This February I found myself packing in a haste to load my bags with clothes, fly fishing equipment and camera gear for a three week trip to Patagonia. This would be my second trip in the past two years to this region, but I still felt unprepared. Work and other commitments, such as coaching the high school wrestling team, had made my days and nights filled. I made a serious commitment to bring all my camera gear and take as many pictures as possible. I stayed up late one night and did as many Americans do: placed a sizable order from Amazon Prime. I ordered everything I thought I might possibly need, learning from my past trip to Argentina. Too much really, I now realize as I write this, but I wanted to be prepared and had little experience for the region at this time frame.
Hosting a trip to a destination is very new to me, but I had put together a group of clients and friends of clients that I thought would get together well. We had one interested member not be able to commit do to other commitments, so I invited my father along in his place. We have only seen each other briefly over the past few years. So, I was looking forward to spending some quality time with him. We have a rule between us that we family and fish are only good for three days, we would have to test the theory on this 10 day venture. The trip was booked mid summer of 2016, deposits were made and plane tickets purchased.
February 20th, 2017. At 4:30am I step into the Bozeman airport to begin my trip. I have one large roller duffel bag, a large Pelican (water proof camera case), a specially designed carry on rod case stuffed with iPad, headphones, reading material and reels to match the rods. As I throw my overstuffed duffel bag on the scale I leave a corner hanging over the edge near me and smile warmly at the ticket agent as my foot lifts the corner of the bag upwards to make the 50 lb. allowance. She glances briefly at the scale and hands me my boarding tickets and I am off to security. It isn’t especially busy at this time at the airport so breeze with my Pelican case and rods and get to the gate in plenty of time. A quick trip to Salt Lake City I find the next gate and greet my father who was arriving from Nevada. Not soon afterwards, two others in our group arrive and the excitement is building. Over half of our party is there and the others are coming from other parts of the country and will meet up with us in Buenos Aires.
I make a few false casts to work out the correct amount of line and cast my fly into a pocket between two branches overhanging the river.
Our flight from SLC to ATL is uneventful and we hit the airport with four hours to kill. We find the nearest Delta club in our terminal and proceed to have a very nice lunch and complimentary drinks as we get to know each other a little better. Before we hit the gate we hit the duty free store and supply ourselves with our preferred bottles of choice. Unfortunately for a Scotch lover as myself it was either lower end blended Dewars (which I know pretty well) or 25 yr old single malts to choose from. No middle ground for which I would have splurged for. I chose to go the lower road and even though the lady at the checkout insisted I could only bring in one bottle of Dewars I bought two knowing it was a cheaper gamble if it wasn’t allowed. We reached our gate and soon after they started boarding. My father and I found our seats, stored our carry on’s and got as comfortable as possible in the economy section.
The flight to Buenos Aires was uneventful but long and I tried to watch the same movie 3 times but fell asleep about the same point each time. 10 hours on a plane was exhausting, but when we touched down in Buenos Aires we were all excited. As we excited the plane a wall of warmth and humidity hit us that I have to say took a little wind out of our sail. Coming from a dry, cold climate at this time of year and feeling all the humidity added to the realization that we just had spent 24 hours either in a plane or airport. Getting through customs wasn’t a problem at all, but there were big lines. We had about a 45 minute wait, but the line was constantly moving. When we arrived at the custom agent, they took our fingerprint and picture and asked us questions like where are you staying and the nature of our visit. Once we picked up our bags we had one more check stop to get through and then we were officially in Argentina. Once through the gates there were many people waiting to pick up guests arriving into the country.
There is a company that I deal with exclusively with called LOL Argentina. Headed up by a super woman called Gaia and her sister Marina. Gaia has been in the business for many years as a travel guide, and having her own transport business. I find this service invaluable on many levels. First of all you are seeing a friendly face when you arrive, which is a relief all by its self. Second, when traveling with a group she knows the city, history and in’s and outs of Buenos Aires. She gives you the whole list of what to do, what not to do and can schedule tours, tango dinners, or give you a recommendation of the best places to dine. Everything you need to know about enjoying the city in perfect English. Plus she is a high energy person who gives the group a quick shot of electricity to get the trip started.
We arrive at the Hilton Buenos Aires at about 11am and the rooms will not be ready for a little while. We drop our bags with the concierge and head immediately to the hotel bar. After a few cold Stella Artois in frosty mugs our other two compadres arrive and the party is officially going. We don’t have to wait long as we get our rooms and we find our way to a hot shower and a quick siesta. A few hours later I find the group downstairs at the bar and soon Gaia is coming back to exchange our money for pesos. She joins us for a wine and we pick up were we left off. Dinner reservations are made and the group walks the three blocks to a very nice Parilla (steakhouse) on the canal. Gaia is soon ordering appetizers for the group and we try many dishes foreign to us. It is all delicious and I even have steak tartar for the first time. Entrees are ordered and food just flows from one end of the table to the other along with a delicious Malbec wine. There is just to much food and we eat our fill and get doggie bags for the rest. Gaia instructs us to leave the leftovers on top of a garbage can where some homeless are sleeping. They know it is a gift and will get a nice meal from what we cannot take with us. We fall into bed and know one has a problem falling right to sleep for the night.
Early the next morning we are re-packing and organizing our bags for our domestic flight to San Martin de los Andes where we will be based out of for a few days. The flight was ordinary with the exception of the approach. As you enter SMA from my seat by the window the mountains look exceptionally close to the wings. I am sure it was an optical illusion but when we hit the ground all the Argentines started clapping. I hope that it is a cultural thing and not a problem that I wasn’t aware of. We wait for our bags and collect our luggage and then exit the doors of a very small and quaint airport. Outside we are greeted by my dear friend and outfitter Ron Sorenson and his team of guides and staff. Quick introductions are done as staff carries and loads our oversized bags in various trucks. I am still wearing jeans and a long sleeved collared shirt from my travels and although there isn’t any humidity, it is still 90 degrees.
We convoy the trucks straight to the river and as the guides and staff set up for a riverside picnic we change into some more comfortable fishing attire and sit down in the shade to enjoy wine with our lunch. After a very delicious lunch we gather in pairs by the boats as our guides rig up our rods. I am thinking how long can this day be? It’s already 3pm and we still have to check into our hotel. We are off and fishing and my guide Sancho is helping my father with getting the proper drift. Within 15 minutes of the float my father is reeling in his first Patagonia trout, a 16” rainbow that jumped four times before he was netted. Not much longer I have a nice trout on, and then my father has one on again. It’s a great start to the trip.
The day continues and I take many pictures of ours and the other boats with bent rods. The scenery is perfect, the fishing is good and all is going right in the world I think to myself. We hit the ramp around 8pm and Ron’s staff is waiting for us with the trailers in the water and smiles on their faces. We load up our boat, swap a few tales with the rest of the guys and head back to SMA to check into our hotel and have dinner. Our guide Sancho lives in a town we must drive through to get to SMA. He asks if it is ok to stop by his house and drop his boat before he delivers us to the hotel and then back tracks to his home. I feel that this very common in our profession and have no problem with the minor delay. He then goes on to explain that he lives in a house where Joe Brooks and many other famous American fly fisherman rented in the 1940’s when they discovered the Chimmihein River. What a cool piece of history I was experiencing.
Soon we found ourselves parked outside of our boutique hotel and saying goodbye to Sancho as he would be guiding other clients for the week. When my father and I arrived the rest of the group was already checked in and ready for dinner. We threw our bags in the room and walked a few blocks to a restaurant by the lake. Argentines don’t dine on dinner till late. Between 9-11pm is when they eat dinner, quite different from our American customs. We found ourselves at a lakeside eatery with Valdamir as our waiter. This being a tourist ski/fishing town of 35k most people speak some English with makes it very easy to get by. We ordered a plate of dried meats, cheeses, and local beers. When it arrived we quickly left the plate barren. Dried Red Stag meat, Boar, Olives, Salami, assorted cheeses all disappeared within minutes. After a nice meal of hamburgers, pizza and sandwiches we walked off our dinner as we returned to the hotel. I spent some time organizing my bags as we were headed on a fishing/camping trip in the morning. Ron had left us dry bags in which to pack whatever we wanted to be with us for the next few days. After packing a change in clothes, a jacket and camping necessities it was off to count sheep.
To be continued...
Would you like to join me in Patagonia in 2018?
If you have enjoyed reading about my exploits in Patagonia, you can join me next year in February 2018. The dates have not been set yet but the adventure is planned. There is room for 5 anglers to join me in fly fishing the famous rivers of Argentina, such as the Limay, Chimehuin and Collan Cura rivers. The cost is approximately in the mid $5000 for 8 days of guided fishing, including lodging and transportation once in San Martin de los Andes. There will be overnighters on the river and under the stars with a well appointed camp. Nights at estancias (private ranches) with access to private water. Including unbelievable food and great Malbec wines, this is a chance to fish some of the fabled rivers in Patagonia with a great Outfitter, Chocate Lab Expeditions. His professional staff of guides can help you catch that brown trout of a lifetime. Give us a call or use the contact us link if you are interested and get ready for an adventure in South America.