Friday, April 5, 2013

DIY Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina: Walk-Wade and Floating the Lower Chimehuin River.

Before I start, I would like to mention that you may experience a few format and grammatical errors. Due a broken right finger, I have limited use of my right hand and I am now using a pre-installed Mac voice dictation application. So, I am doing my best to put my best English forward, but I simply do not have the time to thoroughly edit/review everything I would take too much time.  In advance, thanks for understanding.

A sign with no buck-shot!

Rio Chimehuin Facts:

Location: Junin de los Andes, Argentina  (3 hours north of Bariloche)
Province: Neuquen
Fishing Season: Generally, November 01 till May 31st.
Licensed Required: Yes, and you will need an additional license to fish the 'boca.'
Preferred Fly Rod: 9ft Fast Action 6wt.  9ft Fast Action 8wt for bad weather and big browns.
Preferred Fly Line: Both float and sink tips
Flies: Early season streamers (Nov, Dec), Dry-Dropper (Jan, Feb, 1/2 March), Streamer/Nymphs (1/2 March, April, May)
Special Rules:  The Boca is closed November and December for spawning rainbows.  Downstream, past the "La Garganta del Diablo," is open year round. 
Length: 70 Kilometers or 43.4 miles
Origin: Lago Huechulafquen

Tributaries: Rio Curruhue and RioQuilquihue

Termination: Rio Collon Cura

Species: Rainbow and Brown Trout
Sections:  La Boca, Upper, Middle, and Lower

Jose 'Bebe' Anchorena with 11Kilos of pure Chimehuin Brown Trout


During the early 1900's, European settlers began stocking local waters with salmonidae eggs.  The rainbows eggs came from northern California (I believe the McCloud River).  The Brook Trout came from northeast USA (I believe Maine), and the Brown Trout eggs came from parts of Europe.  Advance the clock several generations (without industrial or human pollution/pressure), and Patagonia quickly became one of the best unknown fisheries in the world!  That would all change when two men from Argentina, Jorge Donovan and Bebe Anchorena became wildly popular for catching HUGE brown trout (+20lbs) at the boca.  Shortly after, and following several decades, a line of who's who anglers, including Joe Brooks, Charles Ritz, Ted Williams, Lefty Kreh, Mel Kriegger, Earnest Schweibert and Billy Pate, quickly made appearances and left their mark on what is now Argentina's most famous fly fishing river.  Fast forward to the future, the Chimehuin and Junin de los Andes is now recognized as the fly fishing capital of Argentina.

Junin de los Andes, Argentina.  Each street sign is a carved wooden trout.

Today:  Chimehuin, Climate Change and Junin de los Andes

The rio Chimehuin (middle section) travels straight through the entire town of Junin de los Andes, so you can't speak of the river without briefly explaining the relationship it has to the people and local area.  Set in the foothills of the Andes, Junin de los Andes was founded in 1883, but did not become incorporated until 1950.  It's located three hours north of San Carlos de Bariloche, two hours south of Alumine, and only forty minutes to San Martin de los Andes.  It is arguably the most convenient town/place to access some of the best fly fishing waters in all of Patagonia.  It's a small growing town that has, of the 2010 census, +16,000 people living there. It still maintains a small town feeling, but you'll find a modern hospital, stores, restaurants, hotels, bars, and more. Though the community is an agricultural cattle type town, today, the primary industry is tourism, and this brings me to my point.  This places gets busy in the summer and as a result, the rio Chimehuin and surrounding waters have been long ago discovered!  Don't believe me?  There are over five fly fishing lodges within the Junin area!  So, it's fair to say that the impact of climate change and people have taken a toll on all the waters surrounding Junin, including the Chimehuin.  For example, I have been told that parts of the upper Chimehuin now have Didymo; not doubt from the countless amounts of fly fisherman traveling to fish this fabled river.  So, am I saying stay home or go somewhere else to fly fish?  No, I am just saying that 1950's was a long time ago and a lot has changed here, and for that matter, around the world.  I am also about to explain that despite these changes, the Junin de los Andes area, in my opinion, is still the best option for DIY Patagonia fly fisherman, whom wish to combine float trips, and walk-wade experiences!

Personal Experience:  Chimehuin River

During the 2010/2011 Patagonia fishing season, I managed an Orvis endorsed lodge, located just outside of Junin de los Andes. To be exact, the lodge was located on the upper Chimehuin, and only 8 kilometers downstream from the mouth. By no means am I claiming to be the local river expert, but it's fair to say that I now know parts of this river system more than any other DIY Patagonia fly fisherman.
For example, from the mouth (La Boca) heading downstream for about 15 kilometers, while walking-wading, I have fished both sides of this river (if I could access more, I would have walked-waded the entire  upper section, but private and impassable lands have prevented me).  I have also floated the upper Chimehuin and as far as floats go in the Junin area, it's second only to the lower Chimehuin! (which I have done many times).  I have also walked-waded the entire middle section of the Chimehuin.  And last, but not least, I have walked and waded many miles downstream, on the lower Chimehuin.  So, what does this all mean?  It means that our clients can select from the best Patagonia DIY walk-wade or floats trips.

How to Walk-Wade the lower Chimehuin?

Lower Chimehuin, downstream view of the Curva de Manzana.

The lower Chimehuin begins at the Curva de Manzana, and ends at the confluence of the rio Alumine (downstream of the confluence).  The best way to the fish the waters downstream of the CDM, is to drive 15 minutes from Junin de los Andes, heading in the direction of San Martin de los Andes, park your car, and follow either goat path on each side of the river.  If you elect to fish the other side of the river, simply cross the river using the bridge seen the photo above (warning: early season water flows may prevent you from wading across). Depending on the time of year, we fish this section of the Chimehuin a lot.  Specifically, here's what we do with our DIY clients:

  • We offer 1/2 or full day DIY walk-wade trips.  We pack food and water and we go's that simple.  At the end of the day, your back in town within minutes, ready for a hot shower, dinner and restful night of sleep. 
  • FYI...during tourist season, holidays and weekends; the CDM is a popular day spot for locals (i.e. family picnics).  The CDM gets fished hard by both fly and spinning rod fisherman.  
  • To avoid the crowds, we either walk upstream for 45-60 minutes, or we walk downstream for up to an hour.  Walking further downstream, more than one hour, is possible, but in our experience, it does necessarily mean better does guarantee you'll be away from 99.9% of the people.
  • If you walk more than hour downstream, eventually you will find yourself at the mouth of the rio Quilquihue.  

An exceptional DIY 'Curva de Manzana' bow.

Rio Quilquihue

Two bullets/pellets that failed to penetrate the sign.  If this was American it would be Swiss cheese and unreadable :) 
Downstream view of Rio Quilquihue.

The Quilquihue is a small seasonal stream.  In many respects it's exactly like the rio Curruhue (early season possibilities, but not on our top ten rivers to fish while in Patagonia).  As a DIY spot, it offers quick access to the lower Chimehuin river; less than a 30 minute walk.  Depending on the time of year, we fish this section of the Chimehuin a lot. Specifically, here's what we do with our DIY clients:

  • We offer 1/2 or full day DIY walk-wade trips.  We pack food and water and we go's that simple.  At the end of the day, your back in town within minutes, ready for a hot shower, dinner and restful night of sleep. 
  • We walk upstream or downstream for up to an hour.  Walking further in both directions is possible (especially downstream), but in our experience, it does necessarily mean better fishing...though, it does guarantee that you'll be away from 99.9% of the people.
  • If you are a mad man, and it would take you at least 3 days, you could walk all the way to the rio Collon Cura.  

Another big rainbow from the Quilquihue area

Floating the lower Chimehuin:

Lower Chimehuin Brown on a Hopper

In our opinion, and many share this opinion, in the Junin de los Andes area, the lower Chimehuin is the best float trip.  Seriously, all the rivers, including the Alumine, Collon Cura and the upper Chimehuin, are good, but the lower Chimehuin stands out among them.  I am sure there are a few people who doubt my judgement, so please allow me to share recent testimonials:

I am a 70 year old Swede DIY fisherman, now living in Brazil.  I have been traveling/fishing Patagonia for the past five years.  I still love to walk-wade, but I now find myself needing affordable float trips.  So, I did a Google search and found First Cast Fly Fishing.  I swapped emails with Mark, discussed details and pricing, and I soon found myself on the lower Chimehuin River, with my fishing buddy Mike (in photo).  Mark's guide, Gustavou spoke English and provided excellent professional service and information.  We caught lots of fish during our two week stay in Junin de los Andes, but we caught the largest fish with Gustavou (seen above) on the lower Chimehuin River.  We plan to return next year and take more floats trips with Mark and Gustavou.  I would highly recommend First Cast Fly Fishing, as they provide the most affordable options for walk-wade day trips, float trips, and they can find you the most affordable housing.  See you next year!  

Sture, Sweden  

Hi Mark, I am back in Sweeden and I am already missing Patagonia.  I must thank you for one of the best, if not the best float trips of my life...the lower Chimehuin was every thing you said it would be!  Also, I have been fly fishing for 35 years and in one day with your guide Gustavou, I learned how to read and fish Patagonia waters.  The next day, with Gustavou's advice, I walked the Chimehuin and landed fifteen rainbows weighing 2-4lbs, four browns weighing 2-4lbs and I lost a really big fish! Please thank Gustavou for me...he is an excellent guide and a really nice person.

Mike, Sweden

Final Word: DIY walking-wading vs. floating the the lower Chimehuin?

Both options are very good, but allow me to be direct.  If you had only one day in the Junin area and you wanted a DIY walk-wade experience, then we would fish the rio Malleo (the Chimehuin is a good DIY spot, but please see post on rio Malleo...the queen of Patagonia dry fly rivers).  On the other hand, if you had only one day in Junin de los Andes, and you wanted the best float trip, then without question, it would be the lower Chimehuin. Why?

  • This section of the river offers up every imaginable fishing scenario possible...especially for rainbows and browns on dry flies.
  • It's incredibly beautiful, traveling through golden valleys, tree lined banks, and then ending in the desert.
  • This section always produces fish, especially when other rivers are slow.  
  • It's a very long float, about 10-12 hours.  You get the best value for your money.
  • Or, due to the length of this float, we offer overnight camp trips.

This is the final post in a series explaining the DIY and floating opportunities on the rio Chimehuin.  Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to do so.

Hope to see you next year and muchas gracias.

Gone Fishing,



Argentina is a very safe place. However, if you elect to travel in Patagonia, especially around towns/cities, do not leave anything in your car and park your car in the safest place possible, even if it means walking an extra few minutes to get to the river.  This photo was take at the 'Curva de Manzana,'  just outside Junin de los Andes, and unfortunately, a known place for locals to break into vehicles.  Even though the road is just feet away from this truck, the cars/traffic on the road can not see anyone below.  When I fish here, I park my vehicle 100 yards up and away from this spot, and my truck is within eye site of every car passing by.