As any self-respecting fly angler, I have a bucket list. It's a living list of destinations (both near & far) that I'd be lucky enough to cross off over the next X number of years. My fly fishing bucket list started about fifteen years ago as an aspiring "trout bum" and graduate student. Displaying an elite ability to avoid school work, I spent more time than I should probably admit ingesting any and all fly fishing videos & content, both domestically and internationally sourced.
It should be no surprise that my bucket list started with Patagonia. Now, over the years, that list has grown in both destination & species count. As I've grown as an angler, there's something alluring about chasing something beyond trout. But, I am and always will be...as archaic as it sounds...a "trout bum" to the core. Trout live in cool places. So, when friend of the shop and talented fly designer Bobby "Tight Loops" Reece invited me to join him on a trip down to explore Argentina, it goes without saying, my answer was "yes". Bob, who connected with the good people down at SET Fly Fishing, was doing an exploratory trip to a couple of their lodges for some upcoming hosted trips (hit him up on his Instagram if you're looking to get down there in 2022/2023).
The plan was to visit two of SET Fly Fishing's lodges down in Argentina: Casa De Campo & Spring Creek Lodge. We had three days of sight fishing spring creeks to big rainbows and browns and a couple of days on the region's more renowned rivers planned out. Here's a recap of our trip.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm currently editing a video from our time in Argentina that will be released on our YouTube channel shortly. Stay tuned for that. Also, I'm thinking about returning to visit the good people at SET FLY FISHING in the future - I'll update the blog with info about potential future hosted trips down to the chosen land.
It's difficult to accurately describe the landscape in Northern Patagonia. It was both wildly familiar and completely foreign at the same time. There are times it reminded me of the Rocky Mountain West...and others where I felt like I was on the moon. Maybe it was that "new mountains who dis" feeling, but everything felt bigger in Argentina. The rivers, the spring creeks, the lakes, and the volcanic and glacially shaped terrain, it was all wildly untouched/unfished in comparison to many of our local haunts.
The HERMANOS. Mati, a native of Junín de los Andes, and Gonzalo, a veteran guide based out of San Martin, felt like brothers from different mothers for me. They live and breathe trout fishing as evidenced by our late arrivals back to camp each night. We maximized the sunlight every day, and if the fish were rising, we weren't going anywhere. We couldn't have asked for two more knowledgeable and talented guides. Didn't hurt that they were actually hilarious, as well.
After a couple of days of hectic travel from Denver to Buenos Aires and an evening in the town of San Martin, it was finally time to start fishing. Gonzalo pulled up on the Main Street of San Martin. We threw our bags in Gonzalo's Toyota Hilux, and we were off. It was a two-hour drive to the first spring creek of our trip. Much of our drive was spent driving alongside the Alumine River. In between the roughly 13,000 questions that we peppered at Gonzalo about the region and fishing, Bob and I would glance down at the big river. We would turn to each other and blabber on and on about how many fish probably lived in that run...or there's gotta be a good one behind that rock. Excitement levels were high.
After driving up an empty dirt road, this valley opened up, and a huge flat spring creek revealed itself. It was idyllic. Gonzalo did his best to manage our expectations. "A good day on this spring creek is one or two good ones, Ivan." Fair enough, I thought. It was time to spot and stalk. Wind and high sun made for some tough conditions at times. The five of us methodically worked our way up both sides of the spring creek. Cycling through and trading off opportunities at rising fish. On this day, I happened to luck into the best shot of the day. I tucked behind some brush and made a couple of casts with a Film Critic to an elevated 21" rainbow that was picking off mayflies at the junction of a couple of currents. The eat was slow and deliberate and it was a hell of a way to break the seal in the Southern Hemisphere.
As the day came to a close, we hopped back in the HILUXes and headed to Casa De Campo for the night. Marisa and Daniel were our hosts at this rustic-style lodge. They fed us well with an outrageously portioned and delicious traditional homemade Argentinian meal.
The drive out on day one. Not too damn shabby. Looking like Italy & Montana had a better-looking baby.
After a hearty breakfast and sendoff from Marisa and Daniel, we set off from another dandy of a spring creek. Clouds were rolling through which made sight fishing tougher than we wanted. We traversed the thick riparian vegetation and kept peering into long runs and pools looking for that daymaker. As we worked our way upstream, we stopped on a high bank. Bob spotted a nice brown cruising around a slow pool. Gonzalo and Bob crossed downstream and started creeping upstream to get in position. Mati, Steph, and I stayed on the high bank tucked behind some brush.
Mati positioned Bob and Gonzalo via walkie-talkie and Bob made a cast...and then another one. The fish refused once and disappeared into the pool. We exercised a little patience and soon enough, we spotted the old brown cruising downstream. After making a fly change, Bobby Tight Loops threw a downstream dart with his Beefcake Beetle and fed some line. Watching from the high bank, I blurted out "Set, Set, Set" after the brown slowly, but surely swallowed the fly. Bob was hooked up with an old wily one. It was long, a little bit snaky, but damn if it wasn't what we hoped for when we started talking about the prospects of this trip about a year ago.
A Big Ole Argentian Brown
Bob was good. That was the fish he came down for. So, we worked our way upstream. It was Steph's turn, and she picked off a nice rainbow feeding below a drop.
After a proper streamside steak lunch, we kept bushwhacking our way along the spring creek. I sat down to pull out the drone and started flying up and downstream grabbing video.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, these four had spotted a really healthy brown trout cruising in some slow water. It was moving in and out of the shadows and wouldn't show itself for more than 5 to 10 seconds or so. Or so I was told. I put the drone away and he-hawed my way upstream to them. They were all hidden behind the brush, trees, and the like, whispering back and forth about this fish.
"What's going on guys?" I said. There were a couple of fish cruising, but Bob was steadfast. "I'm not casting at those ones, Ivan. Just wait." I settled in. The fish was in no hurry to cruise back through. Gonzalo and Steph decided to look for a different fish. I stayed back with Mati and Bob. Waiting for this "fish." About ten minutes later, I saw it. He was cruising out of a submerged tree and downstream towards Bob. Bob led the fish and let his bugs sit. "SET, SET, SET!"
A damn cherry on top for Bob. This fish was the prototype for a spring creek brown. It got a little squirrely landing him, but Mati scooped him.
Bob threw a couple more casts that evening...because why not. It was his day.
There were some cold Argentinian lagers waiting for us back at the trucks. A damn good day.
After leaving the care of our "adoptive" Argentinian grandparents at Casa De Campo, we made our way to yet another spring creek. Every day, I thought to myself, "Damn, I'd love another shot at yesterday's spring creek. It's the coolest creek I've ever seen." and every day, when we got to a new spring creek, I realized. "Nope, this is the coolest spring creek I've ever seen."
Carving through Argentinian igneous rocks, this spring creek gave us a couple of opportunities to get some perspective on the impressive landscape.
BWOs were on the menu with cloudy skies above. Bobby Tight Loops took advantage.
As did Steph. We spent the evening driving to Spring Creek Lodge. A change of pace from the homey feels of Casa De Campo, Spring Creek Lodge was centrally located along the banks of the upper Chimehuin River. Gourmet dinners are served in the clubhouse while you enjoy the stunning views of the Lanín Volcano (or so I was told). The clubhouse also has a common sitting area and bar for you to enjoy a glass of wine or your favorite beverage.
Day four was spent on the Malleo River (a freestone). Sourced from Tromen Lake, at the foot of Lanín Volcano, the Malleo flows about 35 miles into the Alumine River. We started low near the confluence with the Alumine. It was a hilariously windy day. The Malleo is a world-renowned dry fly fishery, but that wasn't in the cards for the first half of the day. There were no dries to eat with 60 mph whipping downstream. Luckily for me, I'm not one to shy away from throwing a streamer to trout. Trout eat streamers whether it's windy or not.
Casting upstream and ripping streamers through the pockets proved to be productive before we decided to head back to the trucks.
The Kreelex proving its worth with this solid brown in the Southern Hemisphere.
Over the past couple of days, Gonzalo and Mati kept on hinting at the existence of the Lanin Volcano. Up to that point during our stay, it had been hidden by clouds. Frankly, we were beginning to think that it was a tall tale. We'd jokingly question - "Is that the volcano?" as we passed another tall peak. After a quick fifteen-minute drive to the middle Malleo, it felt like we were on the moon. We finally got a peek at the base of the volcano...and it was big. Bigger than anything we'd seen during our time traveling the country.
Thick riparian vegetation lined the banks and every bend seemed to have infinite places for a trout to hold. Bob started picking off a couple of rainbows with a dry-dropper rig as the winds had subsided.
As the sun started to creep closer to the horizon, I handed my streamer rig to guide Mati. After refusing my offer to fish a couple of times, Mati finally obliged and ran into the best brown they've seen in their 15 years guiding on the Malleo. It was a harrowing experience trying to net that fish, but damn if it wasn't the actual PROTOTYPE. The brown trout you dream of. Look for another blog next week - detailing how this all went down. It was a trip.
We headed back to the truck, happily reviewing what had just happened, and drove back to Spring Creek Lodge. There it was. It was real and it was spectacular. The Lanin Volcano. Twice as tall as anything surrounding it.
We wrapped up our trip with an overnight float on the famed Chimehuin River. I'm going to be honest. I don't have the written word skill to accurately describe how badass of a river the Chimehuin is. It's a true freestone that reminds me of the lower Colorado and the Madison and the Big Hole combined plus more. There was so much prime trout habitat it was overwhelming at times. Cast HERE. Cast THERE. Rip the streamer back...throw again. Look downstream...ooh I need to hit that. It was mind-boggling in the best way possible. Manic almost.
Willows lined the banks, and we were constantly dared to fit a cast into a small pocket with the hopes that a big brown would be lurking. After seeing Mati's fish on the Malleo, Gonzalo and I agreed that my next two days were going to be spent going for broke trying to rope my own big brown before our trip was over.
It wasn't just a big streamer game, there were flats filled with quality risers, as well.
Ten miles into our 20-mile two-day float, we were camping underneath the stars. Good food and campfire stories are customary no matter the river.
This is the way we started our last day on the water. Gonzalo and I grinded out the rest of our float. My hands were calloused and cut, and my shoulder was shot, but the hopes of catching "the one" kept us locked in until we reached the boat ramp. The drive back to Spring Creek Lodge for the final night was an admittedly emotional one. I'm not one for overly sappy writing...in fact, I actively avoid it. EMOTIONS BAD. But, this trip was life-changing in all the good ways. That landscape, the people, the guides, and the fishing are forever etched in my big dumb brain. There's good reason Patagonia was on my bucket list. Frankly, it should have been higher on the list. In my angling life, it's the pinnacle trout experience. It's everything fly fishing for trout should be.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, and I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to experience it. I'd be lucky to experience it again, and I'll be damned if I can't figure out a way to return back to Argentina in the near future.
If you're looking to explore the many angling opportunities (for both trout and dorado), check out the good people at SET Fly Fishing. From exceptional accommodations and food to outstanding guides and world-class trout fisheries, I truly enjoyed every second of my experience. If you're interested in joining me on a hosted trip to Argentina in the next year or so, shoot me an email at email@example.com.