Carving a Memory: Fly Fishing the Amazon Basin

Bill Davis was in a dugout boat on the Napo River in the Amazon with a record on his mind and a streamer on his fly line. It was 1977.

"The reasons for the trip were three fish that had never been recorded in the record book," Bill recalls. Payara was one and piranha was another. (Just pause for a moment to think about reeling in a piranha on a fly rod. Now thank the lord you have all your fingers). 

As he tells me his story, he sits beneath a black and white photo framed on a white wall—a portrait from the Amazon, of his glory-filled grin, forty-years back. In his hands is a fish with a body like a young salmon and a face designed to eat without empathy. The fish is a payara, or as some call it, a vampire fish.

After Bill caught the payara on a streamer he packed it out. "I had the fish salted down and I was going to take it to a taxidermist. When I got back I put it in my tackle box which I put in my tackle bag, but somebody stole my tackle bag! So I ended up carving a replica."

The replica of the payara—carved from wood and hand painted by Bill—hangs on the wall beside his portrait captured in Ecuador. It drums up familiar joy inspired by one man's love of wildlife, wilderness, adventure, and craftsmanship.

And then there's this: "When we got back, the outdoor editor for The Detroit News wrote an article. It said, 'Bill Davis will have that fish forever because no one else is dumb enough to fish for that meat-eating fish with a fly'." 


Happy Father's Day, Grandpa.