Patagonia Diary - 2018

Saturday January 27, 2018

We begin by departing Northwest Arkansas at 10:00 a.m. on Friday and fly all night from Miami to Buenos Aires, Argentina then on to San Martin De Los Andes.  We drive another 30 miles and arrive around 5 p.m. on Saturday at Patagonia River Ranch, a beautiful fly fishing resort on the Chimehuin River in the northern portion of Patagonia at the base of the Andes Mountains.

The resort houses 18 guests for a week at a time and we will be fishing 6 days. The Argentinians love to eat late and the food and the hospitality are “over the top” but tonight I am too tired to stay up for the 9 p.m. dinner.

There are 5 of us on this trip.  Jim, an 85 year old chemical engineer, who still works part-time developing new energy technology for his company, Steve, a 58 year old semi-retired engineer, who is Jim’s son-in-law and works with him, Gary, Jim’s grandson-in-law, a 37 year old private investor, Matt, Jim’s grandson, a 33 year old who works for an Australian winemaker, and me a 65 year old vocationally confused lawyer, mediator, and pastor.  All of us call Fayetteville, Arkansas home. The oldest three of us opt to skip supper and the social hour and hit the bed early.  Steve is feeling puny and Jim and I are just old and tired.


Sunday January 28, 2018

I get up a little early for a morning jog and my daily devotional.  We enjoy a breakfast of homemade granola and yogurt and fresh raspberries and blueberries from the garden along with the basic bacon and fresh eggs from the resort’s own chickens.  Our group of 5 fishermen and 3 guides strike out to float the 12 mile middle section of the Chimehuin River from the confluence of the Qulquihe River down to the lodge.  This is one of my favorite sections of river to fish primarily because I caught my largest Argentinian Brown Trout (25 inches) a few years ago on this section of river.

God smiled on our group this week; we have the head guide, Santiago (Santi) along with his two able companions, Marcos and Mario, as our guides for the week.  We will be fishing from 14 foot rafts with a guide rowing from the middle and a fisherman in the front and back of the raft.

The morning is slow but we stop for lunch at a hotspot and I spend most of my lunch time wading and fishing.  I catch and release 14 small rainbows and hook and lose several more.  As Jim and his guide approach the lunch stop he lands a 22 inch Brown on spinning gear from his raft right in front of me.

It is one of those uncommonly still days in Patagonia with only a light breeze blowing. The skies are clear and the high temperature is in the low 70’s.  The Chimehuin is a tight, fast flowing stream lined with willows that grow out into the water which makes for very difficult casting because the fish love to hangout in the willows.  The guide is constantly encouraging my friend Gary and me to try to place our flies within an inch or two of the willows, which means lots of hang-ups and breakoffs.

Our guide today is, Santi, a 39 year old Argentinian who makes high end custom guitars in the offseason. He speaks good English and loves to fly fish and to guide fly fishermen.

Gary is in the front of the raft fishing a dry fly and I am in the back stripping a 1/50 oz. PJ’s marabou jig.  The most exciting moment of the day is late in the afternoon when a 20 inch Brown explodes on Gary’s Cicada dry fly.   It eventually comes to the net and we photograph and release our prize catch of the day.

The two of us catch and release over 50 fish.  Most are small to medium size Rainbows, but both of us land several 16-19 inch Rainbows. We arrive at the ranch about 6:30 p.m. with sore arms and thankful hearts.  Day 1 of Patagonia fishing is in the books and it was a good one.


Monday January 29, 2018

 Steve is out of action today with a stomach virus and Jim opts to fish close to the ranch, but 3 of us leave early and after a picturesque 1 ½ hour drive, we launch the rafts on one of the middle sections of the Alumine River for a long 18 mile float. I get to fish alone all day with Marcos as my guide.  He lives in nearby San Martin with his wife and 6 year old son and works with his brother at his restaurant and bar in the off season.  He has a great sense of humor and is never in a bad mood.  Gary and Matt are fishing with Santi today.

The Alumine is a big wide river with moderate current and spectacular scenery.  It flows through a desert canyon and features lots of unusual geographic formations.  The Alumine, like all Patagonia rivers, is used by dozens of birds species including ibises, quail, doves, and multiple species of ducks, geese and swans.  We see an abundance of nearly every species and even two herds of Red Deer and a Condor.

The fish are feeding on tiny green worms that drop from the willow trees that are scattered along the banks of the river.  I opt to strip an olive PJ’s 1/50 oz. marabou jig which is a good imitation of the worm. The action underneath the willow trees is steady all day long.  I hook and release nearly 40 Rainbows and Browns. My largest Rainbow is 18 inches and my largest Brown is a fat 21 inches. I manage to lose 2 bigger Browns and that makes for a good fish story that evening.

My two companions, Gary and Matt, fish dry flys with a tiny green worm dropper and also have good results.  We float over 9 hours and never see another human being.  The skies are clear and the high temperature is in the mid 70’s.  The wind is 5-15 miles per hour all day which is light by Patagonia standards.  We pull the rafts out about 7p.m. and head back to the ranch.  Three tired fishermen have been blessed with another spectacular day in Patagonia.


Tuesday January 30, 2018

The same three of us are off again, this time on a two day float trip of about 25 miles on the Collon Cura River.  Our take out point will be the upper end of a lake known as Embalse Piedra de Agulia or just Aguila Lake as the locals call it.  This is an overnight camping trip and something I am really looking forward to.

The skies are clear again but the day time temperatures are getting progressively warmer.  The wind forecast is 25 miles per hour with gusts to 40 miles per hour and by the time we launch the rafts that forecast is accurate.  Fly fishing on the open waters of the Collon Cura is going to be a serious challenge today. My fishing partner for the next two days is Matt.  He takes the front of the raft and I ride in the back.  Our guide for the next two days will be Marcos.  He will earn every peso of his wages fighting the wind with his oars today.

When two people are fly fishing in high winds in a small raft everyone, including the guide needs as much of  your body covered with clothing (waders, gloves, long sleeve shirts, hats, gaiters and sunglasses) as you can stand because it is inevitable that everyone will take several hits from flies being flung in every direction by the wind. 

There is no way that we are gonna throw dry flies today in the wind, the white caps and the current. We opt for sink tip leaders and 1/32 oz. PJ’s marabou jigs to strip on our 6 weight fly rods.  At lunch time we re-group on a gravel bar under the willow trees out of the wind.  Matt and I have managed to land only 11 small Rainbows between the two of us.  Our camping partner, Gary, is fishing alone, in a raft with Santi and he has caught only 3 fish, but all of us feel fortunate in these conditions to have caught anything.  By 5p.m. Matt and I are pretty beat and our spirits are in bad need of a lift.  It has been an hour since the last strike and the wind is still howling. Matt switches to a large streamer and suddenly everything changes.  In the swift part of a riffle in 2 feet of water a 20 inch Brown pounces on Matt’s streamer and life is good again.  We convince ourselves that the wind is letting up a little and then I land a 17 inch Rainbow on my jig, followed by Matt catching a 21 inch Rainbow at the tail end of a shoal on a deep boulder strewn bank with heavy current.

The wind is down to around 15 miles per hour and the adrenaline is kicking in.  We muster up enough energy to keep casting just as we get to where the guide thinks our friends have set up camp and there is no one there.  It is getting late but we have no choice but to keep floating and fishing.  The winds gets lighter and lighter, the sun sets lower and lower and the bite gets stronger and stronger.  Marcos jokes that if we don’t find camp soon that we may have to start keeping the fish for supper.

The big Rainbows keep taking the jigs and streamers and we push our daily total to 27 before we see the campfire and the welcome sight of our other rafts.  It is 8:15 p.m. when we beach the raft on the gravel bar and I literally release the last trout as we land at camp.  We are grateful for the late arrival and the extra fishing time but ready for dinner and rest. 

A full moon is rising in the east and the sun is setting in the west as we collapse into our camp chairs overlooking the Collon Cura River. The wind has gone quiet.  The geese and the shorebirds are serenading us. God’s creation is on full display. Life on this spinning globe doesn’t get much better than this.


Wednesday January 31, 2018

A cold night follows a warm day.  We awake to a temperature in the high 30’s, sunny skies and Praise God, no wind.  The temperature will climb into the mid 70’s before day’s end but the wind remains a “no show” all day.  It is a perfect Patagonia fly fishing day.

The bite is on all day long and Matt and I rack up another 60-70 trout on PJ’s 1/50 oz. marabou jigs of various colors.  We entice several Rainbows and Browns in the 17-21 inch range.

Gary is fishing dry flies with a nymph dropper with Santi as his guide.  They stop in one small channel and spend two hours wading.  With Santi spotting for him from the bank, Gary casts to one large Rainbow after another.  He ends up landing 12 Rainbows in the 17-20 inch range from the channel.

As we approach Aguila Lake a small “minnow migration” from the lake causes the fish to target the minnows.  Matt switches to a locally tied small minnow pattern streamer and a 19 inch Rainbow explodes on it.  I switch to a white jig and follow suit.  We are really excited now and when a 65 year old man in waders who is bone tired standing in the back of a raft in swift water gets excited it can spell trouble.

The guide dips one oar in the current and the raft shifts suddenly and with one hand on my rod and one on the fly line there is no hand left to grab the support bar.  I tumble out of the raft into the Collon Cura River in waders with fly rod in hand into deep swift water.  The guide manages to grab my hand when I pop up.  The only casualty is my 15 year old pair of Costa fishing glasses which are somewhere 8-10 feet down in very swift water.  The laughter begins but at this point in my life I am beyond embarrassment.  My plunge into the Collon Cura is of course the talk of the group for a day. 

The dip in the drink inspires me and after we return from the campout for the next two days Matt and I will swim ¼ mile each day in a back channel of the Chimehuin at the ranch. Each time we flush quail, doves, ducks and geese as we do “lap swims” in cold water in a very unique outdoor pool. Silver linings are not hard to find in Patagonia.


Thursday February 1, 2018

The next morning brings clear skies and a prediction of 90 degree heat but only light to moderate winds.  Gary and Steve (who is now well) partner with Santi and Matt and I partner with Marcos. We are floating the Chimehiun from the ranch to its confluence with the Collon Cura.  It will be a beautiful, hot and clear, fish filled day.  I have promised my guide that I will try not to exit the raft in white water today. 

We launch first and within 50 yards of launching I land a 20 inch Rainbow and Matt brings an 18 inch Brown to the net. We are fishing 1/50 oz. PJ’s marabou jigs again today and the fishing is spectacular. 

We have only been on the water 15 minutes when I throw under a low hanging willow and risk a drift under more willows hanging in the water.  A 21 inch Brown rips into the jig and runs out of the willows and downstream. A few minutes later he comes to the net and the camera.  This bulky beautiful Brown will be my heaviest fish of the trip.  We guess him at 4 ½ pounds.  After a quick picture, he swims away to fight another day.

At one point we take a break to wade a back channel and the guide climbs out on a high dirt bank and spots a large Brown in the 24 inch class and a slightly smaller Rainbow holding in the shade behind a willow in the water below a riffle.   I wade out to my chest and make several long casts across the channel to them.  The Rainbow takes my jig on the third cast and runs down stream well into my backing.  After 5 minutes or so I am fortunate to land a beautiful healthy Rainbow in the 3- 3.5 pound class.

Matt wades to us and he casts for 10 minutes to the Brown.  I give it a go for another 5 minutes but the Brown has his head stuck under the willow and there is no way to get a jig in front on him.  We give up and head back to the boat to join our buddies 30 minutes downstream for lunch in the shade.  They are fishing dry flies with nymph droppers with some success but clearly the jigs are the ticket today.

By the time it is all over, Matt and I have caught and released over 60 wild Argentinian Rainbows and Browns.  The drive back to the ranch provides a panoramic view of the Chimehuin River Valley along with a view of the snowcapped Lanin Volcano in Chile some 30 miles away. 

Matt and I finish off our day with a cold water swim in our own private lap pool.  My appetite is voracious by the time we sit down to eat at 9 p.m.  I devote myself after dinner to my usual hour of texting and e-mailing through the internet connection at the ranch and call my wife on a rented satellite phone.  I miss her and my family but the trout of Patagonia are calling me for one more day.


Friday February 2, 2018

We decide to close out our fishing adventure on a section of the Alumine that I had not floated before. It is only an 8 mile float but Santi, our guide promises to go slow and allow us to really hit the good fishing spots hard.  Gary is my partner today and he is fishing from the front of the raft using a dry fly with a small green worm on the dropper.  I am stripping my olive PJ’s 1/50 oz. marabou jig. 

The skies are clear again and the temperature climbs into the low 90’s quickly.  The wind is light to moderate which makes it a beautiful day to be back in the Alumine River Canyon trying to fool the Patagonia trout. Gary is getting lots of “takes” on the worm but the small hook keeps pulling out.  By lunch time we only have 10 fish between the two of us and two of those are perch.  The guide suggests I strike out to go wade a large riffle about a ¼ mile away until our friends can arrive for lunch.  On my second cast into the small drop off below the riffle I feel the strong tug of a big fish on my jig and after a short fight I pull an old battle scarred 20 inch male Brown onto the gravel bar.  I get a few pictures and then he swims away to hopefully delight another fly fisherman someday.

After a long relaxing lunch break we are at it for the last time.  We float by a dirt cliff with lots of holes burrowed into the side of the cliff filled with very noisy cacharius, a species of Argentinian parakeets. The dry fly / worm fishing picks up but the jig bite is dead.  Gary is getting strike after strike.  I finally switch to a big “Chernobyl Ant” pattern and manage to catch a couple of nice Rainbows on top.  We finish a very hot and slow final day of fishing with 22 Rainbows 1 old Brown and 2 perch.  Not too bad for our last day fishing in Patagonia.

Matt and I manage a quick swim again after we return to the lodge.  This time we swim out into the colder swifter waters of the main channel of the Chimehuin for a few minutes.  We hurry back to catch the social event of the week, an Argentinian Asado in a beautiful shaded picnic area near the lodge. All the guides, cooks, maids, drivers, hostesses and guests mix and mingle.  The ever present Argentinian wine is flowing freely and a side of beef and a lamb are on spits roasting over a large open fire. Claudio, the chef has prepared his specialty, baked and fried empanadas as appetizers.  I scarf down four fried empanadas and one baked one before we start the main course.  We cover the charred lamb and beef in Argentinian chimichurri sauce and enjoy a great meal. Our host, Sebastian has all 18 guests pose for a group picture. This is the only time that this diverse group from New Zealand, Vancouver and across the U.S. will ever be together.

My friend Jim has finished strong.  He is the only person fishing with spinning tackle and he is allowed to do that only because he has a special letter from some official in Argentina granting him permission.  He has arthritis in his hands which makes it nearly impossible for him to fly fish.  Argentinian law allows only fly fishing for trout from any raft or boat on any Patagonian river. Jim landed the largest two Browns this week.  He is fishing with 1/8 oz.  PJ’s olive marabou jigs and Countdown Repalas.  He closes out his week of Patagonia fishing with two 24 inch Browns on the last day.  Not too shabby.


Saturday February 3, 2018

We sleep in and I go jogging before breakfast then settle in to do a little work.  Our hostess, Salome, gives us a tour of the 2-3 acres of fruit trees and vegetables that provide much of the food for the resort. The ranch is also covered with beautiful flower gardens and shade trees. The owner, Ken Gangwer, planted over 100,000 trees some 30 years ago and developed his own irrigation system to water his Patagonia oasis.  At 2:30 p.m. we embark for 30 hours of planes, trams and taxis.  I am home sick but what a mid-winter break this was. The birds, wildlife, fish, rivers, plant, vistas and people of Argentina are a wonderful and beautiful part of the incredible variety found on God’s special little planet.  Perhaps Patagonia is just a taste of what heaven will be like. Until next time Adios.  

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