A while back I hinted that I'd done a little fishing whilst in Venezuela and mentioned it was James Bond/Dr Evil-esque. Suffice it to say it wasn't sharks with lasers we were after but another classic hollywood henchfish - piranha. Fishing for piranha is, at least as the Venezuelans do it fairly simple. The terminal tackle is a chunky hook with a short wire trace. The line used is pretty thick but I suspect they use whatever monofilament they can get and this is fished either with a handline or tied to a wooden pole depending on where you are. The pole needs to be fairly stout - too much flex will allow the piranha time to steal the bait and bounce off whilst you try to hook them - the bait used was red meat off cuts each time. A lot of people think that the piranha is a single species. In fact there are a number of species, some of which don't eat meat at all. A lot of the people that know that tend to think of the red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus natteri) as the "true" piranha or genuine article if you will. Its certainly one of the most common but the truth is a lot of them have red-bellies and they all look kind of samey. I think this one, which was the last species I caught, is the prettiest and it's closely related to the red-belly.
This is the black-shouldered piranha or Cariba (Pygocentrus cariba). These guys are tremendously aggressive - my feeling was they hit the baits a lot harder and faster than the other species elsewhere but having said that, that could be attributable to environmental factors or the fact I was using the handline here and had a more direct feel for what was happening. Fishing piranha is actually rather easy (if it weren't I doubt it would feature on almost all tourist itineraries for the region) - the fact that they school tightly and attack flesh en masse means they are in effect competing for the chance to hook themselves first out of the school. It is perhaps worth pointing out that notwithstanding their reputation piranha get eaten by a lot of other animals from fish like Dorado through reptiles like Caiman to an array of birds (on which more soon).