A warning here. This is going to be a detailed entry on fly fishing in the Patagonia, so loyal readers if you are not interested in that topic I completely understand if you read no further. We will return to politics, business, complaining, wine and travel reviews, and stock tips in later editions.
I flew to Esquel, Argentina from Buenos Aires, and was met at the airport by guides from Patagonia River Guides – www.patagoniariverguides.com – the lodge that would be hosting me for the next ten days. I had booked PRG through Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures,(http://www.yellowdogflyfishing.com), a terrific Bozeman-based Agency to work with if you want to plan great fishing adventures. The owners of PRG are actually Montana boys; Travis and Rance are childhood friends who grew up fishing on the Big Hole, Ruby, and Madison Rivers. I had fished with Travis in Montana last summer, and found him to be one of the best guides I had ever worked with, so I had a lot of confidence when booking the trip. They operate three different fishing programs in Argentina, and I chose to try two of them; Pico Rio and their home lodge in Travellin.
Rance and Travis have successfully built a fairly unique experience among fly fishing lodges, with a definite “Four Seasons Hotel” approach towards the experience. One of the biggest problems at most lodges can be an uneven experience with the guides, especially when fishing internationally. Perhaps because of their guide experience, Travis and Rance have endeavored to eliminate this issue. When you fish with PRG there is a Guide, and an additional Guide’s Assistant. The Assistant opens gates, prepares the boat and your rods, fixes lunch, and at the end of the day cleans your equipment. Most of the Guides served as assistants for several years until they can pass muster. Guides must be very fluent in English, have fun personalities, and also have a real love for fishing and a dedication to get the client into big fish.
There are a lot of other small touches that I particularly appreciated. For instance, the guides all drive fairly new, spotless four wheel drives, primarily diesel-powered Toyota Hi Lux trucks. I am quite accustomed to driving with guides in filthy, garbage-filled vehicles, but not at PRG. The trucks are cleaned every day, and while most still have the requisite flies hanging from the headliner, they are clean and comfortable.
The food in the lodge is top notch, and PRG maintains a good wine cellar, cigar humidor filled with top Cubans, and a scotch tasting bar, basically everything you could need. If you need equipment, they have stocked the lodge with Winston Boron II rods with Hatch reels, and the latest Simms waders and boots. They also maintain a fly and equipment stock that Rance said was probably the biggest in Argentina.
We drove south from Esquel for a couple hours until we reached the rustic Tres Rios Ranch. I met the other guests at the lodge; three entertainment lawyers from Hollywood, and an iconic television and movie star whose privacy I will respect in this blog by just calling him “Star”. Yellow Dog had done their best to match me up with compatible lodge guests, and had asked me how I felt about being with a house full of “Hollywood Types”. Since there were no agents in the mix, I felt good about the group, and we immediately hit it off. I tend to like “type A” individuals if they can keep their aggression in check, and this was a group of smart, successful, fun-loving guys just out to have a good time. Star was actually the most mellow of the group, proclaiming “I am just here to become a better fisherperson”.
In fly fishing people tend to gravitate towards their own specific area of love. You get the “big fish” proponents that get the greatest joy from landing whoppers. They are often less aware of their surroundings and particular fishing techniques, and more willing to do anything to get the big one. In Oregon and Washington many of my friends are big fish guys, preferring to fish a spey rod and a big streamer for large steelhead over traditional trout fishing. I certainly enjoy catching big fish, but I tend to be more of a dry fly purist. Given a choice, I would rather throw lighter-weight rods with precision casts on small water to rising fish, over just hunting monsters.
But in Argentina both big fish lovers and dry fly fishermen like me can pursue fishing nirvana. Over the next few days we fished beautiful, windy lakes with dry flies, streamers, and nymphs for rainbows and browns that ranged from 18-26 inches that fed the “big fish” need. We spent a couple days on tiny spring creeks often only two feet wide, throwing big hopper patterns at surprisingly large fish, ranging from 16-25 inches that would explode out of impossibly small water and sometimes run upstream taking you into your backing. We floated bigger rivers, alternating from dry flies, to streamers, to dry droppers, and sometimes even mouse patterns for fish that averaged 19 inches, but often went 24 inches or larger. My biggest fish during the first phase of the trip was a brown at 26 inches caught on a 5 WT rod with a large dry fly Rance had tied. Every day was a new kind of fishing in incredible scenery for large and powerful browns and rainbows. PRG touts the experience of their lodges, endeavoring to give guests a different experience every day.
February is supposedly summer in Argentina, but the weather was more fall-like when I was there. Days could be a bit chilly, requiring layers of clothing. I also had a bit of rain, with the sun often peaking in and out. I switched between a 5 and 7 weight rod, often using a sink tip on the 7 in bigger water, which was ideal for the situation. I only had one bad day during the first phase of the trip, when the rain blew out most of the water, and I only fished for a few hours catching one fish. On most other days the fish count ranged from 15 to 25, with both browns and rainbows. Rance informed me I was there during difficult conditions, and often the count would be much higher.
One caveat here….. if you are going to fish the Patagonia, be prepared for wind, and have the patience to master your wind cast. Virtually every day I at least faced a few hours of often severe wind, which was incredibly frustrating but the price you pay to fish this kind of pristine water. The guides are well versed in training new wind casts, and once you master a few of them you will be amazed at how well you can cast in terrible conditions, but if you are easily frustrated or angered by these kind of conditions it could make for a miserable trip. I would also not classify this as easy fishing designed for beginners. While there is certainly a plenty of water a neophyte can successfully fish, there was actually a lot of very demanding precision cast water.
In my next post we leave Rio Pico and head to Trevillin, where we will continue to catch big fish, explore the world’s most beautiful spring creek, and we have fun with Tea Party “Drill Baby Drill” Texans!