Backpacking for three weeks all across Argentina in february, that was the plan my girlfriend and I had when we booked our flights somewhat a year ago.
Dancing through Buenos Aires, horse-trekking at the foot of the Andes, walking across the salinas at 4000m of altitude, and offcourse, hiking the national parks in Patagonia.
Woman, did you just say Patagonia? Patagonia! A name that makes many flyfishermen faint, a destination that most of them will only dream of, and we were going there? Woman, get me my rod!
When it comes to backpacking for a long time in combination with flyfishing, the most difficult part is to decide how and where you will spend those scarse moments you can go fishing. In Patagonia, the possibilities are just massive, and the only decent information you will easily find, is the excessive pricelist of the fishing lodges. Not an option, mr savings account said. And without a 4×4 it is almost impossible to get to rivers and lakes that look promessing on google-earth, without even considering the time you will lose.
Places like the famous Lago Strobel will take you half a day from the nearest town just to get there. Not an option, the girlfriend said. So in the end I was really happy to find Gustavo Minotti from El Chaltèn Anglers, a local flyfishing guide based in one of the most beautifull areas for hiking in the whole of Patagonia, at the foot of famous Mount Fitz Roy.
El Chaltèn is well known by backpackers and climbers around the globe for its unique Patagonian scenery, beautifull mountainpeaks and the small hippie township. No banks, but some great small restaurants and bars in the middle of nature. And some beautifull rivers and lakes too, of which emerald coloured river Rio de las Vueltas is the best known. Best known for what? Not for fishing in any case, according to guide Gustavo Minotti he’s the only one who fishes the river. Sounds good!
And so Gustavo picks me up in his 4×4, 8AM sharp, to start our fishing day. It’s a sunny morning, not too cold, not too much wind. The only bad news is the abundant rain we had the day before. ‘No worries’, Gustavo says, ‘all is good’. We’ll just have to drive a bit further upstream to go and look for the clear water. And although the river will be a bit higher than expected, we will still find plenty of perfect pocketwater to fish.
Rio de las Vueltas is a river with a mixed stock of both browns and rainbows. Soon they will be joined by the first chinooks of the season. Not the biggest fish in Patagonia, but in perfect shape without any angling pressure whatsoever, and still very afordable. The closer we fish to Lago del Desierto, the lake where Rio de las Vueltas starts it’s journey towards the big ocean, the bigger the chance will be we bump into ‘some nice surprise, my friend’.
The road towards the river is a long winding gravelroad in a bad shape, even for a 4X4 it’s not possible to drive fast. While we drive around mount Fitz Roy, Gustavo tells me he is a mountain guide aswell, a very experienced climber. We talk about his summits of Fitz Roy, life in winter, flyfishing in Europe and.. pumas. Very difficult to see in summer, but quiet common to spot in winter, ‘for sure’.
Gustavo has been flyfishing Rio de las Vueltas for a couple of years now, and he knows the water very well. In wintertime the village of El Chaltèn is often closed off from the rest of the world due to heaps of snow. That’s when Gustavo takes his time to make his own splitcane flyrods. When I show him my 6 weight 9.5 foot rod he suggests to fish a little lighter, with his handmade 3-4 weight splitcane rod. Perfect to fish the browns and rainbows of average 0,5 kg. He also gives me a pair of waders and boots, things I wasn’t able to bring in my backpack.
‘You see the vein under the bush that goes into the pool? Try there, with big big nymf.’ We stand on the riverbank, just next to the gravelroad. From up hear the water is clear, the emerald colour makes it difficult to estimate how deep some pools are. Deep, that’s for sure. I attach a single big goldhead nymf, a size 8 olive coloured pheasant tail Gustavo gave me, while he wanders off to check out the slightly swollen river.
Nature is astonishing. The first yellow leaves on the trees remind me that it’s the end of summer in this part of the world. Around me eternal snow on the mountain tops. I take a deep breath to scent this unspoiled air and hope it will be in my memory for the rest of my life.
Fish are impossible to spot at this point due to the low morning sun, even my polaroid sunglasses can’t beat that. I cast upstream in the deaper streaming water close to the overhanging bushes and try to mend the nymf as good as possible untill it reaches the deeper pool. In the end I lift the rod to make the nymf rise and… bang. A 20cm rainbow takes the nymf without hesitation. My first fish here in the river after only one cast. Small, but a good start. I try the other veins but no luck. They should deliver me some fish, but nothing happens.
Gustavo turns up. The sun starts to warm the air up a bit. ‘Time for some dry fly action’, he sais. We move upstream to some good pools he spotted and change to a black parachute dry size 10. Dry flyfishing here is very different than to what I’m used to. The season is short and there are very few insects who live here. Trout feeds on anything that hits the water and looks like a good meal, even if they don’t rise at all. Only a few drifts in a promessing pool and the first fish rises to my fly. Again a small rainbow, 25cm, is released quickly.
I’m happy, but Gustavo is not. ‘Every drift should get a fish to rise’, he says. ‘Something is wrong’. We change to a fly that always gives him fish on hard days, an Adams Irresistable, but nothing happens. Gustavo is staring at the water, he’s looking for an indication. ‘I understand now’, he says, pointing to the edge of the deepest spot of the pool, ‘look’. 5, maybe 6 big chinook salmons in a row. It’s absolutely impressive to see these gigantic fish so close by. ‘Trout is nervous’, Gustavo sais, ‘they are scared from these big fish and now they have to look for a new place’. ‘But no worries, all is good. Let’s move’.
So salmon came in early this year. Due to an outstanding summer, almost everything is ahead of schedule. Looks like I haven’t picked the best day of the year to go fishing. But I fully trust Gustavo as we hunt upstream for the smaller pocket water, places uninteresting for the big Chinooks. ‘Try that pocket there’, he points an interesting spot, I pose the Adams in the pocket and mend like crazy. A nice brown rises fast and takes the fly. Good fish! ‘All is good’, Gustavo smiles.
The river is quiet technical here and as soon as your fly starts dragging, the fish will suspect something is wrong and turn back. But I’m doing ok. About 10 trout on two hours of fishing is not so bad, and I’m starting to like the splitcane rod. I hand over the rod to Gustavo to let him do some fishing while I take some pictures. A lovely place on a lovely day.
After lunch, a chicken sandwich with a fine bottle of Malbec, the fishing starts a bit slow. Is it the alcohol or the Chinook? Still I manage to take some nice browns up to 35cm on parachute dries, and it’s just fantastic to see the rainbows drifting in the water like they’re floating in the sky. Healthy, fat fish that give the 3-4 wt a nice fight.
But Gustavo is eager to try for the ‘surprise’ close to the lake, and so we move on above a waterfall the salmon can’t cross. The river is different here. Quiet large with sandy streches and some deep turquoise holes in it, and a slow but constant current.
‘We have to look for a big stick in the water’, Gustavo says. And so we fish the opposite bank of the river, where the overhanging bushes make a nice hideout for a nice fish. Longer casts and longer drifts to get there and I find it difficult now to handel the splitcane rod for this kind of work. It reacts totally different than my own topflex rods and on top of that the wind makes it very difficult to get the fly exactly where I want it.
I cast a couple of times, but I only get some smaller rainbows at the end of the drift. ‘Go downstream’, Gustavo tells me. The river turns deeper and deeper, and the big blue hole in front of me tells me this is about as far as I can go. But I try. Suddenly, I see a big stick, moving to the fly at the end of the drift. It’s big. ‘Big stick!’ Gustavo shouts enthousiasticly, but despite my mending the fly starts dragging just before the fish wants to take it… and he goes back under his bush. ‘Noooo! You still see him? Then try again, but change the fly’.
And so I change the fly and try again. And again. But the fish is absolutely at the limit of my casting skills. Three different flies pas him, but he won’t move. I have the feeling I’m rushing things and take five.
I roll a cigarette and take a deep breath. Gustavo joins me and we take a look in his flybox. The biggest one, an Adams size 8, should do the trick, Gustavo is sure. I check the tippet, tie on the Adams and start casting. Another good cast and the fly flows under the bush again. A tiny bit further than at the previous casts. And as it passes the stick in the water, the stick emerges, and turns into a big brown that takes the fly gently from the surface. I strike, the trout reacts with a fantastic run. But the 18/00 tippet is perfect for this fight and only five minutes later I land a magnificent 50cm brown trout. The perfect fish for this kind of river. We take some pictures and put it back where it belongs. Gustavo smiles, I smile.
We hi-five. This is about the biggest one on this river, Gustavo tells me, and I immediately realise I’ve been very lucky catching it. I thank Gustavo for his wonderfull guidance, ‘All is good’, he answers me, and we finish the Malbec before we head back to El Chaltèn.
Back in the car I’m a happy man, but unhappy aswell, since this was the only full day of fishing for the travel, and yet there are so many waters to fish. Woman, get yourself a rod and follow me, I think by myself. But when I see her back in El Chaltèn and she asks me how it was, I smile to her and give her a kiss. Thank you for letting me have this little rodtrip, woman.