It was 20 years ago that I first set foot in Argentina Patagonia. I remember well the excitement of the descent into Esquel airport, the glorious light of the cordillera and the bumpy dirt road from traveling through the most beautiful valley of the Welsh Andes, jagged snow-topped peaks in every direction. I recall the smell of the Spanish broom at the lodge and the roses, but above all, the sharp intake of breath when I stepped onto the balcony and saw below me the aquamarine waters of the Futaleufu, a large rainbow hovering just behind a rock (the ‘house truchas’ and off limits for greedy fishermen). The opposite was the Los Alerces National Park, buff-necked ibis strolling along the sandy beach with their long, down-curved beaks like violin bows, and above it 7,000 feet of rock and ice framed in my bedroom window, the Throne in the Clouds. Picture postcard scenery on your doorstep.
In the intervening two decades I’ve fished up and down the land and written a book (literary research being a splendid excuse for fishing travels), running from the golden dorado of the tropics near Brazil to the windswept wastes of Tierra del Fuego and its huge sea trout, passing by the steelhead of Santa Cruz, the ridiculous rainbows of ‘Jurassic Lake’ and many lovely trout rivers between Bariloche and San Martin. It has been a fabulous journey, but nowadays I always return to the place I started.
The scenery moves me as much now as it did then, from the placid river at sunrise dimpled by trout to the moonlight shimmering down the middle of the river at midnight. It is a small family affair, homely and friendly with a very relaxed atmosphere and an asado (bbq) pit in the garden by the river. There are many more fancy lodges in Patagonia, but few where you feel so at home. And you can watch trout (and endless birdlife) from your bedroom! Suits me…
Nice views and hospitality are all great, but it is the plethora of fishing available that is so enticing. You are not just hammering one river, all be it on a different beat each day. Here you can wake up, look at the weather, (well, to be honest, the wind), and take your pick, small creek, a float by the lodge, a drift between the lakes or some of the lakes themselves, plus other small streams and tributaries. Do you fancy throwing streamers for big browns, nymphing or twitching large attractor dries tight to the bank under the willows, just waiting for a large shadow to emerge from the pellucid depths.
Personally, in January/February, I think two things – the chance of a lifetime photo catch in the smaller lakes, or hoppers. Oh yes, I love hoppers! Fat foam ones slapped onto the surface of a big river to awaken fish from the deep, or gentle feathered ones dropped like thistledown on a spring creek.
Nant y Fall, where the early Welsh settlers first clapped eyes on the fertile valley is a small jump across, but holds rainbows that surprise you with their size and will have you working off your lunch running along the banks. And, always, that high mountain plateau scenery…
You can fish hoppers, but my best memory was a five-pounder rising at dusk which succumbed to a Klinkhammer, a dry at the time already famed in Europe but new here. It floated dimly in the gloaming and then disappeared in a thick, viscous ring and a young Benjamin (now the boss) had to do some acrobatic work with a very small net. A photo, a memory.
If you don’t want to travel at all, you can, of course, float the four beats of the home river, and when I get off the plane in the afternoon I always manage a couple of hours before dinner swinging nymphs for fat 12- to 18-inch rainbows right below the lodge, or bigger browns on a sunken streamer.
For a day’s float, you have a new scenic vista around every bend, my favorite pool being Grasshopper Bend where the river glides under a high eroded cliff and you can watch trout attack your dry like missiles. Is there a better place to stop and have a picnic? All you need to exercise is some self-discipline. Otherwise an expanding waistline, empty Malbec, and long siesta beckon.
Further afield I still have a debt to call in on the Arrayanes, a lovely short float between lakes where you drift over endless woody debris and gin clear water, big fish hiding in the shadows. I saw many and hooked none, at six in the evening missing the one rise of the day. It’s the only time I have blanked in Argentina in two decades and it still hurts!
But if you are brave enough to risk catching nothing, then you need to head up to the lakes, where you might get lucky and you might not, but if you do, the fish could be so big you really don’t have to exaggerate. You need patience, a streamer or large nymph and a very strong leader. Last time, my brand new 11-pound leader was broken by a submarine brown, like thread.
But sometimes you get them, and then you have bragging rights for a very long time…
Just check that drag and your blood pressure.
I always have the same guide, Alun, which makes for friendship and much better fishing as he knows what I like and what I can (and cannot) do and has the patience to put up with my bad casts and missed rises. His Welsh ancestor was shot dead on the banks of the Arroyo Pescado, now the most famous spring creek in the country. By whom? By one Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. You probably know him as the Sundance Kid. Butch Cassidy had caught his spurs in the carpet and tripped over.
Nowadays you can fish by his grave and share a more peaceful stream with flamingoes and a lot of good-sized, free-rising rainbows. No need for further ammunition other than a camera and sunblock. And a net – some of the fish can be a lot larger than you expect.
On my last trip, I fished a new river, the Corrintos, a small freestone sparkling between the willows in another valley made for coffee table picture books. As always, I rather foolishly underestimated it until an 18-inch rainbow took my Adams dry and then a couple of 20-inch browns savaged a, yes you guessed it, small yellow hopper.
Ah well, roll on February. I have a new lake to fish, and then there’s that river in the national park by the lake and I have tied the killer fly for the monster trout and…