As winter had tightened its grasp on Montana, I dreamed of warmer weather and hungry trout eating bushy dry flies in the Southern Hemisphere. I hung up my snowboard and put the cover over my snowmobile, and then geared up for warmer weather on my hosted trip to El Encuentro Lodge and Brook Trout Base Camp in Argentine Patagonia. Joining me on this journey were Joe, Peter, Ed, Brian, Phil and Kevin, and one long time buddy, Keegan, who snuck in on the trip at the last minute due to a cancellation.
After leaving Bozeman, I landed in Dallas with a brief layover and took the redeye flight down to Buenos Aires. We landed a day before our flight to Esquel where the other two guys had flown down a few days earlier to do a bit of traveling and sightseeing before our fishing adventure began.
After a taxi ride from the airport, we arrived at the Lois Suites hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood. I’d arranged to meet our group in the hotel lobby where we quickly became acquainted. After our introduction, we hit the city for some lunch at La Biela, which served traditional Argentine food, then split up to explore the city. Keegan and I headed over to the Recoleta cemetery where we were overwhelmed by hundreds of towering tombs, some of which were occupied by historical figures. After leaving the cemetery, we grabbed a local beer and then headed back to the hotel for a siesta before dinner. We had a short walk to Fervor, a traditional Argentine steakhouse that served copious amounts of local wine and great cuts of beef. When the food was gone and all the fishing lies were told, we headed back to the hotel for a much-needed night’s rest.
The following morning we headed to the domestic airport for our flight to Esquel. After a two-and-a-half-hour flight we were greeted by the guides from El Encuentro. We split up in their trucks and headed to the lodge. As we pulled down the driveway to El Encuentro, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and location. The lodge is perched on a cliff overlooking the Rio Futaleufú. Ceci, one of the lodge managers, greeted us as if we were family and showed us to our rooms. After getting settled, we enjoyed some appetizers, drinks and a tour of the property. The work that has been put into El Encuentro is incredible. The grounds were immaculately manicured and the lodge features a bountiful garden used to supply both El Encuentro and Brook Trout Base Camp with fresh produce. After the tour, we told fishing stories and got to know each other a little bit better before dinner.
Our first morning, after coffee and breakfast, we split up in teams of two fishermen, one guide and one helper. I was paired with Keegan and Juan, our guide for the day. We packed the truck and headed to the Rio Futaleufú, which flows in front of the lodge. As Juan rigged the raft, Keegan and I strung up our rods. Juan searched my fly boxes and found what he liked. “Bueno” he said, with a smile on his face, and away we went. We floated the same section as Joe and Peter that day, both beginners who were able to catch their first trout on a fly rod. As we floated downstream I was amazed at the magnitude of the Futaleufú, both its size and the number of trout that call it home. We threw big dry flies with droppers and had pretty consistent fishing all morning.
Shortly after noon, we pulled the raft over for a shore lunch that included wine, beer, a charcuterie board and steaks, followed by dessert. We soaked up the views briefly before hitting the water for the afternoon. The average fish we caught was around 16 inches and consisted mostly of rainbows. They were super fun, hard fighting and acrobatic fish. We ended the day with huge smiles and a great dinner at El Encuentro Lodge.
After coffee and breakfast on the morning of our second day, we walked down the lawn below the lodge to see that Juan was rigging up the raft on the edge of the Futaleufú. We were fishing the same river as the previous day, just a bit further downstream. As we were rigging up, we were pleasantly surprised by the numerous heads breaking the surface of the river by the boat launch. Right out the gate we were on fish. That set the pace for the entire day. The fishing was outstanding with dozens of dry fly eats.
About halfway through the day, Juan pulled the raft over and said “good hopper bank.” Juan was right on the money. We tied on some hoppers and Keegan had some of the most explosive eats I’ve ever seen. We were rewarded with some nice rainbow trout. We continued to have good fishing all day and were both a bit sad when the day came to an end.
The third day of our trip, we woke to gale force winds. The guides all gathered and formed a game plan for the day. Juan drove us to the Rio Corinto, which is a small spring creek choked by willows. The environment helped shield us from the majority of the wind. We spent the first part of the day blind casting in some of the deeper pools where the average fish was in the eight- to 14-inch range. I took a back seat for most of the day, shooting photographs and watching Keegan’s growing frustration as he tangled again and again in the willows. There is nothing more humbling than tight casting in whipping wind.
As we continued upstream we found a long shallow run with multiple 16-inch fish eating dry flies. After multiple run-ins with the willows, Keegan finally got his act together and caught just about every one of those fish. We ended the day with some amazing dry fly eats from some very nice fish.
Transfer day to Brook Trout Base Camp
Juan drove us for about two and a half hours through what looked like a completely different world to Brook Trout Base Camp. Along the way, the peaks of the Andes poked up in the distance. We saw lots of rhea which are large birds that resemble a small ostrich that seemed out of place in the landscape. It was fun to be able to see such a unique bird in the wild.
We arrived at a small spring creek on the way. Juan wouldn’t tell us the name of it. All he told us was: “Go big or go home. If we catch one we will have had a good day.” The creek was in a wide valley and full of vegetation. The wind was blowing a consistent 20-30mph. Having to thread the needle in small gaps in the weeds made for challenging fishing. We ended up landing two fish, one 22-inch rainbow and a giant brook trout. It was amazing to see fish of that size come out of such small water.
We ended the day with another amazing meal and headed to Brook Trout Base Camp for the evening. The lodge is positioned on the banks of the Rio Corcovado and has the nicest wall tent set ups I have ever seen. There were additions to the wall tents that included all the comforts of home: shower, toilet, sink and a nice wood stove for heat. The food and views at Brook Trout Base Camp were outstanding.
On our first full day at Brook Trout Base Camp, we drove for about an hour to a beautiful lake tucked up in the mountains. Our mission for the day was to target giant rainbows. We went into the day hoping for just one opportunity to potentially catch the fish of a lifetime.
As we put the raft in the water we saw an absolute monster cruising the bank that wouldn’t touch any of our flies. We fished hard all day and had two good opportunities on some really big fish but we didn’t capitalize. One ate a dry fly and we missed him and the other broke off immediately on the hook set. We ended the day with three nice fish, but none of the monsters that we knew lurked below.
Lago Engano (Cheater Lake)
Big brook trout were the target for the day. Juan decided to take us to a lake well known for having trophy brook trout. Catching a big brookie was top on the list for Keegan and Juan knew this spot was his best opportunity. Juan told us that we would only get about a half day at the lake because of the wind forecast and he was spot on. The wind picked up to a sustained 30-40mph and blew us off before we hooked up with anything substantial.
After lunch, we headed to the Rio Corcovado in search of some migratory brook trout. After pounding the water for a bit, all the stars aligned and Keegan was able to find a few brookies. We ended the day on a high note and came back to the base camp to wood-fired pizzas and cocktails. The pizza night was one I will never forget. Everyone gathered around eating pizza as fast as it came out of the oven telling fish stories into the night.
To say a visit to El Encuentro Lodge and Brook Trout Base Camp is the trip of a lifetime would be an understatement. I am so thankful to have been a part of this amazing adventure. From the new friendships that it created to the stunning scenery, it’s all seared in my memory. I hope to one day get back to fish again in this region of Patagonia. I give the highest compliments to the staff and guides at both El Encuentro Lodge and Brook Trout Base Camp. Their hard work and great personalities truly made it an unforgettable experience.