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

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 Lago and Río Rivadavia 130 131 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 Meseta de la Muerte (or Meseta Cascajosa) 169 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

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 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted
in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews and articles. All inquiries should be addressed to:

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

Softbound ISBN-13: 978-1-57188-437-4 UPC: 0-81127-00269-6 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

South America

Tierra del Fuego



Santa Cruz

Rio Negro


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

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

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