Argentina. I won’t pretend that I know a lot about it, and I won’t BS you with some lifelong dream I had to experience a piece of Patagonia. I stumbled across the opportunity to go there. A winters-long discussion with my south American doppelganger culminated in a trip that I won’t soon forget, nor can hardly wait to do again.
The fall & winter of 2021 found me with a lot of time and space on my hands. The circumstances of which are all mid-life ya-da, ya-da, ya-da…. I had just made my annual pilgrimage to the accounting firm where I’m seasonally employed and right about then a good friend called and suggested I strike up a conversation with “the Argentinian version of yourself.” My friend had fished with Diego before, and insisted that he was my long lost south American brother from another mother. And so a 9-month chat with Diego ensued. The plan was to bring a group to Cholila, Argentina to fish for 4 days in the Chubut Province of Patagonia, Argentina. We talked about dates, we talked about locations, we talked about everything…except how to get there.
And by there, I mean the airport in Esquel, Argentina. A logical mind would then go about finding the best way to get there and back. Licked y-split. Maybe start at point A, and find out how to get to point B. And then back to point A. Instead, I went ahead and booked a round-trip ticket from Buenos Aires to Esquel, Argentina. There’s one flight a day into and out of Esquel, and it’s make-it or break-it. The next flight I booked was…logically…San Jose Costa Rica to Missoula. I knew I wanted to fold a trip back to Costa Rica in there, and I knew when I needed to be back to Missoula, so it seemed to make sense to book that flight next. Next leg…San Jose to Buenos Aires and back. And then my flight from Missoula to San Jose. Oh, and there was also a round-trip flight from San Jose to Quepos, as well as a rental car from San Jose to Jaco. In total, it was 14 flights on 14 planes. I seriously do not recommend you do it this way. But somehow it all worked out. A few delays, an emergency landing due to a non-functional toilet, an airport dash in Houston…but not a single missed flight. Amazing. Even more so that this all took place during the Southwest Airlines meltdown around Christmas in 2022.
Diego figured out the fishing and lodging part of things, and I pulled together a group of adventurous souls to arrive in Esquel on January 7th, 2023. Everybody and everything arrived on-time and as planned…. Yeah right! There was a lot that didn’t go as planned, but in the end we all made it there with all our stuff. Which wasn’t much. A bag, a coat, a fly rod…the basics for a short, lodge-based trip.
Diego arranged to pick us up at the Esquel airport and transport us to the Hosteria el Trebol in Cholila, which was base camp for the 5 nights of lodging. I loved this place. Super modest, yet all the creature comforts of a well-maintained lodge. The staff and food were excellent. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again.
After settling in and mixing a cocktail, we sat down to plot our week. As a fishing guide and outfitter, I fully understand the mental massage and stress that goes into planning several days of fishing for a group. You have to factor into it such things as the weather, angler experience and expectations, pressure on the river, timing of the hatches, moon phase, celestial alignment…you get the point. Diego was concerned mostly about the weather. Our bright and sunny forecast for the week all of a sudden switched to cool and rainy. Which you might think is ideal for fishing. It is the ideal scenario in Montana for mid-summer fishing. But this wasn’t Montana. Far from it. This was Argentina, home of flightless birds, and all sorts of other unfamiliar fauna and flora. It became clear to me that all my typical concerns did not necessarily translate to the fishing here. There’s a little saying among experienced anglers. “Trust your guide.” So I sat back, poured another drink, and let Diego fret about the details.
Day one found us traveling into Parque Nacional Los Alerces to fish the river Rivadavia. The Rivadavia is a stretch of river below Lake Rivadavia, which is a lake in Chubut Province, Argentina. Lake Rivadavia is the second lake, after Lake Cholila, in the chain of lakes in the Futaleufú River system of Argentina which via Yelcho Lake and the Yelcho River flows into the Pacific Ocean in Chile. That geographical piece of information blew my mind. I was under the impression that the Andes formed a natural continental divide and that all the water in the Patagonia region of Argentina flowed naturally to the Atlantic. Wrong.
This was the only day of bright/sunny and very warm conditions. The water was gin clear, and the fish were easy to spot. I stood over a run of fish that were no more than 10 feet away from me and sight fished for an hour. Fish like that would scatter in an instant on my home waters on the Blackfoot River in Montana. Their lack of concern about my intentions were overshadowed by their lack of concern about taking my fly. Several rounds of changing nymphs finally yielded a couple nice rainbows, and the skunk was finally off the boat. My first trout in Argentina.
Argentina is often compared to Montana, but 60 years in the past. By and large this seems like a pretty accurate depiction. But not necessarily where the fishing is concerned. These fish aren’t 1960’s, never-been-pressured dumb. I found the fishing to be rather technical and challenging. Tight casts to the bank and sight fishing to picky trout was normal. And when that wasn’t working we ripped streamers and skated big/bushy dry flies. What impressed me the most was the trout’s willingness to chase a streamer for ten, sometimes twenty or more feet. The takes were explosive and exhilarating. When it comes to streamer fishing, line control and repetitiveness are key. You can’t settle for one good presentation every five minutes or so and expect to hang a lot of fish. You have to be spot-on, every time, and do it over, and over, and over until your fingers bleed. And then you do it some more.
That first day of fishing on the Rivadavia was amazing. Not necessarily for the numbers or the size of fish, but rather for the scenery and the novelty of fishing in a foreign land. I was, quite simply, in love with the whole experience. I tried to bring to it the attitude that I hope that most of my clients possess. The day, the experience, the company, the scenery, take precedence over the fishing. Catching fish is a bonus. Sometimes the fish are willing and easy. And then there are all the other days, so you’d better have an appreciation that goes beyond just “catching.”
One of the little things that help make a trip is food. And the food on this whole trip was amazing! Two hour lunches comprising several courses and exceptional Argentinian wine was standard fare. It was nice to enjoy such a relaxed pace on the river. There’s still a relative lack of pressure on the rivers in Argentina. And based on the logistics of getting there, I don’t see that changing all that much. I sincerely hope this region in Argentina can find a way to stay like sixty-year-ago Montana.
The following days we fished the Carrileufu and Arrayanes Rivers. Both equally as impressive and interesting as the Rivadavia, but completely different. Most of these rivers in this system begin and end at a lake. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself with some sinking line and a deep streamer trolling for large trout at the beginning and end of your day. I particularly enjoyed fishing on the Carrileufu river. It has a sandy-like bottom, and is heavily lined with willows that create opportunities to swing streamers through brown trout laden hide y holes. Fish chase streamers out from underneath the willows and appear out of nowhere among the mid-river weed-mats. The rainbows were almost chrome and put on the fight of a lifetime.
We didn’t move a lot of fish on the short, but wide and very deep Arrayanes. I experienced two aggressive dry fly takes on a skating dry and could see the massive potential for the woody structure and rock shelves to give up giant brown trout. Our inauspicious start to the day didn’t help much. That whole “Argentinian version of yourself” thing was starting to become evident. We discovered that Diego’s boat trailer had yielded to the punishment of the dirt road. A quick tire change and we’re on our way. Nope. The spare tire had a different bolt pattern and would not fit on the hub. (Same kind of dumb bad luck I often experience). So I stayed back with Diego and we sent the rest of the group along the way to get started on Lake Verde. It took not one, not two, but three trips back to Cholila to get the thing fixed. And so we spent a considerable amount of time talking philosophy-of-life type stuff, which transcended the usual blah, blah, blah that accompanies a day of fishing. I think we both quickly realized why our mutual friend thought it important that we meet…we could solve most of the world’s problems together I am sure!
After catching up with the group and receiving the rather anemic morning fishing report, we switched up boats and plied more of the waters of Lake Verde before descending into the Arrayanes. I don’t know what they were talking about, as I quickly hooked and landed two nice rainbows. Sometimes it’s the wizard and not the wand…and sometimes it’s just plain dumb luck.
I’m going with wizard.
My hope is that you are interested enough in fishing the Patagonia region of Argentina to consider venturing there with me in 2024. I am organizing two trips back to this pristine region. January 2-5 (4 day/5 nights) for $3,100. And January 9-14 (6 day/7 nights) for $4,500. The 4 day trip is going to look a lot like last years trip to Cholila. And the 6 day trip will have many of those same details, and includes a change of location for the last two days to fish the Rio Grande. The price includes all your fishing, lodging, food, beverages, and transportation to/from the Esquel airport and the lodge. It does not include your travel and expenses getting to and from Esquel. Nor does it include guide or lodge & staff gratuities, fishing licenses, or park fees.
I did learn a few lessons along the way and want to briefly share them here.
Give yourself plenty of time to travel. You’re flying out of the north in arguably the least predictable time of year. Delays happen. Cancellations happen. Don’t let a tight connection or a stingy budget hinder your trip of a lifetime.
Spend some time in Buenos Aires. This is a beautiful and vibrant city that’s worth visiting. While it’s possible to take a red-eye out of the states and arrive in Buenos Aires in the morning, and then catch a flight to Esquel the same day, I don’t recommend it. As previously mentioned, there’s only one flight a day into Esquel, and it’s often from the smaller regional airport in Buenos Aires. I wouldn’t take a chance on trying to get a cab and making another flight after traveling all night. So you might as well explore this “Paris of South America.” I don’t think you will regret it.
You may already know this but I found out the hard way…not all airlines consider your fly rod tube an innocent carry on. Sure, flying out of Montana is no problem. But god forbid you haul that thing through security in the Buenos Aires regional airport. Of all other places aside from Montana where you’d think a fly rod tube would be no problem, it’s Buenos Aires flying to the Argentina mecca of trout fishing. My advice is to just leave it at home and trust that your guide will have the equipment you need. Or invest in a rectangular-shaped, soft fly rod case. Also, those 1/0 streamer hooks are likely not making it through the x-ray machine. Check your bag, or don’t bother bringing that stuff with you.
I’m happy to share all the knowledge and information I gathered planning and executing my trip. So don’t hesitate to call or drop me an email. Or let’s just go fishing!!!