Fed by the snows of the Andres Mountains, the rivers of Northern Patagonia (a region 1,000 miles southeast of Buenos Aires) run east to the Atlantic Ocean. By comparison, virtually all of the rivers we Californians fish run west to the Pacific Ocean.
Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s summer down here.
So there I was at the foot of the Andes, fishing upside down and backwards on the Chimehuin River, which flows into the Collon Cura River, which turns into the Limay River, which eventually becomes the mighty Rio Negro and meets the Atlantic. And what am I catching? California rainbow trout (and an occasional German brown trout).
They’re not native to South America but were introduced here about 115 years ago. The rainbow trout eggs came from the McCloud River Hatchery in California and were shipped south, transported over mountains and pampas by horse-drawn wagons and finally put into local lakes.
The trout eggs hatched. The baby trout thrived in the lakes, growing to maturity and then spawning successfully. The lakes feed the rivers, which run all the way to the Atlantic. The trout population is now healthy and plentiful.
The river systems that provide clean, cold, clear water for their survival are huge and cover a vast amount of territory, much of which looks like Montana. While the economy of Patagonia in the 19th- and early 20th-century was primarily based on cattle and sheep, the growing trout population provided recreation and variety for the ranchers, gauchos and other residents of this isolated and sparsely population region.
It was only in the last few decades that the owners of the vast estancias realized that the fishing in their rivers was so good that they could entice anglers like me and Dottie to fly thousands of miles south just for the experience.
Now, those ranches have remodeled old bunk houses and added new lodges to accommodate fishing nuts like us willing to make the long trek to experience what trout fishing was probably like a century ago in Montana – before it was overrun by hordes of fly-fishers.
In Patagonia, you can fish all day on a beautiful stretch of river and never see another angler. And the best thing – it is possible to have one of those crazy days when you catch so many big fish that you need to ice-down your arm like a pitcher does after throwing nine innings.
So there I was, a guest of the magnificent Tipiliuke Lodge, having one of those days. My guide, Leo Madeja, had to row hard against a strong wind to keep us steady on the right drift. We could see the torpedo shapes of trout lurking in the shadows behind big rocks close to the bank. Without warning, they’d rush out to ambush any bug with the temerity to tread water near their hideout.
In spite of the wind, when I was able to place the fly just upstream from them, they couldn’t resist. They attacked it without reservation and the fight would be on.
I lost count at 20 hookups, most in the 18-to-20-inch size range.
Leo said it was one of the best days he’d seen in a while. It certainly was one of my best days, ever.
Not every day was like that. The wind was a challenge. The weather turned cold for awhile and the fishing slowed sometimes.