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

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:

(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.



(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.


July 10, 2013 - Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany - An oarfish hangs in the exhibition of sea museum 'Ozeanum' at the port of Stralsund, Germany, 10 July 2013. From 10 July 2013, a five-day birthday party takes place in the museum celebrating its five-year anniversary. Since the opening on 11 July 2008 the 'Ozeanum' drew about 3.6 million visitors. Photo: STEFAN SAUER (Credit Image: © Stefan Sauer/DPA/


(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Next, the fishermen harpoon the fish to pull them into their canoes.

(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.

(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

The men rest the day’s catch on the shore.

(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.

(Reuters/Bruno Kelly)

Women remove the insides of the fish, then freeze them. The fish are sold frozen or salted and dried.

(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.

Respond Now
  • Dang!

  • If feel, if it is true that the fish is extinct,it should not be killed for food or game.

  • Kids in Brazil learn in school that the Pirarucu is a species in danger of extinction, so it saddens me to see Pirarucu fishing being prortrayed as a romantic endeavour by rugged jungle men fending for their food, without any mention to wether this is done in a sustainable way.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Completely agree. This post adds nothing of value to understanding the context of what is happening, it’s just relying on an attention grabbing Headline to draw traffic to a mere three paragraphs that do no more than describe what one can see in the images.

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      • The images are interesting, the descriptions necessary and the glimpse of a way of life, facinating. 10/10 would read again.

  • If the world wasn’t so overpopulated the number of these fine creatures would be in less demand. I’ve often said what if the world population was halved? What if it was halved again? Every week there are 1.5 million more humans on this planet all needing just the basic resources to stay alive. Being overpopulated we have become a plague species and are putting a deadly pressure on our environment forgetting that the environment is what is keeping all life alive. I personally think we have left things too late by disregarding our population problem. We seem to be self destructing.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • The overpopulation obsession is the product of humanist anti-godly belief.  The belief that all species fend for themselves.  Religious folks do not believe problems such as overpopulation even exists. It only exists in flawed math and propaganda.  When God gave a decree to men kind to multiply and be fruitful, he did not say at what point to cap it.  Now, if you are a Godless person, who does not believe that God is in control, then you do worry about these kind of things.  

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • You are correct! “Overpopulation” is a myth perpetrated by the Globalists. You could fit all 7 billion people on earth (in 3-bedroom houses) in an area the size of Texas!

  • If this is for food, I think is OK. If for sport, I would say is not ok. –bp

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Did you read the article? STFU.

    • Maybe you should have taken the time to read the FIRST SENTENCE in the article instead of giving us a “knee-jerk” opinion …

  • I hate to see such slaughter, but at least this is being done by hand without the aid of fish-finding sonar and hydraulic winches.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • It’s hard to see comments like this. They are doing it for food. How else are you going to kill it? Do you want to get a nice sedative and make it overdose? Just enjoy your oblivious outlook on how food is caught then prepared and stick to buying it at the store.

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  • Great story, Emily! I started a two-week fishing trip in the Rio Italia, an Amazon tributary, in Peru in the early 1970s. It turned into an almost 6 month adventure and my wife took off to wait for me on a beach in Guatalupe during the 2nd week after spotting a tarranchula in our tent. I was the Boston/Cambridge adventurous one and she was a city girl from New York. I actually traveled from the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains past the oil fields in Pucalpa (sp?), down the Rio Italia (where I saw fish bigger than me that you did have to hit with a club to keep hem from overturning the boat or dugout), all the way to the mouth of the Amazon. I had a blast and even called friends from al over the U.S., Canada & Europe to join me for a week or two along the way. You told part of my story better than I could have, I’m not a writer and you are. My compliments!!! Please have a nice day and know you put a big smile on my face this morning and a nicefeeling in my heart from recalling the memories. Maybe we’ll meet on Twitter, I stopped using FB. –Blake (Blake Parker, Cambridge, MA)


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