Jack Wattley is worldwide
the most recognized name in
discus breeding. Breeder, judge,
collector, scholar, Jack is the
foundation on which modern
discus keeping has been built.
He has been sharing his
experience and knowledge—
and the discus he breeds—with
aquarists throughout the world
for decades, and just one of
his many awards was his
recent Lifetime Achievement
award from the ACA. Long
past the age at which most
people retire, he still serves
as ambassador of discus and
goodwill across the planet.
In the past several months, I’ve received three letters from three different discus hobbyists (one as recently as last week) asking about the possibilities of collecting
discus in South America. Two of these hobbyists
followed their letters up with phone calls, and
it was very interesting that very few questions
asked by the three were the same, so I’ll attempt
to answer all of their questions together here,
hoping to satisfy everyone.
My answers to these questions will all be
based entirely on my experiences in Amazonia.
As always, I won’t include any references in
these pages—I don’t use, nor need, references in
any of my TFH “Ask Jack” monthly columns,
nor in any of my articles and books, as my
advice is based solely on my own experiences.
I’m fluent in Spanish and have some
knowledge of Portuguese, so with my
understanding of these two languages, I have
had no problems traveling in the Amazon
and communicating with the locals there.
I do hope the three hobbyists who asked
about collecting in South America have at
least a working knowledge of Spanish. If
they speak Spanish they will be fine. I gave
a discus presentation in São Paulo, Brazil
recently in Spanish, and though they speak
Portuguese in Brazil, the people had no
problems understanding me.
At this point I’ll address the three readers
who asked me about collecting wild discus.
Do you plan to travel alone or with another
person? On my first trips to both Colombia
and Brazil, I had asked a few fellow discus
enthusiasts if they would be interested in a trip
to collect discus. None showed interest except
for a breeder of Amazonian dwarf cichlids.
He lived with his wife and mother-in-law, and
both would be angry if he made the trip! Isn’t
If you should find someone who shows
interest in such a trip but asks if there will be
a Starbucks, you should immediately count
them out of the venture. It didn’t take me long
on subsequent trips to realize that traveling
alone was the best way. I didn’t want any
travel companion to mess things up by being
more dysfunctional than I already am!
In all probability, returning home with a
small number of nicely colored discus won’t
happen. Since 9/11, many changes have been
made, and none more so than the concept
of traveling to any foreign country and
attempting to return home with live animals
or plants. So travel alone, with the idea (or
plan) of attempting to net a few discus or
other tropicals, and then photographing and
releasing them. Doing this, you can enjoy the
trip, knowing that you can obtain all of the
wild-caught discus you want from tropical fish
importers in Miami.
Your trip should be planned in a way
that allows you to travel somewhere between
September through January or February.
Waters will still be low, but they rise in
March due to the heavy rains. High waters
and heavy rains are not conducive to looking
for tropical fish.
Before 9/11 I had done some exciting and
successful collecting of discus in southeast
Colombian streams and ponds, all close
to Brazilian waters. But, unfortunately,
those locations are now a poor choice due
to guerilla activity in the region. One of
the three who asked about discus collecting
did mention Brazil and Colombia. Even
when things were reasonably safe for
outsiders, I had a difficult time in southeast
Colombia because it has always been a bit
undeveloped, and all my travels there were
slow and by water.