by Andy Hahn

Rio de Janeiro: Samba, Carnaval, Copacabana and the Girl from Ipanema. If you can pry your gaze away from the unending, open air parade of the latest swimwear fashions, you'll notice that there are many rocky islands just offshore of some of the world's most famous beaches.

Hmmm... Rocky islands are great structure for holding gamefish.... Could it be that .... Nah! It would be downright greedy to expect good fishing here, too.

But, hey, what's wrong with a little occasional gluttony?

One of Rio's tourist attractions is the cable car ride up to Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain). From that high altitude vantage point you can look down on the immense Guanabara Bay and start to think fishing. Despite industrial and organic pollution, the bay offers good light tackle fishing year round. At its mouth, right under Sugarloaf, the bay's calmer waters meet the open sea to form a series of rips and currents that hold bluefish in the two to four pound range. Yes, bluefish. The same kind caught by our yankee friends in New England. Sometimes the blues are prowling the rips and other times they hang in close to the steep, rocky shoreline. Twelve pound spinning and baitcasting outfits are used to toss jigs and shallow diving plugs when the bite is on.

If the mouth isn't productive, the best bet is to move back into the bay and use live shrimp on a bottom fishing rig. Along with views of Sugarloaf, Corcovado (the mountain with the huge Christ statue), and downtown Rio, the beauty of Guanabara Bay is that you never know what kind of fish is sending that telegraphic tap-tap-tap up the line to your rod tip. The Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro recently held a tournament in which anglers were required to fish within the bay. A surprising 66 different species were counted at the contest's weigh-in.

Variations in depth (from 10 to 120 feet) and bottom structure (sand, mud, gravel, large rocks) provide habitat for snook, drum, weakfish, ladyfish, cutlassfish, grouper and many other types of fish. The killer bait is live shrimp fished on the bottom.You'll know you're fishing in a big city, though. The waters are stirred by passing freighters while airplanes buzz in and out of Rio's Santos Dumont commuter airport, whose runway terminates at the water's edge.

There is also good fishing to be had in the ocean just outside Guanabara Bay. Remember those islands you saw while lying on Ipanema beach? The ones that are clustered together are known as the Cagarras, and over to the left, the one with the lighthouse is called Ilha Rasa. The big dome-shaped one is appropriately named Ilha Redonda (Round Island). They are all fish magnets. Choppy seas and a small craft add up to hard work for the fisherman, trying to maintain one's balance while casting and cranking plugs in the waves that pound the rocks. The payoff for such effort is usually a tug of war with an angry bluefish that may exceed ten pounds. You can give your casting arm a rest and try trolling around the islands, which also produces bluefish, as wellas bonito and mackerel. If the currents are right during December and January, it may be possible to locate some dorado cruising just beyond the islands.

Travel agents refer to the months of March through July as Rio's off season, but this is the on season if you like the big, bad boys of inshore fishing. The locals drift whole squid near the bottom or troll large plugs in hopes of hanging a southern yellowtail or, better yet, an amberjack.

Calm seas have a profound negative influence on the fishing. If the action shuts down while you're out there, at least you can enjoy the view of Copacabana and Ipanema from an angle that few people have seen, or take a dip in the cove between the islands.

During the Brazilian summer -- November, December and January -- the blue water currents swing closer to the continent, bringing billfish within range of Rio's sportfishing fleet. Sailfish are the most prevalent species and a boat can raise as many as twenty of these needle-nosed acrobats on a good day. Blue marlin are common but unpredictable, and white marlin make occasional cameo appearances. Be warned: We're not talking Costa Rica here. Anglers who want to hook these pelagic pinnochios will put in a full day's work because the fishing grounds lie thirty or more miles offshore. Standard procedure includes a 6:00 a.m. departure from the docks, a two hour cruise out to productive waters and a 6:30 p.m. return to terra firma. Naked ballyhoo is the bait of choice not only for sailfish, but also for the wide variety of other open water gamefish that may respond to the call of the teasers. Yellowfin, blackfin and bigeye tuna are plentiful, along with dorado and wahoo.

Now the bad news: Don't expect to be able to just stroll down to the marina and book a day's outing. There is no charter fleet in Rio. From a strictly business point of view, an offshore-boat-for-hire venture would be doomed to financial failure due to a combination of factors. First of all, it is bloody expensive to purchase and maintain a boat in Brazil. Couple this cash outlay with a short, three-month season, and the result is certain bankruptcy for the would-be charter captain.

Possibilities exist, however. Many private boat owners rent out their craft by way of personal contacts. The problem is that these same owners are avid competitors in Rio's billfish tournaments, and they won't rent out their boats on the day before, the day of, or the day after a tournament fishing day. The price of diesel fuel and the long run out to blue water push the daily rates up to US$ 1,200 or more, depending on the size of the boat.

A resident's View 

As an American who has been living in Rio since 1990, I have quite a few people ask me about the purported widespread violence in this city. My usual response to such inquiries is a question: Would you allow yourself the luxury of a carefree stroll through the streets of New York City with a camera dangling around your neck and your wallet flopping around in the open back pocket of a pair of loose shorts? (If any sensitive New Yorkers are reading this, please feel free to substitute "Los Angeles" or even "Cleveland" as the geographical reference.) The point is that Rio is a city of over nine million inhabitants and, as in any big city, you must keep your wits about you, especially when you are an easily recognizable tourist. When out seeing the sights or walking along the beach, carry only small amounts of cash and avoid crowds. Too many people feel that Rio is a carefree party town, all sun and fun. It can be, but you must keep your eyes open to avoid unpleasantnesses. So when you visit Rio, think of it as a big city, not a little beach town, and you'll be fine.

Rio de Janeiro will never be an angling mecca like some Central American destinations, but it's a lovely vacation site, the fish are here, and now several enterprising locals are investing in the inshore charter business for both residents and tourists. So plan your trip to allow enough time for a day on the water and you'll discover a side of Rio that few visitors experience.