Fly Fishing in Bolivia

Alumni Profile: Federico Marancenbaum BA’04

By Paul Bottoni

Editors’ Note: This feature appears as it was published in the fall 2016 edition of UT Dallas Magazine. Titles or faculty members listed may have changed since that time.

FAR FROM THE hustle and bustle of city living is a remote river fishery surrounded by the hills and canopies of a lush Amazonian rainforest teeming with tropical birds and critters. At night, the Milky Way illuminates the sky. Here in this retreat set in the jungles of Bolivia, Federico Marancenbaum BA’04 leads treks with clients seeking to test their fly-fishing finesse.

It’s a haven he has vowed to protect.

Marancenbaum and his childhood friend and fishing buddy Patrick Taendler had long hoped to find a fishery where they could take fellow anglers. The friends grew up in Bolivia and have fished rivers throughout the landlocked South American country. The duo spent countless hours chasing their dream. Marancenbaum, in Texas, and Taendler, still in Bolivia, combed maps together over Skype looking for potential destinations. When they found a spot they thought could be ideal for their plan, Taendler ventured into the wild to scout the location. “That experience touched him forever,” Marancenbaum recalls. “He knew that we had found our jewel.”

So about four years ago, the partners poured their life savings — and then some — into starting Angling Frontiers to lead trips into the Bolivian wilderness.

The area’s rivers are home to the sought-after Golden Dorado, a predator fish known for its yellow complexion that can grow up to 39 inches and weigh as much as 45 pounds. The fish lure outdoor enthusiasts from around the world — including such countries as Russia, New Zealand and France — who seek a challenge.

“It’s an exotic fish that usually lives in somewhat fast-moving waters,” Marancenbaum explains. “They’re known for their aggressiveness. They put on a great acrobatic show, but they’re hard to catch. It’s a fish that you can hook but not necessarily land because they’ll try to shake and jump to cut you off.”

The groups — four to six anglers per trip — fly in on chartered Cessna 206 single-engine planes to a jungle airstrip on the grounds of an old Christian mission a few boat rides away from the local town. From there the group hoofs it through the jungle and takes boats with outboard
motors through fast-moving water to the various fishing spots using native-crafted ochoo wood canoes. They set up a new camp whenever they change fishing locales. It’s a catch-and-release operation, which helps sustain the fish population.

If you want to get to know someone, go spend two or three days in the outdoors with them.

Federico Marancenbaum BA’04 holds a pacu, a species of fish found in South America

The standard expedition lasts about a week, during which the group may stay in anywhere from three to six different camps depending on water levels and where the fish are biting. Trips are made during the dry season between June and October. Marancenbaum and Taendler pride themselves on providing an adventurous and authentic experience. While some outfitters take guests back to a lodge at the end of the day to kick up their heels, Marancenbaum’s groups stay in the elements.

“If you want to get to know someone, go spend two or three days in the outdoors with them,” he jokes. “We don’t have set structures built; there’s not a luxury accommodation with a masseuse waiting at the end of the day. I’m more about being able to look at the stars and hearing the jaguars or monkeys in the jungle.”

The fishery is in the lands of several indigenous Tsimane communities (pronounced Chi-màn-e). These isolated families still live off the land, relying on fishing, hunting and farming for sustenance.

“They give this whole operation meaning,” Marancenbaum says. “One of our biggest drives is making an impact in these communities.”

Along with seeds, plows, boots, machetes and other tools and food, the Tsimane communities receive money from Angling Frontiers that is generated through a fee that clients pay. The business also lends a hand in various projects in the communities and hires Tsimane guides and helpers during the expeditions.

Federico shows off a Golden Dorado.

The partnership between the Tsimane and Angling Frontiers is built on trust that has been built steadily over the years. Initially the communities were instinctively wary of outsiders coming in to operate in their lands, which are abundant in natural resources.

“Whether it’s someone trying to do illegal logging or harvesting something or fishing commercially, years have taught them that people who come in and try to do business are going to try to take advantage of them,” Marancenbaum says. “That’s definitely not our philosophy.”

Marancenbaum believes that partnerships like the one between the Tsimane and Angling Frontiers is the future of tourism — or at least should be. By having clients engage with the local communities while being mindful of the area’s ecosystem, he hopes to provide an experience that promotes the importance of protecting the area’s culture and environment.

This style of tourism puts a high value on conservation, Marancenbaum says. “Twenty or 30 years down the road, you won’t remember the exquisite wine you drank or delicious meal you ate.

“You’re going to remember the raw experience in the middle of the jungle.”