An American In Patagonia - Memories Of A Great Fishing Adventure

- John Bell, Jr.

My first visit to Argentina’s famed Patagonia region was a Trout Unlimited sponsored group of eight rods – all total strangers. It was a unique first for us all and our destination was only a name that we might recall from reading Joe Brooks, Lefty Kreh, Kurt Gowdy, Robert Rourk and some of the early legends whose tales of spectacular scenery as well as big, bold and hungry trout were just that – tales.

Trout Unlimited’s arrangements put us first in the famed Alvear Palace, one of the grand hotels of Buenos Aires and of the entire world, for that matter. If they awarded six stars, this would be in the running. Our overnight was an event in itself. After a civil-hour breakfast, we departed for the domestic flight airport and an easy two-hour trip south to Bariloche. There now is an option of flying to Esquel which offers 3 weekly flights and saves 1 1/2 to 2 hours off the Bariloche drive to the lodge areas.

Let me go back and say that any trip to this part of the world should consider the natural beauty that abounds – everywhere. So, going first to Esquel to save driving time might be a mistake. Time can be forgotten for a week or two, and like any new adventure, fishing or otherwise, the scenic highlights are worth half the trip.

Bariloche is an alpine-type resort area renowned for both skiing and summer sporting attractions. Backed up to a mountainous range to the east, the city is arranged on a north/south axis and looks westward over a span of huge and beautiful lakes, all backdropped by the ever-present Andes.

The 3-hour drive southward provides a constantly changing variety of lakes (lagos) and rivers (rios) plus green and rocky spires that are most reminiscent of our own American west and Montana, in particular. After about 2 hours the town of El Bolson provides a natural excuse to stop, eat and otherwise refresh. In summer it boasts a youthful hippie population much like San Francisco in the 60′s and a prolific provider of arts and crafts. The final hour towards Esquel or Alerces National Park is now even more like our west, but 90-100 years ago. Few paved roads, few automobiles, and few people. But, always the long, low valleys westward and the lovely snow capped Andes. One must remember that on this southern leg, Chile lies but a few miles away, be it on a pristine river or through a valley.

South of Chubut province lies Cholila, another small town sparse of everything – people, homes, stores, etc. The unpaved roads, unless blessed with a rain shower, provide clouds of dust, and drivers have an early warning alert of what may be approaching from as far away as maybe a mile or two.

So, the point is that there is more to visiting Patagonia than rushing directly to one’s lodge.

Perhaps another blessing of the Cholila area should now be noted; utter lack of other fishermen. Yes, it’s still a best-kept secret that provides the northern (US) anglers with an off-season, endless summer.

The whole experience allows one to enjoy the great natural beauty, the waters that teem with brook, brown, rainbow and some land locked, and Atlantic salmon escaped from the many Chilean fish farms.

Guides are excellent and occasionally one might find a seasonal ex-patriate from a western U.S. state.

Depending upon season and conditions, there are no local flies that will provide the angler’s edge, for there is excellent fishing with conventional nymphs, dropper combinations, buggers, drys and the full range of terrestrials including virtually all those new-fangled rubbery, foam concoctions. Nine-foot rods, 4 – 6 wgt forward floating lines – five is a safe size. For buggers and other strip flies, a 250-grain sinking line is a favorite.

Finally, one must remember that a trip to Patagonia is a total experience. Absorb the culture, the food, the friendly people, and their beautiful country and, of course lots and lots of great fishing.