Text & Images Property of Luis Nasim, All Rights Reserved


Since my younger years growing up in Argentina I have often dreamed of Patagonia, the vast and intriguing land that lay just over the Pampas.  As a youth in Buenos Aires, I longed to experience its many wonders  - particularly those of the finned variety.  Now making my home in Canada, I recently fulfilled my destiny to experience it with flyrod in hand.
Afflicted with fishing fever since an early age, I was far too young to make the trek to Patagonia from the capital city. Any ideas about actually visiting would have to wait, but little did I know how long.  Destiny brought me to Montreal, Canada where I now make my home.  Despite thousands of miles my desire to see Patagonia had never diminished. 

Fast forward thirty years to 1999 when fortuitous circumstances created the “once in a lifetime fishing trip” opportunity (as my wife often reminds me).  After much anticipation, November and the opening of the season arrived.  I was to spend three weeks in the southern hemisphere, two of which would be spent fishing in the Argentine Patagonia with Alejandro, my host and friend from Viedma  - the eastern seaboard city and capital of the province of Rio Negro.

I met Alejandro at the airport in Bariloche, a popular tourist  town in northwestern Patagonia.  Our destination for the first week was approximately 370km to the south near the city of Esquel within Parque Nacional Los Alerces, named after the huge and ancient conifers that abound in the region (there still remain some millenary larch trees). The park itself is located in the province of Chubut.

From the high vantage point of the hosteria,
the views were breathtaking.

We stayed at Hosteria Cume Hue, a quaint hostel which served as our center of operations for our daily fishing trips.  The hosteria is strategically located mid way on the northern shore of Lago Futalaufquen, an elongated 30 to 40 km long lake ensconced amid the Cordillera de Los Andes.   From the high vantage point of the hosteria, the views were breathtaking.  The Futalaufquen is one of the more southern bodies of waters in a chain of connected lakes and rivers.  The rivers are, for the most part, relatively short (only a few km long) and link the various lakes.    
To the northwest, the chain begins with Lago Rivadavia which empties into the absolutely gorgeous Rio Rivadavia.  This stream, in turn, empties into Lago Verde (Green Lake), which then feeds the Arrayanes River, named after a gnarly yet strikingly beautiful tree.  The Arrayanes is a powerful  piece of water which pours into Lago Futalaufquen.  Finally, somewhere between lakes Rivadavia and Futalaufquen lies Lago Menendez, a 60 km long  lake with a south and a north fork which is connected to the Rio Arrayanes by the very short Rio Menendez.  
Our fishing basically involved trying all these bodies of water so I would get to sample the different locales.  Alejandro and I were accompanied during part of the trip by his friends Gustavo and Juan Carlos.  All these fellows and most others we met along the way are accomplished fly fishers who know these waters well.   In moving water we concentrated our efforts on Rio Rivadavia, since the Rio Arrayanes had few fish in it (the trout and landlocks where staying in the lakes due to lower than usual flows).  The Rivadavia has rainbow trout, brown trout, landlocked salmon, and percas, a protected native fish which seems like a hybrid between a perch and smallmouth, some of which weighed closed to two pounds. 
November is early spring in Patagonia and most of the fishing was done subsurface, using sink tips or teeny lines with a 6wt. Outfit.  At times, we also fished nymphs or streamers with a floating line.  In three outings to the Rio Rivadavia  we managed to take a few rainbows and landlocks.  These were all wild fish, and the landlocks, descendants of Salmo salar sebago planted well over half a century ago.  
Most  fish would run between 14 and 20".  The rainbows were gorgeous but spawned out (I'd like to hook some of these fish in the summer).  The landlocks were sleek and some wore the unmistakeable x-shaped markings on their backs while others where pretty bright and without marks.  
Most of them layed in deeper water on the far bank, which was difficult to reach, but one evening, the salmon moved in to feed in shallower water and finally managed to fool a full bodied missile on a #12 elk hair caddis.  What a treat that was.  

The mouth of the Rio Arrayanes also yielded some acrobatic rainbows which from time to time fed on caddis pupae.  These were hard fighting fish which leapt and ran when hooked.  This area has a hanging bridge from which tourists would point out the location of some very large fish.  

One morning we left early to fish Lago Menendez, a huge lake southeast of Lago Futalaufquen.   Our gomón (Zodiac  type boat) had been dropped off the night before, and as the sun rose, we hurried to hike the two kilometer trail to the launching area.  This is a tricky lake to fish due to the prevailing westerly winds.  If the wind is up, you just cannot make its furthest reaches.

  Fortunately, on this particular morning, there was no wind whatsoever and so we blasted off to reach the South Fork of the lake.  Considering the no wind situation and the fact that we had a 35hp. outboard, it still took us 45 minutes at full speed to reach the end of the lake.      

This had to be paradise...
A bright sunny day, a landscape of eternally snowed peaks, and some gorgeous white pebbled streams and creeks emptying into the lake met our arrival.  This place was hot and it didn't take long before we started picking up rainbows near the drop offs with black bunnies.  The fish where a bit on the thin side but absolutely gorgeous.  When we tired of a location we simply moved with the boat to a different peninsula, bay or beach and continued fishing. 

click to enlarge

The catching continued more or less unabated throughout the day.  The highlight of the day consisted in the hook up of a big brown by Alejandro.  The fish jumped twice clear out of the water before snagging him on a log and breaking off.    That fish had to be 4 kilos if it weighed an ounce!  For the most part we took fish in the 16 to 22" range.

As a note of interest, this lake is part of a wild reserve, and as such it is protected by relatively strict regulations.  One must keep away from tributaries and their bocas, fires are not allowed on its shores, and overnight camping is not allowed.  A few but important rules that help maintain this place in pristine conditions.

 We were so glad to be wearing breathable waders.  Most days we would awake and suit up right away, have some breakfast, and take off to spend the day astream.  The waders wouldn't come off until the evening.  It was a blessing.  Water was pretty cold everywhere  but with polar pants underneath we were fine.  

During the second week of my stay we traveled north some 70km. to the Lago Cholila area.  Lago Cholila and the Carrileufu and Pedregoso rivers are ensconced in a very scenic valley made even prettier in November, by the presence of purple and lavender blooming lupinos and other yellow flowers.  The whole lake was surrounded by mountains.  We stayed at the Hosteria del Pedregoso, wonderful acommodations  with large windows to appreciate the beauty of  the area.

Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and his wife Etta Place must have also found the Cholila  region to their liking at the turn of the century, as witnessed by the fact that they settled down twice in the area, before being chased off to Bolivia where they supposedly met their demise.  Unfortunately, Butch and company were just a little early to enjoy the soon to be planted salmonids.

I must admit that during the trip we consumed vast quantities of vino tinto (red wine).  I think Alejandro had stashed 5 cases of delicious local Malbecs, Cabernets Sauvignons and Merlots, in the trunk of the truck before departing! 
Wherever allowed we took with us a flat portable grill and made impromptu parrilladas (barbecues) on suitable lake beaches.  These feasts  included huge chunks of meat, ribs, and chorizos (similar to italian sausages) and the aforementioned wine.   A tough life indeed.

Toward the end of the trip we traveled north to visit Villa La Angostura on the shoreline of Lago Nahuel Huapi (a place that produced a world record brown once in the fifties).  This lake is 100km. long and has 7 arms.  It is connected to a small lake named Lago Correntoso by the world famous Rio Correntoso.  This is a short river (some 300 to 400 metres long) which empties into Lago Nahuel Huapi.  Browns and rainbows are the targets for fly fishers fishing the boca.   The opening of the season had been a week earlier and we got reports that on the first day, some 200 fish were taken (strict C & R regs and barbless hooks).  The fish average two to five pounds with larger fish not uncommon.  Unfortunately the one evening we were there the fish where basically off the feed and only one rainbow was taken. This place requires a mid sinking shooting head and long casts, to place the line in the main current of the Correntoso as the line sweeps into the lake.  Most locals were using wet cell II shooting heads with amnesia as running line.

Our final fishing destination was Lago Espejo (Mirror Lake) which lies just northwest of Nahuel Huapi.  This lake contains rainbows and brookies.  The place was full of fish who only fed sporadically.  We managed   a  few rainbows and a pair of brookies in the one to two pound range.

 

After almost two weeks of fishing it was time to head back home, but not before driving across Patagonia to Alejandro's hometown on the atlantic coast, some 1,300 kilometres away.

Leaving the beauty of the Andean region, while travelling east, we slowly descended, merging into the pre-cordillera to finally dissolve into the steppe.   Much like Darwin chronicled in The Voyage of the Beagle, I was struck by the sheer size,  harshness, and yet striking beauty of this flat and featureless land, with only an occasional jumping mara (Patagonian hare) to break the spell.  It somehow made me feel very small… definitely a place for some serious introspection.

Patagonia is such a vast place, and it would be fair to say that I visited about 0.1% of it.  One would have to become a trout bum for many years in order to cover and sample a substantial portion of what is available.  To the south of the area we fished, there are almost two thousand kilometres of road, lakes, rivers, mountains, and glaciars.  We often hear about the searun browns of the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego, about a myriad lakes of unfathomable depths which  contain  large trout, and about the searun browns and steelhead in the province of Santa Cruz.  And all this without even having mentioned the Chilean Patagonia with its maze of fjords, lakes and rivers.

Having been born in Argentina, I can happily report that after thirty years of waiting, my dream of fishing this part of the world finally came through.  Thanks to the people I met and the places I saw it is a trip that I won't soon forget.

 

Sometimes, you can go back home.