Monday, May 1, 2017

Patagonia - a Land of desolate beauty

On the first morning of fishing, we bumped down a rocky track across plains of tussock. Tomas, our guide, was a young bearded dude who oozed cool and played a mix of ACDC and Audio Slave. Before I even got the words out of my mouth he said "you're going to tell me that it looks like the South Island - all the kiwis say that". He was right, we could've been in the McKenzie Country, without the Southern Alps as a backdrop.

The day before, we'd flown into Rio Gallegos, most notable for:

1. Being the main military base used by Argentina in the war for Las Malvinas
2. Being a service centre for the local estancias and oil industry
3. Having only 1 decent cafe
4. Having the largest population of stray dogs in the whole of Patagonia

Because of flight changes, we'd after over nighting in Buenos Aries taken an early morning flight to Gallegos but had a day to kill in town. At the airport, lead guide Carlos met us (on his day off, good bugger) and organised us into taxis to head into town. Not the most salubrious day to be honest, we kicked around a bit and walked around the town before retiring to the cafe for hours as we awaited our 3pm pickup. The drive out to estancia Las Buitreras followed the path of the Rio Gallegos ("Rio Gajego") and suddenly the adventure seemed real. Our party consisted of Tim (host and prior visitor to Las Buitreras), Chris, Laurie, Jase and I. We'd picked up Jeff, an American angler on the way. We arrived at the estancia, were introduced to the (simply awesome) house staff at the lodge and assigned our rooms.

The fishing program is as follows:

We had 11 anglers present, broken into 6 pairs with Tim floating between the kiwi pairs as extra rod. There are 5 beats on the estancia with over 50 named pools. 5 guides were on point with each guide managing a beat for a week which gives them time to learn where the fish are and to mange pressure on the pools. The fishing day was broken into 2 sessions and the anglers would rotate from one beat in the morning to the next guide/beat in the afternoon e.g. on Day 1, Jase and I had beat 1 (Tomas) on the first morning and moved to beat 2 (Carlos) in the afternoon.

If I try to describe the unbelievable sunrises and sunsets of Patagonia in words I'll fail miserably; I'll simply say that I've never seen the like in my life, the sky ablaze with earth scorching oranges, purples and reds. The first few nights were miserable in terms of sleep, as we also had a full moon which beamed in lighting the entire landscape so we were always up before sunrise and able to capture various sunrises on camera. Post sunrise the breeze would start, an unrelenting typically westerly ranging from 15 to over 45 kt. The pools in the river were different in nature, "fast water" here was moderately flowing as opposed to the boot ripping white water we are used to - consequently wading was easy. A "deep" pool maybe 5-6 feet deep or so and with absolutely no trees around there consequently are no logs to snag on. As a result I only lost one fly on a snag all week and that was when the guide asked me to step back closer to edge of a pool so as not to disturb the lie with my wading, and as I did so I dragged the fly into a gap between rocks. To deal with the wind we fished double handers exclusively, with medium sink polytips followed by leaders of 15lb (or thereabouts) fluoro.  Because we fished a low water period our flies were small, usually bead headed and exclusively rubber legged. Casts were to the far bank, 45 degrees downstream and then the fly twitched back slowly. Chinks in your casting armour are quickly exposed by the wind! Day one was (despite catching a beautiful resident brown early) pretty difficult for me as my double hand experience has been 95% skagit, so the scandi head required to deliver a stealthy cast was a bit troubling.

Over the course of 6 fishing days we fished most of the big name pools and got fish on a daily basis. My first sea trout, a beautiful silver chrome bright fish came in the morning session of day 2 as I focused on putting the fly into broken water downstream of an underwater wake creating rock - if a fish was going to lie anywhere that was the spot.

Mind blowing sunrises and sunsets (credits Tim Angeli & me)

We had some amazing sessions, standing in pools with the wind whipping up waves and the turbulence created by your body causing spray to fly in your face as you cast, to casting swishing lines into the darkness under a molten sunset with each swing promising a pull. We fished wide pools with high banks or cliff backdrops, creating their own unique wind patterns blowing casts adrift, shallow runs where the fish would hide in the faster edge water, weedy embankments - nothing was the same except for the need to carefully cover the holding water and work the fly.

As with all expeditions there were some real highlights and I had many -

Jase and I doubling on sea trout in the same pool and our (fantastic!) guide Juan having 2 in the net for the first time in his career, I went on to catch another in the same pool that was a twin sister to Jase's fish and then lost a 5-6kg torpedo of a fish - or more accurately a polaris missile of a fish that leapt straight upwards as it threw the hook (that sight is indelibly etched in my mind). Going on to land 5 sea trout in that afternoon session in what became my favourite beat on the river (#4), the last as the sun dipped below the horizon. In another session losing a largish fish after 10 minutes and seeing the look on Juan's face - he was too cool to say I'd duffed it but I knew I had when I'd allowed the barbless hook (#12) to work free, then going on to put one in the net in the next pool after which we laughed and danced. Tying on a big rusty coloured AI in front of Riccardo (Big Fish Rick) who said "fish what you want" and then having a fish smash it inches from the far bank. Watching Jase sweep the pools effectively with his snake roll swishing out with precision. Chris landing 2 large trout, one a resident, one a sea trout. The meals, "lunch" being the main meal of the day consisting of large meat potions, Malbec, and the occasional tomato. Chimicurri. Sunrises. Sunsets. The company of anglers from Germany, the US (Jeff) and us kiwis. Amazing guides. A completely different style of fishing to any other I've done - some of which will translate beautifully to NZ waters. Buenos Aries - more time needed there to uncover the vibe, a fantastic city!

Fish in the net! (Tim Angeli)

Patagonia will stay with me for a long long time.

Seatrout - chrome

God rays

Dusk on the final evening

Those browns! Note the blue spot behind the eye

My first fish of the trip

Chris with a goodie (Tim Angeli)

Sea trout

Resident brown

Chrome time

Waves in the river - did I mention the wind? (T Angeli)


Perfect chrome

Kiwis, Germans, a Trumpian and guides

Super Toni with a stonker

Felix and a 20lber

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