Our trip to Argentina in 2013 proved to be a diverse adventure that spanned both the southern and northern areas of the country. After flying into Buenos Aires we spent a day in this beautiful European style city enjoying the sites and of course some incredible Argentine steaks. The first leg of the trip was an overnight fly fishing trip on the Chubut River in the center of Patagonia. The second leg of the trip was to the Ibera marsh ecosystem in the Corrientes province in the extreme north of the country in a quest to catch the unique golden dorado.
Chubut River and Carrileufu Valley Lodge We returned to the Carrileufu Valley Lodge after a successful experience there last year. This a wonderful rustic lodge in the rural Cholila area which borders the beautiful Alceres National Park. Last year we fished the Rivadavia inside of the park along with the Carrileufu river which flows by the lodge. This year we set our sites on the Chubut river. CVL has a great team of guides and Pancho Panzer is a fantastic owner, guide and host. After an incredible meal and great choice of wines on our arrival night we left the next morning for a 3 day 65km float on the Chubut river. The Chubut flows east to the Atlantic and is in a dryer part of Argentina that is reminiscent of parts of Wyoming with expansive vistas, low lying hills with glacier capped peaks in the distance, and miles of pampas flats. The Chubut in the headwaters is a small willow choked river with high fish counts and gin clear waters.
Chubut day 1 The first day of the trip requires a lot of logistics. We arrived with two fishing boats and a gear raft that carried the chef and camp host. Our guides were Pancho and Facundo who are both very seasoned and on par with the best Montana fly fishing guides. For the first hour of the trip we did not fish due to the incredible labyrinth of willow mazes and tunnels. The river literally flows under a complete canopy of willow tunnels at many different locations and stringing a rod up would only result in broken graphite. Randy and I were with Facundo the first day and his display of oarsmanship was very impressive as he navigated tight corners with dangerous consequences. The gear boat had already gone down with a chainsaw just in case new branches had fallen into the water. After an adventurous morning it was time to rig up our five weights with stout leaders and big Montana style rubber legged attractor dry flies. My first choice was a chubby chernobyl and the action proved to be so good there was no need to change. By early afternoon Randy and I had already chalked up 8 doubles and although we didn’t count it was surely in the neighborhood of a 100 fish day. The action was incredible with every good looking piece of water producing a take. These trout rarely see flies and the rainbows average around 15” with larger fish pushing 20”. The aggressive takes were often spectacular as we saw big rainbows streaking towards the flies to smash them a small explosion of water. When trout missed they would often hit the fly again if you were able to recast to the trout as they frantically swam figure eights searching for the missing meal.
After a few hours of amazing dry fly fishing I switched to streamers in hopes of some larger trout. The streamer fishing was almost as fast as the dry fly fishing and although I didn’t hook any of the monster browns in the river we had one huge brown in the 25” class chase after a 12” rainbow that I had hooked on the streamer. At the end of day one we were all glowing in disbelief after enjoying one of the best days of dry fly fishing we had ever had. Camp on the Chubut is similar to our Montana Angler overnights with great meals prepared over a fire. Our tents were already set up with cots and sleeping pads waiting for us. The first night we enjoyed a traditional lamb asado and the lamb was already cooking over the open fire. Good food and great wine capped a memorable day.
Chubut day 2 A small weather system pushed in on day two and the weather cooled a bit with some intermittent wind and rain followed by intervals of sun. It seemed like we were putting on rain jackets every 30 minutes only to strip them off ten minutes later. The fishing activity waxed and waned with the weather and when the system would stabilize the dry fly action would pick up and when the wind would blow the fishing would taper off a bit. The action wasn’t quite as fast and furious as the first day but it was still an impressive outing and we ended up racking up a lot of trout by the end of the day - probably still over 100 fish between two boats. I fished solo with Pancho on the second day and we did a lot of storytelling and comparing notes on international fishing destinations. Pancho is a very accomplished international angler and has fished Montana, Alaska, Cuba, and Canada in his own fishing travels. I mostly fished streamers on day two and had several awesome takes as big rainbows streaked across the river from over 10 feet away pushing a wake of water ahead of them. The other guys stayed with dries with continued success.
Chubut day 3 On the last day of the float we focused most of our fishing on the morning session where there were still relatively high fish counts. The last stretch of water can get low and warm in drought years and the trout numbers start to drop off. This was our lowest fish count day but still a banner day when compared to any other day of fishing and we still had plenty of action to keep a smile on everyones face. While the rest of our team stuck with the dries I decided to swing for the fences and went with big streamers on 250 grain sinking line. After a few nice 18” rainbows I hit a very heavy fish that ran straight up river without letting up and then hunkered down in weed bed at the bottom of a deep hole. Eventually the fly pulled out and we never got a look at the fish but he felt like the hefty brown I was after to put the icing on an amazing trip. Just before lunch Facundo stopped us across from a large stand of poplars where he had seen some big trout on past years. True to form on my first cast a big 22” brown took a swing and a miss at my streamer in the clear water just 10 feet in front of us. After a third cast a nice 18” bow slammed it and we landed it. A few casts later another nice bow. This run had some nice trout in it! We went around the bend for lunch and I couldn’t resist heading back up to the hole so Anthony and I made the short walk. After working the bottom of the hole where we saw the big brown I pulled out two more bows but never saw the big one. I walked up to the middle of the run and on the first cast a big 21” bow slammed in the streamer in an amazing take! Watching that big trout bolt 10 feet to nail the streamer in clear water was the highlight of the trip for me. After lunch we decided to put down the rods and enjoy the great scenery. The drive back to the lodge was a bumpy but spectacular 2 hour trip on gravel roads across the vast and rugged terrain. The glacier filled peaks near the lodge loomed in the distance while dry and arid crags and cliffs filled with condor towered overhead. We returned to the lodge to enjoy the company of Panch and the guides along with some regular guests from France that came every year. This was New Years Eve and Pancho pulled out a few special bottles of Mendoza’s fine Malbecs while we told fishing stories and enjoyed great company to usher in 2013.
Pira Lodge Pira lodge is located in the Corrientes province of Argentina which is sandwiched between Brazil and Paraguay. The province is known for its colorful people and traditional music. We took a first class overnight sleeper bus which was surprisingly comfortable with large leather chairs that lay flat into beds along with bar service and meals. After sleeping on the bus all night we arrived refreshed in Mercedes and were greeted by the lodges transfer driver. Pira is located on the edge of the vast Ibera marsh system and the drive is about an hour an half from Mercedes across rutted dirt roads. The lodge itself is spectacular with an array of insects, huge toads and countless colorful birds making a never ending raucous chorus each evening. After settling in we met with Noel and the guides. Noel was the head guide for over 13 years at Pira and then went on to start Tisamane Lodge in Bolivia and is one of the most respected dorado anglers in the world. Unfortunately the news on the fishing front wasn’t good. All of Argentina had just endured an unusual three week stretch of very wet and cold weather. The same system that had helped bring the Chubut up to perfect levels had also brought the marsh system up and also cooled the waters. Dorado are a warm water fish and become lethargic in colder waters and just like trout they don’t love rising flows. Despite the dissappointing news we were determined to give it our all.
Pira Day 1 With the unexpected conditions and higher flows, Noel and the guides felt our best shot at fish was to go down deep in the main Corrientes river channel. Pira is known for its floating line fishing and aggressive surface takes but with the cooler water it was unlikely that the dorado would be very active and certainly not on the surface. At the end of the first day we hit pay dirt and Anthony and I each hooked and landed two nice 5-7lb dorado in the waning hours of the evening before heading back to the lodge. The fish are absolutely amazing and hit like a sledgehammer. The fight is just as impressive as these incredibly strong, trout shaped fish leap over and over and take of on blistering runs. When the dorado are landed their magnificent gold flanks and orange and black tail cap the experience.
Pira Day 2 The fishing at Pira is broken into morning and evening sessions. Each day we headed out in flats boats through a labyrinth of small channels. The marsh ecosystem is spectacular with over 350 species of native birds of all shapes, colors and sizes. The birdlife was absolutely spectacular and I can’t say I have ever been to an equal location in this regard. In addition to the birdlife we regularly saw large crocodile like caymen and huge rodents called capybara. Day two produced some very tough fishing and although we all had a few hits and follows no dorado came to the boat. Noel came along on day two and he and Anthony scouted some of the smaller tributary “creeks”. These are small channels through the marsh with current just like a spring creek and very clear waters. While scanning from the boat they successfully located a lot of large dorado in the system which lifted our spirits to at least know the fish were there. One of the challenges of the high water in the marsh is the fish are spread out and often relocate so finding the fish was a welcome discovery.
Pira Day 3 The morning fishing continued to be frustrating with a lack of success. With each hour of futile casting our team began to lose hope in the prospects of hooking the golden fish. Occasionally our hope would be lifted by a follow or take. I lucked into a hefty 7 pounder at the end of the morning and that was the only action to report. In the evening session I was solo with Noel and we decided to try some of the smaller creeks where they had seen some fish the day before with a floating line. We finally started to see the marsh begin to wake up in terms of fish activity and spotted a few dorado rolling from time to time. Noel explained under normal conditions dorado are frequently rolling and attacking bait fish in explosive disturbances than are easy to spot. This seemed to be a good sign and sure enough the action followed. By the end of the night I had hooked into 5 dorado and landed two along with several large piranha and an interesting fish called a san antonio. This still wasn’t on par with the regular catch rates which average 4-10 dorado per person per day but it was great to get a taste of what the fishing can be like. The takes on the floating line were a huge rush and it was incredible to see the dorado in the clear water producing a wake as they attacked the fly in a huge boil. Unfortunately the other boat didn’t find similar success on the larger river down current.
Pira Day 4 The rains that started the evening before continued into the night and eventually turned into sustained downpours. The amount of rain that fell was unprecedented and a true spectacle of nature. The swimming pool that was 18” from the top the day before was overflowing in the morning. The marsh grew before our eyes and huge lakes formed in all directions around the lodge. We gave up all hope of fishing in the torrent and focused our attention on getting out across the dirt roads early enough to catch our sleeper bus. Our amazing hostess Marcela decided to have the shuttle drive arrive 5 hours early to play it safe. When he was an hour late she loaded us up in her own truck and we started heading out hoping to meet him on the road out. The roads were terrible and just a few minutes from the lodge we were driving across flooded areas. Marcela crept along and stayed ruts to avoid sliding off the slippery clay road. After 30 minutes of progress our hearts sank as we came around a bend and saw the road completely under water as far as the eye could see with a Toyota Hi-lux truck nearly underwater in the ditch. It looked like our stay at the lodge would be extended for several more days. There were some local gauchos around and Marcela went out to talk with them. It turned out that her husband was the one that lost the truck in the flood but he was the manager of several estancias in the area and had guessed we were coming. Our transfer driving was waiting on the other side of the flooded road and the gauchos let Marcela know that they could ferry us across. The next thing we knew we were horseback and praying these horseman were confident in their assessment of the waters. The current was swift across the road and the level came up to the horses bellies. We had to ride at a bit of an angle so the horses could ferry into the current. After the longest 500 yard horse ride of my life we made it safely to the other side where our drive awaited. The gauchos crossed the flood again to retrieve our luggage via horseback and we were off again. Just when we thought we were out of the woods we encountered another flooded section (the water had kept rising since the drive had come from town). It wasn’t as bad as the other stretch but still very intimidating. We all held our breath as the truck headed into the flood with water coming in through the doors. It was a very quiet cab until we finally made it across the last obstacle safely. Nearly five hours later we finally made it to the bus station with only minutes to spare! All in all our Argentina 2013 was a success and a great adventure even with the poor fishing conditions at Pira. Santiago from Nervous Waters who runs Pira offered our team a credit for a future year after learning of the poor conditions so hopefully we will have a return shot someday to see the Ibera marsh under normal conditions. Even with the unusual events it was an unforgettable trip and the blinding glory of the ravenous dry fly eating rainbows on the Chubut combined with the fleeting glimpses of brilliance of the exotic golden dorado will remain with me for years to come.