The Collon Cura Lodge is a great property that is owned by Ted Turner. The property was very nice and had a small house where the guests stayed. And then at the main lodge they had a very nice sitting room, a small bar and a dinner area that could seat about 12 people. Our rooms were very nice and comfortable, and every amenity was welcome after camping the night before. After cleaning up we all made our way to the main lodge for drinks and appetizers. Soon we were seated around the dinning table as our gourmet meals were placed in front of us. We all made short work of a great meal and found our way back to our pillows. The great thing about this property is that they own at least 30 miles of the river so we would have it all to ourselves for the next two days of fantastic fly fishing.
The following morning after another great meal, we meet the guides and head to the A section of the river. This is the farthest away from the lodge. We paired up and after the boats were launched we prepared to fish the "minnow run." At this time of year there isn’t a lot of hatches, but these small minnows run out of the lake by the millions and the trout key on these easy meals. We were rigged up with small streamers that were lightly weighted and would swim just a few inches under the surface. As the boats took off the guides already had figured out the game plan, and Nico had us anchored in about a 100 yard riffle. My boat mate Paul started fishing and on about cast three had his first trout to the net. As I looked downstream I saw more bent rods and knew that this was going to be a great day. We worked our way downriver and caught trout in every spot we stopped. Soon, the guides were setting up for lunch and we dined on another great meal from the lodge. After sharing a few bottles of wine with lunch the guides strung up the hammocks and they were quickly filled for a siesta. I thought to myself that the guys were starting to really get into this Argentina schedule and beginning to relax a little more. After a 45 minute siesta we all went for a swim to refresh ourselves and cool off. The afternoon shift was just as productive as the morning. We continued to catch fish at every place we stopped.
The next morning we repeated the morning ritual and found a new fishing partner and headed off to the river. Today we would be fly fishing the lower section and taking out at the lake in front of the lodge. The guides had told us that the minnow run was heaviest in this area and are expecting a great day. Boats were launched and soon rods were bent with hard charging rainbows in the 12-20 inch class. Late in the day we were anchored up fly fishing around a gravel bar when Diego (our guide) whistled and summoned me downstream. He was standing on a gravel shelf and had spotted a giant brown trout sitting on the drop off. We watched him for about five minutes as he slid right then left eating here and there. Diego took my leader and set me up with a nymph rig. As I cast upstream of the trout we watched as he came to inspect my offering but would not take it. On about cast number five I hooked a strong rainbow at the end of my drift and Diego was telling me in a haste get him in or break him off. I knew that he didn’t want to disturb the big brown trout. It was quite a battle with this 18 inch rainbow as I tried to strip him in as fast as possible but was afraid of breaking my rod. We landed the trout but didn’t pay him much mind as we had a trophy waiting to be caught. We quickly switch flies and made some more presentations to the big brown. Pass after pass the brown would come take a look but not take the flies. Diego wanted to go pick up my boat mate and bring the boat downstream. He gave me a few more flies and told me to keep working at it. Soon another boat in our party stopped and was watching me intensely. I felt the pressure and wanted to perform. I switched flies and made another cast. I saw the big brown move to my flies open his mouth and set the hook. I felt him for only a second, my rod doubled over and then went limp. I shouted some sort of expletive and heard the other boat snicker. If they only new how big he was and how hard I worked for that one shot. Feeling slightly bummed I waited to see if he would return but never saw him again. Diego shows up soon to gather me and I filled him in on the situation. He pulls out his cell phone and shows me a picture of some guy holding a 26 inch brown in the same location. I know he didn’t do it to throw salt on the wound but to show me how big that trout was. I was a little deflated but knew I had my chance. We continued fishing and soon I was catching trout, not as big as that brown but great trout that took my mind off the previous episode. We finished out our float, relaxed and cleaned up at the lodge and had our fill of another delicious meal at the lodge.
The next morning we packed up our gear and loaded it into the guides' trucks and headed to our next destination—the Limay River. We had a drive of just over an hour and we drove along a huge reservoir for miles and miles in the desert. The pure size of this reservoir was incredible, but the landscape really didn’t give way to any great photography shots. As we were nearing a town I noticed some wildlife out of the corner of my eye. I quickly turned to see a family of Rhea near the road. I tried to point them out to everyone else but they were quickly out of sight. The Rhea is a close relative to the Ostrich and somewhat common in Argentina. I have seen them before, but only on one occasion. Soon we found ourselves in the town of Piedra del Aguila and at our hotel for the next few nights. We quickly unpacked and grabbed our fly fishing gear and loaded back up into the trucks to hit the river. We soon found ourselves bumping along some dirt road and soon at a private put in. I could never find this put in on my own and my Spanish isn’t good enough to deal with these ranchers. I know Ron has put in an incredible amount of time locating these private accesses and learning the best places to float. Without him and the guides getting us through this maze of dirt roads I would have a hard time finding the water. We gear up as the guides prepare and launch their boats. The Limay is probably the largest river that I have ever fished. For the people who are familiar with the Missouri River here in Montana, it is probably about 2-3 times as large. Sitting behind a hydro electric dam, the water can rise between 3-6 feet in a day. I was hoping that we wouldn’t see that much fluctuation in the water in our three days. As we floated down the river we fished all over the place. At times we would be casting tight to the bank, at other times we would be casting in the middle of the river. The guides love to throw big dries at this time of year, and we were hoping to get some big brown trout to inhale our flies. Unlike fly fishing in Montana these trout will rise from the bottom of the river through 10-15 feet of water to eat a meal off the surface. Many times throughout the day we had fish miss our offerings and leap 2-3 feet out of the water. Others would hit the fly so hard that they would knock it out of the way. We all caught fish that day but the 30 inch trout that we were seeking eluded us.
Soon we were back at the hotel, cleaned up and in the "Quincho room." This was like a banquet room with a kitchen, a fireplace and huge dining table. As we sipped our Malbec wine and ate our share of salami and cheese, our camp chef was cooking the lamb in the fireplace on the Argentinean cooking cross. There was plenty of time to talk about our day and share stories between the group. As we sat down to dinner we feasted on our barbecue lamb, fresh salad and warm bread. Things were pretty quiet except for the occasional request for the wine to be passed. We filled our bellies and returned to our rooms where sleep came quickly.
The next morning we all met in the lobby of the hotel and sat down to fresh coffee, OJ, toast and something like a croissant. We ate quickly, had a few cups of coffee and conversed with the guides about the day. Our plan was to go farther downstream and try to avoid the wind. The weather was calling for 15-25 mph winds and it was apparent that this was going to be a tough day. We loaded our gear in the trucks and headed out of town to go see what the river would give us today.
As the guides rigged the rods, the wind was stiff but not too bad. We all set out and the guides all went to their positions like a well trained team playing in the Super Bowl. I have always been impressed by Ron and his crew and how they use radios to communicate between themselves, and not only tell each other what is working but what they have tried, who went down what channel so that the other boats hit unmolested water. It’s a great system and it’s really fun to listen to them go back and forth even though it’s in a foreign language. You can get the gist of what they are saying by their emotions when you break off a big fish or things have slowed a bit. I have yet to mention that on this river these guys row their butts off. Coming from a guide, I rarely row this hard. They know where the big guys live and want to give you as many options as possible. It’s impressive how hard they row and when you witness it you do not want to disappoint the guide. Ineffability, someone is calling your guide when he is pumping on the oars and he mutters something under his breath in Spanish that you take for "Give me a break," or something harsher to that effect. Today the wind was tough. We managed, but casting was tough, fishing was a bit harder. At lunch the group was worked over. Fish were caught, but fewer than before and the elements were not being kind. We ate quickly and many tried to recharge the batteries with a quick siesta. As we departed our lunch spot the river braided into three separate channels. Each boat took a channel and we received some relief from the wind. About half way down the channel I saw a large brush pile and cast about five feet downstream. Within three seconds a great big brown exploded about a foot from my fly and then slammed down on it with his mouth wide open like a whale in the open sea. I set the hook and to my surprise it was hooked and the fight was on. After what felt like ten minutes but was actually about three, the brown found the net and camera flashed as I held this beauty 23” trout. For me it’s not just the size of the trout, it was the incredible take this trout displayed and the fight where he jumped almost six times before it was tired enough to land. This is why I come to Argentina. To fish rivers with little pressure, to have trout do the unbelievable, to eat my fly. To feel that rod pulse and throb as I am tied to a wild trout doing all he can to escape. I love it all. My day was made.
The night and next morning were just as great as the day before. This being our last day in Argentina, a few in our group had caught enough fish and opted to head to Bariloche early to do some shopping for loved ones as the plane back to the US was leaving the following day. There was three that left and three that stayed. This would be a shorter day as the guides had to deliver the clients to Bariloche after the day, drive back to San Martin and then get as much rest as possible before the next group arrived.
The following day we had breakfast with the group and said goodbye to half the guides and headed back to the river. I would be fishing with my dad and looked forward to spending the last day of our trip with him. We had a particular windy morning and we had to work hard to get good presentations on the water. We rolled into lunch after a slower than average morning due to the 20 mph wind. We had caught some fish but had work extremely hard to overcome the elements. After another gourmet lunch in the shelter of the trees we set out for a few more hours on the water before our trip ended. Diego, our guide was working his butt off to give us our best opportunities. We kept at it, trying to get that one last big brown trout. As we neared our take out Diego started barking "Set! Set the hook! Set it again!" He was frantic as my father’s fly was engulfed by a big brown trout. I know that he didn’t mean any harm with his tone, but we all worked too hard to miss this opportunity right at the end of the day. My father set the hook and it was game on. The trout jumped three times before Diego netted the trout. It was the biggest of the trip for him and was a great way to end the trip. We snapped a few pictures and quickly released him back into the river. We both decided that was the perfect time to quit, relax and float down to the truck. We put our rods down as Diego passed out a cold beer to each of us and we took in the last moments of scenery of the Limay river.
Everyone headed to Bariloche to meet up with the rest of the group to catch a plane home. My plan was to head back to San Martin for the next two weeks and take in more of the local culture and fishing. But that story is for another time.
Would you like to join me in Patagonia in 2018?
If you have enjoyed reading about my fly fishing 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 $5,000 for 8 days of guided fly 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. Their 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.