It’s mid-January in Bozeman, Montana. Temperatures have plummeted to below zero for days on end, making it hard for a fishing guide who watches a two-year-old in the off season to get outside. Cabin fever is setting in. The phone rings, its Brian the owner of Montana Angler. He says “hey do you want to host a fly fishing trip in Argentina next January?” Walter, a fishing client and friend, wanted me to host a nine day fishing trip with him. The trip would include two lodges and three days of river camping with our friends at Patagonia River Guides North. To me, this seemed like a question I could easily answer without the help of my wife.
The timing of the trip couldn’t have been any better. January 2017 was the coldest January in Montana in the last 40 years. In northern Patagonia, it was summer, prime dry fly weather, with daytime temperatures in the 70’s to high 80’s. After reading the information Brian and Patagonia River Guides sent us, I was convinced the only thing I needed was a few sets of clean clothes, sunscreen and a pair of flip flops. I have never had an easier time packing for a fishing trip. Patagonia River Guides provides top of the line fishing equipment on all trips: Simms G3 waders and boots, all tackle/flies and $800 Montana made Winston Boron III rods!
After a ten hour flight from Houston, we landed in Buenos Aires and took a cab to our hotel in the Recoletta district. At our hotel, we met the other two members of our crew, Jim and Ralph. Our plan was to get cleaned up at our rooms and spend the day exploring the Recoletta Cemetery, shops and eateries. The Recoletta Cemetery is known to be one of the best cemeteries in the World.
The following morning, we caught a 2 hour domestic flight to San Martin De Los Andes and upon arrival, our guides Andres and Alex were there to greet us. As they loaded our gear in the back of nearly new, four door Toyota pickups with Ro drift boats attached to them, I thought, am I in Bozeman? A 45 minute scenic drive led us to our first lodge, Estancia Huechahue.
The Estancia Huechahue is centrally located in the San Martin De Los Andes area. The Huechahue offers tons of fishing variety including: Chimehuin, Malleo, Collon Cura, Quilquihue, Catan lil, Filo Hua Hum, and Alumine Rivers. Tromen Lake offers anglers terrific views and plenty of fish in the 20 inch range with a solid chance at a monster.
We settled into our rooms with just enough time to explore the 20,000 acre estancia before lunch. I went for a jog and was joined by hundreds of dove, quail, foreign birds and curious horses that galloped along with me; it felt like paradise. After lunch, Andres took Walter and I down to the Alumine river for an evening session of fishing. On the Alumine, we fished the willow worm hatch. Little green worms would fall from the willows and be devoured by the large pods of fish that were keyed into the event. Andres tied a willow worm dry dropper set up as some trout were eating the worms at the surface, while others preferred their worms to be sunk just under the film. We had a fun session of fishing and before we were ready, it was dark and time for dinner. At the lodge, we were treated to comfortable accommodations, terrific home cooked meals and a full bar including quality Argentine wine.
Wading the Malleo River day 1
The Malleo is a medium size wade fishery that flows along the Northern base of the massive Lanin Volcano. The Malleo is regarded as one of the premier dry fly fisheries in Patagonia. We were going to fish the upper section of the river (Patagonia River Guides has more than 20 different private beats along the Malleo). Andres gave me directions to a nice run below where he and Walter would start fishing. Before I got my feet wet, I heard Walter give a little hoot as he was tied into a nice rainbow. I wasn’t disappointed in my run either as there were several fish sipping mayflies off the surface. We spent the day casting mayflies, beetles and ants to rising fish and blind casting in between. It was easy to lose track of numbers of fish landed and numbers of opportunities lost, fishing was excellent. We saw plenty of rainbows and browns in the 12-22” range.
Floating the Alumine River day 2
With strong winds forecasted in the 30-40 mph range our plan was to take a short 15-minute drive down an Estancia Huechahue dirt road to a private boat ramp on the Alumine River. The stretch of river we were to fish was known as the “fish factory” to the local guides. As our guide, Jose, prepared the boat, Walter and I drooled over the rising fish upstream of us. Jose’s strategy for the day was to fish the mayfly hatch in the morning along the protected banks and push through the water where fish weren’t rising. We would do this until the hatch ended or winds became fierce. Then we would survival fish and try not to hook anybody. Jose slowly rowed the boat up the extra-large eddy at the boat ramp as we hunted heads. Within 1 minute and the first cast of the day I was tied into a 18” rainbow, but only for a short time as the strong fish schooled me into river bottom structure and broke me off. Walter and I went on to have a terrific hour of head hunting until the wind ended our fun. We still had a good time fishing dry flies blind. When the white caps showed up we decided to nymph fish and had good success.
Floating the Chimehuin River day 3
The Chimehuin River, “the Cathedral of Patagonia Fly Fishing”, flows from Lake Huechulafquen for 40 kilometers and then flows into the Collon Cura River. The Chimehuin is a medium size river with swift current, long deep runs, lots of pocket water behind boulders and pockets behind overhanging willows. I love fishing and floating rivers like the Chimehuin. Casts need to be quick and accurate as the river is constantly changing. If you false cast, you’re going to miss the spot. The Chimehuin reminds me of Montana’s Rock Creek, Boulder and Stillwater Rivers. Today we had a swift tail wind to deal with. It wasn’t bad for us as our casts needed to be ahead of the boat. However, Jose had to work his tail off keeping the boat slowed down, navigating the numerous boulder gardens and log jams, all while keeping us on fish. Once again he did a terrific job. He rigged Walter with a Chubby Chernobyl dry fly and myself with a small beetle. For the third day in a row we were into fish right out of the gate. As we drifted quickly down the river, Jose spotted a large rainbow tucked into a small pocket surrounded by willows, luckily my beetle plopped in close enough to get the rainbows attention, giving me my most memorable eat of the trip. We fished dry flies until lunch time, then after lunch Jose rigged me with a small streamer. The streamer fishing was fast and furious. At one point, Jose anchored up in a long run and in four casts, four quality rainbows were landed!
Estancia Quemquemtreu is one of Northern Patagonia’s largest ranches encompassing nearly 200,000 acres. The estancia runs around 5,000 head of cattle, 300 polo ponies and contains over 30 outbuildings dating back to the 1920’s. One of the outbuildings is a bar which is well stocked with beverages and snacks. Outside is a remarkable fire pit and dining area which provides a wonderful atmosphere; especially when the gauchos dressed in traditional clothing are barbequing an entire lamb and beef tenderloin. Due to the remoteness of Quemquemtreu, the fishing is centered around the lower 20 miles of the Collon Cura River and Quemquemtreau Creek which fishes best in November, December, early January and May.
Floating Collon Cura River Days 4,5,6
The Collon Cura is a very similar size and structure as the Yellowstone River in Montana. Getting to the Collon Cura from the remote Quemquemtreu lodge requires a drive down one of the estancia dirt roads. Travel is slow and bumpy, but the scenery of dove, quail, wild pigs, and guanacos kept us easily entertained. Travel to the river over the next three days was exceptionally hard on equipment. Three out of the four guides broke their trailers on the bumpy roads; one got a flat tire. None of the breakages were severe enough to impact time spent fishing. Broken trailers were more of an inconvenience for the guides. After long days on the water, guides and their assistance would use the shop to weld trailers back together and do general maintenance. Their hard work payed off as we had the entire river to ourselves every day. As we floated beneath the Collon Cura’s huge grey cliffs, I noticed about 30 barrowing parrots flying and squawking around the cliffs and in and out of the trees. Their brilliant colors were a spectacular sight. A unique feature of the Collon Cura is its side channels. As we floated down the river our guide, Hernan, would occasionally anchor the boat and walk us across islands to hidden, willow lined pools. As the side channels slowly dry up, trout get stuck in the deep pools. Fish stuck in the isolated pools can be spooky, but are also eager for a large meal. While fishing Collon Cura, Walter and I had success with streamers, chubby Chernobyl’s and parachute Adams dry flies. Along with rainbows and browns, the Collon Cura has a solid population of Perch. The Perch loved dark streamers and put up a solid fight.
Andres took a few of the other guests down to the huge reservoir that the Collon Cura flows into. In the maze of willow lined back bays and arms, large trout were devouring willow worms as they fell from the trees. Sight fishing was very successful as Brian was able to get a 25” brown to the net, while Dave had a good story of an even larger brown getting off at the net.
In February and March, a run of puyen minnows occurs on the Collon Cura. The minnows run up from the large reservoir and into the Collon Cura River. Large trout that reside in the reservoir follow the significant food source, making a recipe for some terrific streamer fishing for anglers seeking larger fish. The guides described this event as being similar to the way ocean fish push large schools of shrimp and baitfish toward the surface or structure resulting in boiling water and aggressive feeding frenzies.
Patagonia River Guides North “Unplugged” program: Camping and fishing the Limay River Days 7,8,9
Getting to the Limay from Quemquemtreu proved to be an adventure in its self. There is a short cut that travels across the huge estantia. Sights of the volcano Lanin and guanacos during the drive remind us we were in a remote paradise. Soon our dirt road ended at a river that needed to be forded. As we drove across the river, water was nearly being pushed up over the hood. Luckily, we make it across without a problem and soon arrived at a private gate which allowed us to access to the Limay River. The 20 mile stretch of river that we were to spend the next three days on is inaccessible for most folks. With that said, the next three days of fishing and camping on the banks of the Limay river put our trip over the top. I would highly recommend this portion of the trip, even for those who are timid campers. The entire PRG staff goes above and beyond (nothing new for these guys) to bring the comforts of home to a spectacular setting. Each tent is equipped with extra-large cots, roomy sheeted sleeping bags, plush pillows, towels for hot showers and even bathrobes. The assistant guides set up a complete shower area; water is heated through a hot water on demand system! Hot, endless showers after a terrific day on the water hits the spot. Followed with a full bar, hores devours and an unbelievably delicious dinner and dessert. Then, just when you think it can’t get any better, the stars light up the Patagonian night sky. It was hard to tell where the stars began and ended as their reflection off the Limay river was spectacular. Did I mention we had no biting bugs?
The Limay River is a large, crystal clear, deep river with an average flow of 25,000 cubic feet per second. It is home to exceptionally strong fish as well as some true monsters. Walter and I spent the majority of time skating and twitching huge attractor dry flies across the surface trying to bring big browns and rainbows up from the depths. This method proved to be successful as we had a good amount of action. Our guide, Hernan whom we fished with on the Collon Cura, did not join us on the Limay. However, he gave me one of his home tied giant dry flies to try. His face lite up as he handed it to me and he included several stories about huge browns that had eaten this massive dry fly over the years. I didn’t let Hernan down as I was able to hook several fish over 20” and a beautiful two foot brown before I lost his fly on yet another nice fish. As we floated down the river, we would occasionally drop anchor along drop-offs or in shallow riffles and fish a smaller gypsy king dry fly. This was extremely successful as one shallow riffle provided us around 20 opportunities at fish in the 14-20” range.
Travel back to Montana was as smooth as the trip down. However, it was a rude awaking as soon as I stepped foot in Montana and realized I needed to trade my flipflops for snow boats. It was a treat to cheat winter in the Northern Hemisphere for a short while. Hopefully next time I will be able to stay a little longer, explore more rivers and see my newly made friends. Please let us know if you are interested in joining us in Argentina, Chile or any of our other destination trips. We host several trips a year to Patagonia and can also design a customized itinerary for your party at any time.