Bucket List: Argentina – Checked
Sometimes I go because of a certain species and sometimes I go for the variety of species found in a specific fishery, but this trip I went for the entire cultural fishing experience that Argentina boasts. For years I had heard about this country filled with beautiful topography, gin clear rivers and lakes, delicious wines, mouth-watering meats, awesome fishing and lest I not mention the gorgeous people. Well, finally in celebration of turning over into a new decade of my life, I decided to make it happen. I set off on my maiden mission as a new member of the Tailwaters Travel staff with high expectations. David Leake, owner of Tailwaters, wanted me to experience the best of Patagonia, so put me with onto Argentina’s top outfitter, Patagonia River Guides. Let me tell you, both PRG and Argentina did not disappoint. In my previous mention about gorgeous people, PRG not only has the best equipped, trained, English-speaking, fun-loving guides in Argentina, they are all extremely good looking as well. Though I must admit, one trip was not enough check it off my “Bucket List”, as it is so immense and offers 1000’s of both fisheries and wines that I still need to sample, vet and enjoy.
There are several non-stops now that leave from various cities all over the US from NYC to Atlanta and Miami over to Houston and Dallas. I, being a Houstonian, took the easy non-stop overnight flight to Buenos Aires, the cultural mecca of Argentina along with my traveling companion and fellow angler, Dr. Jeff Kozak. The 10hr flight went by in a flash with a little help from my tiny 5mil friend, Ambien. Before, I knew it, seat belt signs were going on and landing gears being lowered into place. Arrival: Customs also was a cinch, especially because Tailwaters had prepped us for the need to “pre-pay of reciprocity tax” before heading down. Within 30 minutes we had our luggage, cleared customs and were being greeted by one of the most friendly smiles and embraces I have ever encountered by a total stranger. That welcome came from LOL Argentina: Tourism Solutions’ owner and founder, Gaia Macchiavello. Tourism Solution she was from the greeting to getting us to and situated at our La Serena hotel to the city tour that followed and airport transfer the next day. I never worried for a moment about the logistics of our trip.
Due Gaia and her driver Niko being so welcoming, I felt immediately at ease, as her English is superb, smile infectious. They immediately took us by the gas station for water and beverages, which was a nice treat and compliment, having just flown for 10 hrs. As we set out for the hotel, she handed us each a packet with our trips in-country travel arrangements, accommodations, flights, transfers and maps of the area. Gaia was so knowledgeable about her beloved country and culture. We spent 4 hours learning Argentina’s history and current state of affairs as we toured the city. To celebrate our new education, we stopped and dined at one of BA’s best steak houses, Cabana Las Lilas, to get our first sampling of meats and wine. Two hours later, I was calling for a wheel barrel to help me roll out of the place.
Our Buenos Aires Lodging:
La Serena was located in the centrally situated hip area of Recoleta, walking distance from the exclusive Patio Bullrich Mall. This small boutique hotel with its modern wood sleek decor and low lighting, welcomed us with white and clean rooms.
My room had an awesome marble whirlpool bath with rain head shower that felt excellent after the long flight down.
After a quick rest and regroup, Jeff and I headed out to dinner at Il Ballo del Matone in Palermo District at what seemed like the late our of 9pm, but fortunately with the 3hr time change, was perfect timing. We met up with a friend of a friend, Maria and my Bolivian Tsimane guide and Argentine friend, Mariano Wainstein, and then headed out for a little late night/early morning dancing at Isabel…woo hoo!!
Domestic Transfer Day:
The next morning, Gaia was out front bright and early with another huge smile on her face and more energy than the Energizer bunny. With a personality so infectious, it helped Jeff and I come alive for the 2hr flight over to Esquel. Tailwaters had handled all our in-country transfers and logistics with the help of Argentina’s travel and logistics company LOL, which made the trip and all the traveling, oh, so easy and seamless. Our flight was a blast, as it was filled with mostly all American fly fishermen. I spent the two hours taking turns from gazing at the gorgeous landscapes below and listening and learning from others previous Patagonia fishing trips and adventures. It seemed at the flight’s conclusion, that we were definitely with the right outfit of Patagonia River Guides, as the best success and satisfying stories came from their past clients.
Arrival: PRG Trevelin
Our plane landed on an airstrip in the middle of a vast tree-less valley with the Andes Mountain Range as its backdrop and east winds blowing over at least 20knots. Our group of PRG’ers now having grown from Jeff and I to 6 were immediately greeted by Trevelin’s lodge manager, Julian and 2 other assistant guides, Hernan and Alex. The luggage coming off the belt was a little bit of a cluster, but just so thrilled to be there, chatted excitedly with the guys.
The drive was short and easy as we made our way thru the town of Esquel and houses with bushes and bushes of huge roses. Within 25 minutes we were pulling into the drive of PRG’s Trevelin Lodge with its beautifully manicured lawns and roses and mountain range in the distance. Upon arriving it just made you take a deep breath of the clean crisp air, because you knew you had arrived “home”. It just felt good. The wooden lodge boasts both awesome natural lighting thru it huge floor to ceiling windows and great spot lighting throughout the home and cabins that accentuate the gorgeous paintings and photographs that line the walls.
After unpacking, we met the rest of the “gang” over drinks on the front deck. We had the great company of Rick and Bronwyn out of Seattle, David and Caroline from North Texas, John and Leslie down from New York, Eric Gobkin from the “City” aka NYC, Ron and David, college buddies from Hawaii, and none other than Tailwater’s excellent photographer, Matt Jones, graced us with his skills and presence having come north from Argentina’s famous Fitz Roy. The amazing thing about almost every one of the guests is that they were “return” clients. Looking back now, I understand…once you have been once it is hard not to return.
After drinks, and when I say drinks I really speaking of one of two things, either the simply delicious Argentina red wine from the Mendoza providence or a glass of whiskey from PRG’s infamous “Whiskey Bar.” Clients are encouraged to bring and contribute a “nice” bottle of whiskey when they come to stay at Trevelin, in return, that “donor” may drink nightly from the “whiskey well”, an amazing selection libations from all over the world that range from Jim Beam and Maker’s to Oban 14 and Lagavulin 16. During “cocktail” hour, there is always an array of munchies like nuts, green and black olives, cured sausages and cheeses to satisfy “snackers” like myself. Both drinks and dinner are served by a bevy of Argentine beauties, Fernanda, Aime, Dolores and Viviana, always with a smile of their face. Top notch service. When dinner is announced, we all sit around a big family style dining room table. On the chalkboard near the table, details out our scrumptious menu for the evening including a tantalizing starter, melt in your mouth delicious main and sinful dessert all prepared by Chef Hebe and her team. By the time dinner was over every night, it was all you could do to roll us over to the comfy leather couches to stretch out with a glass of Fernet to help digest.
I think one of my favorite things about the meals at Trevelin is the family style table. Every meal I got to sit next to someone new and get to know them better whether about their “professional” life, family life or past fishing adventures. It is a great round table to find out about some hot “fishing” spots around the world.
The Gear Room:
We awoke to a beautiful partly cloudy day that first “fishing” morning, full of excitement and anticipation for the day ahead. Being a mostly saltwater angler, I was nervous about my skill set transferring over the “smaller” freshwater fish. After a delicious breakfast of “eggs made to order”, Jeff and I wandered over to the “Gear Room” to get suited up and get our marching orders for the day. Now, I have traveled quite extensively to lodges across the globe and I have never seen a better-equipped gear and equipment room. Stacks and stacks of Hatch Reel with both floating and sinking lines, tubes and tubes of Winston rods, Simms wading boots and waders in every size and all capped off with a Simms boot bag and dry bag hanging in each personalized angler’s locker.
While this was all extremely impressive, then PRG’s head guide, Esteban, opened “ the drawers” opened and my mouth fell open. PRG has more flies than I have ever seen in largest fly shop. We are talking boxes and boxes of just hoppers and then boxes and boxes of just streamers. It took my breath away, but I had not seen anything yet. One of our fellow anglers, Eric Dovkin from NYC, heard me commenting on the number of flies in PRG possession, there was a moment hesitation and Rance and Eric exchanged a weird look, that said “should we show her?” and low and behold, Eric opens up his “taco” Simms gear bags and has a personal supply of flies that easily rivaled PRG’s. Eric proceeds to tell me that he never travels to any fly fishing destination with anything less than 2000 flies. Apparently both of his suitcases, weighed in at over 100pds EACH.
Once the 10 PRG guides and the assistant guides have their morning “pow-wow”, clients and rivers are assigned. For many anglers, this is unusual and some-what frustrating to get the day’s agenda 15minutes before heading out. Honestly, though, it makes sense. Unlike salt water, where you can read the tide and weather forecast, freshwater it is a little bit more difficult to judge which beats and rivers will be fishing the best. Especially with the winds that often rip through Patagonia, “game time” decisions are often made by the pros: Rance, Travis and Esteban.
Day 1: Rivadiva
That first day, Leo was assigned to fish and float Jeff and I down the Rivadavia River located in the Los Alerces National Park of the Providence of Chubut. So off we went in one of PRG’s Toyata Tundra’s with gear in the back bed and waders on. We arrived to base of Lago Rivadiva within an hour and 15min, a beautiful gin clear bay that feeds into the river. While the guides got our rods rigged up, the Asst. Guides quickly set up pop-up chairs so that we could comfortably sit and get our wading boots on. Then once the rafts were inflated (10 minutes flat) and gear loaded, we were off to the races. I was rigged with a black rubber streamer, while Jeff was fishing a dry. We started fishing right away in the bay and on my 2nd cast – bam!! Fish on. Unfortunately, my salt water background of “really” setting the hook, left my hungry rainbow with some ripped lips. On the 4th cast, another one hit and this time I set the hook a bit more gently and landed the gorgeous 17” rainbow, but still Leo was laughing away, saying I was going to scar all his fish. Jeff, a dry fly angler determined to stay pure, finally decided to diversify and put on a dropper, after 4 were brought in on the streamer. The fish were on the bottom. We fished both droppers and streamers and several caught on both.
Leo was a great guide (his 4th with PRG), very upbeat and chipper, always in perfect English giving Jeff and I helpful hints and instruction. We caught abt 10 fish that morning (should have been 20 if we had been setting the hooks correctly- Jeff is a salty angler like me) and were rewarded with a delicious, table-clothed, wine accompanied lunch. We ended the day with over 16 fish averaging about 16-18″ and a 21″ brown being the biggest.
Day 2: Rio Grande
With renewed confidence in our step since Leo’s helpful instruction the day before, Jeff and I set out on this mild and windy day. After our breakfast, we were excited to find out that we were blessed again with Leo as our guide/teacher. Our target: The upper section of The Rio Grande: a much wider larger river, beautiful turquoise water with its gravel bottom and green willow-ed banks. Matt Jones captured some gorgeous “aerial” shots from climbing up on the bank hillside and shooting down at us. Jeff, again, a believer in dry only, started with just a dry fly, but added a nymph/emmerger quickly and caught 3 right off the bat. It was an amazing start to the day. I fished streamers and dry with a dropper and did well on the dropper, though had a few slow eats on the dry which was awesome. By midday, the winds had started to howl upriver and Leo had to fight his way down over the 3’ white-capped waves. There were lots of rainbows and browns averaging 15-18″, 3 nice rainbows over 20″ and one nice 23” brown that I caught on a black rubber legged streamer. Overall, we had a great day and manage to boat over 30 fish.
Day 3: Rio Frey
While Jeff went solo with Leo to a spring creek that enabling him to wade all day using his favorite: dry flies and catching tons of fish, I got the pleasure and privilege of being going Rance and angler Eric Dovkin (Fly Guy) to the infamously beautiful Rio Frey. It is streamer river with apparent huge browns that live in the depths and is absolutely incredible as far as beauty goes. Eric and I had a blast casting sinking lines into the depths, hoping and waiting for the “big boy” to hit. And while it was not on its game, we did catch some nice fish over 20”, with the largest being 23″ brown and 22″ rainbow. Eric caught one nice 21″ that was the fattest fish I had ever seen for that length, as estimated 7-8lbs. It looked like a football.
What I was not prepared for was the way the day ended. Rance and the other two boat guides on the river with us that day, had to row us all the way back upstream to speed boat that would then take us back to the public dock located on the lake. Of course as luck would have it, the wind picked up down river right as the row began. Tough stuff for those guides; it was an act of love and commitment to this awesome sport and in particular to this river. They say, “it is usually worth the row.”
Day 4: “Trout Baseball” on a Spring Creek
So looking back, if I had a favorite day, this would have been it. All anglers at Trevelin headed out with their assigned guides to fish a 17km stretch of spring creek located on a secluded desert ranch. Matt and I set out with PRG owner, Travis Smith to this amazing slice of heaven. The landscape was simply dramatic and baron, unlike anything I had witnessed thus far. The winds whipped over the plains, but the temperature was a good 15 degrees warmer there in the desert than at the lodge.
The greatest thing about this creek is that it was small, intimate and the perfect hopper fishery. For the half of the day, I worked on my steeple cast and really setting the hook in the proper “trout” fashion. By lunchtime, I had caught dozens of trout, not a lot of big ones, but just fun. I love seeing the aggressiveness of 5-6” trout hitting a 2” long hopper as it punches along the clear, clean surface. After another delicious lunch and bottle of wine, we headed back to the creek’s side. I had caught enough, and wanted to give Travis and Matt both a chance to fish as well, as they rarely get the chance.
As a constant gamer and competitor, I asked Travis if he had ever played “Time-out” – the fishing game, in which he looked at me in total confusion. After explaining the rules, he helped me to realize it was NOT called “Time-Out”, but “Trout Baseball”. The game was on.
The Rules: “Trout Baseball”
- Each angler gets 2 minutes to catch as many fish as he can.
- If during his/her time, he/she sets the hook unsuccessfully a strike is made, three strikes and your turn ends early.
- Also during the allotted time, if an angler snaps off or loses a hooked fish before the pre-scribed 10sec it is minus one point.
- Now, the trout are scored by size.
- 1 point given for a 6”-12” fish
- 2 points for 13”-16” fish
- 3 points for 17-20” fish and
- 4 points for any fish over 20”
- If the angler breaks off his fly on the surrounding obstacles and can tie on a new fly before his 2 minutes are up, he can keep fishing.
The game started off immediately with a lot of harassing and false cries of “SET” in attempt to get the angler to strike out by making false sets. Matt and Travis were hilarious and over the next several hours, lots of laughter and beer was shared as we broke off flies and struck out. It started as a tight game between Travis and I at 3 and Matt stuck on zero, when out of the depths of a little pool came a brown beauty. It amazes me that fish of this size can exist is such small water. Well with that gorgeous fish, Matt took the lead. At one point during the racing around, casting, and unhooking from annoying thorn bushes that seemed to reach out and entangle your hopper, Travis was busily trying to free his fly when all of the sudden disappeared from sight right into the water. Unfortunately, the peninsula that he had been standing on had given way and he slid chest high into the cold creek. But did that slow him down? Heck no! While then trailing, went on to win the game in the final hour with another gorgeous brown. It was a day I will never forget and one that helps me to remember at the end of the day why I love this sport so much: Camaraderie, laughter and big fish and awesome eats.
Part 2: PRG North – Huechahue
The drive from Trevelin to Huechahue is said to take anywhere from 6-9hrs depending on the traffic and the “recreational” weekend drivers you might find yourself behind. Fortunately for our group, a private Metro 19 plane was chartered and shared to “jump” the hour north to San Martin de los Andes. While not the cheapest option of getting up to PRG North, definitely the best use of time and energy.
As soon as we landed, our group of 5 was met by the smiling faces of PRG North’s head of office and logistics, Nerina and the handsome head of fishing and PRG North, Alex Krull Knull They warmly greeted us and made their introductions. While Brownyn and Rick headed off to Huechahue with Alex, Nerina took Matt, Jeff and me to town for the night.
San Martin de los Andes is a quaint Swiss Alps looking town with its pine cottage homes and hosterias right on the edge of San Martin Lake. We lunched at a delicious eatery that over looked the huge lake and then were picked up by the infamous Argentine photographer Isaias Miciu-Nicolaevici to spend the afternoon in his father’s, Georg Miciu and family’s art gallery. Now as an artist and a student of art, I have been to some galleries in my life, but never had I seen so much talent possessed by one family. Not only was Isa’s father’s work just jaw dropping in his use of the a palette knife and paint, but both his brothers in the paintings and photography respectively, let alone Isa’s amazing landscape prints as well. The building itself is a work of art, so it a must while visiting San Martin.
That night Isa took us to a local pub, called Crux where the walls boasted Isa’s brother, Elias’, photos from every wall. After a few hand-crafted beers, we headed over with Nerina to saturate ourselves in the world’s best comfort food, pizza. Callo Pizza is awesome! More delicious cheese on one pizza than I ever thought possible and cheap. The people-watching too was great at this busting little pizza joint.
The next morning headed to Huechahue (pronounced way-cha-way), our home for the 4 nights and 5 days. The estancia is located on a gorgeous ranch about an hour from town or 40 minutes from the San Martin/Chapelco airport. It is a working horse ranch that also boasts a full farmyard and greenhouse garden. The lodge is centered over a courtyard with a stream running through it. Around the courtyard, sits 2 cabins with 3 rooms each, a guides cabin, the assada house and the main house, all with great front porches.
Almost everything that was put on the table for all meals were straight from farm to table: the berries, homemade apple juice, veggies, milk, cheese, and to some chagrin the meat. Most nights, the head Guacho (a cowboy/ ranch hand of the Patagonia grasslands called pampas), would prepare for us an assada. Cooking on a spit over a live flame/coals, some tender meat from the ranch’s wide selection. Our dinners ranged from pork to venison and cow to chicken. Dinners always came accompanied with fresh tomatoes and lettuce from the greenhouse and usually avocado and potatoes from the garden. Lest I forget to mention the delicious Argentine red wine served at both lunch and dinner.
Day 1 – Malleo
Our first day started out with partly cloudy skies and a nice wind. Jeff and I were introduced by Alex, to our guide, Santos. With a glimmer of humor and excitement that constantly danced across his face, we could tell from the moment we met him, that he loves fishing. After the 40 minute drive to turn off onto the private property with red sand dunes and desert grass, we walked down the canyon’s side to wade the gorgeous Malleo river with the snow-capped Lanin volcano as its the backdrop. I started the day with Alex and with both of us loving sight casting spent the first few hours stalking and trying to move big browns. Unfortunately, I had still not learned my lesson (or had quickly forgotten it) and had a huge brown (over 25”) come sip my dry fly and I manage to set the hook like it was a 80lb tarpon, snapping the poor fish off before I could even cry out. That day, we caught mostly 15-18″ rainbows on Dries and dries with a dropper.
After a delicious picnic lunch of wine cheese, sausage and bread, Santos and I set out in the drizzle. On my 2nd cast with a Madame X dry fly, I caught and landed my biggest brown of the trip. A 24″ long lanky beauty. As the afternoon moved on and the wind picked up, I managed to catch another 10 on the Malleo amidst the rainbows, sun and rain.
Day 2 – Alumine
Jeff and I spent the next day, floating the Alumine River with Santos. It is a slow, wide river lined with bright green willow trees. Upon putting in, Santos began to get excited as he gazed at the cluster of willows. As quickly he quickly grab our rods to re-rig them, he began to ask us to notice the lack of leaves on the trees compared with a grouping of willow trees further down the river bank. Jeff and I both looked and nodded our confirmation of notice and with that Santos said 3 words, “green worm hatch”, while at the same time holding up a recently tied on “green worm” fly. This was definitely a first for me. While, I had fished various insect hatches before, I had never seen a green worm hatch. Apparently, the gluttonous little leave eating inch worms get a little ambitious at time and drop into the water below. The smart and ravenous trout swim back and forth under the tree waiting and watching for there delicious green snack to fall from the heavens. Needless to say it was a blast. Jeff and I caught several right off the bat, but like all hatches they ebb and flow. Midday slowed a bit, but remained consistent with several little 12-14″ caught. We ended the day boating over 20 and getting to experience our first green worm hatch.
Day 3 – Chimehuin
Our most productive day, was Jeff and my day floating the Chimehuin. It is a pretty and fast moving river with lots of fish. Our day was windy and a bit chilly, but the fished seemed not to care. We caught a ton of both browns and bows, mostly 15-18″ biggest being 21 rainbow, but Jeff had several 20” bows on the San Juan worm. I had one huge browns eat my mouse pattern and I nearly came out of the boat with excitement. He was so strong that the darn fish jumped over a short rapid then proceed to swim upstream in heavy current, as Santos did everything he could to stall the boat. My line hung up in the rocks of the rapid and we quickly went to shore so that I could run the river’s edge back to my mouse muncher. Unfortunately, by the time I got up there, he had manage to wrap the line several times and snap off. But it was enough to leave my heart beating double time for the next hour or so. With the fishing being so on and rarely did 10 minutes go by without a fish, we threw all sorts of flies from various hoppers, beetles, Chernobyl ants to streamers and mouse patterns. That day we estimated that Jeff and I caught 60-70 trout.
Day 4 – Alumine (Half Day)
One of the best aspects of PRG North is its proximity to so many rivers and fisheries. One of those is the Alumine. Huechahue has over five miles of private river frontage. So knowing I had some time constraints with a mid-afternoon flight out, Santos offered me a “local” 2.5 hr half day float, allowing us to take out just minutes from the lodge. It started out a warm and calm morning, but within minutes, as it does often in Patagonia, the winds picked up and a chill settled on the water. Alas, as always, the fish didn’t seem at all to notice the weather or Santos’ struggle with the wind to get us down river. All and all, Santos and I caught 10 fish that morning, mostly on the dropper and a 3 nice ones on the dry (one over 19″) and funny enough only a few on the green worm.
As I came off the off that day, and stood gazing up at the hills and mountains around me and the river at my feet, I knew for certain one thing, I would be back.
The plane flights home were easy and well-timed. Flying always causes me to be nostalgic and reflective. So as I sat there flipping through all Matt’s incredible pictures and reminisced about my Argentine adventure, I am in awe of all that has to come together for me to experience such an epic trip. From the perfectly planned trip, coordination and prepping of Tailwaters Travel to the seamless transfers and domestic travel logistics of LOL, to the hosts, themselves, Patagonia River Guides with their beautiful lodging, amazing food/wine and the fun, knowledgeable and skilled guides and finally to the diversity of incredible fisheries, it was a trip of a lifetime, one I hope to duplicate time and time again.
I invite you all to come and join me on my next Argentine PRG Adventure. Come taste, catch and see all that this wonderful country has to offer.