The Payara, Hydrolycus scomberoides, or “Vampire fish” is a species of dogtooth tetra. The predatory fish is found in the Amazon Basin in tropical South America. Payara are hands down, one of the most incredible fish I have ever experienced on a fly, they look badass and getting the chance to come close to these fanged monsters was nothing slight from unforgettable.

The payara is one of the craziest fish that you’ll find in South America. Not only does it have a mysterious reputation due to a lack of research on the species, but it also has an unforgettable appearance that includes two gigantic fangs.

Payaras are known by many names. Not surprisingly, most involve their teeth:

Vampire fish

Wolf fish

Dracula fish

Dogtooth characin

Dogtooth tetra

Saber-toothed tiger fish



The vampire fish makes its home in the Amazon basin of South America.

Payaras like fast-moving water. They live in rivers and streams with strong currents, and they populate the bottoms of dams, waterfalls and rapids where there’s always motion and activity. They don’t usually swim lazily in placid waters.


Payaras are cannibals that eat other fish. They usually go for smaller specimens like minnows, tetras, trout and shrimp, but they aren’t afraid of bigger prey. Examinations of their stomach contents have revealed that they can consume up to 50 percent of their own body weight.

A terrifying fact about payaras is that they often feed on piranhas. They can make an entire school of piranhas turn tail and swim away. 

The fishing

To catch a payara, live bait is essential. It needs to be wiggling on the line to attract the attention of the hungry, meat-eating payaras.

Some fishermen will even jerk their rods to stimulate the frenzy of a piranha attack. Since payaras feed on piranhas, they’ll see the bubbles and the motion and assume that a snack is nearby.

Even when you have a payara on the line, however, it isn’t an easy thing to pull it on your boat. These heavy fish will put up a fight, and it’s quite common for them to get away before they’re successfully heaved out of the water.

Gear and equipment

Payara live in gnarly, fast, deep rapids so you will be fishing deep majority of the time. 400 to 500 grain sink tips or full sinking lines will help with keeping your fly down deep. You’ll want to pair that with 10wt to 12wt rods. Make sure you have a wire bite guard or tippet. You can fish 50lb mono or fluoro and 50-pound wire. 3 to 3.5 ft leader/tippet will work and test your knots!


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