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Fly Fishing in Patagonia

A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentina

Barrett Mattison & Evan Jones

Fly-Fishing in Patagonia
A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentina

Barrett Mattison & Evan Jones

Fly Fishing in Patagonia
A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentina

Barrett Mattison & Evan Jones

Dedicated in loving memory of Kaylene Jones

Rodrigo Amadeo, a pro-snowboarder-turned-fishing guide whose steadfast friendship and support opened countless doors for us; Aldo & Marita Roddino, who made us feel right at home in Junin; Enzo Schiaverano, a random guy we met in Rio Gallegos who welded our truck back together and then took us fishing; everyone at hostel 1004 in Bariloche for saving Evan from defeat during his first trip; everyone at Calafate Fishing for taking us the extra mile; Mario Capovía, who took us Dorado fishing (maybe next book); Guillermo “Willy” Ricigliano, for teaching us the secrets of the Limay; Mario Lussich, and Alejandro Lagos from the Quillen Valley; Martín & Daniel Etcheverry, who took us under their wing in the Meliquina Valley; Mariano Ravizza, the Beale family, Steve & Antonia Twilegar, Lucas Chiappe and family, Juan at Estancia Monte Leon, Diego Flores, Nico & Alex Trochine, Juan at Albergue de los Sueños, Daniel at Tolhuin Fly Shop, Raúl Diez at La Colina, Juan Paritsis, Silvana Buján, Pancho & Dr. Sacco at Outdoor Adventures, and all the nameless people who stopped when our car broke down.

Frazier Coe, who traveled with us for 90 days and rounded out the A-Team; Joey Lin, for hooking us up with the Patagonia Fishing Club in Aluminé; Jake Chutz & Shaun Jeszenka, who got us gree access to the Rio Grande and showed us a great time; George Hill Arbaugh III, Ryan Davey, John & Dawn Hohl, and Shawn Bratt, all of whom teamed up and fished with us at some point; Lindsay Letts, who has the patience of a saint; Jon Tolbey, who voluntarily proofread every word of this manuscript; Travis and Rance at Patagonia River Guides, everyone from Creekside Angling in Seattle, Jon Spiegel at Front Range Anglers in Boulder, Mit Cadden for handing down El Burro, and countless others for letting us couch surf while writing the book.


© 2008 Barrett Mattison & Evan Jones 2008 Barrett of this book Evan Jones ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No partMattison & may be reproduced or transmitted No electronic book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by 2008 Barrett Mattisonmechanical, without the written any means, part of thisor & Evan Jones
in consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the written No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerptsto: critical reviews and articles. All inquiries should be addressed in in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the written reviews and articles. All inquiries should be addressed to: consent of the publisher, Amatoin the case of brief excerpts in critical Frank except Publications, Inc. reviews and articles. All Portland, Oregon 97282 to: P.O. Frank Amato Publications, Inc. Box 82112, inquiries should be addressed

Book and Cover Design: Kathy Johnson Map Illustrations: Kathy Johnson Photographs by the authors unless otherwise noted. Map Illustrations: Kathy Johnson Book and Cover Design: Kathy Johnson Printed in Singapore Map Illustrations:Singapore Printed in Kathy Johnson Softbound ISBN-13: 978-1-57188-437-4 Softbound ISBN-13: 978-1-57188-437-4 UPC: 0-81127-00269-6 Printed in UPC: 0-81127-00269-6 Softbound1ISBN-13: 978-1-57188-437-4 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 UPC: 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 1 3 0-81127-00269-6 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

P.O.Frank Box 82112, Publications, Inc. 503.653.8108 • Portland, Oregon 97282 503.653.8108 •Portland, Oregon 97282 P.O. Box 82112,authors unless otherwise noted. Photographs by the 503.653.8108 authors unless otherwise noted. Photographs by the • Book and Cover Design: Kathy Johnson

South America

Tierra del Fuego



Santa Cruz

Rio Negro

Part 1—Introduction to Patagonia
Preface Patagonian Basics Patagonian Trout—Past to Present Logistics When to Go What to Bring Fishing Regulations What to Expect from the Argentines 10 14 22 28 34 38 42 44


Neuquén Province

Part 2—The Waterways

Río Negro Province & Nahuel Huapi Natl. Park
Río Traful Ruta de los Siete Lagos—Seven Lakes Route (incl. Río Correntoso) Lago Nahuel Haupi Río Limay Río Pichi Léufu Río Manso Lakes of the middle Río Manso (incl. Lagos Hess, Fonck, Roca and Steffan) Lago Guillelmo

Río Aluminé Río Pulmarí Río Quillén Río Litran Río Malleo Río Chimehuin Lagos Huechulafquen and Paimun Río Curruhue Drainage (incl. Río Verde, Lagos Epulafquen and Carilafquen) Río Quilquihue Río Collon Cura Río Meliquina Ríos Filo Hua Hum Oeste y Este Río Caléufu


60 62 64 65 68 73 75 76 77 79 81 82


84 90

97 98 104 106 113 116

Chubut Province

Santa Cruz Province

Río Grande (or Futaleufú) Drainage and 127 Los Alerces Natl. Park Lago Cholila and Río Carrileufú 128 130 Lago and Río Rivadavia 131 Lago Verde and Río Arrayanes Lago and Río Menéndez 132 Lago Futalaufquen and Lago Krüger Area 133 Amutui Quimei Reservoir and Río Grande (or Futaleufú) 135 137 Arroyo Pescado (incl. Río Tecka) Laguna Wilmanco 140 Río Chubut 141 Río Corcovado (or Carrenleufú) 143 148 Lagunas del Engaño 149 Río Pico Drainage (incl. Lagos 1-5) Río Senguer Drainage (incl. Lagos La Plata and Fontana)153



Tierra del Fuego

Ruta 40 (Lago Buenos Aires to Lago Pueyrredón) 163 169 Meseta de la Muerte (or Meseta Cascajosa) Lagos San Martín, Viedma & Argentino—The Glacial Greats 171 Río Santa Cruz 177 Río Gallegos 183 Río Coyle (or Coig) 188


Río Grande Río Menéndez Río Fuego Río Ewan Río San Pablo Río Irigoyen Lago Fagnano (or Khami) and Tributaries along Ruta 3 Lago Yehuin Area Lagunas Margarita, Bombilla and Palacios Lago Escondido Lagunas Santa Laura and San Ricardo Río Olivia Río Pipo Río Lapataia


197 201 202 204 206 208 209 211 212 214 216 217 217 218


Appendix I: Buying a Car in Argentina Appendix II: Spanish Fishing Vocabulary Selected Bibliography

220 224 226 228


Fly Fishing in Patagonia: A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentian

Part I:



Chapter 1


to Patagonia

“One thing about nature: make one lousy rule to describe it and it’ll contradict you even if it has to transmogrify and metamorphose and bust its ass to do it.”
–David James Duncan

Patagonian Basics

ATAgOnIA IS THe nAMe given to the entire southern peninsula of South America, roughly between 38 and 55 degrees south latitude. Its 380,000+ square miles are shared by the nations of Argentina and Chile, with the Andes mountain chain forming a natural boundary between the two. Our focus is solely on the Argentine side of Patagonia, which encompasses roughly 80% of the total land area, extending eastward from the Andes all the way to the Atlantic coast, and from the Río Colorado near the city of neuquén all the way to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. This massive area is divided among the 5 southernmost provinces of Argentina: neuquén, Río negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, and Tierra del Fuego. Their total size is about that of Montana and California combined. The enormity of Patagonia makes any generalization about it quite… well… general. Describing the entire area in a single overview is much like talking about “California and Montana” in one breath. even if we devoted the entire book to this subject, it might not be enough to capture all the nuances of this diverse landscape. Therefore, we’re shooting for something distinctly less grandiose— not a complete academic review, but rather a few key aspects that are most useful to visiting anglers. What follows are general descriptions that


are applicable to wide swaths of Patagonia, intended to give you a better overview of the area as a whole. More region-specific information is included in the relevant chapters later on. Why is it called “Patagonia”? There seem to be several variations on the exact origin of the name “Patagonia”. Most agree that it was Magellan who coined the phrase during his visit to the present-day port of San Julian in 1520, inspired by the native Tehuelches’ large stature. Some say he called them “Patagones” directly in reference to their large feet/footprints. Others insist that it was a reference to the frightening giant “Patagón” from a novel of the time called Primaleon, which Magellan was reputedly fond of. Either way, it’s clear that the natives were big, the Spanish were afraid of them, and the name stuck. Patagonia is a land of dramatic extremes. Inside its vast expanses you may encounter everything from rocky peaks to featureless plains, from colossal glaciers to parched deserts, and from thriving tourist cities to utterly vacant wilderness. It’s not simply this variety of environments that characterizes Patagonia, but how abruptly the landscape can shift from one to another. The transitions can be quite surprising, sometimes between one curve of the road and the next, where dense old-growth forest might suddenly give way to scattered sage-

Part I: Patagonia Basics


East of the rainshadow, much of Patagonia is dominated by dry, featureless plains. In fact, Patagonia encompasses the world’s fourth largest desert. Barrett Mattison Photo brush on a windswept plain. Differences in local weather can be equally dramatic, changing from cold and rainy to hot and windy (or vice-versa) over just a few kilometers. Patagonia is full of these surprises, though there is an underlying method to its madness that can help visiting anglers prepare: which extreme you encounter is mostly dictated by your proximity to the Andes mountain range. yond them. Differences in precipitation between the two regions can be incredible. Some mountainous areas receive over 160 inches of rain per year, while the average annual rainfall on the nearby steppe is a paltry eight inches. This climatic phenomenon intensifies the geographic differences between mountains and plains, in effect creating two totally distinct Patagonian experiences. The key to predicting what your particular experience might bring, therefore, is to know where your destination lies in relation to the rain shadow boundary. On the western margins, you are likely to encounter temperate rainforest, with cooler temperatures and frequent rain or even snow. The eastern side will likely be warmer and drier, but with far fewer trees to slow the incessant winds that swoop down from the mountains across the plains. Between the two is a narrow transition zone with its own distinct vegetation and climate, both of which tend to be quite variable. The area of Lago Huechulafquen

At the most basic level, Patagonia can be divided into two major ecosystems: the mountainous areas of the Andes to the west and the barren steppe that extends eastward to the Atlantic Ocean. The mountains are not particularly tall by Andean standards here at the end of the chain (averaging just over 2,000 meters), though they are sufficiently high to trap clouds laden with moisture moving eastward from the Pacific. The result is a powerful rain shadow effect that saturates the mountains and parches the rolling plains be-


Fly Fishing in Patagonia: A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentian

“Patagonia is the farthest place to which man walked from his place of origins. It is therefore a symbol of his restlessness. From its discovery it had an effect on the imagination something like the Moon, but in my opinion more powerful.” Bruce Chatwin


ATAgONIA IS mORE THAN just a spot on the map. The mere mention of the word “Patagonia” captivates the imagination, invoking thoughts of adventure and exploration in a fabled far-off corner of the world. Since magellan first set foot on its barren shores near present day San Julián in 1520, Patagonia’s mystique and raw beauty has irresistibly drawn explorers, mountaineers, prospectors, naturalists and wanderers alike. With the wildly successful introduction of trout at the turn of th the 20 century, a new frontier was opened, adding fly fishermen to that rarefied list. Aesthetically speaking, Patagonia and the North American West share many parallels: immense tracts of unpopulated wilderness, grandiose mountain ranges and endless prairies, intemperate climates, a frontier history of rough-and-tumble lawlessness complete with cowboys and Indians, homesteading and cattle ranching; and perhaps most important to fly fishermen, pristine streams swimming with large, eager trout. In some ways, Patagonia is also like stepping back into the American West of generations past—a past where horses and oxcarts are still standard modes of transportation, where rickety old trucks bounce down unpaved roads, and where many of its uncrowded rivers still flow freely, untamed by dams.


But Patagonia is much more than simply a South American reflection of our American West. The distinct Latin culture; an exotic austral sky; the seemingly incongruous mix of immense glaciers encircled by bamboo rainforests; curious native fauna such as guanacos, pigmy deer, and rheas; or fishing under the watchful eyes of Andean condors in a trout stream ringed by parakeets and flamingos—all are uniquely Patagonian experiences. Patagonia is also a land of awe-inspiring immensity as vast as it is varied, and offers every conceivable type of fly water and scenery. Characterized by dramatic contrasts, Patagonia offers everything from turquoise rivers cutting through temperate rainforests to tea-stained chalk streams meandering over desolate steppe, and from sight-fishing in a technical spring creek to spey casting in a massive glacial river. It is also one of the last remaining fly fishing frontiers on earth, and in its more remote areas is still a sparsely inhabited frontier land as trackless and wild as it was centuries ago, where many lakes and rivers remain relatively unknown and unexplored by fishermen. While the trout may technically be the same species as their Northern Hemispheric cousins, 100 years of uninterrupted adaptation within distinct environments has resulted in

Part I: Preface


some exotic trout fishing unlike anywhere else in the world. Oversized trout chasing down equally oversized dry flies frantically skittered across the surface, explosive 20lb sea-run browns, or a unique run of Atlantic steelhead are just a few examples of the unparalleled fishing that Patagonia can offer. Hearing of the incredible fishing and hoping to quench our appetites for big trout and a little adventure, we too were irresistibly drawn to the exotic remoteness of Patagonia. Trading in cubicles and neckties for rivers and waders, we left our stable jobs in exchange for the uncertainty of trout bumming for extended periods of time in a foreign land. First in a 1984 Renault station wagon and again the following season with a 1974 Ford Ranchero, we extensively covered

(albeit slowly at times) the entire length of Argentine Patagonia from Aluminé to Ushuaia, and most places in-between. Although Patagonia is roughly defined as the southernmost portions of both Argentina and Chile, we chose to focus solely on Argentine Patagonia. Excellent fishing certainly exists on both sides of the border, but from a fishermen’s perspective, Argentina is generally more accessible, affordable, and practical than neighboring Chile. Fishing mostly independently and entirely self-funded, we camped most of the time, ate almost nothing but pasta, got punished by weather, went on countless grueling marches, and got stranded in the middle of nowhere more than once—all in the search for salmonids. Our hope is that we can use our experiences to inform


others of the realities of Argentine fly fishing, while helping to avoid the many pitfalls that we had to learn the hard way. Roderick Haig-Brown once said, rather self-deprecatingly, “I am a writer who happens to fish, not a fisherman who happens to write.” It might already be apparent that we are the exact opposite. Patagonia, and fly fishing in general, has a rich history of writers infinitely more eloquent and talented than ourselves, and we have no illusions to the contrary. What we lack in literary prose, however, we strive to make up for with pragmatic information for fishermen conveyed in a straightforward manner. Having fished the majority of Argentine Patagonia, we feel we have a solid background from which to provide an objective view on how its various regions and waterways differ, and what each has to offer. While absolute objectivity is obviously impossible, operating independently has freed us from the obligation to promote any one area simply because a lodge or outfitter catered to us (something you won’t find in most magazine articles or TV shows). Even though this book may be written from the perspective of unabashed trout bums, we realize that most anglers considering a trip to Patagonia don’t have the luxury of staying for six months at a time or the desire to sleep in a tent every night and will therefore go through a lodge or outfitter. Only on a few occasions did we use these types of resources, so while we have chosen to recommend a handful of those with whom we had an excellent personal experience, this book cannot address which are “the best,” only what to expect

Fly Fishing in Patagonia: A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentian

from the fishing when you get there. There are many other resources to help you with the more commercial aspects of a trip. At the same time, this book is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on Patagonian fly fishing. Not in many lifetimes could one fish every section of its myriad fisheries, not to mention covering them sufficiently to claim expertise. We make no such claim. Nevertheless, we have tried our best to fill the large gap of information that hangs over much of Patagonia. Given the sheer amount of fishable water available in Argentina, it was impossible for us to personally gain seasonlong, day-in, day-out experience on any single river or lake. To overcome this, we relentlessly sought out and questioned the most k nowledgeable fishermen and guides we could find in each area, thereby supplementing our comparatively brief experience with a more holistic and comprehensive perspective—something we are in turn passing on to you. In sum, this book is a mixture of extensive first and second-hand research, personal anecdotes and observations, and practical tips on how to navigate this uttermost corner of the world. Most fly fishermen traveling to Patagonia should bring a general guidebook on the region, such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. We have therefore tried our best not to duplicate information already provided in those books. Subjects such as history, culture, flora, fauna, tourism and generally all things superfluous to fly fishing are not included or are mentioned only in passing. Our hope is that this information will help fishermen decide when and where to go based on their personal preferences. See you there…

Frazier Coe Photo

Part I: Preface



Fly Fishing in Patagonia: A Trout Bum’s Guide to Argentian




Alto Río Senguer Aluminé Amutui Quimei Reservoir Arcoiris (see Rainbow Trout) Arroyo Aseret Arroyo Baggilt Arroyo Cuyin Manzano Arroyo Guacho Arroyo Huemul Arroyo Los Ingenieros Arroyo Ñireco Arroyo Pedregoso Arroyo Pescado Arroyo Ruca Malen Arroyo Suspiro Arroyo Toro Alzado Bajo Caracoles Bariloche (San Carlos de) Bocas Bocones (see Lake Trout) Brook Trout Brown Trout Chinook Cholila Chorrillo Magán Chorrillo Solitário Confluencia Corcovado Driving El Bolson El Calafate El Maiten Epuyén Esquel Estancia La Siberia Flies Floats Fontinalis (see Brook Trout)


Gobernador Gregores Gusano/Gusanito Junín (de los Andes)



La Rinconada Lago 1-5 Lago Aluminé Lago Antuk (see Lago Hantu) Lago Argentino Lago Berta Inferior Lago Berta Superior Lago Buenos Aires Lago Cardiel/Cardiel Chico Lago Carilafquen Lago Chepelmut Lago Cholila Lago Colhue Huapi Lago Columna Lago Curruhué Grande/ Chico Lago del Desierto Lago Engaño Falso Lago Engaño Superior Lago Epulafquen Lago Escondido Lago Espejo Grande/ Chico Lago Fagnano (Khami) Lago Falkner Lago Filo Hua Hum Lago Fonck Grande/Chico Lago Futalaufquen Lago Ghio Lago Guacho Lago Guillelmo Lago Hantu Lago Hermoso Lago Hess Lago Huechulafquen Lago Krüger Lago Lacar

Lago Lolog Lago Los Moscos Lago Machónico Lago Martín Lago Mascardi Lago Menéndez Lago Moquehue Lago Musters Lago Nahuel Haupi Lago Ñorquinco Lago Nuevo Lago Paimun Lago Posadas Lago Puelo National Park Lago Pueyrredón Lago Pulmarí Lago Quillén Lago Quiroga Grande/ Chico Lago Rivadavia Lago Roca Lago Roca Lago Salitroso Lago San Martín Lago Steffan Lago Strobel Lago Tromen Lago Verde Lago Viedma Lago Villarino Lago Vintter Lago Yehuin Laguna Bombilla Laguna El Toro Laguna Huala-Hue Laguna La Herradura Laguna Los Giles Laguna Margarita Laguna Palacios Laguna San Ricardo Laguna Santa Laura Laguna Verde Laguna Wilmanco Laguna Yakush Lagunas Hailsha (see

Lagunas Jeulsha) Lagunas Jeulsha Lagunas Mellizas (see Lagunas Jeulsha) Lake Trout Landlocked Atlantic Salmon Lanín National Park Las Pampas (Dr. Atilio Viglioni) Llao Llao Los Alerces National Park Los Antiguos Los Glaciares National Park Marrones (see Brown Trout) Nahuel Huapi National Park Pacific Drainages Pancora Pejerrey Perca Perito Moreno Perito Moreno National Park Piedra del Aguila Piedrabuena Pilolíl Plateadas (see Sea-Run Brown Trout) Preferencial Zones Pulgón Puyén Rahue Rainbow Trout Río Aluminé Río Arrayanes Río Azul Río Belgrano Río Blanco


Río Kilca Río Krüger Río La Leona Río Lapataia Río Las Pampas Río Limay Río Litran Río Los Antiguos Río Malleo Río Manso Río Martín Río Mayer Río Mayo [city] Río Mayo [river] Río Meliquina Río Menéndez Río Menéndez Río Milna Río Minero Río Negro Río Neuquén Río Nilson Río Ñirihuau Río Ñorquinco Río Olivia Río Oro Río Paimun Río Pascua Río Pelque Río Penitente Río Pichi Léufu Río Pichi Traful Río Pico [city] Río Pico [river] Río Pipo Río Pulmarí Río Quieto Río Quillén Río Quilquihue Río Rivadavia Río Rubens Río San Pablo Río Santa Cruz Río Senguer Río Shehuen (Chalía) Río Stange Río Tarde Río Tecka Río Tigre Río Tuerto Río Turbio [city] Río Turbio [river] Río Unión Río Valdez Río Verde Río Villegas Ruta Pehuenia

Río Bombilla Río Bonito Río Caléufu Río Capitán Río Cardiel Río Carrileufú Río Catan Lil Río Caterina Río Chappel Río Chico Río Chimehuin Río Chubut Río Claro Río Colehual Río Collon Cura Río Corcovado (Carrenleufú) Río Corintos Río Correntoso Río Coyle (or Coig) Río Curruhué Río de la Turba (see Río Menendez) Río de las Vueltas Río Deseado Río Diablo Río El Paso Río Engaño Río Epuyén Río Escorial Río Ewan Río Fenix Grande/Chico Río Filo Hua Hum Oeste/ Este Río Foyel Río Frey Río Fuego Río Furioso Río Gallegos [city] Río Gallegos [river] Río Gallegos Chico Río Ghio Río Grande (Futaleufú) Río Grande [city] Río Grande [river] Río Gualjiana Río Hielo Río In Río Indio Río Irigoyen Río Jeinemeni

San Martín (de los Andes) Sea Trout (see Sea-run Brown Trout) Sea-run Brown Trout Seasons Steelhead

Tackle Tecka Tierra del Fuego National Park Tolhuin Trelew Tres Lagos Trevelin

Ushuaia Villa Futalaufquen Villa La Angostura Villa Pehuenia Villa Traful

Zonas Preferenciales (see Preferential Zones)

Even after spending a considerable amount of time in Argentine Patagonia, I'm amazed at how much information is in this book that I wasn't aware of. Any angler visiting this remote and
splendid region with this book in hand will quickly realize that it’s absolutely invaluable for

everyone from the lodge visitor to the wandering trout bum. It’s everything a guidebook should be, and more. If we’d had a copy of this on our journey, it would have been a different story indeed.

—Ryan Davey, Founding Partner of the Angling Exploration Group,


ighten down your drag and hold on—you are about to embark on an epic journey through one of the last fishing frontiers on the planet. From sightfishing the ginclear streams of the North to speycasting the turbid rivers of the South, this book covers a staggering variety of angling opportunities found throughout the 300,000+ square miles of Argentine Patagonia. Inside you will find an extensive collection of firsthand accounts, logistical information, tips, techniques, and of course, plenty

of fish pictures to keep things interesting. Best of all, this entire book was researched and written by two real trout bums who suffered untold hassle and discomfort to bring you this information from an independent and unbiased viewpoint. So whether you plan on visiting a fancy lodge for a week or becoming a regular at the local campgrounds, this book will help you make the most of your trip. Sound too good to be true? We’ll give you a minute to flip through the pages before you decide...

In 2006 Barrett Mattison left the world of finance and banking in Seattle, WA and decided to pursue the life of an unabashed trout bum. His passion has since taken him all over the American West, Alaska, Mexico, Central America and above all, Argentina. He currently teaches English in Buenos Aires and during the fishing season can be found guiding on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego.

Barrett Mattison & Evan Jones

Evan first started fishing in...wait, why are you even reading this? Surely the actual content of this book is more interesting than the pithy details of this author’s life. All that matters is that Evan spent two years roaming across Patagonia while you were at work. If you’d really like to know more, or just live

ISBN 13: 978-1-57188-435-0


Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 82112 Portland, Oregon 97282 503.653.8108