La Zona is “The home of the Monsters” It is the prime feeding grounds for the largest Golden Dorado on earth. As a newly opened and very exclusive fishery special permits have been granted to a single fishing operation allowing them to bring in up to 4 anglers, on two small boats, into this once restricted area. In exchange the operator maintains a biologist on each boat whose job it is to document, tag and safely release of all Dorado caught. Our job was to keep him busy.
La Zona means “The Zone” It is a fisherman’s ultimate dream destination. It is located just below a dam on the Uruguay River that separates Uruguay and Argentina. At first glance, looking down from the plane, it looked way too small an area to fish for 4 full days. Boy was I ever wrong. This unique stretch of water holds the largest population of the biggest and meanest Golden Dorado man has ever seen. For months ahead of time George Large and I anticipated and prepared for our battle with these brutes. On the first day of fishing I boated my largest Dorado that weighed 42 lbs. On the second day George tied the all tackle world record for Golden Dorado and then on day three he broke the world record by boating a 50.6 lb monster. We were told ahead of time that the large Dorado do not jump when caught. I watched as George’s 50+ pounder blasted out of the water and tailed danced 7 times trying to shake his lure. So the question then was how big are the big ones? I honestly believe La Zona holds Dorado well in excess of 60 pounds based on several very heavy, line ripping, hook-ups that George and I both experienced where the fish did not jump and was impossible to turn as they headed for the rocks.
Golden Dorado appear to enter La Zona to gorge themselves on the disoriented bait fish flowing through the dam. I asked the Biologist on our boat how many of these tagged fish have ever been re-caught. He said none, yet.
So then you might ask what is the challenge? Well, for starters you are only allowed one hook on a lure or fly. There are sharp rocks everywhere above and below the water. The dam forces fast moving and turbulent current over the rocks. These factors combined with the incredibly aggressive strike of the Dorado with their lure breaking, hook bending jaws and razor sharp teeth all work together in favor of the fish. For us it delivered the most exciting and challenging fishing experience ever. The Golden Dorado at La Zona are so aggressive and competitive that it was not uncommon, while reeling one fish in, to see a second or even third Dorado hammer the dangling lure that was just outside the mouth of the hooked fish. That’s one reason for only using one hook. I estimate we boated about 1 out of every 5 blow-ups and/or hookups. We lost or the Dorado totally destroyed about 20 of our lures per day.
Surface poppers, lures and floating flies delivered the most exciting blowups I have ever experienced in my life. I will never forget the several long casts where, as my lure hit the water, it exploded like a grenade; Blamo! Fish On!
I once observed a huge Dorado, traveling at an incredible speed, jump completely out of the water and dive downward to hammer my lure at the moment it hit the water. What a thrill that was.
The following pictures show the story of the fish George Large and I caught, tagged and safely released in just 4 days at La Zona. Battling these fierce and beautiful Golden Dorado is a memory that will last a life time.