Fly Fishing Patagonia proved to be the ultimate trout fishing experience due to the extraordinary beauty of the locale, the variety of its waters, the friendliness and expertise of our guide and the warmth of the Argentinean people.
Booking a fishing trip to a foreign land where one does not speak the language is somewhat daunting. But my online research revealed that a town called Junín de Los Andes seemed to be very popular amongst fly-fisherman and boasted several varied and productive rivers and lakes in close proximity to each other and to the town. I am fortunate to have a cousin in Buenos Aires who, although he is not a fisherman, was able to assemble a list of potential guides, lodges and outfitters for me to research and interview in and around the town of Junín de Los Andes.
After doing a little online research as to price, accommodations and personalities, I selected as our guide Carlos Viscario, known locally and to his many satisfied customers as “Tuqui.” My decision was based on the letters of reference he posted on his website and my telephone conversations with him during which I was able to determine that he spoke excellent English, seemed like a nice person and had a sense of humor, i.e. he laughed at my jokes; so either he had a sense of humor or was smart enough to laugh at my jokes, in either case a good thing.
Junín de Los Andes is located in the foothills of the Andes in Western Patagonia, in the shadow of the imposing Lanin Volcano and just outside Lanin National Park. In addition to some lakes it has at least five rivers of various widths and speeds, all teaming with trophy sized brown and rainbow trout. All river fishing is catch and release on a fly (with a barbless hook) from the bank, wading or drifting in a boat.
Since I was by no means an expert fly-fisherman, being mostly tethered to my law practice in Los Angeles which is not a city known for its proximity to productive fly-fishing waters, the prospect of traveling to what is literally referred to as the “end of the world” to attempt to coax what are reputedly wilily and skittish trout out of the comfort of their icy waters seemed to be an ambitious dream. However, since I had just celebrated a middle aged birthday with a zero at the end, I was determined to prove to myself that the old geezer still had some aces left to play.
Also, since my wife who was also celebrating a birthday ending with a zero (the first number of which, although lower than mine shall remain blank) was celebrating her birthday with a hike up Kilimanjaro in late July and, as we were celebrating twenty years of wedded bliss in October of this same auspicious year, I thought I should do something special and being the, if not technically brilliant, thoroughly fanatical fisherman with many wonderful cousins in Buenos Aires, I decided, why not take the opportunity to visit my 4 generations of cousins (the oldest of whom is 95 and the youngest 7 years old) and indulge my true obsession, the matching of my lawyerly wits against the wily Patagonian “truchas?”
After much warm hugging and kissing and numerous fabulous meals with my wonderful family in Buenos Aires, my cousin Saul and I boarded our Aerolinas Argentinas flight to Junín de Los Andes. There is one flight per week. The 2 hour flight drops you at an airport halfway between San Martine de los Andes, a more glitzy resort type town, and Junín de los Andes.
We were met at the airport by one of our guide’s many friendly helpers who drove us the twenty kilometers into town to buy fishing licenses and deposit us at our hotel, the charming but exceedingly rustic Hosteleria Chimehuin, situated in town on the banks of the Chimehuin River.
After checking in, we walked the one or two blocks in to the sleepy (it was siesta time) main square of Junín de los Andes where we hired a taxi to take us on a little tour of the surrounding area.
Situated in the foothills of the Andes, the rolling terrain is mostly volcanic rock with chaparral and trees.
Our driver drove us up a dirt road that followed the Chimehuin River up to a large lake, Lago Huechulafquen, just inside Lanin National Park. In the background the snow covered peak of the extinct Lanin Volcano presides over the stunning scenery like a lone deity surveying his domain.
There were a few fly fisherman at the mouth of the Chimehuin who were not, in the twenty minutes we watched, catching anything in the easily to wade in headwaters of the Chimehuin. Our guide, Tuqui would later tell us that this spot is only good when the weather is filthy.
I am also an avid bird watcher so, on the way back into town our driver, who was a former merchant marine with the sharp eyes to prove it, pointed out numerous birds, along with herds of red deer (non-native) grazing with horses and cattle. Unfortunately the good restaurant, known for its fantastic grilled meats and chorizo was closed that night and we settled for (we should have known better), the Café Tourismo, a café with one over worked waitress and way too many items on its menu to be any good. True to form the food was wretched and the service not much better. No big deal, we were in for some great fishing so off to bed in our cozy little hotel room with twin beds and a shower equipped with a squeegee on a broomstick and a rag, the use of which was to remain a mystery for our entire stay. I can tell you that it was of no use in helping capture and expel spiders.
After breakfast at the Chimehiun featuring homemade breads and scones and handmade preserves, one of which is made from local wild bright red rose hips which I later saw growing alongside some of the rivers, we were met by our guide, Tuqui and his assistant guide (for my primo, Saul), Luciano.
Tuqui, in his mid 30s is of very good cheer, has boundless energy, and is thoroughly knowledgeable about the art of catching the wild trout of Patagonia. He is also, being a native of Junín de Los Andes, known and liked by everyone. So popular is he in fact that he has turned down requests that he run for local office; a sensible choice no doubt since it would surely interfere with fishing. After a while I was almost suspicious that Tuqui was also closely acquainted with hundreds of rainbow and brown trout in the four rivers that flow in and around Junín de los Andes, some of whom must have been on his payroll, the way they seemed to pose, take the fly, leap and fight like action heroes and ultimately swim away after their gentle releases administered by Tuqui.
I hadn’t had a chance to do any fly-fishing for a few years so Tuqui had his hands full re-educating me on my technique and touch, which he did with extreme patience and good humor. In no time I was casting considerable distances and getting strikes from fish twenty-four inches long.
The first river we fished was the Malleo, which we waded. Although my cousin, Saul had never done any trout fishing, in no time at all Luciano had him wading into the river and pulling out some lovely rainbows.
After a wonderful morning’s fishing, we had a picnic lunch under a tree of fabulous food prepared by Tuqui’s mother and washed down with an excellent locally grown Syrah wine.
Much of the land around the river Malleo is owned by the Mapuchi Indians, the indigenous people. One pays a small fee to a guy who has set up a gate along the road to gain access to the River. There were also game wardens that were not shy about checking our fishing licenses. However, most places we fished were very sparsely populated and we did not see that many other fishermen, as there are at least four wonderful rivers, teaming with trophy sized trout.
After fishing into twilight on the Malleo we were dropped off at our hotel and then did go to the very nice restaurant and enjoyed the Argentine beef and chorizo on offer. All the beef in Argentina is grass feed and the grass on which the cattle graze seems to impart its own sweet terroir to the meat. The selection and quality of wines is also wonderful from deep dark Malbecs to the nuanced and somewhat sophisticated Cabernets.
The next morning was a little chilly. We started off wading another part of the Malleo where we caught some fish and Tuqui taught me how to surprise my cousin by saying in Argentine slang “Hey dude, it’s colder than a seal’s fart.” That afternoon, after another of Tuqui’s mother’s fabulous lunches and a local Malbec we stopped off at Tuqui’s house, had a coffee and picked up Tuqui’s drift boat. We spent the afternoon drifting/fishing the Chimehuin, a wider river than the Malleo. Once again, Tuqui seemed to know the address of every significant trout in the river as if he were the postmaster general of the Chimehuin.
That evening, Tuqui invited us to join him for dinner at a very upmarket lodge just outside of town, the Spring Creek Lodge, where he also provides his services as a guide and was one of its original supporters.
The lodge has beautiful cabins in which the guests sleep, lush grounds and an exquisite main lodge/dining room and bar with towering ceilings and striking decor. They serve a fabulous prix fix menu. The lodge atmosphere was warm and friendly. We met other anglers from around the world and I’m fairly certain that, being a fishing lodge, not every story told there is strictly speaking, true. That said, I assure you that everything in is this article is nothing but the truth.
As the evening wore on and we were getting ready to go back to our more sparse accommodations, one of the guests at the lodge, a nice woman from Texas said, “ya’ll aren’t staying here are you?” “No”, I said. She said, “where are ya’ll stayin?” “The Chimehuin”, “oh.”
The next day was spent drifting the Rio Aluminé and Rio Collón Cura.. I was thrilled to see falcons, caracaras, parrots, small condors, ducks, geese, kingfishers and wrens, all native to Patagonia. The fishing was spectacular, almost every cast yielding a trout. We were casting small nymphs with a large dry fly to act as a strike indicator. Sometimes the trout would hit the floating dry fly instead of its nymph. We drifted past walls built by native people hundreds of years ago. The fall colors were dazzling.
Once again we dined at the Spring Creek Lodge where a special meal of roasted lamb had been prepared served with another delicious Malbec. The meal was delectable and, since we were all sitting family style around one big table, the conversations in various languages were lively. One interesting fact that emerged, a couple of other fishermen (with a different guide of course) were saying that they were not having any luck with nymphs and had to switch to streamers to catch their fish. Streamers are much more work and not as much fun to fish, although they can be very effective. This was a testament to the skill of Tuqui, who I was even more convinced had, in advance of our arrival used his considerable charm on our trout so they would cooperate and bite our nymphs. At about 1:30 a.m. we made our way back to our hotel.
The next day, after buying some Patagonian chocolate and Mapuchi Indian handicrafts for the family back home, we flew back to Buenos Aires having enjoyed one of the most satisfying trout adventures of my life.
About the Author; Steven Lowy is an Entertainment Attorney in Los Angeles, California, his wife Jill is a Realtor in Beverly Hills, she will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro this summer and Escapeartist will hopefully be following Jill every step of the way (from photo’s) on her summer adventure to Africa. Their son Dylan and daughter Zoe are both accomplished in the art of Fencing like their father who is going to the Seniors Nationals this summer.