Patagonia is a massive swath of remote and rugged country that encompasses the southern reaches of Argentina and Chile. Bisected by the Andes Mountain, Patagonia presents anglers with a variety of fishing opportunities. For those ready to explore Argentina, be prepared for breathtaking landscapes and stellar fishing. Like the American West, the region is laced with legendary trout waters. For every Yellowstone, Green and San Juan River there is a Limay, Río Grande and Río Collon Cura. Everything from serene spring creeks to roiling mountain streams, broad tailwaters and freestone rivers await the adventurous angler.
But Patagonia is a faraway place, even for the lucky Argentine anglers who venture south from the capital city of Buenos Aires to explore its waters. For many who dream of casting to its mythical trout, Patagonia is the adventure of a lifetime.
Deciding where to fish when presented with a map of Argentina can seem an impossible task. The enormous size of Patagonia is responsible for this incredible diversity, but by asking yourself a few questions about your goals you can begin to narrow the search for the flyfishing trip of your dreams.
Patagonia contains regions that provide anglers with unique experiences. Some portions of Patagonia are verdant, featuring riverbanks lined with moss-covered lenga trees and groves of bamboo. Other areas are arid and windswept with ancient volcanic domes looming on the horizon. There are rivers that provide great angling for high numbers of trout and waters that demand commitment with the promise of the fish of a lifetime.
No matter where you venture, you’ll find remarkable landscapes, friendly faces and excellent angling. The following five rivers are classic waters that each possess a unique nature worthy of your attention. Fishing them will expose you to the remarkable variety of flyfishing in Argentina. Plan to visit at least one of these iconic streams during your trip to Patagonia.
The Río Chimehuin emerges from Lago Huechulafquen in Parque Nacional Lanín in the northern section of Argentine Patagonia. It flows through the small town of Junín de los Andes before joining the Río Aluminé to form the Río Collon Cura. The river holds a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout, some reaching lengths well over 20 inches. The Chimehuin is characterized by fast flows and willow-lined banks that call for quick and accurate casts. Trout sipping dry flies can often be sighted in slack water along the river’s banks. It’s a thrill to fish.
The Chimehuin is one of many great rivers in this region of Patagonia and it’s one of the main rivers where flyfishing flourished during the early days of trout fishing in Argentina. Junín de los Andes and the nearby towns of San Martín de los Andes and Bariloche hold a special place in the history of Patagonian flyfishing. Trout and salmon were first introduced to Argentina in 1904. Between 1904-1910 shipments of eggs from Europe and the United States were hatched out and released in Lago Nahuel Huapi near Bariloche and several other lakes in the area. These fish went on to populate waters throughout the rest of Patagonia.
As trout and salmon began to migrate out of the lakes into the rivers of the region, Argentine anglers began pursuing them with rod and reel. Junín become a meeting place for many of these early pioneers. It wasn’t long before fly fishermen from the U.S. began visiting Junín, San Martín and Bariloche to do the same. Evidence of this storied past is present in these towns today. The street signs in Junín feature depictions of trout and the classic steakhouse Ruca Hueney in the town’s square has trophy fish and photographs of famous anglers adorning its walls.
Much like a pilgrimage to the Madison River, visiting Junín de los Andes and fishing the Río Chimehuin is a seminal experience for anglers eager to learn about the storied history and culture of flyfishing in Patagonia. It doesn’t hurt that beyond the mystique the Chimehuin still produces trophy trout that any angler would be thrilled to catch.
Emerging from Lago Tromen near the Chilean border, the Río Malleo is perhaps the best known of the many small stream trout fisheries in northern Patagonia. The Malleo holds a healthy population of rainbow and brown trout, most in the 10- to 18-inch range with a few fish topping 20 inches. The Malleo flows for its entirety in the shadow of the striking, snow-capped Volcan Lanín and the river’s character is greatly influenced by the volcano. It is a remarkably enjoyable river to fish, one of those streams that just possesses a magic all its own.
In its short run to the Río Aluminé, the Malleo features a wide variety of riparian character. Anglers looking to fish the upper reaches of the Malleo can access the river via a short hike from Ruta 60 within the bounds of Parque Nacional Lanín. Here, the Malleo flows rapidly through a boulder strewn canyon lined with native araucaria forest. A holdover from the Holocene epoch, araucaria trees (also known as monkey puzzle trees) are an evergreen with sharp, triangular leaves. The old-growth araucaria that line the banks of the Malleo create a unique canopy that compliments views of looming Volcan Lanín.
Below the boundary of Parque Nacional Lanín, the Malleo flows through several estancias. Permission to fish must be obtained. Fortunately, most of the lodges and guide services in the area have agreements with these estancias. As a result, the Río Malleo has a thoughtfully established beat system that provides a secluded and quality fishing experience for anglers.
One of the most exceptional sections of the Malleo is known as Tres Picos, named for a nearby mountain in the national park with three prominent spires at its summit. Tres Picos is regarded as the spring creek section of the Malleo, although in truth the water here is not spring fed. It is however quite different from the rest of the Malleo as it flows placidly through a broad meadow. Fish in this section of the river are easy to spot and stalk, but they are not easy to catch. Stealth and delicate presentations are required for success. If you like matching the hatch and challenging trout, this is the place to be.
The beauty of the Río Rivadavia is nearly indescribable, even by Patagonian standards. Lenga trees reach out over the river’s turquoise waters like massive Japanese bonsai. Bamboo groves shudder in the passing breezes along its shores. The river reaches incredible depths givens its modest width and despite the gin-clear flows, some pools disappear into a seemingly endless abyss. One can only imagine the trout that lurk below.
The Rivadavia is a quintessential example of the aquatic systems that compose the fisheries of central Patagonia. The rivers here are fed by the high peaks of the Andes Mountains. Moisture from the Pacific Ocean sweeps east across Chile to nourish glaciers along the Argentine side of the Andes. Glacial snowmelt in turn feeds alpines lakes, which are tinted an otherworldly aquamarine by glacial till. Outflow from these lakes fuel rivers that in turn feed other lakes and rivers downstream. The cumulative effect is a massive natural filtration system that results in some of the clearest, healthiest trout water on the planet. Trout can move throughout these different waterbodies and that, in a nutshell, is what makes this region and the Rivadavia so exceptional.
The Río Rivadavia is fed by Lago Cholila, which feeds the Río Carrileufu before entering Lago Rivadavia at the northern border of Parque Nacional Los Alerces. Anglers eager to fish the Rivadavia can access the river at the outlet of Lago Rivadavia and float southwest to Lago Verde. Below Lago Verde, the Río Arrayanes flows just a few miles into the massive Lago Futalaufquen, which in turn feeds the Río Frey and Lago Amutui Quimei before flowing through a hydroelectric dam into the Río Futaleufu and then west through the Andes and into Chile.
Enclosed entirely within the confines of Parque Nacional Los Alerces, the Río Rivadavia is a great river to fish with streamers, dry flies and nymphs. There are sections of the river where anglers can park their boat and fish to rising trout, often holding among submerged logs. The clear water makes for dynamic streamer fishing as well, with big brown trout peeling off the banks to chase your fly.
While the Rivadavia is best fished by boat, the river can be reached on foot via a short trail from Ruta 71 just south of the Río Calihuel confluence. A side channel of the Rivadavia joins with springs in this area to create some incredible sight fishing opportunities. Rainbows, brown and brook trout cruise beneath the glassy surface of the water and are best targeted with weighted nymph patterns. The nearby pond is often filled with a diverse array of waterfowl and migratory birds.
Drive approximately 100 miles of gravel road south from Parque Nacional Los Alerces and you’ll find yourself on the banks of Lago Vintter. The lake straddles the border with Chile where it is known as Lago Palena. Look west into the cool breeze that perpetually blows across Lago Vintter and you’ll see the towering, snow-studded peaks of the Chilean Andes. Look east and you’ll see the Río Corcovado.
The Río Corcovado, known locally as the “Corco” has a legendary reputation. Stories abound of the incredible runs of rainbow trout that migrate out of the lake and into the river in the late winter and spring; so many fish that an angler could cross the river on the backs of them without getting their feet wet. To protect these runs, Patagonia sportfishing regulations keep the Corcovado closed until October, but many of these giant rainbows linger in the river well into the fishing season.
Come fall another run of trophy fish enters the Corcovado, and it is these fish that draw anglers from around the world (and all over Argentina) to this far-flung flyfishing frontier. Brook trout, the size of which rival any caught in Labrador, move into the river in great numbers. Below the mouth of Lago Vintter there exists a series of named pools where these fish congregate. You’ll see their dark silhouettes feeding on nymphs and chasing baitfish in the depths. This angler caught a 7.5-pound brookie from the Llao Llao Pool in 2016.
The Corcovado serves as an introduction to the incredible brook trout fishing that exists in this reach of Chubut Province. Many of the surrounding rivers and lakes are also filled with world-class brook trout. If you get the chance to visit in March, the brookies will be lit up with hues to match the lenga and ñire trees ablaze with fall colors.
In what can seem unreal to anglers from the United States and Canada where the Rocky Mountains form a well-defined Continental Divide, the Río Corcovado flows east out of Lago Vintter before turning north and then west. The river flows back through the Andes into Chile where it is known as the Río Palena. The Palena flows many more miles to the Pacific Ocean where it meets the sea at Port Raúl Marín Balmaceda. Remarkably, Pacific salmon run up the Palena into Argentina and can be caught as far inland as the town of Corcovado.
The Río Corcovado is a tough place to get to and apart from the tiny, rugged town of Río Pico, there’s not much around. But for those hoping to catch the trout of a lifetime, the Río Corcovado represents one the of the best rivers in Patagonia to do so.
While there is some debate about whether Tierra del Fuego is part of Patagonia or should be regarded as a separate region, there is no argument about the trout to be caught there. The Río Grande is the most famous of the sea-run brown trout fisheries that flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Fish in the Río Grande average eight to 12 pounds, a solid trophy by any measure. Fish over 20 pounds are regularly caught and brown trout tipping the scales at over 30 pounds are not unheard of.
The Río Grande is one of those rare rivers that defies even its own lofty expectations. The brown trout in the river are supercharged with the vigor of the ocean-dwelling fish that they are. Hook into even a modest (by Río Grande standards) 10-pound fish and you’ll be in for the fight of a lifetime.
The Río Grande was first stocked with brown trout by an Englishman named John Goodall in 1935. Goodall had 100,000 brown trout eggs delivered via steamship from Puerto Montt, Chile. The surviving 60,000 eggs were hatched out and liberated into the Grande. Finding little food in the river, the fish gravitated toward its mouth where they foraged on populations of krill supported by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s sea-run browns spend up to four years in the Río Grande before heading to the Atlantic where they bulk up and acquire the chrome coloration of ocean fish. After a year at sea, the fish return to the Grande to spawn. These first-year spawners average five to seven pounds. After spawning, the fish drop down the river and swim back into the Atlantic. Some fish will return to the Grande as many as four to five times after their initial run, gaining in size each year to reach truly astonishing proportions.
Weaving through the windswept steppe of Tierra del Fuego, the Río Grande has an otherworldly feel. In 1946, the Argentine government imported 50 beavers from Canada and released them at Lago Fagnano in hopes of establishing a fur trade in the region. The introduction resulted in the decimation of the indigenous forest and the broad swaths of treeless country that line the Río Grande today. The sparse vegetation that remains casts an impossible glow during spellbinding sunrises and sunsets that are as memorable as the fish themselves.
Patagonia is a famously windy place, but the Río Grande is another level entirely. Steel yourself for the conditions and you’ll be rewarded with fishing memories that will last a lifetime.