If ever there was a time to have an Audible talking book subscription, then I would suggest a trip to Argentina might be a good time to consider it. There is no getting away from the size of Argentina and the lengthy journeys that are involved. The domestic flight from Buenos Aires to Southern Patagonia is 3hrs and the follow-on road journey, from Calafate to Eagle Valley is a long one, although, by Argentinean standards, on blissfully good roads. What then would make someone want to travel such a staggeringly long way to go and catch some Trout, from a pair of remote lakes interconnected by a meandering stream?
In fairness, this was part of a joint trip, the first half of which involved fishing for Sea Trout on the Rio Gallegos at Las Buitreras lodge. The lodge, river and staff are old friends and this trip marked my 7th or 8thweek fishing there over the past 14 years. Each trip has been different, each one exciting, each one enjoyable. This year which included the New Year’s celebrations was a particularly low water year. It also marked something of a new record for me in terms of the numbers of Sea Trout that I managed to loose. A ratio that at one stage was 1 for 3 but thankfully evened out a fraction towards the end of the week. So much for experience, but a testament to the brutish strength of the Sea Trout!
From Las Buitreras Lodge I travelled to Calafate, overnighting there prior to meeting up with two charming retired doctors, Edgardo and Marcelo, and heading off on the long journey to Eagle Valley. The first part of the journey is punctuated by views towards the Santa Cruz river as well as Lago Argentina, the largest lake in Argentina. Covering 1,415km2 and b being part of the Los Glaciares National Park it is a spectacular vision of vibrant glacial blues and greens alongside snow-capped peaks and in contrast to the otherwise arid landscape. The rest of the journey was a blissful mix of Sherlock Holmes courtesy of my latest dowload, Guanaco (similar to a Llama) wandering nonchalantly alongside or on the road, and pit stops for coffee or otherwise.
The final approach to Eagle Valley and its two lakes is where things start to change. Turning off the road at the impossibly small ‘village’ of Olnie with its tiny store, gendarmerie and population of approx. 15, the final 90 mins is on smooth mud tracks and I have to confess a blessed relief in comparison to the tortuous road to Lago Strobel/Jurassic Lake.
The first sight of Eagle Valley, as you come over what feels like the umpteenth false horizon, is the lower lake, a significantly sized, milky-blue coloured expanse of water. The lower lake is relatively shallow and the wind is responsible for stirring up the lake so that it has a permanent cloudy appearance, reminiscent to the Santa Cruz River on a dull day. A final climb over the adjoining rocky escarpment reveals the upper Lake. There is little by way of comparison. It is a deep, vibrant, blue-green, frequently white-capped with waves, or as the Argentineans charmingly say, lambs. On our first evening however it was extraordinarily still, and superbly picturesque amidst the harsh surroundings. The newly built lodge stands out, a homely welcome beacon with its silver galvanised cladding and wooden frame, amidst the staggering absence of any surrounding human footprint.
The fishing can be simply split into three into events. The Upper Lake, Lower Lake and the interconnecting stream. Low-water had meant that the stream was very much a stream and whilst over the previous October & November there was a good flow and every pool was solid with very good-sized Rainbows, averaging 5-8lbs, that most certainly was not the case for our trip in early January, and as a consequence we did not fish it.
The Upper Lake was where we started our ‘attack’, and I have to say, that were it not for my exploratory inclinations, we could of finished our assault! Never have I been confronted with a lake with such a staggering population of fish. The Rainbow Trout ranged from maybe ½ to 7 or 8 lbs. Introduced in moderate numbers a number of years previously, they have flourished beyond expectations. Although maybe 50M deep in the middle, the lake does not shelve steeply down from the shoreline as might be expected below some of the cliffs, but rather has a ring around its perimeter, with both rocky bottoms but equally sandy bays with a surrounding weed-line before dropping swiftly away into the mesmeric blue depths. This shallow ring is what sustains the aquatic life that has powered the huge numbers of Trout.
On our first day, we simply indulged! Swan Bay, appropriately named, immediately behind the lodge is superbly sheltered from the prevailing wind. Even when ‘surfable’ waves were present on the main body of the lake, this bay affords almost complete shelter and tranquillity. Did we have to look deep into the Rainbow Trout Stillwater fishing manual to achieve success? For those of a technical fishing disposition, I am afraid you would be disappointed. Neither do you need to cast to the backing! Easy wading and casting no further than the surrounding drop off is all that is required.
What you will quickly become an expert in, is in handling fish with minimal contact. De-barbed hooks are essential and for my part I found that gently trapping the Trout between my ankles, for the most part, allowed me to avoid getting my hands wet. Although it was the start of the Patagonian summer and the sun shone, the wind chill on wet hands is not to be under-estimated. Putting your hands in the lake felt warm. Removing them and the subsequent wind chill had me searching for the warmth of my neck to dry and defrost them! Good gloves are essential!
On the 2ndday I set myself a challenge. Starting off at the point of the far-end of Swan Bay, 5 mins walk from the lodge, I set myself a target to see how long it would take to land 50 Trout. The other condition was that between each fish I had to take a regimental 50 steps and was not allowed to leave that exact spot until I had caught my next fish. I am not one to typically extol the virtues of numbers when fishing but this was a fun challenge, especially as it took me down the side of one of the rocky shorelines which offered the least attractive water for Trout. I hit my target of 50 fish somewhere between the 2 and 2 ½ hr point. I must confess my ability to keep count of fish, cast, play a fish and count steps at times was challenged.
All I can surmise was that if I took this seriously…there is a world record to be had and I say this with absolute sincerity! 10 hrs fishing in a day….250 fish….!!! What did I use as my weapon of choice…an Argentine Sea Trout size 8 Yuk Bug…tied on a sea-trout taming very strong hook and tied well enough to survive 50+ Trout!! Thank you Salar Flies, although by the end of the journey, I can say with confidence, I will not be offering the fly for resale!!
The lower lake, by contrast, was a very different experience. The fish here are big! Genuinely big, averaging a robust 5-8 lbs. The cloudy water means that in place of more regular Trout flies, large and black was the order of the day and for this I used an articulated Steelhead leech. Our first sortie was entirely unsuccessful, not an easy transition from the upper lake, but made easier knowing that after a few hours we could return to fishing nirvana. On our 2ndsortie it was more successful with 3 fish landed and another lost. The Rainbows in the bottom lake are built and look like Steelhead, straight from the ocean.
The fishing on the lower lake varies and as with the entire system at Eagle Valley, there remain a lot of unknowns. It is possible to come down and catch five or more of these beauties in relatively quick succession, whilst on other days you would wonder if there are any fish in the lake. In my mind this is certainly a good thing, an antidote to the decadence of both the Upper Lake and the stream when it is in full flow.
Fishermen live in a mindset of extraordinary contradictions. At its most elementary, fishermen like to catch fish. That of course is not sufficient on its own, so to add to this equation then they have to be the right fish, of the right size and very often the right colour and caught in the right way! Eagle Valley offers a final additional complication. Are the fish too easy to catch and if they are does that still constitute fun! As a Jurassic Lake veteran, when I was first exposed to huge numbers of large Trout, coupled with a painful journey, I did not think I would either need or enjoy it as much if I returned! I did return and I had as much fun on my second trip as I did the first.
Eagle Valley, although in relatively close proximity to Lago Strobel is very different and all the better for those differences. In essence, two lakes, one stream, 6 anglers, with exclusive access to all this water in an impossibly remote, wild, yet at the same time comfortable environment, assisted with hearty Argentine cooking and great table wine! For my part the take, followed by the take, followed by the take, is simply addictive. I have yet to find someone who does not find themselves sucked into this, in fishing terms, incredibly decadent environment.
For my last enduring reflection on Eagle Valley, I need only look to Edgardo. At 80 years old with no less than eight previous trips to Jurassic Lake he has had more than a few fishing stories and expeditions under his belt. Yet as I sat at the lodge waiting for supper, consuming an unhealthily large number of delicious empanada’s, on each evening, as the sun faded, he was the last one back, way past the 9 pm dinner bell. That said two things to me. This place is fun on a stick with sugar coating but even more so, I want to be as enthused for both life and fishing when I am 80 years old!
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