Head Guide – Manager – Teacher
The best fly-fishing guide in the Amazon and his family helped shape our future
There is a saying in the business world that “everyone is expendable”. It is a very strong statement usually expressed to a key employee that is a very important part of a company as some kind of a reality check by the bosses. WOW – In a normal business model this is usually true. In our business it becomes a problem. In both the, we can’t do it without them, and the, we don’t really want to do it without them, they are family. We talk a lot about the people in our business. If you have received our message clearly you will see that people are as important as the product itself in order for us to deliver these “Bucket List” types of adventures. Folks, meet João Ferreira da Silva Neto or (Neto). Head Guide, Father, Friend, Brother and Husband.
Neto’s genealogical tree is pretty much like those strangler figs of the Amazon – roots are spread in all directions. His great-grandfather’s family came to the Amazon from Northeastern Brazil during the first wave of the Rubber Boom. Neto’s grandfather was born in 1922 somewhere on the banks of the Rio Negro. He arrived at the Xeruini in 1933, which back then was a paradise full of wildlife and “fruits” of the jungle. In the 1940s he was a “Rubber Soldier” – one of over 50,000 men whose first duty was to go to the jungle to collect natural rubber and help the Alliance to win the war. Being part of SEMTA – “Special Service of Mobilization of Workers for the Amazon ”. Many died from diseases, jaguar attacks, snakes, scorpions, accidents and most of all getting lost. In 1944, Neto’s Grandfather was picked up on the Rio Branco area to proceed to Belem, the port at the mouth of the Amazon River. It appeared he was going to war. A leap of faith (he jumped from the boat) would change the course of the Silva family history.
Neto’s grandfather made his way back to the Xeruini. A place rich in manatees, giant river otters, tapirs, capybaras, all sorts of birds, fish, fruits, durable woods and pretty much everything you’d need to live off and even to trade. Neto’s grandfather was among the founders of the first villages on the Xeruini. The villages back then were way more remote than they are today. None of them had modern day conveniences like electricity so consideration of location had more to do with proximity to food and usually meant a mile from the middle of nowhere. They lived in Itaubal and Bom Futuro – villages on the upper river that don’t exist anymore. In 1950 Neto’s father, Francisco Pereira da Silva, was born in the Lago Grande village, one of the three remaining villages today. In 1972 the whole family had to move to a small village not far from Manaus on the Rio Negro after the mother of the family got sick and needed real medical attention. Neto was born there in a countryside called Compensa on October 23, 1982.
In 1984 the whole family moved back to the Xeruini. Neto’s grandfather, João, had been asked to be administrator of the village Terra Preta and two years later a job he handed to his son. So, Neto’s father, Francisco, took over in 1986 and kept the position for 20 years.
Being a leader in a remote place like the Lower Rio Branco Basin has its challenges. He still did many great things during his time and managed to install a diesel electric powerhouse generator, a new school, a village center, Terra Preta was growing quickly.
Meanwhile little Neto was growing up. A son in a family with 11 kids, Neto would play hide-and-seek with his grandfather and his father, missing classes at school to play soccer or disappearing for days to go fishing. Life in the village was fairly simple as a kid. In 2003, he was invited to work on the Itapara River in the fishing business. It was here that Neto was introduced to fly fishing. After 3 years there, Neto was coming into his own, learning English and the intimacies of fly fishing. So, in 2007 he got an upgrade by moving to the Agua Boa Lodge. By that time, he was a beast in guiding. He’d never accept not being Number one every week. Neto always wanted, and still does, to be the guide that lands the most and the biggest fish. Operation managers had headaches when they had to pass the daily fuel reports over to the boss – Neto was always the one who’d go as far as possible to find what would put a smile on his anglers’ faces.
One day, Neto and another guide, Zezinyo from the Agua Boa were in Caracaraí getting gasoline for the lodge. They loaded 4000 liters on the boat and somewhere on the way back to the river it got stuck on a rock and killed the motor. A boat covered with a tarp with quite a lot of gas in canisters. To turn the generator back on, they piled up three batteries connected with pretty old wires. A spark was enough to blow the whole thing up. The two launched into the water and luckily they both survived. Finally, Neto got to Boa Vista hospital, he found out he had 3rd degree burns and 68% of his skin was gone. It was a miracle Neto was still alive. He spent 40 days in the hospital.
Neto stayed in Caracaraí, trying to get ready for the next season. So, he took the recovery time as a vacation and kind of enjoyed the city life. At the end of 2013 he was back on track working at the lodge. There were problems. The doctors told Neto to stay out of the sun. Wear long clothes to cover his skin and take it easy for a while. So, in returning to the Agua Boa, Neto had to except a lesser role not guiding full time. He would take on more of a maintenance role that included things like inventory of fuel, keeping motors running, and cleaning the pool. He would only work part time as a guide as a result. It is no surprise he became very good at this as well. It would be a few years before Neto’s skin would heal enough to allow him more and more time in the sun.
It is December 27, 2014. A plane lands at the lodge just like it does every week. Off steps what looks like just another group of gringos from America to fish for a week. All that is true but what Neto did not know is that one of the gringos was someone who would help change Neto’s life. Enter Rob Anderson, booking agent and fly-fishing guide from Reno Nevada. “Where is Reno Nevada” Neto said. Anytime Rob has to explain Reno to someone from South America the conversation quickly turns to Las Vegas and pockets full of money. Rob would spend more time on this trip hanging out with Neto at the pool than on the water. The conversation never got boring. Rob is a question man and This guy Neto had better English than any guide Rob had ever had in the jungle.
Over the next three years Rob and Neto would become great friends. The next two seasons at the Agua Boa, Neto would get to guide more and he and Rob would spend more time together. Neto now had a better understanding of Rob’s vast experience fishing for Peacock Bass. As the conversation got more detailed, Neto heard the story about Rob’s time on the Xeruini and how Rob’s former booking agent made a mess of things there. In 2016 on Rob’s last trip to the Agua Boa the two had deeper and deeper conversations. Neto could feel that the Agua Boa was not the answer for Rob’s ideal Peacock Bass trip. He also knew of Rob’s desire to get back to the Xeruini. So Neto, like his grandfather before him, decided to take a leap of faith. He already had to jump off the boat so the rest should be easy 😊.
So Neto, leaves the Agua Boa in the middle of the night in a small boat, travels all night on the Rio Branco to Caracarai and then takes a 10 hour bus ride to Manaus to meet Rob on his way home. He had already put a plan in place. He had a liveaboard boat for guests, he had use of an existing sport fishing permit on the lower Xeruini River and he had hope that his friend Rob would take the same leap of faith and become his partner in a new operation. His plan, spend a year or two fishing the lower river while acquiring the necessary permit needed to get to the headwaters area where the river was untouched and had huge potential as a major fly fishing destination for Peacock Bass.
Neto would run the show for the next two seasons as partner and manager of the new operation which the Brazilian side would be called Xeruini River Sport Fishing. Rob was sending more and more clients and things were looking up. Then in 2018, Neto’s Brazilian partner got in over his head with the work and conceived an exit plan that would leave Neto with a lot of responsibilities he really was not prepared for. He needed a new plan.
Enter Natan Guedes, owner of NG Tourismo and fishing outfitter and operator in the Amazon for over 20 years. Natan wanted in. (more on this in “Building a Dream” post in our blog). So basically, Natan and Rob would make an agreement to be partners which included a huge role for Neto as the company’s head guide, manager and teacher. This was a great opportunity for Neto to still be a part of something amazing but to also go back to having steady income and be able to support his new family. (see the story of Juliana Moreno).
Two years later and Neto is going strong working with NG Tourismo and Bucket List Fly Fishing. He is the best fly-fishing guide in the Amazon (our opinion) and his ability to teach guides to become fly fishing guides and the anglers to become Peacock Bass fly fisherman is something to see.
Today Neto is already father of two kids – Joao Ezequiel Ferreira da Silva, from his first marriage, and Julia Isabelle Ferreira Moreno, his daughter given to him by Juliana in 2019. Back at the top as a guide, Neto knows his health conditions and family life have to be considered. In the past leaving a job at a fishing camp would mean going back to do something like delivering propane around Caracaraí for $8 a day. Now he’s got an opportunity to assist his wife in tying flies for our brand-new online store, help training guides, join our exploratory trips and simply enjoy his life and family. It is nothing like the end, but it’s on the right way to being happy.