To my mind the Sea Trout fishing in Argentina has no equal. Each year the Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos Rivers entice anglers to travel an unquestionably long distance in the hope of securing what will almost certainly be a personal best fish whilst staying in some of the finest fishing lodges on the planet. As with all fishing, results are never guaranteed but it would definitely be fair to say the odds are stacked in your favour.
My thoughts, tips and recollections below are based on five years’ experience fishing the Rio Gallegos and Rio Grande from November through to April. Whilst I do not expect to make anyone a master of these waters, I do hope to answer some of the questions and dispel some of the myths surrounding the fishing and the conditions that an angler would be likely to experience.
Pictures and stories abound of the infamous winds for which Southern Argentina is renowned. Anglers are blown off their feet, the rivers are whipped into an ocean like state and fishing becomes impossible...or does it! It is the presence of the wind that enables fishermen to catch Sea Trout as effectively during the day as at night. The wind provides camouflage for the angler and security for the Sea Trout. Purists armed with Hugh Falkus’ s Bible on Sea Trout fishing will find the rulebook turned on its head in these waters for the above reasons. By contrast, on days when the wind drops to zero and the water looses almost all its movement the fishing can become very difficult and you will find yourself praying for a return to ‘ normal’ conditions. The only successful means of combating glassy calm conditions are to put aside noisy spey casts and replace them with delicate presentation, fine leaders and stealth. In these conditions the canny trout fisherman armed with a single hand rod will almost certainly prevail over a salmon angler.
I am certain that a large number of fisherman who have unfavourable experiences as a result of the wind do so because they are using fishing gear which is unsuitable for the conditions. On my first visit to Las Buitreras lodge on the Rio Gallegos I was armed with a relatively old fashioned soft-actioned 10/ ½ ft purpose-made Sea Trout rod. A straightforward intermediate weight forward line completed the setup. In normal conditions such as those experienced on the majority of British and American rivers this would have been more than adequate. In Patagonia it is not! After a day and a half of flailing I gave in and took up the offer of the use of some of the camp rods. Being a lodge under the management of Loop there was no shortage of options and I was swiftly re-armed with a short and powerful 9 ft 7 wt rod with a shooting head. To say it made a difference is an understatement. Suitably equipped, you can punch through the wind or even better, under the wind.
A single handed rod on its own is not sufficient and to maximise your opportunities you need to have a second double handed rod set up and ready to go, with preferably the ability to be able to roll or spey cast. That is not to say you cannot overhead cast, and on occasion that can be the answer but with a type of roll cast you can usually utilise the wind to best effect with the least amount of work. A 15 ft rod is an overkill, both for the conditions and the fish. Not every fish caught will be 20lbs and consequently something between 11 ½ and 13 ft is ideal. Invariably these rods will have a much thinner blank, which is less tiring not only in terms of weight but also in the significant decrease in resistance it will have against the wind.
With this combination of rods and the flexibility to fish both banks you will often find yourself casting distances (wind aided) that you would normally only dream about. It does sometimes require you to adjust casting technique but almost all situations are surmountable. I have yet to meet an Argentinean Sea Trout guide who does not have some trick up his sleeve to help punch out a respectable line in adverse conditions.
The Magic Hour or ‘ La Hora Mágica’ in Spanish is that final hour of the day when the sun dips below the horizon, the sky as often as not turns a fiery red and when the huge Sea Trout of Southern Argentina come alive. It was also the time when I broke the 20lb mark on my first visit to Argentina. Pools which may have appeared void of activity suddenly start to ripple with life. This is typically the definitive hour of the days fishing. It is also by default the last fishing hour of the day. Concentration may be flagging, arms tired and stiff and the cold of the evening starting to set in. If there is one very important lesson that is important it is to conserve some strength and momentum for that final hour of the day.
Although seeing or hearing fish roll and splash may be a good physical indicator that there are fish about it is not a pre-requisite for action. More often than not the Sea Trout will lie very close to the far bank in the deepest section of the pool. For this reason it is essential that your fly should be dropping inches short so that it effectively covers the crucial far 1/3 of the pool you are fishing. As the light starts to close, in gauge the width of the pool and work out in advance where you should be lengthening or shortening your cast. In addition to this, work out a cast that you are entirely comfortable with. This is not the time for experimentation, as you will be casting on instinct and timing alone. Get a cast that suits the pool and the conditions and stick with it until the end of your session.
When the take comes be prepared. The darkness will heighten your senses and most likely your reflexes. Added to this is the expectation that comes with fishing the final and best hour of the day. This combination of factors frequently results in the angler striking the fish. It is an area where Salmon fishermen are likely to fare better than Trout fisherman; however none are immune to what is almost a nervous reflex. Expect the unexpected; let the fish take the fly, turn and it will invariably hook itself. Strike and it may be your last and best chance of the day to land a fish. If there is still enough light and the incident is seen by your guide expect a reprimand!
Opening a well-prepared fly box of Argentinean Sea Trout Flies can be a scary experience. Within it you will find no end of unearthly looking creations that bear little or no relationship to the sort of fare that one would consider using for a resident Brown Trout. Nymphs, Zonkers, Leeches, Salmon Patterns, Chernobyl Ants, Rubber Legs and bastard variations of all of the above are just some of the creations that are frequently offered with success. Each style and type of fly has its place and very often in no particular order. As is almost always the case, the size and method of presentation has a far greater impact than type or colour.
As a general rule, large black flies work well at night. The bigger the better is often the rule with big black Zonkers and Leech patterns holding top position although anything that has a significant signature is appropriate. Collie Dogs will work at any stage of the day fished with long slow strips although as they are relatively slim they would not be my first choice when fishing at dusk. The brighter the conditions and the lower and stiller the water the smaller the fly. Nymphs of almost any description work with the really heavy bead headed versions being ideal for the deeper cut banks or faster water. The stronger the wind the bigger the fly you can or should use. The movement of the water will add some colour and hence you can go up in size. Finally Rubber Legs: they seem to work well on almost any sort of fly when fishing for Sea Trout and they provide a fantastic and often irresistible action when fished in short sharp jerks.
Getting the depth correct for Argentinean Sea Trout is important. The Rio Gallegos as a rule is a shallower river than the Rio Grande and consequently on all my visits, with the exception of one period of very high water in November, I have never needed to use anything other than an intermediate line. The Rio Grande, although it does have its share of shallow runs tends to have deeper pools and hence faster sinking lines are more commonly used. As opposed to using full length sinking lines, which are without question more of a burden to cast, the use of a full floating main line with a wallet of interchangeable tips will make life much easier.
As with all sea-run fish Sea Trout, like Salmon are at best unpredictable. It is not uncommon to go for an ‘unnecessarily’ long period without any action, only for ones fortunes to turn around for little or no reason. Sadly, booking into the best beat at the best lodge, whether it be on the Rio Grande or Rio Gallegos, does not necessarily alleviate a ‘slow’ patch.
On my last visit to Kau Tapen lodge on the Rio Grande my fishing partner and I had a seemingly endless supply of takes in one evening which attributed to no less than 14 Sea Trout ranging from 3-16lbs. Had it not been for the Argentinean night fishing curfew we might have doubled that amount. On returning to the lodge we expected everyone to have shared in our good fortune but that typically was not the case. Fish had been caught but not in those numbers. Hopes were buoyant the following day but it was back to the good old slog with only a few takes here and there to keep things ticking over. Our final day and the thousand-cast stare was starting to show. The end of our morning session was just a few strips away and my conversation with Martin our guide was on something absolutely irrelevant when bang...I received the sort of line-wrenching take that almost pulls the rod from your hands. Armed only with my 7 wt single-handed rod and nylon which by now was almost certainly sporting several hundred careless wind knots battle commenced.
You can tell the pulse of a smaller fish and the acrobatics and long runs of a medium sized fish but the big ones fight differently. The runs are more deliberate and methodical. They are the ones in control and in this case having had a relatively slow past 24 hrs this was no exception. My insistence that Martin brandish my video camera as opposed to his net - which I think he would have been more comfortable with - did nothing to assist my chances. Fortune favoured, however, and the great fish was carefully manoeuvred into shallow water and my hands. On initial inspection Martin gave it a well-done ..good fish..18lbs. It was only when he actually put the camera down and held it did he change his tune. "Wow, she’ s really heavy, I think a good 24lbs." As it turns out, no names mentioned, it had an earlier than expected release so it was never authenticated. It was a relative bambino by Rio Grande records but it beat my previous best from Las Buitreras on the Rio Gallegos and it will certainly keep me fishing for another season.
All of the above does little to unlock the ways of the wily Sea Trout or really give a true taste for the sort of sport on offer. They are a canny and unpredictable opponent and hence doubly rewarding when fortune favours. They are, however, not the sole reason why many make the pilgrimage each year. Argentina is such a vibrant country and with a vast range of sporting opportunities which make exploring the wilderness of Tierra Del Fuego and Southern Patagonia literally just the tip of this extraordinarily exciting country/continent.
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