Tuesday, April 2, 2013

DIY Walk-Wade and Floating the Upper Rio Chimehuin

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 type...it would take too much time.  In advance, thanks for understanding.

FYI... I plan to write about the boca, upper, middle and lower Chimehuin river. The post's will detail both walk-wade and floating opportunities. 

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.

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 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:  Upper Chimehuin

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 know parts of this river system more than any other DIY Patagonia fly fisherman.  For example, from the mouth heading downstream for about 15 kilometers, while walking-wading, I have fished both sides of the river.  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!   Both options, either floating and walking-wading the upper chimehuin provides excellent fishing opportunities, but it depends on the time of year.

A hold over!  Caught in November on the upper Chimehuin delta (only accessible by float).  Seen in photo is Cristian Olsen, FCFF partnered guide and friend.

When: General Overview

  • November/December: the CFS flow can be frightening, and class 3-4 rapids are not uncommon.  However, this is the best time to target large browns.  On floats, be sure to pepper the banks with your streamers! 
  • January/February: Water flow will drop, so it may be time to cast dry flies.   
  • March: The first two weeks can be OK, but thereafter, year after year, the fish caught on the upper section slows dramatically.  Water levels are very low.  I rarely fish the upper section during this time...lot's of small fish.  During this month, many anglers believe the big browns start moving in...wishful thinking, but not true, though you may find a hold-over that is on the bite. 
  • April:  Water levels will still be low, so this is the time to fish the boca, or walk-wade the best known spots.  This is the best chance to catch a trophy brown trout!  Serious brown trout hunters generally begin fishing the boca starting the last two weeks in April till the end of May.  There is always a chance to get lucky throughout the day, but your best shot is early AM or PM...typically at the change of light.  Note: during the brown trout spawn, the nastier the weather, the better the boca fishes.  
Water level has dropped a bit offering better presentation.  Summer like day in December, at a walk-wade spot on the upper Chimehuin.  Seen in photo is one lucky dude by the name of Juan Jose.

How: Walk-Wade?

  • November/December: I am sure you all want me to tell you the exact locations of the best walk-wade spots on the upper Chimehuin...not going to happen :)  I will simply say that there are goat paths along each side of the river, and the paths extend for miles!  I will WARN you, waters levels will be high, the current is FAST, and the water will be unbelievable cold...if you decide to go it on your own, please be extremely careful!  But there are handful of spots that will allow a walk-wade angler to fish comfortably...be prepared to walk and billy-goat your fanny up and down the terrain. The good news, during this time the fish are very close to the shore line.  Fishing with a streamer is the most productive. The choice of line may depend on location, but prepared to swing sink-tips or full sink line in the +200 grain (depends on location and water flow).  Me?  I carry a interchangeable tips so I can swing my streamer at the desired depth. 
  • January/February: I rarely walk-wade the upper Chimehuin during these months. This is prime time dry fly season, so you'll find me on the Malleo!  
  • March/April/May: Water level is very low. Spending hour/days walking and wading during these months is not worth your time.  You'll have better success on other rivers.  

Floating the upper Chimehuin = Get ready for one the best float trips in Patagonia!

How: Floats?  (ps. this is one of the best floats in all of Argentina!)

  • November/December: this float trip is amazing during these months.  Starting the float trip in the Garganta del Diablo, one minute you're riding over class 4 rapids, wondering if you'll live to see your next cocktail hour, and the next minute your bombing the banks with a large streamer, searching for hold-over browns!  Don't worry thousands of anglers have made this trip and lived to tell about it. Add it all up...it's an adventure and amazing day that you will not want to miss (see photos below).
  • January/February:  Water levels drop.  The seasonal class 4 rapids are now class 1-2.  You'll have a hard time deciding to cast streamers or launch some big Patagonia dries...fishing is very good! 
  • March/April: Water levels are very low.  We tell our clients..."don't expect to catch buckets of fish, but the fish that you do catch will be quality fish.
  • May:  Water levels remain low.  The local game is now targeting brown trout at the mouths of rivers.   

Final Word:

This post is not about the technical details (gear, flies, etc) on how to fish the upper Chimehuin; however, we do offer that to our clients.  Also, this post is not about whether you 'should' walk-wade or float the upper Chimehuin (both are excellent options).  This post is about providing information based on the upper Chimehuin, so that you can plan the best trip for you, with First Cast Fly Fishing.  In other words, between Gus and myself, whether you want to walk-wade or float, we got you covered.   I will leave you with these thoughts:

Coming from the small DIY walk-wade streams of New Hampshire, the first time I ever floated the upper Chimehuin was one that I will never forget.  This section of the river, reaches into the depths of your mind/soul and makes you feel as though you are living a dream.  Every second seems to tax the imagination, that only a fly fisherman desires.  Personally, I could float this section a million times and never grow tired...it's drug like and addictive!  Along those lines, there are times I enjoy walking-wading this river because it allows me to enjoy her beauty at a slower pace, and allows me to pursue my side that likes to explore mother earth on foot. So, maybe the best option for your next fly fishing trip to Patagonia, is to combined both walk-wade and floats...we do this 24/7 for our clients.  

The end of the Boca and the beginning of the upper Chimehuin, called the Garganta del Diablo 'the devils throat.'
Just above the Garganta del Diablo.
Former Olympic Argentina Rowing Champion and Super Guide for FCFF, Gustavou Sarthou...making it look easy.  When we have class 4 rapids, it's a great feeling knowing he is on the oars! 
Just to the left, there is a footpath for those who don't want to slide down the hill.
Another shot of the upper Chimehuin...November and December = green landscape and high fast water, that is just amazing to fish!
An excellent example of a March upper Chimehuin Brown, caught on a dry fly.  With Gustavou, this gentleman caught lots of small trout and about 4 trout in the size above.  Folks,  unlike other industry people, Gus and I will never over-sell our walk-wade or float trip programs...we believe the expectations that we offer should be honest and fair.  
Another example of a healthy March upper Chimehuin trout.  And, another great job by our partner guide, Gustavou. 

Thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to do so. The next post will focus on DIY walk-wade vs. floating the middle Chimehuin.

Hope to see you next year and muchas gracias.

Gone Fishing,