The quantity of amazing fly fishing destinations around the globe can keep the venturing angler busy for a lifetime. In the world of cold water salmonid fishing there are a handful of locations that are so uniquely different that they have no equal. Locations such as the Rio Grande sea run brown fishery in Tierra del Fuego, The Skeena River steelhead fishery in British Columbia and Alaska’s Bristol Bay pacific salmon and rainbow trout fisheries certainly come to mind. The amazing and supremely unique trophy trout waters of Lago Strobel and the Barrancoso River in Argentine Patagonia can deservedly be added to this short list of “bucket list” destinations.
Lago Strobel (aka “Jurassic Lake”) is easily the world’s most prolific trophy rainbow trout fishery. The large lake is located deep in Southern Patagonia in the wind swept just east of the towering Andes mountain range. The lake is a dessert sink link due to the arid climate in the rain shadow of the mountains. Although the Barrancoso river feeds the lake and serves as a spawning tributary for the massive rainbows, there is no outlet river due to the ample loss of water from evaporation. The lake is large, deep, gin clear and filled with a huge supply of freshwater shrimp (aka scuds) which results in unequaled growth rates for the trout that reside within.
I had the pleasure of receiving an invitation to sample the fabled waters from Jurassic Lake Lodge owner Carlos Lopez Casanello and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore these remote waters. My visit took place in mid December which is in the middle of the peak window at Lago Strobel. Fishing at Jurassic Lake is good from October through April, but the peak concentrations of lake run trout in the river is in the early season which adds variety to the fishing experience.
Arrival day at the Lodge
Jurassic Lake Lodge is located at the mouth of the Barrancoso river where it joins the lake. It was the first guided operation on Lago Strobel. The lodge leases the massive Estancia Lago Strobel (you could fit the 10 largest cities in the US inside the estancia and still have plenty of room to spare) and has access to several miles of the lake as well as the majority of the Barroncoso River, several smaller trout filled lakes and Moro Creek. The lodge recently added an airstrip on the estancia and includes a charter flight into the ranch from Comodoro Rivadavia. On our trip the day we were scheduled to arrive the charter was cancelled due to extreme winds. Since I was already in Patagonia I picked up a ride with one of the guides headed to the lake from Esquel. Since I had never ventured this far south into Patagonia I welcomed the opportunity to drive and see some new country. I met the guide, Brian, in Esquel and we spent several hours travelling down the remote southern pampas – only occasionally passing traffic. The wind was incredible during our drive with sustained speeds of 60mph and gusts to 90mph. We stopped for a quick roadside break at one point in the drive and the door nearly ripped off of the truck – it took both of us with every ounce of strength we could muster to get it closed. This was by far the most intense wind I had ever experienced in Patagonia and I was happy the pilots made the decision to cancel the flight in.
As we approached the Santa Cruz region we eventually left the paved road and headed toward the estancia. The incredible remoteness of the lake and lodge isn’t fully appreciated until you make the drive in. We drove for over 3 hours across increasingly rougher jeep roads. The only signs of life were the ample herds of the llama like guanacos and the ostrich like rhea.
Upon arrival at the lodge you feel like you have traveled to the end of the earth. The logistics of building and maintain a lodge this far off the beaten patch are truly incredible. The location of Jurassic Lake lodge simply can’t be beat – with the amazingly productive lower river, river mouth and Cochinos Bay all within a short walk.
Jurassic Lake Lodge
The lodge itself is amazingly comfortable considering that the nearest small town is over 3 miles away (which offers little more than a gas station) and the next town with a decent grocery store is a 5 hour drive. Most supplies come in from Rio Gallegos, the nearest town of significance, which is an 8 hour drive to the lodge. Even firewood must be trucked in from 8 hours away (there are no trees on the estancia!). The lodge can accommodate 8 anglers per week, with comfortable guest rooms that each feature two queen beds and a private bath. The entire lodge runs on a gravity fed water supply system thanks to a spring further up the mountain and a diesel generator. Guests gather in the dining and living room area which offers large picture windows looking out over the lake. In the evening the lack of any man-made light results in dark night skies and an impressive display of stars.
The Fishing Program
Jurassic Lake Lodge has developed a beat system for guests at the lodge. Each day is broken into a morning session and an afternoon session. Beat assignments are posted on a white board outside of the main lodge each morning before breakfast. In the early season when the trout are highly concentrated in the river, at the mouth and in the adjacent bays most of the beats focus on waters within walking distance. Later in the season anglers often explore the upper reaches of the river, additional lakes and Moro creek. These options are also available during the early season for anglers wanting to explore the more remote waters on the estancia. On days travelling to the middle and upper portions of the river the beat assignments last for a full day since travel time can vary from 30 minutes to over an hour depending on how adventures you feel. There are still many sections of the Barrancoso in its upper reaches that have yet to be fished!
The biology of the Jurassic Lake/Rio Barrancoso system is not fully understood. The trout in the lake are 100% wild fish and the Barrancoso is the only tributary of the lake and by default the only spawning river. Fisheries biologists have made trips to Lago Strobel, but the data is still relatively sparse. In the early season it appears that trout move into the river over several months with intentions to spawn. The heaviest spawning run appears to occur in October when the river is flooded with huge fish moving up river, but even in December there are fresh “chromers” moving into the lake, many still dropping eggs. The river itself has its own resident population of trout with very high trout counts. Trout that have spent significant time in the lake turn a bright silver and are referred to as “chromes” by the guides and return anglers. As they move into he river they begin to take on the more typical coloration of a river born rainbow trout with bright pink cheeks and a red lateral line. Some trout that have likely moved into the river to spawn early in the season and perhaps traveled tens of miles upriver to spawn before returning to the lake become very dark. Some of these darker fish can be found in both the river and the lake. As the season progresses more and more fish return to the lake, eventually all regaining the bright silver “chrome” status thanks to the alkaline lake waters and abundant food supply. The river holds large trout all season as well. Although most of the lake run fish return to Lago Strobel by mid January – there are some resident fish up to 6 lbs that are in the river year round and likely some fish that started in the lake but then holdover in the river. Interestingly the resident rainbow fishery in the river would elevate this to one of the great trout rivers of Patagonia even without the influx of massive lake run fish!
Day 1, Morning Session: Left of the Mouth
After years of hearing the reports of this fabled fishery I was finally going to have a chance to sample the massive rainbows of Lago Strobel. After breakfast I made the short walk to the river mouth. My morning assignment was “left of the mouth” which covered the lower river and the lake for several hundred yards to a large point of land that marked the beginning of Cochinos Bay. We had some flat light and high clouds on the first morning but the incredible wind that was present on arrival day was now gone and we had ideal fishing conditions. Even with the flat lighting, I was amazed to see massive rainbows moving into the river mouth from the lake. The trout were easy to spot and I switched to a sight casting rig using a dry dropper combo of a Fat Albert and a prince nymph. Within minutes the large foam dry twitched and I set the hook on a huge rainbow. These fish are really amazing – their power and strength of every rainbow is incredible as they instantly race back to the lake while pulling fly line and backing with them. Within an hour I had hooked and landed the 5 largest trout of my life and lost several others thanks to straightened hooks. These fish are really, really big! They are also extremely difficult to handle due to their massive girth. The Lago Strobel rainbows have such high growth rates that even the “small” 7-8lb trout which is average are built like footballs. Tailing these fish to remove them from the net is a challenge since your hand slips right off the rear of their body – only the larger fish over 15 lbs offer a good tailing hand grip!
After an hour or so working the mouth area I moved up the river to fish a few of the lower pools and runs within a hundred yards of the lake. Every good looking seam, eddy and riffle had a massive trout holding in it. Hooking these trout wasn’t automatic. Just like any wild trout some were more active than others. Trout that were in the mood to feed rarely refused a fly and I enjoyed some high quality sight casting before lunch.
Day 2, Afternoon Session: Cochinos Bay
Although the many of Lago Strobel’s huge trout concentrate near the mouth of the Barrancoso or are in the river itself in the early season, there are always trout in the lake at large as well. These fish are generally chromers as well and in peak shape due to the high growth rates. The key to targeting trout in the open water is to focus on areas of the lake that concentrate fish. These big rainbows tend to slowly cruise while eating scuds as they go. While you can encounter a monster rainbow anywhere along the lakeshore, some areas are more productive than others.
There are a few keys to selecting a good casting position when fishing the lake shores. The most important is aligning your casts with the wind. Most days on the lake will produce at least moderate wind that needs to be accounted for – so finding a bank that allows the wind to be at your back, or at least at an angle is desirable. A second factor that should be incorporated is whether you plan to sight cast or blind fish. If the wind isn’t too strong sight casting can be very effective in the clear waters. Sight casting is most effective in shallow waters over light bottoms. Several of these areas exist around the lake and if you can combine a high vantage point by standing on a large rock with shallow, light bottomed waters you are in business. Although the trout density may not be as high, it is off set by the advantage of seeing the trout in advance of casting. A third strategy is finding locations on the lake that force cruising lanes to converge. Points are great for this as fish that are cruising close to the bank AND further out tend to get pushed into the same cruising lanes as they move past a point. A final tactic is one that works best when there are wind driven waves on the lake. Some areas of the lake will churn up sediment and scuds due to wave action – often these areas will appear a little cloudy compared to the normally air clear waters. Often feeding trout will move into these areas that are churned up to capitalize on the easy food supply.
In the afternoon the wind on the open lake had increased significantly over the morning session. I spent the first hour of the session walking the banks looking for fish and found a few cruisers to sight cast too with reasonable success. As the afternoon progressed a few high clouds moved in producing flat light and tougher visibility. I eventually worked my way to a point that extended into the lake. The waves were breaking at an angle and I spotted a few huge trout working within the churned up waters. The light was too flat to consistently sight cast but it appeared that numerous fish were concentrated in this zone. I positioned the wind at my back and gunned long casts into the zone that offered some modest sediment clouds. The lake churn didn’t really dirty the water and it was still clear, but there was an apparent cloud of sediment from the wave action that then extended into the deeper water of the lake from the point and this is where the huge rainbows were working.
I spent the next 2-3 hours hooking some of the biggest fish of the trip. My most effective rig was a balanced leach (olive) trailed by a grey scud suspended about 3 feet below and indicator. The wave action was all the leach needed to produce an action on the fly. Takes were very subtle as these big fish are casually on the cruise when they take. In some situations I would spot the trout in advance, and in others the indicator would just slowly sink. These were very large trout – with many in the 15-20lb range. My landing rate was under 50% as a few bent open the hooks or broke off on the sharp rocks closer to shore. I was fishing solo as our guide Brian and one of the other guests stayed closer to the lodge. Landing these massive fish by yourself is no easy task (even with the help of the oversized net I brought from the lodge). Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of these brutes from the lake session as I was fishing solo; but trust me they were big!
Day 2, Morning Session – “The Pool”
The largest pool on the Barrancoso River is only 100 yards upstream from the lake and is a short hike from the lodge. This massive pool is kidney shaped and about 70 yards long and 30 yards across. Much of the pool is composed of a large, slow recirculating eddy. The head of the pool offers a long, heavy current run. There must be hundreds of huge trout in The Pool as they stage to move further up the river. The water upstream of the pool takes on a canyon property with numerous small water falls and heavy pocket water so trout spend some time in The Pool before taking on the more arduous waters in the canyon just upstream.
The highest concentrations of fish are in the huge seam that separates the current at the head of the run from the large eddy. Targeting these staging trout wasn’t very technical – I fished a mouse pattern for a while without success and then switched back to a Fat Albert trailed by a tungsten head prince. Action was consistent for both myself and my fishing partner from the lodge, a gentleman that makes annual trips to Jurrasic Lake from Buenos Aries. After landing several nice fish a switched over to photography and hiked up the high bank that overlooks The Pool. From the high vantage point I noticed several larger rainbows holding in the shallow tail-out. Before we headed back to the lodge for lunch I waded out to do some sight casting to these fish. Getting to the bigger fish was a challenge as there was a small fleet of smaller 12-18” resident rainbows that would often intercept the flies first. Eventually I noticed a massive darker bow holding in skinny water. After a few casts I saw him move just a bit and set the hook – success! This fish was a real dinosaur and absolutely massive – easily over 30” and 20+ pounds.
Day 3, Afternoon Session – Right of the Mouth
After lunch and a siesta, I headed back for another round of action. This afternoon’s beat was “to the right of the mouth”; we had all of the water from the river mouth and the long beaches to the south. The afternoon winds had picked up and there were steady waves breaking at the mouth. The prevailing winds and wave anglers result in a longshore current that moved from the mouth to the right. The waves action kicked up a mild amount of sediment, and presumably scuds and random trout eggs rolling out of the river. As waves rolled in hundreds of huge trout were unveiled staging for over a hundred yards south of the mouth. Just before the mouth the density was so high that any given wave contained 30-40 massive trout ranging from 8-20lbs.
The sight of so many trout of gargantuan proportions surfing in the large lake waves is truly one of the most unique spectacles I have had the opportunity to witness in the world of fly fishing. I was so mesmerized watching the huge fish undulating in the wave action of the lake that I spent the first hour and half wading in the breaking waves with my camera trying to somehow capture this awesome sight.
Eventually I set out with a rod and enjoyed a few hours of “catching”. With such a high density of trout present action came easy. I eventually worked on longer casts attempting to sight cast to the largest fish I could spot. Many of the big fish straightened hooks as they screamed for the opposite shore of the lake after being hooked.
Day 4, Morning Session – Dry Fly Action at the Left of the Mouth and Lower Barrancoso River
On my final morning at Jurassic Lake I revisited the prolific lake mouth. With flat lighting not conducive to photography I opted to focus on fishing. After a few days of fighting and landing numerous massive trout (most bigger than the biggest trout I had previously landed), I decided to commit to dry fly fishing. I hadn’t had very consistent action on the dry the last few days but this morning my luck changed. I fished a large size 4 Fat Albert and within an hour I had hooked about 8 huge fish – mostly chrome bright lake fish just moving into the mouth of the river. Watching such large fish inhale a dry fly is a rush that is hard to match in our sport and I’ll be replaying several of those “eats” over in my mind for years to come.
As the morning progressed I continued up the river and moved into the swifter pocket water where sight casting was the preferred tactic. My good luck on the surface continued and I enjoyed steady action. In some of the larger pools there were some huge fish in shallow waters. I opted to add a small prince nymph dropper to the dry rig when targeting some of the largest fish but still managed about a 50/50 split between dry fly and nymph eats. What a morning!
Day 4, Afternoon Session – Dry Fly Action at the Left of the Mouth and Lower Barrancoso River
In just a handful of days I had successfully checked every box on my Jurassic Lake wish list – my final afternoon was all gravy. I debated between hiking to some new bays on the lake to sight cast to big chromers or to revisit the river. As a trout fisherman at heart, and with the morning dry fly session still on my mind I opted for another visit to the river. I bee-lined past the water I had already fished and moved into a rugged canyon upstream from the lodge. Here the river was swift and boulder strewn as it tumbled from the high plateau down the lake. The large round boulders ranged in size from beach ball to Volkswagen
and careful wading was required. Anywhere the current slowed a huge trout could be found finning. I continued with the big Fat Albert and many fish were still willing to rise to take the big bug. Upstream of each small water fall a larger pool could be found and in these slower waters some enormous trout were holding. These fish were spooky in these clear waters and I spent a fair amount of time working into a careful casting position. On these larger fish I went back to a heavy size 12 jigged prince with a tungsten bead below the dry fly. Although my batting average was much lower on these huge trout (all over 30” and 20lbs) I did manage to hook a few. Landing such a massive fish by yourself, even with the oversized nets provided at the lodge, was no easy task. Several times I stopped to simply soak in the wild serenity of Southern Patagonia – a land without trees, massive winds and massive trout!
Lago Strobel lived up to the hype. I can honestly say that there is no other fishery in the world as unique as this remote high desert fishery. The productivity of the massive lake is mind boggling. The fish that it produces are spectacular in both their size and strength. While this region of Patagonia is much starker than the beautiful rivers further north – it has its own wild beauty. The lodge itself is surprising comfortable and well appointed considering the daunting logistics to maintain and supply it so far from civilization. For anyone considering a trip to Jurassic Lake I would wager a safe bet that you will not go home disappointed.