Sinlung /
19 December 2013

How to Catch a Really, Really Big Fish

It's called the arapaima, or pirarucu. It lives in the Amazon River. It's enormous

In the heart of Brazil lies a lusciously green nature reserve where men in canoes club supersize fish with wooden bats, then lug them back to their homes to eat and trade.
It’s all part of arapaima fishing season, the few months when Amazonian communities in the Mamiraua nature reserve devote their lives to hunting arapaima, the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish. The fish, known locally as pirarucu, has the face of a piranha and the body of a torpedo.
Catching the arapaima, whose extra-tough scales are nearly impenetrable, isn’t easy. In the early morning, men push out their canoes to harpoon and pluck the fish from the river. Later in the day, women clean and freeze the fish to be sold when fishing season—which lasts from July to November—comes to an end.
Below, photos from this year’s arapaima hunting season:
Villagers from the Porto Novo community load into their canoes arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in Poco Fundo lake along a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 26, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 26, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 09 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GS9
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
Men survey their most recent catch. The average size of an arapaima, whose scales are gray with red tips, is 6 feet 7 inches long.

Villager Diomesio Coelho Antunes from the Rumao Island community clubs an arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 06 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GRK
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
In order to catch this supersize swimmer, the fishermen first club the fish until they’re unconscious. Here, one man knocks an unlucky fish with a wooden bat.


Villager Diomesio Coelho Antunes from the Rumao Island community clubs an arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 07 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GRP
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
Next, the fishermen harpoon the fish to pull them into their canoes.
Villager Diomesio Coelho Antunes (R) from the Rumao Island community drags from his canoe an arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 11 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GS6
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
The men drag their catch from their canoes onto the shore. Each fish weighs an average of 132 pounds, but can grow to 308 pounds.
Villagers from the Rumao Island community paddle past a line of arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa, about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 12 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GS0
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
The men rest the day’s catch on the shore.
Villager Edson de Souza from the Rumao Island community carries an arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, while fishing in a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa about 600 kms (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013. Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS) - RTX16GS4
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
The fishermen carry the fish around their necks as they head back to their communities, where women wait to clean the arapaima.
Villagers from the Sao Raimundo do Jaraua community clean their day's catch of arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, after fishing along a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa, about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 27, 2013. Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 18 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GRY
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
Women remove the insides of the fish, then freeze them. The fish are sold frozen or salted and dried.
The skin of an arapaima or pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish species in South America and one of the largest in the world, is pictured after being fished by villagers from the Rumao Island community out of a branch of the Solimoes river, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon, in the Mamiraua nature reserve near Fonte Boa, about 600 km (373 miles) west of Manaus, November 24, 2013.  Catching the arapaima, a fish that is sought after for its meat and is considered by biologists to be a living fossil, is only allowed once a year by Brazil's environmental protection agency. The minimum size allowed for a fisherman to keep an arapaima is 1.5 meters (4.9 feet). Picture taken November 24, 2013. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly (BRAZIL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY ANIMALS)

ATTENTION EDITORS: PICTURE 15 OF 22 FOR PACKAGE 'FISHING FOR BRAZIL'S FOSSILS'. TO FIND ALL IMAGES SEARCH 'ARAPAIMA KELLY' - RTX16GRZ
(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)
An up-close look at the scales red-outlined reveals just how tough the arapaima’s outer skin is. Reminiscent of plywood, the crisscrossed scales grow in multiple layers, like a natural sheet of chain mail.

Check out more photos of arapaima hunting season here.

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