Thursday, April 17, 2014

DIY Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina: Rio Gallegos Sea Run Brown Trout, Part 1

When you think of fly fishing for Sea Run Brown Trout (SRBT), you probably think about a few, select rivers, located around the world. If you made a short list of the best known SRBT rivers in the world, I bet the Rio Grande, located in Tierra del Fuego, would be on that list.  This river has a great reputation for SRBT and also has a few lodges that run a cool + $6,000 USD per week. Throw in the cost of your flights, equipment, miscellaneous expenses, and your looking at +/- $10,000 USD (to be safe, you should budget at least this amount).  A trip of a lifetime (as they say) to catch a huge SRBT and to boot, pay a huge bill.  But, what about those who can't afford the bill, or those who can afford a lodge, but don't like the atmosphere; or those who are truly DIY anglers?  Well, you could spend years saving your pennies to fish and stay at a lodge; for example, on the Rio Grande.  However, in my opinion, you could fish the best DIY walk-wade SRBT river in the world, located just up the street, called the Rio Gallegos.

Which Argentina river has more and bigger SRBT?

Many times this is the question and discussion we have amongst ourselves/anglers.  Personally, I don't care to engage in such discussions because I find the dialogue to be led by a narrative created by the industry (manufacturer's, lodges, guides, etc).   The true question to ask; "which river will best meet your personal needs; whether DIY or lodge angling?"  Only firsthand experience will truly allow you to know which river is best for you. But, I have DIY fished both the Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos.  I have spent more time on the Gallegos, and the last time I fished Rio Grande was back in 1999.  Both are exceptional rivers.  Both can be fished by the DIY angler. Both produce large SRBT.  But, year after year, the Rio Grande produces more, and bigger fish than the Gallegos.  Why? 

  1. In my opinion, from the very beginnings of the Rio Grande fishery, the combination of private land/estancias-lodges (i.e. inaccessible public access/public roads = no pressure) and strict conservation efforts, have paved the way for a healthy sustainable fishery. 
  2. At one time, as a SRBT fishery, the Rio Gallegos reputation was equal to the Rio Grande.  But something happened to cause a decline in the amount of fish returning to the river.  Here's what happened:
  • Commercial fishing (netting) severely effected the annual return of big healthy anadromous fish.
  • Unlimited catch and kill by sport fisherman was practiced for decades.  Poaching still occurs but there has been a cultural shift towards catch and release.
  • Route 40 parallels much of the Rio Gallegos; thus, making access incredibly easy for +6,000 local anglers and the entire world = pressure and pollution.
  • Conservation efforts were non existent for many years.  Rio Gallegos now has as an active fishing association and expert biologist working to protect the river.

A horrible and tragic end to a magnificent creature.  Poaching may never stop, but conservation efforts are now stronger than ever, in the Rio Gallegos community.

Good News, BIG Fish Return to Rio Gallegos

  • Commercial fishing/netting is no longer allowed.  
  • Local anglers can only keep one fish during the month of February.
  • Education and conservation efforts by local fisherman/groups is now part of their fishing cultural.

Years ago (decades), the Rio Gallegos consistently produced BIG healthy anadromous trout.  Local living legend, Raul Rossi, now retired and in his early 70's, has told me stories and shown me photos of the 'good old' days.  For example, Raul has a photo of a resident brown trout that is + 35" and THICK (easily +15 kilos). He tells me the 'good old' days are long gone, but the fishery is on the rebound.  Just this season (2013-2014), more than 100,000 SRBT returned to the river!

DIY Walk-Wade Rio Gallegos

With respect to an anglers ability to DIY walk-wade for SRBT in Argentina, in my opinion, there is no question, it's the Rio Gallegos.  Let's review the facts that makes the Gallegos a great DIY fishery: 

  • Location: About 25 kilometers from downtown to the Rio Gallegos bridge.  It's an easy daily commute from your hotel.  Or, you could even take a taxi to some of the closest DIY access points.  
  • How to Get There:  There are daily flights from Buenos Aires, direct to Rio Gallegos.  FYI, the cost for round-trip airfare to Gallegos is cheaper than the Rio Grande.  If you're on a tight budget, you could also take an over-night bus from Buenos Aires.
  • Personal Transportation:  At the Rio Gallegos airport, you can rent a car via a large international company (e.g. Hertz) or work with an in-town rental agency, that typically offers a better pricing.
  • Fishing Season: Rio Gallegos, November 01 till April 30th. FYI, Rio Grande, the other SRBT option =  November 01 till April 15th. 
  • Licensed Required: Gallegos = general fishing only, good for all of Patagonia, except TDF.  
  • Floating:  99.99% of anglers/guides/outfitters/lodges do not float the Rio Gallegos.  However, it is possible, and a few DIY nut-balls have done it; in small one man rafts.
  • Public Access Points:  The land surrounding the Rio Gallegos river is 100% private; however, there are a enough public access points to keep you walking-fishing for a lifetime...make that two lifetimes! Plus, and most importantly, route 40 parallels much of the river.  
  • Length: +350 kilometers...this river is LONG, with tons and tons of water!  
  • Gallegos Species: Resident and Sea Run Brown Trout.  Resident Brown Trout can reach +/- 10 kilos. SRBT can reach +15 kilos. 
  • When:  SRBT enter the river in November.  Weather and tides are challenging in November and December.  Best months are January, February, and March.  April is considered off-season, and offers the angler a chance to have the river to him/herself (but water and weather can be COLD!)
  • Origin: Andes Mountains.
  • Termination: Atlantic Ocean.
  • Walk-Wade Difficulty: The Gallegos is fairly shallow river with a gravel floor. There are many places to cross the river, in shallow riffles.  However, there are some pools deep enough to prevent deep water wading (aside from your personally safety, you really don't want to spook the fish by wading too deep).
  • Where to Stay:  A) in-town.  B) free camping at a public access point. C) rooms and campsites at Hotel Bella Vista = services are poor and prices are extremely high, but you are within walking distance to the Gallegos Chico river and Gallegos river. 
  • Fly Rods Rio Gallegos: Depending on location and weather, single hand 9-10ft/7-8wt, medium-fast action.  Two Handed, 11-13ft, 7/8wt.  
  • Fly Rods Gallegos Chico:  Single Hand 9ft 4-6wt.
  • Fly Lines:  Single Hand: WF Floating.  Two Handed: Skagit suited to your rod's grain window, and various poly-leader tips (intermediate sink rate is used frequently).
  • Specific Flies:  The fly selection is not complicated, but we only share this information with our guest. 

If you are still reading this, it might suggest that you are interested in fishing for Sea Run Brown Trout in Argentina.  As the title suggest, this is Part 1.  Please read Part 2 for more details on how to make this a successful DIY fishing trip.

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Saludos Amigos