Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina: Argentina vs. Chile

Argentina Fishing Season: November 1st to May 31st.

Why Fly Fish Patagonia: Argentina vs. Chile? 

Let's cut to the chase, the reasons why I would chose Argentina over Chile:

  • Accessibility!  In 1999, I hiked and fished from Tierra del Fuego to southern Columbia.  I have not seen it all, but I have seen more than most DIY anglers.  In addition, a few years back, I managed an Orvis endorsed lodge in northern Argentina.  So, I have a good perspective on Chile vs. Argentina, and DIY vs. Lodges.  Based on my experience, Chile is beautiful and amazing...I truly love the landscape, water and people.  But, as a DIY angler, there are more DIY walk-wade accessible rivers in question! 
  • Cost: I feel bad for Argentina's economic woes, but for the DIY walk-wade angler, who wants quality fishing at a fraction of the price, then this is the place to be....Chile or New Zealand can not even begin to compare! 
  • Services:  Believe it or not, in far away places, I believe the quality of services are better in Argentina.  For example:  In Argentina, you can get a good bottle or wine and a great meal for two, for less than $40 USD.  
  • Weather:  Chile is green and beautiful for a reason, it rains a lot. On the other hand, Argentina is arid and looks more like Montana.  

About Argentina: Fishing and Traveling

Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world and covers over 1 million square miles. Despite its size, Argentina is only inhabited by 40 million people.  Half of the population lives within ten of the largest metropolitan areas.  The other half of the population is spread throughout rural areas and in some parts of the country, population density is among the lowest in the world.  This affords visitors the opportunity to entertain in modern citys' such as Buenos Aires,  yet escape to...

  • Oceans of open land in Patagonia...equivalent to the America West +100 years ago
  • Explore the longest mountain range in the world,  the Andes at 4,400 miles.
  • Visit the highest mountain in the western hemisphere, Aconcagua 22,841ft
  • Stand on wind swept beaches and view Sea Lions, Penguins and Orcas.
  • Drive to the end of the earth and visit the land of fire, Tierra del Fuego.
  • Tour Antarctica, it's only a few hundred miles from Tierra del Fuego.
  • Watch monkeys and other exotic species while fishing in subtropical forest.
  • Feel the power and the spray of the longest waterfall in the word, Iguazu Falls.
  • Witness one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, Peritio Mereno. 
  • Savor Argentina's famous cuisine (beef) and Malbec wines.
  • And of course, wet a line in the immense network of lakes and rivers filled with wild Salmon, Steelhead, Sea Run Brown Trout, Brown-Rainbow-Brook Trout and South America's very own apex predator, the Golden Dorado.

To say the very least, for both tourist and the fly fisherman, there is much to see and explore in Argentina!  To begin to comprehend the year round fishing opportunities in Argentina, one only needs to know two regions: Northern Argentina and Patagonia.

Fly Fishing Northern and Southern Argentina

Northern Argentina: Salta Golden Dorado. Photo by FCFF.

Northern Argentina is the unofficial Golden Dorado capital of the world.  Within the region there are several key areas to test you skill against this amazing specie.  For instance, if you are a hard-core fisherman who prefers tactical fishing from a drift boat or wading, and don't mind quality over quantity, then we highly recommend the Salta area. The famed river in the Salta area is called Rio Juramento.  It is known to hold monster Dorado's over 40lbs! The river fishes best during the months of September, October and November.  Between the cunning characteristics of this fish and the temperament of the river, you will be tested to every imaginable fly fishing boundary... even the pro's tactical prowess and mental/physical endurance are challenged! Personally, it is one of the toughest rivers I have ever fished in my entire life.  Also, in the Salta area and along the Bolivian border, there are many un-named sub-tropical forested streams which affords the angler the opportunity to site fish for Golden Dorado.  Note, due to water flows, many of these smaller streams are seasonal fisheries.

Northern Argentina: Large Rio Parana Golden Dorado. Photo by FCFF.

The other Golden Dorado fishery of choice is set in an abundant subtropical climate and a verdant river delta. Specifically, the Paraguay/Parana drainage system offers miles and miles of large open water and marshy channels filled with Golden Dorado and other exotic species.  The major advantage of this area is year round fishing and accessibility. From Buenos Aires, it's less than a 60 minute flight,  a 3-7 hour car ride, or a 8.5 hour bus ride.  Though, the Dorado are not known to be as large in this area,  they are abundant and range between 2-15lbs. Compared to Salta, the overall fishing experience is physically and mentally easier.  In fact, 9 out 10 anglers choose this area over Salta.  Personally, I have fished both, and though I love to challenge myself,  I find this area of Argentina to be the best overall value for Dorado fishing.

Southern Argentina (N.Patagonia) Bamboo Thickets in Valdivian Rainforest. Photo by FCFF.

Southern Argentina is home to a bio-diverse region known as Patagonia.  This region is so huge and seemingly endless, it encompasses both Chile and Argentina.  In Patagonia Argentina, it is 880,000 square kilometers or roughly 2/3 the size of the 8th largest country in the world.  It includes five of Argentina's twenty four provinces (Rio Negro, Neuquen, Chubut, Santa Cruz and Tierra del Fuego), eleven of its twenty three national parks, and three of its eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Though much of Patagonia is a sparse low brush desert and wind swept plains,  the heart of Patagonian life lies within the climatic transition zone of the Andes mountain range.  Here you will find life such as the Andean Condor, Puma, Flamingo's, Guanaco's, Red Stag Deer, Pudu (world's smallest deer) and variety of migratory fowl.  But, for the fly fisherman, the center attractions are the Andean crystalline waters, all teeming with wild fish.  To truly understand Patagonia, it is best to divide it into three sections.

A.  Northern Patagonia (Neuquen Province):  In the 1960’s, fly fishing gods such as Joe Brooks and Mel Krieger made the rivers surrounding Junin de los Andes famous. What they discovered back then was a trout fishery unlike any place on Earth. They discovered many of the rivers in the area are attached to large trout producing Andean lakes. As a result, during the spring and fall runs, they targeted monster rainbows and browns moving in and out of the lakes. When the runs slowed down in mid-summer, they discovered an amazing dry-fly fishery second to none. Today, dry fly fishermen have pioneered the use of large attractor dry flies, such as the gypsy king, chernobyl ants, large hopper patterns, and big beetles. Folks, Junin de los Andes is the fly fishing capital of Argentina.  Though vacation towns such as Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes offer more for the average tourist, there is no other place other than Junin that offers more accessible rivers/lakes and modern conveniences for the fly fisherman.  Below is a list of rivers and lakes that we fish in the surrounding Junin de los Andes area. 

Northern Patagonia; Chimehuin Brown. Photo by FCFF.

  • Chimehuin River – is a large freestone river (similar to the Madison River) and offers the trophy hunter a chance to wet the fly in the world famous “Boca.” In addition, it’s the picture perfect fishery for float and sight fishing while prospecting with streamers, nymphs, and large attractor dry flies. The river fishes best from late December into early February and late March into April.
  • Collon Cura River – is known as the most prolific trout fishery in all of Patagonia! The trout are wickedly wild and average in the chunky 14” to 20” range and fall browns can come close to 30”. As you float this fairly large river, the willows and high sandstone cliffs will remind you of Wyoming’s Snake River. It also offers a mild gradient and broad gravel riffles that make for easy wading. Minnows are an important food source in this river, so you’ll find streamers are effective throughout the season (particularly in January). Like other local rivers, dry fly fishing with large attractors will produce action throughout the day.
  • Alumine River – is a slower river for the dry fly purest who loves to match hatches for large sipping trout. The river is often compared to Montana’s Missouri River and anglers often take rainbows between around 16" and >20". The river fishes best during peak summer months when the caddis and mayfly hatches occur.
  • Malleo River – like the Alumine, this river is a spectacular fishery for the dry fly enthusiast. Known for its spectacular caddis and mayfly hatches, anglers will delight with wild, hard fighting fish.  This is a wade only fishery and for those who like to walk/stalk trophy wild fish, this is your river.
  • Caleufu River – Due to the proximity to the Piedra del Aguila reservoir, this river fishes extremely well early and late in the season.  It is a medium-size tributary of the Collon Cura and can be floated till the end of February. Due to its size, the river is typically fished by wade fishing from rafts.  
  • Tromen, Huechulafquen, Epulafquen, Verde, and Curruhe Lakes – a trip to Patagonia would not be complete without fishing one of these magnificent trophy trout filled lakes! The combination of crystal clear waters, breath taking views and water filled with rainbows, browns, brookies and land locked salmon makes for an unforgettable day. You’ll be stripping streamers, tossing dries and sight fishing with a chance to land all four species in one day!

B.  Central Patagonia (Rio Negro - Chubut): lies on the precipice of modern summer vacation towns to the north, and the southern gates of fly fishing nirvana.  The center piece of the region, Los Alerces National Park, draws the intrepid fly fisherman like a moth to light.  Within the 1,000 square mile park lies a staggering amount of Andean lakes and rivers, surreal verdant Valdivian mountain rain forests, +3,000 year old redwood tree's, and arguably the purest genetic strain of very, very wild trout.  Here you can fish for all species of trout and even target an established run of Pacific Chinook Salmon. Working our away south from the Bariloche area, these are the rivers we fish: 

Central Patagonia: Rio Limay Brown.  Photo by FCFF

  • Traful - is 20km in length and since Ernest Schwiebert caught a +19 lbs world record salmon on a fly, Rio Traful is now known throughout the world as the best land locked Salmon river.  Though, this is an amazing fishery, with gin clear waters containing Salmon and Trout, accessing this river via private lands can be challenging.   
  • Limay - born from the ocean like lake Nahuel Huapi, and only minutes from Bariloche, the famous "Boca" is the starting point of Rio Limay.  The river holds a healthy population of large rainbow trout, but most fisherman fish the Limay for seasonal monstrous sized Brown's (+15lbs), migrating from Lake Nahuel Huapi and the adjoining 5 hyrdoelectric reservoir systems.  This fishery is so large, it can be seen from your plane, and when described, it's commonly broken into the upper, middle and lower sections. 
  • Manso - just a short trip from Bariloche, Rio Manso offers the tourist excellent class 2-4 white water rafting and superb fly fishing in middle sections. Accessing the river by foot can be a challenge because the banks are lined with thick wall like valdivian vegetation.  Thus, most people float this river while enjoying stunning views of the massive volcano Tronador, at 11,453. 
  • Pichi Leufu - is a small seasonal desert river highly dependent on water flows.  Generally, either at the beginning or end of the season, this is a very special D.I.Y desert fishery that is only 1-2 hours from Bariloche or Junin. The river terminates at the ocean like reservoir called Piedra del Aguila.  This means, there is always chance to dance with a large migrating brown, and many died hard locals do so every year. 
  • Arroyo Pescado - is a highly prized 14km spring creek located in a desert oasis, and less than hour outside Esquel.  Though this a managed private fishery, a day spent sight fishing chunky bows and browns is well worth it.  
  • Carrileufu - set in the sleepy picturesque Cholila valley, and once the temporary home to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this gentle crystal clear river flows from lake Cholila into lake Rivadavia (approx. 20 miles in length).  The river supports a healthy population of land locked Salmon and is best fished between November and mid December. For action all season long, Brown-Rainbow-Brook Trout are readily available to strike streamers or dry fly's. 
  • Rivadavia - located within Los Alerces Park, this river is no more than 5 miles long, but it's arguably the most scenic mind blowing fly fishing experience in all of Patagonia.  It's Jade color waters, bamboo tree lined river banks, thick valdivian rainforest,  snow capped mountains, two spring creeks,  and lots of very wild trout and salmon, make this river a top destination for the fly fisherman willing to travel the road less traveled.  
  • Arrayanes - located within Los Alerces Park, this 8 mile river is known for its abundant rainbow population ranging between 16"-18".  The other key features of this river are the Arrayanes tree's.  The bark-less pretzel like Arrayanes tree thickly covers the banks making a visual delight for the angler; And, its roots grow into the water creating a maze like underwater home for big Brown Trout.    
  • Grande (Futaleufu) - is a tailwater fishery that should not be over looked.  From the dam, the river flows +30 km until it reaches the Chilean border, and ultimately drains into the Pacific ocean.  As the name suggest, this is big water and not for the beginner fly caster.  Brown Trout are regularly caught in the 25"-30" range, and Rainbows, though smaller, range between 14"-18". Lastly, they can be difficult to catch, but an added feature to this fishery is a well established Pacific Chinook Salmon run.      
  • Chubut - this 500 mile river, is the longest river in Patagonia.  When water flows are sufficient, we target this river because it allows us to wade, wet wade on warm days, and provides opportunities for multi-day float/camp friendly trips.  The aquatic insect life in the river is impressive; however, despite a very healthy population of trout, the fish in this river range between 8"-18". 
  • Corcovado - located in the high plateau of the Rio Pico region and born from massive lakeVinter, this 120 km river winds itself through the Andes before changing names (Rio Palena) at the Chilean border.  The jewel of this river, and primary seasonal fishery among local die-hards, is none other than the "Boca."  Here you will find trophy migratory Brook and Rainbows, but be warned, the weather conditions here can be a bit extreme.   
  • Wilmanco and Rio Pico Region Lakes - Wilmanco is just a short ride outside of Esquel and offers the angler an opportunity to catch rainbows up to +10lbs.  It is also one of the few lakes which will allow you to stalk rainbows much like bone fishing in ocean flats. The Rio Pico region is, for the most part, a D.I.Y escape to wide open solitude, harsh weather conditions, five untouched lakes, and multiple rivers and spring creeks.  It is also the beginning of Patagonia's Pacific drainage system that feeds the highly rich trout and salmon waters of Chile (i.e Rio Palena and Figueroa).  When we visit the Rio Pico area, there is a strong chance we'll cross the border to target these Chilean rivers.

C.  Southern Patagonia (Santa Cruz - Tierra del Fuego):  are the last two provinces before you officially reach the southern most part of the civilized world, or jump a ship to view the frozen world of the Antarctic continent.  For most whom come here, the 94,000 square mile province of Santa Cruz offers the tourist breathtaking views of Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno Glacier.  And, for the fly fisherman, the province holds the only known Atlantic Steelhead run in the world.  Lastly, whether you fish either province, both are known throughout the world for their magnificent Sea Run Brown Trout fisheries. Unfortunately, and a warning to all, both provinces are known for some of the worst weather in the world.  But, each year, the fisheries listed below, draw a few fly fishing fools...and from first had experience, we all loved it. 

Southern Patagonia: Rio Gallegos Sea Run Brown Trout.

  • Santa Cruz - begins at the shores of the third largest lake in Argentina, Lago Argentino. From here, the river flows eastward for 239 miles before reaching the Atlantic coast.  The river is big, the wildlife is abundant, the curent and tides are strong, and the wind is brutal.  Despite this daunting challenge, the fly fisherman comes here for one reason only, to fish the only known Atlantic Steelhead run in the world.  For those few who are willing to travel around the world for a few bites per day, and endure long days in unforgiving wind, this river usually rewards the masochistic steelhead angler with a prized beauty from the Atlantic.   
  • Gallegos - a lengthy river at 350 km, and like the neighboring rivers to the north and south, supports a major anadromous fishery, specifically Sea Run Brown Trout. Healthy Sea Run Browns average  5-15 lbs, and each year, a lucky angler lands a +20 lbs trophy.  The river allows anglers to fish wide open stretches, or target browns on the dry fly in many of its side channels. Lastly, a quick reminder of the weather: like the Santa Cruz river, think steady gale force winds all day long.  
  • Grande (TDF) - Since the early 1930's when Englishman John Goodall planted som 100,000 eggs into the system, each year now,  tens of thousands of sea trout enter the Rio Grande to spawn.  Given this well known fact,  and fish ranging between 5 lbs and 30 lbs, this river is undeniably the most productive sea trout river in the world.  But, with exception to beginners luck or unquestionable expertise, do not come to this river expecting to land trophy after trophy.  A dose of reality quickly sets in as the TDF cocktail is sure to bring a fisherman's hangover... steady, in your face all day long 20-30 knot wind coupled with extremely wild, moody, and mysterious anadromous fish that are not on the bite once they enter the system.  Needless to say, this is why so many people, from all over the world, come to the end of the earth to fish this river.  
  • Other TDF Lakes and Rivers - it's fair to say that >95% of fisherman, come to TDF to fish for Sea Trout.  However, if you have time to explore TDF, there are a number of lakes and rivers that hold healthy populations of trout.  Much of these waters are perfect for the D.I.Y. fly fisherman.  Though, from my own personal experience, TDF is not the best choice for a once in a life time D.I.Y trout vacation (we prefer northern Patagonia).

Final Word:

Fishing South America (Patagonia or TDF) is an amazing experience.  I highly recommend, and hope that all anglers will have a chance to fish South American waters.  How, and with whom you fish these waters, in my opinion, is what matters the most.  There are may choices, but if like what you see and read, and if you prefer a custom fly fishing vacation designed to meet your specific needs, we welcome the opportunity to work with you. Speaking of, we are in the process of upgrading several of our DIY and full service lodge options.  For the most current programs and rates, please contact us directly.   

Again, thank you for reading.  If you have questions or comments, please feel free to do so, and we hope to see you next season.   

Gone Fishing,


PS. If you would like to read more about fly fishing Argentina, please look in the 'Blog Archive.'