Fly fishing in Patagonia

P1060914.jpgThree weeks into our adventure, I finally got the opportunity to get some flies in the water! If you plan to fish in South America, be sure to get a fishing license in the area you plan to fish. I was able to find one that specifically covered Patagonia in Argentina and selected the one week option (about $85 USD). You can choose a single day, week, or month, but price does vary quite a bit. I purchased mine at a local fly shop in El Calafate, but most fishing stores, sporting goods stores, and even some travel agencies sell them. The license comes inside a little booklet.p1070330The first place I got to wet my line was on Lago Argentino (Lake Argentino) in El Calafate, Argentina. This is the biggest lake in Argentina and was fairly difficult to fish in without waders. The water was freezing from the glacier runoff which made it impossible to stand in, and I could only get out to certain rocks to stand on because of the depth. I did manage to get one little trout but nothing to write home about. There are big rainbow and lake trout here, but I did not manage to entice one to strike. I used buggers and leech patterns here as suggested by one of the local fly shops.P1060465 2.jpgOur next stop was Esquel, Argentina. This is where the fishing really began! Krista and I ended up taking a bus to Los Alerces National Park, about an hour east of Esquel via bus. There are a huge number of rivers and lakes here, so I took the advice from another local fly shop as to where to go. We chose Rio Rivadavia, which is very well known for big browns and rainbows, as well as its insanely clear waters. I had somewhat of a frustrating day as I lost two big browns fishing beetles on the surface on huge leaps out of the water, and was not able to cover much of the river due to lack of walkable terrain. But I did manage to land my first solid Patagonian rainbow trout on one of Ricky’s buggers! Regardless, fishing in this type of scenery is a treat in and of itself!P1060665.jpgNext was when my Patagonian fly fishing dream came true! We took a five-hour bus (very short for us) from Esquel to one of the most well-known fly fishing cities in the world, Bariloche! This is a place that I will never forget, not only for the fishing itself but because of the people, food, atmosphere, weather, etc. There is more than one special thing about this city that makes it beautiful. Oh, and don’t forget about all of the chocolate!P1060735.jpgKrista and I spent the first day walking around the city looking for fly fishing shops. If you visit South America, one thing you will learn about is that Google does not always lead you to real stores or locations. I wanted to see if it was possible to fish by myself (really with Krista even though she gets bored lol), but these cities are very touristy (expensive) and the rivers and lakes can be much farther than they look on a map due to dirt roads and lack of transportation options. This is when I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a guide (probably the best decision I have ever made other than to take this trip in the first place). I chose to fish the Rio Limay because it so well known for huge rainbows and brown trout, as well as its gin clear waters.P1070100.jpgFinding a guide took a couple of days for a few reasons. There are hundreds of tourist excursion companies in Bariloche, but not all of them do fly fishing trips on the Rio Limay, and those companies that do can get extremely expensive. Our second day in Bariloche also fell on a Sunday, so most shops are closed (another common occurrence in South America). We originally planned to leave on Tuesday but decided to book another night, as Tuesday had the best weather forecast (low wind since a lot of wind can make fly fishing extremely difficult). Wind down in Patagonia is not like wind at home (Seattle, Washington). On any given day in Patagonia, there can be consistent wind of 15-30mph, with gusts much higher. So we decided on a day with about 6-10mph wind and a temperature of 75 degrees, a perfect day!P1070131.jpgOn Monday, I booked my trip through a big store called Patagonia Anglers after speaking with and asking several people and shops about guided trips (more like Krista speaking with them as I’m still working on my Spanish haha). They had an opening on Tuesday for a full day float trip on the Rio Limay. It was also the same cost (about $350 USD) for both Krista and I as it would have been for me alone, so she joined! A guide named Carlos Vidal emailed me at lunch asking what gear I had and gave us instructions that he would pick us up at 9 AM the following morning. This was when I started to feel like it was Christmas Eve at 10 years old.P1060981.jpgOn Tuesday morning, I woke up at about 7 AM to make sure I had everything ready, even though I had already triple checked the night before. There was nothing I was going to forget on this glorious day. This was the day I was looking forward to since we decided to come down to Patagonia. Carlos picked us up and took us to his house, which was literally a quarter mile from the mouth of the Limay River on Salmon road (ironic?). We picked up the drift boat from his house and went to the boat launch two minutes away. The moment we pulled up to the river is when I knew how epic of a day it was going to be.P1060895.jpgI set my rod up, Carlos set up Krista’s, and we launched. I had already asked Carlos a million questions about techniques, what we would be using, how good of a day it was going to be, you name it. He took a look at the flies that Jerry tied for me and told me I was very well prepared. We started off using one of my stoneflies with my floating line and a 9ft, 2X leader. Right off the bat, you could see the amazing colors and clarity of the water, which was almost unreal. It looked like something that someone photoshopped. I kept asking Carlos throughout the day why we were fishing so shallow when in reality it was much deeper than it looked. P1070037.jpgYou could see the amount of huge fish sitting in the pools and runs three to ten feet down like you were looking through an unblemished window. About twenty minutes in I had my first strike! It was a short strike so I did not hook up, so we moved down. The second time my fly was hit I also missed it, but on the third, I finally connected! Even though it was only about 8”, it was a brown trout and I was on the board!P1060938.jpgAfter fixing my fly, we continued downriver and I finally had my first huge strike. The rainbow exploded on the stonefly like something I had never seen! I set the hook and instantly the trout started ripping line from my reel. Up to this point, this was probably the hardest fighting trout of my life. After we beached the boat, as I was getting him close to the shore the trout took an amazing jump and spit the fly. I was obviously frustrated as I thought that may be my only chance at a huge Limay rainbow, but Carlos ensured that “we are fishing the Limay, baby! Do not worry!”P1070056.jpgAbout 100 yards down the river from where I lost my last fish, I cast under a big overhanging tree on the bank. As soon as the fly hit the water, a huge rainbow jumped about a foot out of the water crushing my stonefly. I missed it but because of where the boat was positioned I threw a secondary cast to the exact same spot. Again, a huge strike! I set the hook but this time I connected and went to battle with the beauty. We went to beach our boat again but the trout was not ready and took off downriver. Carlos brought up the anchor and we began chasing after it. After a long fight with about five amazing tail walks out of the water, we got to the bank again and Carlos got into the river with the net. The butterflies in my stomach at this point were indescribable. Carlos got a little closer and scooped him up! My first big Patagonian buck!P1060976.jpgP1060979.jpgFor the next short while, I kept getting little guys to hit the stonefly, including one of the smallest trout I have ever caught. It was so small that when I set the hook I didn’t feel anything so I went to re-cast and I felt something on the end of my fly as I re-casted. It was indeed another brown, but not what I had been looking forward to. This is when Carlos decided to put on a big blue dragonfly for me, followed by saying “big fly, big fish.” I, of course, was all in at this point and didn’t quite know what to expect.P1060999.jpgContinuing to cast under the overhanging trees, in faster runs, and even targeting big fish sitting in pools, the dragonfly got smashed so hard that I didn’t even need to set the hook. Now I have had this happen fishing streamers, but not fishing a dry fly. I played the fish until we got him to the bank and landed my second beautiful Limay rainbow.P1070110.jpgAfter a few more nice rainbows on the dragonfly, it was about 1PM. Carlos asked us if we were ready for lunch and Krista and I both said yes. We pulled off on a super cool beach that had some shade under a big tree. Carlos set up the lunch table, chairs, and got the appetizers ready as Krista tried fly fishing for the first time. He called us back over and had salami, cheese, and bread ready for us.P1070014.jpgHe then pulled out the salad that included tomatoes, avocados, beets, and carrots, all grown in his greenhouse, and a homemade lemon vinegarette dressing. Krista was in heaven, as was I. We knew we were getting lunch, but not something like this. Carlos then asked how we wanted our steak and grilled them to a perfect medium rare. We were so full we just sat at the table for about twenty more minutes conversing before we continued.P1070017.jpgP1070018.jpgFrom here my only goal was to find a big brown trout. I had experienced one of the best fishing days of my life already and it was just after lunch. We went for about another half kilometer with some short strikes and out of nowhere, we see a big flash of yellow going toward my fly. It was airborne and the battle began again, the only difference is we knew it was a big brown on the end of the line. Carlos anchored the boat this time in about waist deep water and netted one of the most colorful browns I have ever caught.P1070060.jpgP1070063.jpgAfter this, I was pretty much jumping for joy with Carlos as Krista was in the back (not sure what she was doing because I was beside myself) *I, Krista would like to add that I was filming this monumental experience for Matt on his GoPro while also taking the photos you find on this blog on my LUMIX G85. We left the boat anchored for a few minutes to fix the fly again and we continued. I had the opportunity at about another five nice fish before the end of the day (a few are shown below).P1070045.jpgP1070090.jpgP1070099.jpgAll in all, this was one of the most amazing days of fishing I have ever experienced. From the clearest water I have ever seen and casting huge flies under trees hanging over the banks, to being able to ask anything I wanted to a guide with 22 years of experience floating the Limay, it was something people dream of. And to think the summer here is the offseason for big fish and number of fish caught, I can’t imagine what the fall would be like fishing for 15lb browns.P1070075.jpgP1070124.jpgThank you, Carlos Vidal, for a day that I will never forget. I plan to be back one day, fishing with you again on Rio Limay. I also highly suggest going to Bariloche and emailing Carlos beforehand if you are looking for a very knowledgeable guide and a fly fishing trip of a lifetime. One day, I will be by your side in the fall fishing huge streamers for those pig browns, Carlos!P1070057.jpgIf you would like to contact Carlos, his email is carlosovidal@gmail.com. He also does fly fishing guides for big Chinook Salmon in Chile, as well as Peacock Bass in Brazil depending on the time of the year.


3 thoughts on “Fly fishing in Patagonia

  1. Excellent story of our day of fishing, it was a real pleasure to be able to fish together !!
    I send them a big greeting and I hope we can fish again together !!
    I send you a big hug !!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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