bite through the fluorocarbon leader while attempting to steal the fly from the hooked fish!)
Golden Dorado Gear to Bring
Whether you are fishing from a skiff for golden dorado on the expansive marshes of the Rio de la Plata or sight fishing them in rivers of the upper Amazon basin, you will need to come prepared with more than just a fly rod.
Plain and simple, do not go on a golden dorado trip without a waterproof backpack! Rain and insects alike are sneaky in this part of the world, keep your gear well contained and convenient with a backpack.
Remember, the bigger your pack is the more tempted you will be to fill it. You just need space for a rain jacket, fly boxes, bug spray and a couple other things – keep it small!
FlyTramp recommendation: Fishpond Thunderhead pack
A set of well built, stainless steel pliers is a must for any jungle fishing trip. Most fish, even by-catch, have teeth! Some anglers lean towards long-nose pliers for the rare fly that gets engulfed. However, after guiding seasons for golden dorado, we’ve found that most fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth and that most pliers will work fine!
FlyTramp recommendation: Simms Guide Plier
Felt soled boots are a must for anglers pursuing dorado on foot! Some fisheries allow anglers to fish from skiffs or boats and these boots are not needed in those situations. However, if you find yourself in Bolivia or Argentina, you’ll need felt.
FlyTramp recommendation: Simms Flyweight Felt Boot
What flies to use for Golden Dorado
We’ve got a lot of thoughts on the best flies for golden dorado. But to wrap this post up, here are the essential three patterns you need!
FlyTramp 3 recommended Golden Dorado flies:
- Andino Diecver
- Brush Flies
- Titanic Slider