Here is a small selection of Patagonia's many rivers, with our tips on techniques, tackle and tactics to help enjoy these flyfishing venues.
An amazing big-fish river, the Collón Cura provides opportunities for a wide range of gamefishing styles and tactics.
Below: Launching the boats at the start of a very varied day's fishing
This is a big river and in places deep and very fast flowing; however, there are also many places where large trout can be caught in the shallow riffles. Fishing from the bank or by wading is practicable over most of the river, but to cover the water effectively, especially beside the islands formed by fallen willow trees, a good float boat and a professional guide are essential.
In spring there is excellent fishing on the Quemquentreu River, which flows past a wonderful fishing lodge and ranch of the same name; this tributary falls to little more than a braided trickle in high summer, and by then most of the trout have retreated to the main river.
The guides that we use on our hosted trips are the very best, and they can offer expert fishing advice as well as flies suited to the river and the particular time of year.
Below: Jackie and her guide with a fine rainbow caught during our guided trip in 2008
The rainbows range from 15 to 23 inches (a maximum of about 5 lbs) with an occasional bigger fish, while brown trout to 30 inches are not uncommon on this fast-flowing river. The fly hatches are good in spring and in autumn, and there is plenty of surface food for the fish to rise to. On breezy summer days hoppers and crickets get blown in to the margins and are warmly welcomed - particularly by big brown trout lurking in the bank-side shallows.
Below: Andy in contact with a big Collón Cura trout
Ideally you need both a light rod (AFTM #5) as well as one capable of handling large and heavy flies. Dry flies and small nymphs to match the seasonal hatches are supplemented by chunky hopper patterns and streamer lures.
This is a big river - it is typically 75 yards across. It is also amazingly prolific, with 30 to 40 trout hooked per angler day being very common. As for our own experience, in a typical late summer day's fishing we landed an average of 12 to 15 large trout each, including several rainbows over 18 inches long (the best 21 inches) and a few brown trout 16 to 22 inches long (up to about 4 lbs in weight) as well as catching many other fish in the 12 to 15 inch region. (Brown trout up to 15 lbs have been caught on this river in recent years.)
Below: Pat with a nice rainbow trout from the Collón Cura
If you join a guided trip to Patagonia, while fishing the Collón Cura we are sure that you will really enjoy staying at the nearby Quemquemtreu Lodge, which provides convenient access to many miles of the most productive part of the Collón Cura River.
Estancia (Lodge) Quemquentreu is an amazing place, full of history and yet providing great comfort at very affordable prices. The estate stretches over 160,000 acres and is fully functional as a working ranch, rearing beef cattle and polo ponies, and yet the Lodge itself is well equipped to meet the needs of fishing guests.
A barn has been converted into a high-standard (free - this is not the land of bills littered with 'extras'!) bar, with a separate Pool room and a shop selling locally-produced woven goods and jewelery - great presents to take back to those you left at home!
Below: The Pool Room
The service for breakfast and evening meals (people eat late in Argentina - 9pm or sometimes later!) is also excellent, and if you want washing done it is on a same-day service basis. Outside there are facilities for hanging waders to dry under cover.
Below: A great barbecue at Quemquemtreu Lodge
Bedrooms are to a very good standard too, and the extensive grounds around the Lodge are home to a host of wildlife, including red deer and the occasional armadillo, making that after-dinner or before-breakfast walk all the more enjoyable.
You may already have mastered some or even many of the fishing techniques that give best results on Patagonia rivers; if not then the guides will ensure that you do. But the real bonus of this top-class guiding is the tactical advice and practical help you get: how you need to move a surface lure differently in fast water, slow water, deep and shallow areas, for example; how to set up the nymphing gear for different locations and flow conditions; which areas are likely to hold the quality fish in particular light and water conditions through the day. This kind of expertise is not acquired easily; it's the result of detailed surveys and hundreds of days of effort on prime stretches of the river. We cannot commend it highly enough.
This is one of the smaller rivers we have fished in Patagonia and it is an excellent choice for both experienced anglers and those new to fly fishing who would like the opportunity to target big fish in a small river set in magnificent scenery.
Below: Pat with a fine brown trout from the Filo Hua Hum River
We fished over three days on the eight miles of river that are privately accessed from the Tres Lagos (Three Lakes) Lodge. The water was very varied with lovely deep pools and riffles, and we had great fun chasing both brown and rainbow trout up to 27 inches using a range of techniques from dry flies with nymphs on droppers to streamers fished in the deep pools.
Below: Sue with a good rainbow from a deep pool close to the lodge
The Filo Hua Hum is a short river running between two lakes, and we spent some time fishing the Filo Hua Hum Lake, which is overlooked by the lodge and cabins. From a boat we cast towards the reeds surrounding the lake and in the shallower, weed-filled areas where large trout cruise looking for terrestrial insects blown into the lake margins. Early mornings and calm evenings are the best time to enjoy this kind of fishing.
Below: Pat on the upper reaches of the Filo Hua Hum
The rainbows range from 15 to 20 inches (a maximum of about 5 lbs) with an occasional bigger fish, while brown trout to 30 inches are not unknown on this beautiful, meandering river. The fly hatches are good in spring and autumn, and there is plenty of surface food for the fish to rise to at other times, because on breezy summer days hoppers and crickets get blown into the margins of the lake and the river.
We cannot speak too highly of the Tres Lagos Lodge. The accommodation is in beautifully appointed cabins, adjacent to the lodge, which overlook the Filo Hua Hum Lake. Up to six anglers can be accommodated at a time. In the tranquil mornings, the mist rises off the lake, and the view, set against the backdrop of the hills and mountains of the Lanin National Park, is absolutely spectacular. Our hosts at the lodge are Domingo and Ginny Fernandez-Besteched, who give all their guests a welcome guaranteed to make them feel completely at home. All our excellent meals were served in the main lodge and cooked by Ginny, who was the former owner of the restaurant El Radal in San Martin. Much time was spent scribbling down recipes for some of the delicious dishes, all created by Ginny herself. For one of the best, see below:
Below: Tres Lagos Lodge
Core four medium-sized bramley apples or other tart-tasting apples. Place the cored apples in a buttered ovenproof dish the right size to keep them standing upright. Fill the centre of the apples with sugar - white is fine but brown (demerara) would give a richer toffee flavour - and then pour in some red wine; Ginny uses, of course, fine Argentine Malbec but any full-bodied dry red wine would do, and make sure there is just a little bit of wine in the bottom of the dish. Place the dish in an oven at a temperature of around 180 degrees C (355 degrees F) and cook until the apples are soft and the skins begin to burst. Serve warm or cold with pouring cream for a taste of Tres Lagos heaven!
Below: One of Ginny's fabulous dinners
Horse riding is a speciality at Tres Lagos, and it is possible to go out every day and enjoy the beautiful scenery and spectacular wildlife on horseback. By arrangement with Tres Lagos Lodge and another lodge situated on the other side of the mountains, you can also undertake a two day accompanied trek by horse through the mountain passes with overnight camping during the trip.
Widely considered one of the world's best dry-fly rivers, the Malleo runs out from the Tromen lake, beneath the spectacular Lanin Volcano (now extinct and snow-capped throughout the year) in the Andes mountain range.
In its upper reaches the river is slow and meandering, providing a challenging dry-fly experience quite similar to that of North America's spring creeks or the chalk rivers of southern England. The middle reaches are faster with more difficult wading and higher banks, making access more of a challenge in places, but it has a remote 'explorer' feel to it. The lower Malleo offers very varied fishing with good pools, riffles and glides between willow-lined banks. Fishing throughout the river is from the bank or by wading; there is no boat fishing.
The brown trout and rainbows range from one to three pounds with an occasional bigger fish. The fly hatches are prolific in spring and in autumn, but even in summer there is plenty of surface food for the fish to rise to.
Light tackle (AFTM #4 or #5 rod) and fine tippets are essential if you are to get the best from this majestic stream. Distance casting is not required, but this is a great place to hone your accuracy skills. Dry flies and small nymphs to match the seasonal hatches are all you really need on the Malleo.
This is a medium-sized river, typically 20 yards across, and if you move cautiously along the river some very fine trout can be caught within a ten to fifteen yard cast. In one day's fishing Sue caught more than forty trout, including several rainbows over 15 inches and a brown trout of 20+ inches (about 3.4 lbs in weight) taken on a size 22 nymph. The lower reaches are particularly good for beginners, while the more demanding upper river tends to offer more specimen fish, but they are not so easy to deceive in the clear, calm waters of the upper Malleo.
While fishing the Malleo we stayed at the San Huberto Lodge. Estancia (Lodge) San Huberto is an amazing place, providing great luxury at very affordable prices. The estate stretches over 25,000 acres and provides more than 30 miles of private access to Malleo River.
Below: San Huberto Lodge
This very beautiful, traditional-style fishing lodge can accommodate up to 12 anglers. We know of nowhere in the UK that comes near to it in terms of quality and facilities. The service and food for breakfast and evening meals (people eat late in Argentina - 9pm or sometimes later!) are also excelent.
Below: The bar and lounge
Attached to the lodge building there are special racks for storing made-up rods and facilities for hanging waders to dry in a secure under-cover area.
Below: The dining room
Bedrooms are to a five-star standard too, and the extensive lawns around the Lodge are planted with broadleaf and coniferous trees from many countries.
The Limay River is a world-class game fishery, renowned for its specimen brown trout and big, hard-fighting rainbow trout. This is not a beginner's river, but don't be daunted by its size and reputation: with the right guiding any reasonably competent flyfisher can enjoy success on this big-fish venue.
Below: A Limay rainbow comes (far from meekly) to the net
The Limay River, in the Comahue region of northwest Patagonia, flows out of Nahuel Huapi Lake and winds its 380 km course gathering water from a number of major tributaries including the Traful, Pichileufú and Collón Curá rivers before meeting the Neuquén River to create the Río Negro. There are five major dams on the Limay, used for hydroelectricity generation. (The resulting reservoirs cover a vast area and have in effect reduced by 70 km the length of the flowing river from an original 450km.)
The brown trout of the Limay are legendary, with plenty of fish in the 20 to 28 inch region. Our best brown trout, which Pat caught in March 2008, was a monster 32 inch hen fish with an estimated weight somewhere between 14 and 16 lb. (Naturally, we returned all fish without the delay and stress involved in weighing them.)
The Limay also holds good stocks of big rainbow trout averaging 18 inches in length. Fish of 20 to 22 inches are quite common, with a few specimens reaching 25 inches.
Below: Pat with a specimen wild brown trout from the Limay River
When the hatches of mayflies or sedges bring trout to the surface it is well worth fishing a matching dry fly, especially in the shallow margins and drop offs at the heads of pools; however, the very biggest fish do not often rise to such tiny morsels. Hoppers and crickets make a tempting snack even for quite large trout, but the largest trout are invariably predators that feed on smaller fish or on crustaceans such as Pancora crabs. Pancoras look rather like crayfish but are more oval in shape.
Below: Pancoras swim quickly using their tails and bunching their claws and legs so that they look rather like squids
The river is best fished by floating (the guides provide stable, well-equipped boats that each carry two anglers plus the guide who mans the oars. Some of the shallower areas and margins can be easily fished by wading or even from the shore, and this is essential because on this fast-flowing river no boatman can be expected to row all day! Streamer lures representing minnows and other small fish can be quite effective, but it's certainly not necessary to cast heavy streamers to succeed on this great river. If you join a hosted/guided trip, you will learn about a range of other techniques and tactics for catching the big trout for which the rivers of Patagonia are so renowned.
Most of our fish were caught on AFTM #6 rods 9.5 ft long, but an AFTM #6 or 7 double-handed 12 ft rod is certainly not excessively heavy when using large flies.
You need to be a fairly competent caster to get best results on this big and in places brawling river - it's typically at least 50 yards and in places up to 200 yards wide along most of its length. In two days' fishing, Pat and Sue caught 32 rainbow trout of lengths between 15 and 21 inches and 11 brown trout of lengths between 16 and 32 inches. Everyone in our party caught fish each day.
Running through the Traful Valley, this crystal-clear river is situated in the most magnificent scenery with towering rocks, sculpted by wind and rain, standing sentinel as you fish for the trophy brown and rainbow trout that make this river their home. The Traful runs between two lakes, and is one of only five rivers in the world renowned for its population of landlocked Atlantic salmon. The possibility of landing one of these rare and beautiful fish which are up to 18lbs in weight, adds a special frisson of excitement to every cast.
We fished the Traful over three days, catching some magnificent brown trout up to 21 inches and many rainbows around the 20 inch mark. And it is these special fish for which the river is known – absolute quality rather than quantity. The fishing is not ideal for beginners and requires the casting of streamers and large dry flies in order to attract the attention of these big predatory trout. It is a great place to get fit. Although there are some gorgeous, smooth glides and pools, the majority of the fishing is reached by hiking over boulder-strewn river edges, and some of the boulders in the lower stretches are huge.
The ideal setup for the low water conditions we fished would be a 9ft 6in #7 single-handed rod with a floating line. This would provide enough backbone to cast big flies, including weighted streamers, to the likely lies of the fish. In higher water conditions, a small, double-hander (up to 13ft) would not go amiss and would make light work of both the heavy flies and the casting distances required in order to connect with the quarry.
Staying at the Arroyo Verde lodge, which has been described by Forbes Magazine as 'the finest fishing lodge in the world', is a truly wonderful experience. The estancia is owned and managed by Meme Lariviere and her daughters, who have hosted many distinguished fishermen over the years. The rooms are very comfortable and each has its own bathroom. Meals are taken with the family in their lovely dining room, and the candle-lit dinners each evening are special events with the kind of food and conversation guaranteed to stimulate even the most exhausted of fishermen! About 5 minutes from the main lodge there is a log cabin overlooking Lago Traful – the view has to be one of the best in the world. It sleeps 2 to 4 guests comfortably but could equally well be a perfect honeymoon retreat.
The ranch offers horseback and trekking excursions through the beautiful surroundings and these activities provides an ideal opportunity to see and enjoy the outstanding wildlife of the area. In spring the variety of wildflowers is amazing, and this is a great location for birdwatchers – during our visit we saw several of the elusive Andean condors and many other falcons and eagles soaring over the mountains. Fishermen are best placed to see the lovely (and large) Ringed Kingfishers (Ceryle torquata) which accompany them on the river bank and frequently prove to be more skilled in the art of catching fish than they are.
For details of guided fishing trips in Argentina contact: Sunrise Fly Shop
Fascinated by rivers, lakes and wild trout? Then you would really enjoy Pat O'Reilly's latest river-based thriller Dead Drift. All publisher profits and author royalties are being donated to support the Wild Trout Trust, helping communities to restore and protect wild trout populations and their habitats. Order your copy here...