Dottie and I, along with Sonoma friends Tom and Debbie Engle, and Chad Overway and Jeanne Montague, flew in from Argentina’s capital to the small airport, 1,000 miles southwest of Buenos Aires to San Martin de Los Andes, a Tahoe City-like village perched on the eastern side of the Andes above a dry plateau of rolling hills to its east.
By the look of the countryside, we’d swear that Scotty had just beamed us to western Montana, but we knew that wasn’t so, because there greeting us as we exited the baggage area was Carlos Viscarro, the best fly-fishing guide in all of Argentina.
Better known by his nickname, Tuqui, he was our guide in this part of Patagonia five years ago. Tuqui’s smile and warm greeting made us feel like long-lost family. It truly was a pleasure to see him again.
Tuqui, like many of his fellow Argentines, is a warm, gregarious guy, with unreserved passion and enthusiasm for life and particularly fishing. He often seems more excited than we do when we hook a fish.
He is an old friend of Rachel Andras, of Andras Outfitters, with whom we booked both of our trips here. Tuqui greets guests at the airport, and from there on, until we board the plane to leave, we are in his great care. Even if we go from one lodge to another, Tuqui and his crew of talented, attentive and gracious associates are our guides.
The snowcapped mountains that surround San Martin are the source of much of the water that flows into the Chimehuin and Quilquihue rivers, two of the trout-filled waters we are fishing while also enjoying all the amenities of Tipiliuke Lodge.
Known locally as Estancia Cerro de los Pinos, Tipiliuke is part of a working cattle ranch. It became a premier fly-fishing destination 20 years ago primarily because the huge estancia, covering more than 40,000 acres, also offers 10 miles of fantastic fishing on the Chimehuin and Quilquihue.
Monster rainbow and German brown trout lurk in those waters. Neither species are native to this region. Some of the rainbows originally came from the McCloud River in California, and the browns from Europe. But they have thrived here for more than 100 years, growing to football size feeding on local bugs, including grasshoppers the size of humming birds. The average trout runs 16-to-20 inches, with many in the 21- to 24-inch range.
Not only is the fishing excellent, so are the accommodations. The lodge, managed and hosted by Kevin and Mary Jo Tiemersmsa and a totally charming and competent staff, is very nice, with nine bedrooms, a big dining room, living room sauna and bar. It has an excellent chef and great wines, especially if you like juicy steaks and lush malbecs, the signature wine of Argentina.
The ranch has something for everyone, including horseback riding, hiking and even hunting at some times of the year. But we are here to fish and it’s summer down here. Our day includes a full morning’s fishing, followed by lunch back at the lodge, then a siesta before returning to the river and fishing until the sun goes down, when we return for dinner at the typical Argentine dinner hour (around 10 p.m.).
It is a demanding job doing research for this column, but someone has to do it.