Peninsula Fly Fishers

Argentina January 2007

by  Mary Nishioka

January 2007

My trip to Argentina in January 2006 was so wonderful that I almost hesitated to go back as I was sure to be disappointed. In 2006, I split my time between the northern part of Patagonia around San Martin and then the middle part around Cholila and Bariloche. The plan for 2007 was to spend the entire two weeks fishing the San Martin region as I really liked the guide, Javier Pannuti. I needn't have worried as the trip this year was the best fishing trip of my life. My plan for 2008 was to go back to the Cholila region as I liked the water better but I have already booked and confirmed my trip for 2008 and will be in the north with Javier again.

In September 2006, Rachel Andras of Fly Water Travel took 7 women to Montana. This was my first trip to Montana and I had been told that Patagonia is "just like Montana but 50 years ago". I had heard so much about Montana and was really looking forward to the trip. Argentina is better but we had a wonderful time. The people at Crane Prairie Lodge took wonderful care of us. The food was spectacular and the guides were great. And I have a classic guide story about Cowboy Dave. During the trip, I overheard the guides talking about fishing with Rachel. They all said that "she fished like we do". In other words, not like a client. Then I read the book "Pale Morning Done" by Jeff Hull which is a novel about making a living in the fly fishing industry in Montana. Guides do not have a lot of respect for most clients but it's part of the job to keep that attitude hidden. The better guides don't even make you feel like an idiot most of the time.

The River
The Little Traful

The other thing that I had noticed was that a guide will offer a correction about three times then they stop. If they stop, I thought I had figured it out and was doing what they wanted. What really happens is that if you can't get it right after three corrections, they figure you either can't or don't want to. They want you to have a good time so they drop the subject. This doesn't get me where I want to be fly fishing - I need more help than that.

When I arrived in Argentina this year, I told Javier all of the above. I wanted to fish like a guide and not like a client. I wanted to get better. If you are tempted to suggest this with your guide be forewarned. Most guides won't follow through on the program and it gets very intense. They have to really work much harder and most clients don't want to be criticized constantly throughout the day. I decided that if I really wanted Javier to cooperate with my program, I could not whine, make excuses, show any attitude and had to be ready to listen and try. And try. And try. Javier took me at my word and he did have some nice things to say but mostly it was tough. Guides fish much faster than we do. Little time is wasted casting, you get the fly out where it needs to be, you mend when you are supposed to, you don't screw it up. They cover much more water much faster than we do. They spend time looking at the water, structure, what is happening before they start fishing then they tend to fish the prime spots and move. As a client, you are often parked in a spot and are told to really cover the water. That works well for the guide but you aren't going to catch as many fish. Your casting might improve - if you are paying attention to what you are doing on each and every cast - but you aren't fishing, you're casting.

I need to mention, that during my trip last year, I noticed a very Latin male attitude on behalf of the different guides. I was a delicate, old female flower to be protected and they were the men to do it. I was helped, escorted, waited on, and treated like the delicate, old flower that I was. This year, not so much. I have lost weight, I walk everyday, my knees don't hurt as much, and I can keep up. This year, we moved and I was expected to keep up. And I did ! ! It was great the first time that I speeded up the pace with Javier. I felt as if I had climbed Mt. Everest.

We started the trip with a three day float and camp on the Caleufeu River. This is also know as the "Little Traful". The prior year, Javier had said that it was his favorite river but it is usually fished in December as the water gets too low in January. It starts as a high mountain river with lots of fast water and incredible scenery. The second day it opens up into a transition area with hills and lots of rock formations. The third day, it is a broad and very shallow river. This was the Cleopatra-Going-Down-The-Nile part of my trip. Javier and I were in one pontoon boat and Hugo and Mathias were in the second boat. Javier was the guide, Hugo was in charge of moving the camps and all of the cooking, and Mathias was along as general helper for Hugo. Three guys to take care of me. Most of the time the fishing was 2 nymphs, split shot and an indicator. There was also some stripping and swinging streamers and a little dry fly action. The first day we caught a lot of fish. By comparison, the second day was slow but we still boated 20 or more fish. On the third day, we boated so many fish that I finally asked Javier to just row us to the take out as it was getting ridiculous.

Mary with Guides Mary with Guides

Then we moved onto the famous Malleo River. This year I stayed at the renowned lodge, San Huberto owned by the Olsen family. This is a beautiful, picture perfect fishing lodge. It can fish up to 18 people at a time and several of the people staying there were returning for their 20th, 23rd, and 26th time. Personally, I prefer smaller venues. The owners at San Huberto have decided that if an outfitter wants to fish their section of the Malleo, all of their trips must be booked at San Huberto. If they are full, dates need to be changed. It's very political and there isn't much that can be done as the other estancias are so much smaller that an outfitter will need San Huberto several times during a season and can't afford to lose them as a lodge. The beats get assigned with the guides for morning and after lunch so everyone rotates through the available sections of the river. This also means that there is considerable pressure as it's a busy place and all beats get assigned all day every day. The river, again, is beautiful and is one of the must-fish rivers in Patagonia. Almost all of the fishing is casting dries to rising fish.

Fishing Like a Guide

My fishing days went like this: Up at 6:30, change and walk 2.5 to 3 miles. Back to the lodge at 7:30, shower, change for the day, get organized for fishing. Breakfast at 8:30 where you are offered both full Argentine breakfast (sliced ham, sliced cheese, rolls, sweet bread, coffee, yogurt) and full American (cereals, milk, juices, eggs, bacon, toast). My guide picks me up at 9 and we head out for the morning, driving anywhere between 10 minutes and half an hour. Fish until 2:30 then haul ass back to the lodge for lunch that was served at 2. Depending on the lodge, lunch is usually the bigger meal of the day and the Malbec is poured into big water glasses. If you haven't tried Malbec, I recommend it and it's very inexpensive. Then you have free time until 4 or 4:30 and then it's back to a different section of the river and fish until 10:30. Then it's haul ass back to the lodge and you have 10 minutes to change and dinner is served from 11 to 12:30. Then it's bed and start all over again the next day. You don't have to fish this hard, but the fishing was so great I didn't want to miss any time on the water.

The Good Life
Mary bearng up bravely

There were times when I just couldn't get to a fish but it would keep rising. Javier got a little frustrated with my lack of ability and his comment was that on the Caleufeu, drifting from a boat, with two flies, split shot, and an indicator, that I had been perfect. Almost never tangled and always got the flies into the right drift. On the Malleo, he wanted me to cast one, single dry fly, the easiest cast of all, and my cast fell apart. He wanted to know if I had started taking drugs and if that was responsible for my poor performance. By next year I have promised to learn to double haul and to do "good" stack mends. In the meantime, when it just got to be too much, I would hand the rod to him and have him "show me". I learned as much, if not more, watching him as by being instructed. It was humbling, frustrating and a lot of fun when a fish I had no chance at was caught and I got to see how it was done. And if you think you could have done better, think again. These were graduate school fish.

Big Brown
A Big Brown

One occasion that I will treasure, we were fishing a pool with a dozen or more rising fish. I was picking them off, one, then two, three, until all were caught but the last one. He was the farthest out, trees and bushes surrounded us. He was coming up on the other side of a length of rock that had faster current moving on our side of it and it was sticking up out of the water enough to catch the line. I tried several times. I could get the fly to the fish but couldn't mend fast enough to hold it in place. I handed my rod to Javier. First cast, he got caught on the bushes behind him. Second cast, he got the fly out but missed the mend. Third cast, back into the bushes. Fourth cast, fish had just taken a natural. Fifth cast, the fish came up, took the fly and Javier slapped at a deer fly and missed the set. I was gracious and kind and merely patted his shoulder and told him, "it happens like that sometimes".

Our last day, we fished the "private" Malleo in the morning and then went to the "public" Malleo in the afternoon. The public section of the Malleo is owned by the Mapuche Indians and you need to pay a small entrance fee to enter the area. This section is very rural with subsistence farming. This is where the guides go to fish on their day off. I really liked this section of the river and want to go back and explore further up river as it got better and better.

Another Brown Another Big Brown

Next day we floated the Chimehuin River through Junin de los Andes. Junin is a popular tourist spot for Argentineans. Its a pretty river and the fishing was ok, but I would have to say that this was one of my off days. I didn't do that well, it was hot, it was a bigger river, it was frustrating and we weren't talking to each other at the end of the day. I would have enjoyed it more if I would have rowed Javier's boat and let him fish.

Then we drove to the Arroyo Verde Lodge and the Traful River. This is the most beautiful river in the world. It just is. Charles Gaines, in Forbes Magazine, described it as "The Greatest Fishing Lodge in the World. Period." Ernie Schwiebert, in his book "Remembrances of Rivers Past" dedicates a chapter to the Traful. It holds some really big fish, rainbows and browns and the only river in South America with a population of landlocked salmon. The structure is all perfect. Meme Lariviere, her daughters, Maria Louisa and Mariana, and the ranch manager, Katrina run the Estancia and the fishing. The land was purchased by the Lariviere family in the late 1800s. At the time, they were the wealthiest family in Argentina. By 1910 - 20, the family had built summer cottages and would travel by train across Argentina and visit their ranch in the summer with their guests and play polo, hunt, and fish. They tried raising California Quail which didn't survive well in captivity. Meme tells of one New Year's Eve when all of the party went in their evening dress to release the quail to see if they would do better as wild birds. They did and there are now California Quail are all over Argentina. When Felipe Lariviere died, the Estancia was split with Meme's husband, Mauricio owning the Arroyo Verde Lodge on the north side of the river and his brother, Felipe owning the Primavera Lodge on the south side of the river. Felipe sold his half to Ted Turner. Ted has been trying to buy Arroyo Verde ever since to re-unit the Estancia.

Arroyo Verde Lodge The Arroyo Verde Lodge

This was my last day fishing with Javier and I hooked into a 28" brown that was breathtaking. I didn't land him, but we saw him come up twice and got a good look at him. My last two and half days, I fished with Arturo whose last name escapes me and I am embarrassed. Arturo does a lot of work with Mel Krieger and is President of Mel's Foundation in Argentina. With Arturo, I was back to being the delicate, old flower again. By the last half day, I had convinced him that we needed to fish more like he would.

Sitting in the Bariloche airport waiting for my flight home, I was suddenly overwhelmed with certainty that I was going to stay in Argentina. I wasn't going to get on the plane and go home. I sat there figuring out the next part of my life and how this would work. As I made my plans, I gradually realized that I don't speak Spanish, I have no job skills in Argentina. If I were to stay, I wouldn't be fly fishing everyday and waited on hand and foot, I would probably be the person cleaning the bathrooms and it would be much better to go home and make the money to keep coming back. Because I knew how difficult leaving would be, on our last day on the long drive from San Martin to the Traful, Javier and I planned out my trip for 2008 which I started organizing the week I got home. Sometimes you need something to look forward to so you can keep going.
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