One part of the world that was on my bucket list, was Patagonia. Central Patagonia. Well I can now cross it off. Adam Hill (a long time fishing mate) and I have recently returned from a trip there. With more ‘just in case’ gear than we needed, we flew from Melbourne to Santiago, Chile. Then we caught an internal flight south to Puerto Monte (Chile). We hired a car (worth noting you need a permit to take a car from Chile to Argentina – I get the feeling they don’t really like each other) and drove through the Andes to Bariloche, Argentina. The 5 hour drive was full of pain as we were frequently crossing prime trout water. A standard comment was, “Bloody hell, check out that river! That’s got to be full of fish.”
From Bariloche, we finally started fishing. The amount of lakes (Lago) and rivers (Rio) is extraordinary. From willow-choked streams to freestone rivers to spring creeks; all getting their water from the Andes that constantly tower above you.
First stop was the Rio Chubut, a slow-flowing river winding through the barren plains. More like an Australian river. The basic and only ‘Guide to Patagonia’ we could find (published in 1990) stressed that fish never rise in this river. Well the writer’s eyes must have been painted on because in every bit if slack water we found rising fish!!
We wanted to experience the real Patagonia and consequently we stayed in local cabins with local non English-speaking hosts. This proved to be a highlight of the trip. The locals were such nice people – even if we couldn’t understand each other. Hilly nailed the local language better than me and advised he had the critical phrases sorted. I’m thinking, “Where’s the nearest hospital?” and “Please call the Australian Embassy.” To which he replied, “Dos cervezas por favour.” (Two beers please.)
We kept heading south and stayed in a small country town named Cholila. This put us in range of Los Alerces National Park, where we spent a few days fishing freestone and spring creeks. Besides trout, this area is also famous for being the last known location of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Next, it was off to the small town of Tecka, our base for the next few days to fish the Rio Tecka and Rio Corcovado. Without wanting to sound too rude, Tecka is a dump. Plonked on the vast plains of Patagonia, it would not be my number-one choice for a romantic getaway or fine dining.
Through some contacts, we were lucky enough to spend a few days on Tecka Estancia, a massive 430,000 acre sheep property with about 150km of private rivers. The fishing included dry fly, swinging wets (very common in Patagonia) and insane polaroiding. The local wildlife included armadillos, skunks, rhea (like a small ostrich), guanaco (small llama) and pink flamingos!!
We spent a couple of days with Tomas (Tecka guide) fishing spring creeks and a day on the drift boat. An amazing experience.
From there, we headed south to the town of Rio Pico. In my opinion this is the true ‘last frontier’ of Patagonia. Even the locals agree, naming the town closest to the wilderness, Frontier Rio Pico. Beyond lies 300km of remote mountains, rivers and lakes until you hit the coast of Chile. Our standard procedure here was pull up the car, walk to the river in Blundstones, have 5 casts, and if no takes (rare) back to the car and on to the next river.
Hilly somehow found a slightly loco man named Daniel (an Argentinian John Lennon lookalike) who owned the last cabin before the Chilean border and wilderness. Daniel was a super nice guy who spent the winters alone with 1m+ snow. He couldn’t have done more to help us, taking us to various rivers and spring creeks he knew. He even took us out on Lago Cinco in his ‘boat’, a slightly dodgy inflatable Zodiac.
This area would be at the top of a very long list when I go back. So much to explore. Lago Cinco (with so many lakes they gave up and just call it lake 5) is only 100m from Daniel’s cabin and is basically unfished. There are browns and rainbows well into double figures. And large freestone rivers, many without names.
One thing you need to be aware of is that most of the land in Patagonia is private, owned by gauchos (farmers). Imagine this. You’re on hands and knees, stalking a large rising brown in an unnamed spring creek, when for no apparent reason the fish spooks? Then out of the thicket, towering above, appears the local gaucho on a white horse with a 3ft machete across his chest. A rather formidable sight!
We ‘chatted’ in broken Spanish, and got the feeling he wasn’t happy – until I said we were from Australia. FYI Argentinian’s LOVE Australians. Merino sheep, Rugby Union etc.. His demeanour changed completely. He smiled, mentioned something about the Pumas beating the Wallabies, and said, “You are welcome to fish anywhere you want on my property!” (Well, we think that’s what he said…) Then he rode off into the bush never to be seen again.
From Rio Pico we did the 10 hour drive to Puerto Mont with one last quick fish at a random Lago we saw on the sat. nav. beside the highway. Spectacular. Gin clear. Trout rising all the way down the shore as far as the eye could see. Two hours of brilliant dry fly fishing before we finally headed to the airport.
I could go on for ever writing about our trip but I think the words and pictures above give you an insight into what we did and saw. In a word, wow!