Everyone that has been bitten by the travel bug has that one destination they long to visit. That place of fantasy that seems more prominent in our minds than any other. Unfortunately for us fly fisherman these fabled holy lands continue coming to light, ever adding to our bucket list of must-see fishing destinations.
Patagonia has always been high on my agenda of places to visit. The scenes of crystal clear waterways meandering through barren landscapes, while the soaring peaks of the Andes mountain range stand over with their intimidating beauty.
Patagonia comprises of the southernmost parts of South America and includes both Argentina and Chile. It is a labyrinth of rivers, mountains and gulfs. Sometimes green, sometimes barren, but always breathtaking.
Our trip was planned for early 2014, but the combination of busy work schedules and too many distractions with the Western Lakes at our doorstep meant that we ran out of time to plan our adventure. So when cheap flights were spotted in mid 2014 we booked and started planning. Well we didn’t really do much planning, you see things hadn’t really slowed down for us so we enlisted the help of an Argentinean travel company. It was probably the best decision we made as we contacted the company and told them what we wanted to do and see. It was then just a case of swapping cash for a complete and totally organised itinerary.
The flight in was fabulous as we managed to snag the bonus of travelling in Premium Economy over and back. It was funny to see the looks of the accompanying passengers when a couple dressed for the mountains sat down amongst them. Conspicuous consumption is what Felicity calls it. We figured it was a good tactic for not being robbed as we obviously didn’t have money. As we reclined back and discussed the merits of ample leg room and an endless supply of ice creams we touched up on our Spanish which up until the flight, was severely lacking.
Our hit list included the spectacular walks around the town of El Chalten with the magnificent Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre towering overhead, The majestic Porito Merino Glacier, a lap of the W Circuit in the Torres del Paine National Park, exploration of the Tierra Del Fuego National Park and the amazing settlement of Ushuaia which is the southern-most city on the planet. Amongst all that, we also made time for a 3 day float trip in Bariloche just so the trigger finger didn’t get too itchy.
Hiking near El Chalten – Mount Fitz Roy
The astonishing grandeur of the Perito Merino Glacier
The hiking rewarded us with some spectacular views – Towers in the Torres Del Paine National Park
Torres Del Paine
The travelling was over and after spending a couple of days visiting Santiago and sampling the vast array of ice cream we started the journey to Bariloche.
Bariloche is a beautiful town, very popular amongst tourists due to a roaring trade in all things chocolate or St Bernard, its other claim to fame is that it sits on the shores of the spectacular Lago Nahuel Haupi.
After a day of sightseeing we were picked up by our guide Peter who would be looking after us for the next 3 days. Accompanying him was our cargo boat Captain Julian and our own chauffeur to drive us to the river.
The river we were to visit was the Collon Cura. Not too dissimilar to the freestone rivers in New Zealand it wound its way through the landscape bordered by magnificent cliffs and a wide variety of wildlife. The water in this part of the world is some of the clearest I have seen anywhere. The mountain streams not fed from the glaciers have to be seen to be believed.
Preparing for 3 days on the river
When people think of fishing in Patagonia they dream up images of gigantic sea-run browns and salmon which are generally found further south. The Collun Cura receives its fair share of big fish migrating up the river systems from the reservoirs but we were a little early for those. What the fish lacked in size they definitely made up for in beauty and fighting spirit.
So the idea was that Felicity and I would spend our days with Peter on one boat while Julian paddled ahead and set up camp each night in the cargo boat.
First brown of the trip
BYO net girl
Being a Western Lakes fisherman it was a shock to be handed a 6 weight rod with a sink tip/shooting head line with a 4 inch long streamer to tempt the local quarry. The style of fishing was quite aggressive for me, it generally involved launching the fly down and across, swinging and then stripping back through all likely runs. Peter soon explained that the main food source for these fish are the minnows that abound in the riffles and also the bizarre pancora crab. These grow to around 4 inches long and are the reason the Patagonian trout grow to such immense sizes.
The bizarre Pancora Crab is a crucial part of the Patagonian trouts diet
Early morning smutters taken while all other were still in bed
Peter is a master of his trade and skilfully manoeuvred the boat to all the pockets that were likely to hold fish. We quickly started hooking up on both rainbows and browns. Also present were the native perca which I guess resemble a bass and although they are not highly regarded by the locals it was a nice surprise. We also encountered a large variety of water birds, introduced red deer, wild pigs, the native Guanaco as well as the ever-present possibility of encountering the elusive puma. The hundreds of vultures circling overhead at times were spectacular but a good reminder of where you end up if things go pear-shaped in this part of the world.
Cargo boat captain Julian took this photo on a recent trip
Upon reaching camp that night we were greeted by Julian who had the tents erected, long-drop dug, table spread and the BBQ was firing. These guys really know how to cook meat. It seems South America is not all that hung up on salad but they do know how to cook anything involving a chunk of cow. Basically if you are vegetarian, we suggest another part of the world. At our request we were then supplied with copious amounts of fruit and we sat back for the afternoon.
We were well catered for the entire trip
Beautiful sunset on the Collon Cura
One thing I did wonder during dinner was why do they put poppy seeds on every dish?? All meals were lightly sprinkled with these delicate little additions. It then occurred to me that we were parked under a number of sick looking Sauce (willow) trees. The reason for their unhealthy appearance was the millions of Willow Worms that were slowly consuming the leaves. The leaves then passing through one end and out the other than to be sprinkled over our evening meal being served below.
The bonus of these worms was that under every overhanging willow there were plenty of eager rainbows up to 2 pound gorging themselves on any worm that suffered a food coma and fell into the water below. We had a fantastic evening and following morning pulling up to half a dozen fish from under a single tree using foam willow worm patterns.
Plenty of these were fooled on willow worm patterns
After the fun of the morning session we went back to the streamer approach, lobbing flies that resembled Christmas decorations through all manner of trout haunts. One fly that produced many fine trout was a cone headed deceiver over 4 inches in length consisting of gold tinsel and white marabou. It was affectionately named “The Lapdancer”.
Discussing flies during lunch
They don’t mess around here – The black fly is called the Titanic
3 lovely rainbows came from this inspiring little backwater
Another dark brown tempted from the riffles
The weather in Patagonia is always going to surprise. We had been blessed with some lovely blue sky days and within 15 minutes a storm front would come through, blow the river out completely and then return us to the peaceful tranquillity we were experiencing beforehand. It was almost as though Mother Nature was just reminding us she was still present and could upset proceedings whenever she felt the need. It was truly a humbling experience making us feel grossly insignificant.
Storm front approaching
And the calm that followed
Silvery brown had made its way up from the reservoir
Another victim to the lapdancer
My most memorable trout for the trip – taken as a storm thundered overhead
Till next time
After 2 nights on the river we slowly made our way through the delta to the pickup where our driver was waiting. It was an opportunity to put down the rods, sit back and watch the river pass by whilst reflecting on what we had just experienced.
So with another destination crossed off the ol’ bucket list, you would think it has gotten shorter. In fact the reading and research leading up to this trip along with the places visited has had the opposite effect and indeed created a new and ever-expanding array of new possibilities.
I’d better get back to work and start saving once again – Damn travel bug.