PIRA – March 5th – March 9th
The search for El Dorado in the northern most reaches of Argentina began with a charter flight from Buenos Aires to a seemly abandoned military airstrip in Corrientes. The two hour flight took us directly north to the Parana River. At first glance the Parana appeared to be an extension of the Atlantic Ocean, but with a browner tint. To call it huge is an understatement. We continued over miles and miles of forest and prime farm land for as far as the eye could see from 20k feet. After a small inflight diversion to avoid some turbulence from a massive thunderhead we touched down in Corrientes. As we stepped out of the plane to a blast of warm humid air, which was welcomed after the windy, cool weather in Tierra Del Fuego. We had timed this portion of the adventure perfectly, we exchanged waders and fleece for shorts, sunscreen, and flip flops. We appreciated the warmth because too soon we need to return to late winter weather back home in Montana, but I don’t want to think about that quite yet. The airport was located on a defuncted military base with no one in sight. Ancient military cannons and abandoned barracks created a slightly ominous and curious scene. Our shuttle from Pira lodge appeared just outside the gates of the runway. So we loaded up and headed for the lodge. The journey to the lodge took us through a number of small towns where the driver skillfully dodged kids on bikes, chickens, gaucho’s on horseback, pigs, and dogs. Rules of the road don’t exist the same down here as they do in the States. The further we drove the rougher and narrower the roads got. I’m a man of the road less traveled yields the most promising fishing program, so the rough roads were a welcome sign of what’s to come. Upon our arrival at the lodge the whole crew of guides, manager, chefs, and housekeepers, welcomed us to Pira Lodge and the evermore foreign environment of the Ibera Marsh. The manager, Rosario, introduced everyone and informed us of the fishing program, including the layout of the lodge. A very well appointed and open air main lodge with full bar, lounge, and large dining area was the center of the grounds. The rooms are very spacious, with floor to ceiling screened doors to create a feeling of being right in the marsh. A sizable pool for cooling off during siesta is a just behind the lodge. The chef, Gustavo, inquired if any of us had any special dining needs or wants for our stay, which we did not knowing we would be again in good hands for another week of culinary bliss.
With the important aspects dealt with, our attention turned to guides, Jose, Fergus, and Justo. They went over our gear, helping put together rods and string lines. Some rods where rigged with floating lines and some heavy sinking lines, so we were properly armed for the variety of water and fishing situations in the labyrinth of the Ibera wetlands as well as the Corrientes river that the marsh empties into. When they inspected our flies, they chose a smattering of 6-8 inch long black, red, and purple baitfish patterns on large, extremely strong hooks. It was good to hear that per the Ibera Wetlands regulations all flies must be de-barbed, and not just the one you are fishing, all flies/hooks in the boat must have the bard removed. So we selected the next day’s worth of flies and smashed the barbs on the large hooks. Golden Dorado have extremely hard mouths made up of bone and cartilage so fishing without barbs would make for a challenge but I am a big proponent of barbless fishing in all aspects regardless of species, so was happily up for the challenge. During our busy work of readying gear the guides informed us that fishing had been pretty solid as of late, including the largest Dorado of the season, a 21.5 pound beast, being caught just earlier that week. So energy was high with the thought of another bucket list fishing adventure just a nights rest away.
Fully rested after a night of being lulled to sleep by the songs of crickets in the marsh and a cool breeze drifting through our rooms, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast as the sun made its daily journey higher in the sky. The pace was relaxed, no rushing, no beeping or buzzing phones, just the beauty of what was right in front of us. We gathered our rods, flies, day packs, and of course a few beers. Rain jackets were thrown in just in case, although there wasn’t a cloudy in the sky. The short walk to the dock located behind the lodge on a small side channel of the marsh was just enough to get the blood pumping and excitement rolling. The guides were already prepared for our arrival with engines running and coolers full with the day’s supplies. As Rick and I departed the dock with Justo, a dozen or more capybara spooked out of the tall marsh grass, all diving head first into the safety of the river to escape our intrusion. We couldn’t stop laughing at how ridiculous it was seeing an oversized “water mouse” come shooting out of the bush and diving in to the water. Capybara are the world’s largest rodents, and inhabit almost all of South America, except Chile. They can grow to be up to 200 pounds and are semiaquatic mammals that live in families of 10-20. Our laughter quickly died when we heard their deep throated dog barks, obviously as goofy as they seemed they meant business when needed.
As we zipped through the side channel it narrowed, walled on either side by 10-foot-tall reeds which created a video game like race track. We banked left and right at full throttle through the maze of small channels and occasional open “ponds” as we motored in an unknown direction. We forgot all about any fishing that was about to happen and were completely consumed by the boat race we were competing in with only ourselves. Hollers and yips of excitement continued as we exited the labyrinth of the Ibera Marsh. The marsh opened and the headwaters of the Corrientes River came into view. The Ibera Marsh is the second largest wet-lands in the world, covering over 7000 square miles (almost 5,000,000 acres) of swamps, bogs, lakes, lagoons, and sloughs, which gets its water from rainfall and some fresh water springs. Averaging 67 inches of rainfall annually, there was no shortage of water. Because of its size and subtropical nature, the biodiversity of plants and wildlife is mind-blowing. Otters, maned wolves, pampas deer, marsh deer, two different species of caiman alligators, capybara, and over 350 species of birds. Not to mention the 125 fish species of which the Golden Dorado is the undisputed king. It is unlike any other place on earth and by far the most interesting place I have every cast a fly.
Little to none of its surface is hard ground, so navigating the marsh can be a tricky endeavor, as our guide avoided the large “islands” of semi-submerged vegetation which were constantly being shifted by wind and water flows. My hat goes off to the crew at Pira for cutting and staking various passages marking the safe, open routes through the wetlands. Pira lodge is located in the sweet spot, where the marsh ends and it begins to drain, forming the Corrientes River. The effort allows daily fishing forays into the marsh itself or down into the main river channel. Both amazing fisheries which offer completely different opportunities and styles of fishing.
Once we hit the river the tall reeds gave way to large lily pad type plants, water hyacinth, and short grasses. Banks of sand and fine dirt formed to make the main river channel, with sloughs and side channels created depending on the amount of moisture that falls in the spring and fall. Justo slowed the engine to an idle and cut the engine as we slide alongside into our first fishing spot. He hopped up on the poling platform of the Hells Bay flats skiff and jammed his poling pole into the plants and twisted it to create an anchor. Holding the boat against the slow but strong current of the river, we readied ourselves for our first casts. The 7, 8, and 9 weight rods we brought were rigged with different rates of sinking lines and floating lines with stout short leaders, complete with at least 8 inches of wire between the leader and fly. Justo instructed us to grab the sinking lines to start with for the strong deep current of the river. Justo slowly poled/slid the boat along the edge of the bank while we plied the center of the river. With each cast being a test of skill to cover as much water as possible. Justo explained that the Dorado were the kings, they could be anywhere they wanted to be, so be prepared for them to hit at any time. Each cast was followed by a large upstream mend to allow the fly to sink into the blackness of the deep clear water, then a long swing/strip as it worked back towards the bank. Once it reached the bank we would strip the fly back along the structure as quickly and aggressively as possible trying to imitate the Dorado’s preferred baitfish of Sabalo. We mixed sinking and swinging the fly through the current with fast strips as soon as the fly landed. We ripped the flies back to us trying to cause as much disturbance and movement with the fly as we could. With a fishing style like this we would quickly burn off our breakfast, no need for a gym out here.
Rick was 10 minutes into mastering his heavy weight long distance casting skills when the line and rod was nearly jerked from his grip. The first king had struck and it had the ferocity of a freight train on a midnight run. Almost immediately the water broke and we caught our first glimpse of a Golden Dorado as it leapt into the air. The golden shimmer was a sight to behold. It went berserk, jumping countless times each time higher than the last. If there ever were a freshwater fish that you could (and wanted too) bend the rod into the cork, this is the fish. El Dorado has it all. Once it touched Rick’s hands we were in awe of the amazing golden scales and lined gill plates. They are shaped like a fat trout but resemble nothing I have ever witnessed in a fish. As it slid back into the clear water the golden shimmer quickly turned into a mirror causing it to blend right into stained water. Mother nature is an amazing engineer.
For the remainder of the morning we worked the river drifting further and further downstream along long broad bends snaking among the wilds of the marsh. Depending on the attention our flies were getting, Justo would have us working the middle of the river or switch up and glide the boat down the center so we could pound the banks, just like streamer fishing the rivers back home. It was a very eventful and productive first morning, with a few fish to hand each as well as a few that got the better of us. We enjoyed the adrenaline-fueled boat ride back to the lodge for our mid-day break of lunch, a swim, and a welcomed siesta.
As with each beginning and end of each session, we enjoyed the boat race through the marsh, it never got old or boring, with each trip through the marsh we became more comfortable and we could anticipate the turns rather than react to them. Great fun every time no doubt. For the evening session when we immerged out into the open Justo took a right and we headed back up into the wetlands to see our other options and explore a different style of fishing. The heavy weight rods and sinking lines stayed put as we had the pleasure of throwing floating lines and dry flies and lightly weighted streamers. The game is different in the wetlands, small channels opened and closed into one another creating a maze of small spring creek and lagoon sections. This was a more “interactive” style of fishing than the chuck and duck game like out on the river. The casting was tight, with plenty of likely structure to target. These small creeks were sometimes only as wide as the boat while at other times can size up to 30-40 feet wide. As the creeks meander among the reeds they also create varying sized lagoons that hold groups of Dorado. Justo informed us that the fishing had been better on the river as of late, but they were starting to see fish move up into the marsh following the bait fish. He expected the fishing to only get better over the next couple of days. We started out with a sizeable mouse pattern and we were eager to see the dry fly get annihilated by one of these River Tigers. Casting a dry at the reeds and edges of the creeks and popping or sliding it back had us glued to the fly. After a number casts a large boil erupted under the fly but nothing happened, then another, again the fly stayed on the surface undisturbed. Our hearts leapt, then dropped as we observed the roller coaster ride of the first action on the dry. As the afternoon rolled on we got a few more swipes and boils, but no dorado was willing to commit to the surface fly. We did manage a respectable sized Dientuda (freshwater barracuda type fish) on the dry. Before the sunset and we had to return to the lodge, we threw the streamer on the floating line. Pushing water just below the surface made the difference, we quickly landed a few small Golden Dorado to finish out day one. That was a good sign as the fish were there they just weren’t wanting any top water action, but tomorrow was another day.
That night we enjoyed a traditional Argentine Asado BBQ cooked over open coals, along with more delicious red wine. We pulled the deck chairs out onto the lawn along with the fire pit to enjoy the stars while Clark and a few of the guides serenaded us on the guitar. Not a bad first day in the Ibera Wetlands. If every day were like this, it was going to be difficult to leave.
For day two I was fishing with Cole and guide Justo again. I awoke with a smile that hadn’t faded from the day before. We made our way down river to see what was lurking further down than the guides were usually running each day. Cole was quick to develop the pattern for our day. Every time he was up he’d hook a fish in six casts or less, which gained him the nickname Six Cast Cole. The first few were small feisty Dorado in the five-pound range, jumping all over the place. It took me more than six casts, but I eventually hooked a nice fish, that pulled like a bull dog, but never jumped, a good hint of the size of the fish. After it succumbed to the battle, we measured it and determined the fish to be about nine pounds, not giant but respectable for the wetlands. It was the perfect way to cap the morning session.
After another fantastic meal and siesta, we headed back into the marsh to further explore the creeks in the Marsh. Cole jumped right back into his six-cast routine and nailed multiple six pounders. I quickly landed two nice fish, a six pounder and another 9 pounder. The fishing had turned on. We found them in both the river and the marsh, the trip was evolving into an epic experience. With the fishing picking up, I switched to a dry fly and almost immediately, the dry fly take we had been wanting happened. A huge explosion on the surface with the fish launching itself out of the water two or three feet into the air, it cannon balled back into the water and the fly dislodged from the its mouth. In the blink of an eye, the scene changed from complete chaos to total salience. It is honestly hard to put into words how awesome these fish are and the environment they live in, just amazing!
On Cole’s next turn he quickly hooked up on something heavy but definitely not a dorado. The fight was quite odd, almost a high-speed jiggling motion from the end of the line. He started laughing it was so different, Justo on the other hand started cursing it. He knew just what it was. Cole continued to battle this odd fish as it pulled hard and stayed deep. When he got it close to the boat Justo jumped down and grabbed and carefully tailed the first Palometa of our trip. Palometa are a species of Piranha that inhabit the wetlands. They are disc shaped with short stubby smashed in faces, and razor sharp triangular teeth. These Palometa can get pretty sizable with this one in three or four pounds’ range. Justo carefully removed the hook and now shaved fly with his long metal pliers. You could hear the fish’s teeth snapping together with loud clicks each time it bit down. Any plans of mid-day swims off the boat were squashed, no way this northern boy was getting in the water with those things.
For the golden hour of the day we decided to motor back down to the first main run on the river. We got there in time to see the sky turning a brilliant yellow orange hue, turning the wetlands the shade of Dorado. Cole hopped on the platform with the heavy sinking line, stripped off the majority of the line, then bombed a cast to the center of the river. As the fly sank into the water column the sun sank even with the horizon giving us it’s last bit of warmth. Cole’s fly swung across the current. With each strip the anticipation grew. Suddenly the swing stopped. No explosion, no immediate run or jump it just stopped. Cole strip set hard, again and again, making sure to hook whatever was hanging on to the pointy end of the fly. Finally, the fish on the other end of the line pulled back, moving towards the middle of the river. The battle was on with Cole’s six-foot three-inch frame putting a hurt on the rod and fish. The fish worked back towards the bank, giving in to the pressure until it was alongside the boat where Justo reached down and grabbed it. As he raised it from the water the golden hues of the sunset met the shimmering gold of the Dorado. It was the same shine I imagined to find in a long-lost Mayan temple of gold. We all admired the eleven pound beast being bathed in its own light, and as Cole slide it back into the black water. Just like that the gold was gone, gone from his hands and gone from the sky. That deserved a beer in the last light before we sped off back to the lodge navigating the maze in almost total darkness.
On day three myself and Clark fished with Jose. We took us into the marsh, to yet another series of spring creek channels. After navigating through numerous openings and channels we came to a dead end. Jose cut the motor and anchored us with his pole as we readied our rods. We were again throwing floating line with a lightly weighted streamer. In many of these new channels the water was amazingly clear and we could see the bottom no problem. Enticing a fish from under the banks and the depths to the surface promised to be an inviting visual event. We drifted down the channel casting in front of the boat and aggressively stripping the streamer back to us. Working the banks and structure of small islands, currents, and cuts kept our interest. Always having a target to cast to with the hopes of lurking dorado waiting to ambush its next meal. Clark was enjoying the interactive casting, placing pin point perfect casts from one spot to the next. He jumped two nice dorado before they spit the hook in the air. A few casts later, he came tight on what we thought was a small dorado. The fish quickly succumbed to the 7-weight rod and we laid eyes on another new fish species! A bass/snook type fish that Jose called a San Antonio. It weighed about a pound and a half. A San Antonio has a large bass like mouth with sandpaper feel to its lips. A long spiny dorsal fin ran the length of its body and a spot on its tail that looks like an eye, to fool the predators.
As the morning grew into mid-day, we floated our way down towards the headwaters of the river, the channels and lagoons grew to a larger size. We came into the Butcher Channel, I was throwing longer casts with the floating line when a dorsal fin, back and tail of a dorado appeared behind my fly. Strip! Jose commanded. I was already stripping as furiously as I could, so stripping faster wasn’t an option. All I could do was jerk the rod tip with each strip to move the fly more. The fish disappeared for a moment and my heart sank. Then the fish annihilated my fly the way a great white shark eats a seal near the surface, launching itself into a back flip and crashing back down into the water with a loud splash. It was one of the best takes I have had the pleasure of witnessing in my fishing career. The battle was on, it launched itself half a dozen times into the air, violently shaking its head with each jump. El Dorado has it all! I was able to keep it hooked and bring it to hand for Jose to weigh and measure. A nice seven-pound fish. The guides would measure and weigh each fish and record it for the fisheries biologist, who are compiling data of age and migratory behaviors of the fish. The Golden Dorado is a mystical fish that there is still a lot to learn about.
After lunch and siesta, we made our way back to the dock. The clouds where building in the distance, so we double checked that our rain gear was with us. They were the first dark clouds we had seen since arriving. We stayed close to the lodge to avoid getting caught in the wetlands if the clouds formed into a storm. There aren’t many safe places to ride out a strong storm in the wetlands. With low deep thunder on the horizon, Clark was able to get in a few casts and a nice six-pound dorado before the wind picked up, and we motored back to the safety of the lodge. The storm moved in fast, dropping hard rain before we made it back. Once back at the lodge we spent the few hours observing the giant toads that came out to feed on the bugs buzzing about. Some of these toads were as big as a small dinner plate and made for great amusement to watch as they feed on the insects the rain brought out.
Once the rain past and the guides were comfortable heading back out we still had a short amount of time before darkness settled in so we raced up the home channel as far as we could, then floated back towards the dock as the light began to fade. The dorado eluded us, but Clark and I were both able to give our flies a haircut with each of us got a solid sized Palometa just before dark. Over dinner that evening Cole and Rick dropped the bomb from that morning. A true monster had been landed. Rick had landed a solid twelve-pound fish, and Cole struck gold with the twenty-pound monster he landed. The second largest fish of the season for the lodge. For the wetlands, this was the high bar to strive for and Cole stuck it. Congrats my friend!
Day four would be a half day before heading out up the Parana River to Alto Parana, to try our luck in the bigger water. Tom and I headed out with Fergus for our last session in the Ibera wetlands. I still had visions of twenty-pound fish in my head created by Cole’s monster. We headed to the river, then down a few bends before starting our morning. I started out with the big gun and sinking line. Only a few minutes into it, I jumped a solid fish that threw the hook on the jump. Tom stepped up and quickly his fly got smashed by a good seven-pound fish. With already a good morning in our grasp I tossed a long cast to the middle of the river while Fergus poled us along the bank allowing the fly to sink deeper, as we searched for another monster. Before I even made my first pull of the fly, the line came tight. At first I thought bottom, but strip set hard with another strip set quickly following. The line moved. My mind raced was this the one? The fish pulled unlike anything that I had hooked thus far. Slow and strong, not to aggressive. Fergus got excited, I think he knew how big the fish was shaping up to be. The fish turned downstream and continued its long, deep, slow, steady pull. I could hear the cork on my rod start to creak as I gave it all I had. The reel started whining. I angled the rod towards the bank to try and pressure the fish from the middle of the river and into a softer current. No reaction. The drag continued to whine. Then it stopped, I frantically reeled then went to stripping to try and stay tight but it was gone, just like that, it was over. My head hung as thoughts of a twenty plus pound Dorado faded and swam away.
The other boats had a solid last session to end on as well. Clark tipping the scales on a fat nineteen-and-a-half-pound dorado and Rick stuck a solid fourteen-pounder. With our morning session finished, our stay at Pira came to a close. We repacked our gear, then loaded up for the four-and-a-half-hour drive to Alto Parana. After three and a half days of bombing long casts with big rods, heavy lines, and giant flies, battling strong, mean, aggressive fish, we settled into the drive with a beer and a couple Advil to soothe our sour muscles. My mind drifted back to the what-if’s, could-have’s, and should-haves of my last shot at a big Golden Dorado. For me the pain of not making it happen quickly turns to the thought of future opportunity and hope. The one that got away sticks with me longer than the ones that I landed. The amazing service, accommodations, guides, and plethora of dorado we did catch, was a big win in the book of exotic fishing trips! As I write this I still break a smile thinking about it and want to immediately start looking at plane tickets to get back to PIRA lodge for more Golden Dorado excitement as soon as I can.
ALTO PARANA – March 9th – March 13th
We arrived to Alto Parana after dark. Fany, the Manager eagerly greeted us with a big smile and friendly welcome. The guides happened to be pulling in from the river after a day of fishing themselves. This is always a good sign when guides fish into dark on their day off, a true testament to their passion for the fish and river. Fany showed us to our rooms in the old estancia’s main building that was built sometime in the late 1800’s. We could feel the history in the building. Its age showing the true craftsmanship it took to build it and the upkeep the workers had employed to keep it in perfect condition through all the years. The character of the lodge and rooms truly had the feel of being on a working Argentine estancia. She then ushered us into the dining area where a large table was set and dinner was ready to be served. Large wrap around couches and a fireplace filled the other portion of the lodge. Maria, the chef treated us to delicious traditional Argentine meals for the duration our stay.
After dinner, the guides joined us to go over rod setup and flies. Fabian, Matias, and Pablo were all local guides with extensive knowledge of the upper and middle reaches of the massive Parana River system. Much of the same flies and gear would work here as they did at Pira lodge. A mix of big flies on heavily sinking lines and floating lines with dry fly patterns like mice. Golden Dorado is the prime target, but Pira Pita and Pacu are new targets that offer great variety and excitement at Alto Parana. Pira Pita is somewhat similar to the Dorado, except they are silvery not golden, and they are typically smaller average size (5-10lbs) with a smaller mouth. They are equally aggressive and have no qualms with taking dry flies. Pacu are a very unique fish that are disc shaped like a permit, have humanoid type teeth and love to eat fruit that falls from the over-hanging trees along the banks of the river. The discussion and banter of flies, fish, and what to expect carried on into the night. They explained to us that the very upper reaches of the river drainage hundreds of miles away had been getting drenched with rain for the past couple of weeks so the river which is normally clear below the Yacyreta Dam, just upstream from us, was running high and dirty. So, we had our work cut out for us to first find the fish, and then to entice them to eat. The normally very productive waters where an abundance of Pira Pita, trophy sized Golden Dorado (up to 40lbs), and the less common but style catchable Pacu swam was now a game of hope and casts.
A river as massive as the Parana it is hard to put into perspective just how big it is. The Parana is the second largest river in South America (the Amazon is first) flowing in excess of 2.2 million cubic feet per second (cfs), yes that is million. To try and put that into perspective the Madison River, at a peak flow, runs between 4000-6000 cfs, and the Yellowstone River which flowed at an all-time high of just over 38,000 cfs in Livingston look like trickles compared to the Parana. The Parana was currently running almost 14 feet above it’s normal level, so as we would soon see and learn most of the fish were literally in the trees, and so were the monkeys.
We arose the next morning well rested and revived from the night before, ready for the challenge ahead. After breakfast, we made the short 10-minute drive to the boat launch. The launch had been carved out of the sandy bank of the river. Stepping out of the truck and laying eyes on the river for the first time and it reminded me of the coast of an ocean, palm trees and eucalyptus trees lined the banks along with various other tropical trees and bushes. The river stretched far out towards the horizon. We could see the opposite bank which we presumed was Paraguay but the guides corrected us, that was just an island in the river. Paraguay was beyond another massive channel of the river that was equally as large and wide. The guides discussed where to start, I’m still not sure how they knew where to go or how long it took to learn the river but they were quite specific about where they wanted to start the search. As I mentioned the water was generally running clear and clean but for our stay we’d have dirty water with very low visibility. After two successful stops at Kau Tapen and Pira, the pendulum swung away from our luck, as it always can and does from time to time. Being true fishermen we wouldn’t waver, we still went fishing. The guides had 2 way radios to communicate where they were and if they were finding fish. We departed the boat launch in medium sized Carolina style skiffs with powerful motors, that were needed to navigate the currents of the river. The river flowed downstream with a methodical flow that looked dossal and but yet incredibly powerful. Huge barges churned along the river with hundreds of shipping containers stacked on their decks as they steamed downstream to the ocean, hundreds of miles from where we were fishing.
Rick and I were fishing with Matias for the day and started out throwing floating lines and small Puglisi style baitfish patterns. We were searching for Pira Pita to get us broke in to the style and techniques that Matias wanted from us. He held the boat about 25-30 feet off the bank navigating us with a remote-controlled trolling motor as the current pushed us down stream. The bank offered amazing structure. It was fun to cast to every pocket we could in the submerged trees in the hopes a fish would crush the fly. The strong current pushed the boat along and it was fast paced casting and stripping. Matias instructed us to get it as tight to the trees/bank as possible and give it half a dozen good strips before recasting. The Dorado work out continued! Such interactive fishing kept our attention. We were putting the fly in the zone, hitting the sweet looking spots. It was only a matter of making enough casts before a fish would find the fly. We continued to work the swirling waters amongst the overhanging tree branches that the swollen river had engulfed.
Every now and then we would hear the sounds of splashing back in the trees or the sound of an oversized gulp on the surface. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked Matias what it was, he explained that with the river being so high that most of the fish move back into the trees where the current is less and all the baitfish go for cover and the Pacu also head into the trees and islands during high water to forage on the fruit. The majority of the fish we wanted to catch would be impossible to get to, they would never see our flies because they were safely nestled into flooded forest. All we could do was keep casting and placing those flies as close and into the branches as we could in hopes some fish were hanging near the edge and main current. It took some time and work but we were able to make it happen, eventually. Casting the floating lines and smaller streamers was still visual, despite the muddy water. So, when my fly hit water, and there was immediately a flash of color behind it, my excitement was peaked. A dorado swiped at the fly but missed. Matias instructed me to keep stripping, all the way to the boat. It came back and smashed the fly broadside. I set the hook and was tight, but only for a split second before it was off and gone. Well, inspect the fly and hook, then keep casting. You’ll never catch them all and if you did - would it really be all that fun? Soon after, Rick came tight to a Pira Pita that went to the air on multiple jumps before tossing the hook and heading back to the cover of the flooded forest. Before the morning session came to an end I managed to miss another dorado and land two nice Pira Pita in the 8-pound range. Rick came tight to another Pira Pita, but it got the better of him and bucked the hook. When we did get follows or hookups it seemed they were in quick secession, the fish were podded up. That gave hope that if we found them then we could get some chances, even in the dirty water.
Lunch break and siesta included a nice dip in the pool, before heading back on the water. Matias turned the boat up stream this time, he wanted to fish a few points where the bank was just sand and grass with lots of rock structure. This is where the trophy dorado liked to frequent, so we were throwing the big stuff and coving as much water as possible to try and improve our chances. Multiple runs along the point went without success so we headed downstream to the forested edges and smaller channels that break the river into several large islands. Rick finally tied into another Pira Pita which he stayed tight on and brought to hand after a hard-fought battle of aerobatic displays. We were both on the board. We both were feeling the mojo, the fish weren’t, but we kept at it in the hopes of finding the needle hidden in the hay stack. Plenty joking around filled time while we plied the banks. When the fishing isn’t going your way, a little comradery makes all the difference. It didn’t matter that we weren’t catching, we were having fun which is what we were there for. All too often the day is judged on the catching, but catching is the smallest percentage of what really matters on any fishing adventure. It’s all about the ‘going’ not the ‘getting’. I thank my lucky stars every time I fish with people that matter to me or new friends that make the adventure. We fished our hearts out until the sun dropped below the horizon and a small sliver of moon started to show itself high in the sky. We reeled up and motored back to the lodge. Cruising back up this massive river in the dark with only the light of the stars to see by was quite surreal, almost as if floating through a sea of blackness. Eventually we saw the small flood light at the boat ramp. We gathered back at the lodge for a shower and dinner Clark, Cole, Dave and Tom had all found some gold that afternoon each getting a dorado. Clark and Cole’s came as a double.
On day two, Cole and I were fished with Fabian. He motored the boat along way downstream to search the smaller channels amongst the islands. We fished what seemed like much smaller rivers with the main stem out of view. We would work our way down a long channel on one side then motor back up and around to fish the opposite side of it, then search for another side channel to try our luck on. We were placing perfect casts on the bank, but luck wasn’t on our side. The few fish we enticed, would crush our dry flies and small streamers, but we just couldn’t seal the deal. Cole plopped a large mouse pattern in a small back eddy among the trees and as he was taking the first strip a Pira Peta made a huge swipe at the fly, circled back, and smashed it. He was tight to the fish and bent the rod over as it entered the current and battled back. It was well worth the wait. Cole landed his Pira Pita and quickly slipped it back into the murky water. A few casts in on my turn on the front of the boat, the fly came to a stop, I set the hook with a strong strip, but I didn’t feel much on the line. There was still weight at the other end, but nothing was happening. I raised the rod tip and continued to strip quickly, when a small shimmer of gold come to the surface. It was a baby dorado, about a pound. A cute little guy and a good omen for the future of the fishery. Aside from a few sea otters and howler monkeys our action for the morning was finished. That afternoon was much of the same for us. We had chances, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities. I could feel my fuel tank running low. The past two weeks of fishing hard was creeping up on me. Casts were getting sloppy and I wasn’t able to strip as aggressively. I started to put more than my share of casts into the trees, where only a monkey would be tempted to eat it. Cole was still rolling strong, jumping another Pira Pita that he brought to hand. Then a short time later, another baby dorado for us to admire. I redeemed my casting and connected to a feisty Pira Pita. That put some zip back in my step and I finished the day strong. Cole and I cracked a beer for the dark boat ride back. We thought we could see something flying around, but were unsure with the darkness and speed of the boat. Then something zipped by us. What the hell was that? As we were about to cheers on the day, WHACK! It sounded like a hammer hitting a nail, Cole doubled over in his seat with a groan followed by hysterical laughter. BAT! I couldn’t stop laughing as Cole checked his face for any damage. Our mystery fliers had just been discovered by way of a face smacking. I couldn’t stop laughing, my face hurt, though not as much as Coles! We literally laughed all the way back to the lodge where we enjoyed another outstanding dinner and learned that Clark had found pay dirt. He landed two nice eight-pound dorado and Tom got a respectable 6 pounder. Rick and Dave had also found a few Pira Pita. Despite the tough fishing conditions the guides were putting us on fish and some of us were connecting.
Dawn broke on our last day of fishing in beautiful Argentina. We fueled up on a hearty breakfast and were eager to head out in search of the elusive trophy Golden Dorado we had hopes of finding the ultimate trophy of over twenty pounds. Dave and I were fishing with Pablo and the order of the day was go big or go home. So we were slinging the big rods and meaty flies in hopes of our trophy. Dave had the first glimmer of hope when the largest eruption of water I had witnessed yet exploded on his fly. He kept stripping but no connection was made. That was all I needed to start to see stars. I wanted this to happen, now or never. With little left in the tank we were going to leave it all on the river and go for GOLD! We worked it hard but didn’t connect on our last day but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Dave and I as well as the rest of the group were whipped. We left it all on the river, including a few flies that were preciously placed a bit too high in the trees or lodged in the rocky structure of the depths. Pablo had worked us through some of his preferred “trophy” water during both fishing sessions but the fish just weren’t having it.
All in all the experience of the massive Parana River had been amazing. I truly hope I have the chance to experience it again and fingers crossed in “normal” water conditions so I can see the mighty Dorado in all its glory. Argentina has such an amazing variety of fishing from tip to tip I hope you put it on your list to start exploring too!