Northern Patagonia is the most famous and storied trout fishing region in all of Argentina, made famous by Joe Brooks’ article, Boca Fever, published in Outdoor Life in the late 1950’s. Since that article, anglers from around the world continue visiting from November to May in search of the endless summer or maybe just a temporary de-thaw winter vacation. Visions of huge trout, inspiring scenery, endless rivers and huge steaks bounce around in the minds of those contemplating another long winter in North America or Europe. Having lived in Argentina for fifteen winters, I can tell you it’s not that bad to trout fish in January.
The area around the small towns of Junín and San Martin de los Andes is the center of the region and the capitol of dry fly fishing in all of South America. Beautiful rivers and lakes can be found in every direction with the added bonus of being within the most temperate climate in all of Patagonia. Every river in the area is born in the Andes Mountains and eventually winds its way through interesting landscapes before reaching the arid Patagonia steppe and dumping into the Atlantic Ocean. The aquatic ecosystem is rich in nutrients; the geology, both glacial and volcanic, is diverse in character and both insects and trout thrive.
Pure strain McCloud River, California rainbows dominate most of Patagonia. Introduced in the early 1900’s, they have adapted to the crystal clear rivers and inhabit almost every stream. Since their genetics have not been played with or diluted by overstocking, they exhibit exceptional survival and fighting skills given to them by natural selection over the past 100 years and from their ancestors over thousands of years. Surprisingly, an average 17-incher will frequently run off into the backing and anglers will have their hands full with anything over 20 inches.
In addition to normal “bugs”, the area is also well known for unique pancora crabs, fluorescent green willow worms, tiny black aphids, and exciting puyen, pejerrey and perca minnow migrations. Pancora crabs are always present and fish that feed on them regularly exhibit “lumps” in their stomachs and fall prey to olive, brown and orange streamers. The willow worms are a real treat and during the summer, rainbows line up behind willows in pods sipping the worms as “dry flies”. And, arguably the most exciting, the minnow run up the Collón Cura and into its tributaries, is just plain awesome. Schools of large trout push minnows into shallow water before exploding on them! Trout loose their minds and the rich source of food supercharges them for an exceptional fight.
Argentina is just like Montana, if you can get to the river legally, you can float or walk the river freely. The difference is that there aren’t many public access points and many of the huge estancias encompass entire river systems. For example, the largest estancia in the area, Quemquemtreu, is well over 150,000 acres and has over 30 miles of private access to the Collón Cura River along with Quemquemtreu Creek running through the estancia for another 20 miles. Ted Turner owns much of the opposite side of the river at Estancia Collón Cura making this river even harder to access without an estancia stay.
Northern Patagonia offers something for every angler and most western patterns from tiny mayfly spinners to enormous Chernobyl ants are effective. For those that like to throw streamers, there are a couple hundred miles of water perfect for that as well, with many hook-jawed brown trout willing to slam a yuck bug or some other concoction. Both blind casting and sight fishing are effective and most rivers can also be floated and/or fished from a drift boat.
The estancia experience couldn’t be more authentic and the lodges vary from rustic luxury to full on 5-star accommodations. Guests of the estancias enjoy welcoming hosts, regional meals, short drives to rivers, and the access required to reach the best water. Although, some rivers can be fished without the traditional estancia stay, the best ones are not easily accessible without a multi-day float trip. As they say, “everything is possible in Argentina” and some of PRG North’s guests like to experience a few days away from it all, so PRG North also offers a deluxe overnight camping program offering excursions of up to three nights on select rivers – many guests enjoy this experience more than staying at lodges. Late night beef asados, fine red wine, colorful gauchos, endless dirt roads, large estancias, empanadas, yerba mate, condors, fernet con coka, and wild trout. PRG North is an experience that every fly fisherman should live, not once, but a thousand times.
Many American anglers feel a connection to rivers such as the Madison, Jefferson and Yellowstone when fishing in northern Patagonia. Basically, if you like Montana, you will love northern Patagonia with its opposite season, welcoming cultural experience and wonderful trout fishing.
Fish can, and do freely migrate throughout the connected river/lake system. Big rainbows from the lakes migrate into the rivers to spawn in the spring and many stick around as residents as long as water and food are plentiful. In the late summer, big browns enter the rivers to forage on minnows and to get ready to spawn. This is one of the most exciting times to fish in northern Patagonia and brown trout up to and over 30-inches are the target. Not only does fall in northern Patagonia offer exciting fishing for large brown trout, it also offers spectacular views with morning mists, cool weather, vivid fall colors and rutting red stag.
The Rio Limay is the largest drainage in northern Patagonia, however, the Rio Collón Cura and its tributaries like the Caleufu, Quillen, Aluminé, Malleo, and Chimehuín are the real heart and soul of the region. Truly a fly anglers paradise, northern Argentina offers hundreds of miles of crystal-clear, riffle-pool water to float and wade. Each river offers quality hatches of stoneflies, caddis, mayflies and midges providing the angler spectacular dry fly fishing throughout the season.
Photographer Notes – After a week in the Esquel region, my outfitter, Patagonia River Guides, handed me off to their colleague in the north, Alex Knull. Alex runs PRG North and one attractive feature of the PRG North experience and what sets it apart from other PRG programs is the ability to choose from several world-renown lodges and estancias for accommodations. I traveled with guides, rafts and gear and enjoyed staying on large estancias and fishing their private water. PRG North provides custom itineraries for each trip, and guests can choose from lodges like Arroyo Verde, on the Traful River, once called, “The best lodge in the world, period!” by Charles Gaines, or Tipiliuke Lodge on the Estancia Cerro de los Pinos, which many consider to be the finest flyfishing lodge in South America. Choices also include Estancia San Huberto on the Malleo River, which just so happens to be one of the most exclusive venues in the country; plus the massive 200,000 acre Estancia
Quemquemtreu on the Collón Cura River; and the stunning Estancia Tres Lagos completely surrounded by Lanin National Park. The landscape really did remind me of Montana, even if that sounds cliché. I fished #20 emergers for large trout, attractor dries for large trout, hopper dropper for large trout and streamers for large trout. The dry desert countryside had scenic rock formations and we camped beneath them and the moon and stars. Alex and his guides were instant friends and so hard working I felt like a slacker. To get even, I would take the oars and let them fish their brains out. These waters have been waded by Joe Brooks, Ernie Schwiebert, Roderick Haig Brown, the Kreigers and many fly shop owners, guides from other countries and trout bums. Most days we floated 14 miles of a pristine trout stream and never saw another angler. For more information – www.patagoniariverguides.com.
After a week in the Esquel region, my outfitter, Patagonia River Guides, handed me off to their colleague in the north, Alex Knull. Alex runs PRG North and one attractive feature of the PRG North experience and what sets it apart from other PRG programs is the ability to choose from several world-renown lodges and estancias for accommodations. I traveled with guides, rafts and gear and enjoyed staying on large estancias and fishing their private water. PRG North provides custom itineraries for each trip, and guests can choose from lodges like Arroyo Verde, on the Traful River, once called, “The best lodge in the world, period!” by Charles Gaines, or Tipiliuke Lodge on the Estancia Cerro de los Pinos, which many consider to be the finest fly fishing lodge in South America.