Going to Patagonia to Fishing!

Of all the trout species, when it comes to sheer beauty, I don’t think any of them can compare to the brook trout. Our native brown has a wonderfully diverse colour range and really is a very special fish. The rainbow is also a real stunner, but for me it’s the brookie that’s the showman.

Strictly speaking, this ‘trout’ is actually a char, but is known the world over as the brook trout.

It’s now very rarely stocked in the UK and if you want to catch one it means travelling to its native habitat in the USA and Canada or to places where they have been introduced, and established themselves. Parts of Europe have brooks and they also have a stronghold in South America.

In past years I’ve had a few here at home and caught occasionally on trips to the USA and, because I really like them, I made two specific trips to Labrador where some of the very largest can be found. A big brookie is 5lb, a giant is eight and a double is a dream.

My best from Labrador went 7lb 4oz and I genuinely do enjoy catching them at whatever size. Strobel rainbows to 19lb Last January the chance came to add a few days onto what is now an annual pilgrimage to Lago Strobel (Jurassic Lake) in southern Argentina and to fish for brookies in southern Patagonia.

This was an opportunity I just could not pass up, especially as it was to be in the company of two great friends, and, as it turned out, a whole new friendship began.

All too soon, the main week was over at Strobel, and a very happy group – having recorded rainbows to 19lb – were on their way back to Buenos Aires, while the three of us headed farther south to the Rio Gallegos area.

We were booked with Tres Amigos Outfitters and very well looked after by Juan Manuel Biott who had arranged a great itinerary within their ‘Route of the Spring Creeks’ which led to us staying in three separate estancias and fishing a wide range of waters.

“While seemingly inhospitable to trout, this vast, open landscape has many surprises.”

This windswept country is a vast, open landscape with a low annual rainfall. While seemingly inhospitable to trout, it has many surprises.

There are many springs, which grow into quite sizeable rivers and out in the middle of wide open sheep pastures there would be a little thread of water with occasional deep pools, and fish!

The first stream held browns as well as brooks with individuals to maybe 2lb and was absolutely delightful fishing to big dries. There were lots of grasshoppers out on the pampa and the fish knew what to expect with a ‘plop’ presentation.

Very clear water, which obviously was a super healthy environment, held a surprise around every bend and each location was a delight to explore in this all too brief visit.

Browns in a ‘hot’ spot One afternoon, after a siesta, we tramped a long way through sheep pasture to what were small pockets of deep, clear water, which were now – in late summer – isolated from each other except by underground flow. We were assured that each would hold a few fish although it all seemed incongruous in this hot, arid and hellishly windy land.

The very first cast in the first pool produced a 5lb-plus brown to my pal Lou. Equal to the best recorded in the area, it was a great catch. We had other fish that evening and it really was amazing to look down into these ultra clear pools and see the fish cruising around.

Every aspect of this trip was superbly handled by Juan Manuel, proof once again that a good guide is worth every penny. We saw guanaco, rhea, fox and skunk, which all add to the experience and with very comfortable accommodation in superb estancias along with amazing meals the fishing was almost a bonus.

Moving on to a slightly larger stream the sandy bottom and good light let us see into dead clear pools which had some super brooks to maybe close on 3lb. Their body colours were spectacular, the males especially.

The dries were still effective but a pool with no action could then be tried with a streamer pattern and brooks would dash out from weed beds to attack. Casting accuracy and line control was testing in the huge winds but persistence usually paid off and we had some very exciting fishing.

The final part of the trip needed an 18-mile drive on gravel roads to reach the estancia off the main highway. It’s hard to appreciate the sheer scale of this country but there can’t be many properties that have an access road of this length, and all the while through their own land.

It led us to a wonderful, 1930s-built home, which was full of history. Through its many thousands of acres flowed the largest river we fished, which was maybe a bit like the upper Welsh Dee in size, but with very deep and well weeded pools.

This, we were told, held some trophy fish and bear in mind that a 5lb brookie is considered big. Tough fighters, the brooks would bore deep and sometimes make strong runs.

Impressive fish indeed. It’s interesting how each species of trout will fight differently. Tactically you always need to be adaptable. This last river only had brooks and a couple of years ago the estancia owner, with the input and backing from ‘Tres Amigos’, had restricted access and sensibly gone to catch and release such that the average weights were rising.

We each had four pounders on this last day and agreed that this was very special fishing indeed.

Art of camouflage Although the water is very clear the winds often make it almost impossible to see into the water and brooks up against weed beds or over the dark rocks of this river bed were invisible to me.

They love to keep tight up to weed or tuck underneath cut banks so casting accuracy is important but sometimes tricky in the wind. I tried keeping the rod tip really low and only lifting off at the last second with just the leader out from the tip and that worked a few times with takes coming really close in, especially if I kept low down too.

There’s not much cover in this windswept land. At one stage, as I was watching my friend Luciano fish a pool, I saw a really big fish lunge at his fly on the lift off.

He runs the lodge at Strobel and is a vastly experienced angler as well as being one of the nicest guys I have ever shared a fishing trip with. He moved on and I decided to rest the pool for a while as I had had a pretty good look at this fish.

I knelt down and flipped a black marabou lure upstream to let it sink and then jigged it up along the edge of the weeds. It was very exciting to watch the five pounder slip up behind the fly to give me my final fish of the trip – a really deep-bodied male, which was absolutely gorgeous. Brook trout are doing very well here.

As a species they prefer the colder water, especially to breed, and the spring water and deep pools make this a great habitat. I am positive that we will hear of much bigger fish from here in the next few years now that their prime habitat is under control and it’s catch and release.

There’s always the chance too of a ‘natural’ tiger trout as it is possible for the brook and brown to crossbreed and produce an even more colourful hybrid.

Kings of the river South America is a changing story so far as game fish go in that ‘escapes’ from sea cages has allowed pacific salmon species to establish runs.

This opens up new locations for anglers who usually went to either British Columbia, Alaska or other parts of the US to fish for the mighty chinook. Juan Manuel and his team have access to rivers holding both chinook and steelhead.

They showed me pictures of 70lb kings from rivers within easy reach of the tourist centre of El Calafate, our stop-off point for the Strobel trip.

Chinook could well affect the runs of sea trout in some systems but what will certainly change is that the richness of the ocean is now being deposited in the rivers as these fish lay their eggs and, as with all pacific salmon species, they die after spawning.

The consequent increase in nutrients will definitely have an impact on the growth of resident trout, just as it does in the systems where pacific salmon originated.

Fishing holiday companies are keeping close tabs on the situation. Check out the guides I mention as they can fix a day or two if you are doing an otherwise conventional holiday.

There’s wonderful glacier viewing, hiking, climbing, bird watching and sightseeing throughout South America although I couldn’t see the attraction to cycling the main north-south road through Argentina where the seemingly endless flat lands are swept by huge winds and blazing sun!

It’s a bit hard to see the fun in the hundreds of lonely, dusty miles but there again, I guess they think we are daft to go flyfishing. One thing is for sure, this country has much to offer fishermen and I plan to keep going back.

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