Patagonia: Trout Mecca

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A couple of years ago, my brother Greg and I made the voyage down to the southern hemisphere to experience first hand, the legendary trout fishing of Argentine Patagonia. As this was the biggest fishing trip we had ever been on, you can bet that plenty of time was spent finding the right outfitter to guide us along the way. In the end, we decided that the guys from Fly Fishing Patagonia were the right fit for us. Co-Owner Justi Campa was there from the beginning to answer the many questions that we had, and to help make this an unforgettable experience. I have written about FFP before as they are now guiding trips in other parts of the world, many of which are on the bucket list. They have a truly incredible operation and I would highly recommend them to anyone thinking of making the trip to one of their destinations.

Just as plenty of time went in to planning the trip, the same was the case for getting all the gear ready as the trip got closer. The gear list looked something like this:

-9 ft 6 wt rod
-Floating and sink-tip line
-Leaders: 1-5X (7.5ft and 9ft), plenty of them
-Tippet: 1X-6X
-Waders, Boots, Vest (basically cram all fly gear in one bag)
-Large assortment of flies from big streamers (Beadhead Woolybuggers of all colors, Leeches, anything else big and flashy), to Nymphs (Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, Prince Nymph, ...), to dries (ants, hoppers, dragon flys, elk hair and goddard caddis, Royal Wulff, midges); to name a few
-Clothing for every type of weather
-Headband flashlight (must)
Our trip had us leaving Austin in mid January which was the heart of their summer. We traveled from Austin to Atlanta, Atlanta to Buenos Aires, and BA to Bariloche. Bariloche is a gateway to the Patagonia region in Argentina and a cool little town with a great vibe. Greg and I were able to spend a night in Bariloche before heading to the river and we had a blast. The people are friendly, the scenery is beautiful and there are a lot of fun restaurants and bars. I would love to get back there with Liz during their winter as I hear the skiing is great as well.

                  Nahuel Huapi Lake in Bariloche                              

Day 2 had us amped up as it was time to fish. Our guides for the first part of the trip, Martin and Juan, picked us up early and we made the two hour drive from Bariloche to our let out area. Our trip was basically split into three parts with the first part (Days 2-5) spent fishing and camping along the Caluefu River. The Caluefu is a really fun river with a wide variety of terrain. Along the float, we experienced everything from mountains to a much flatter, almost desert like landscape. It was really neat to wind your way through such beautiful and ever changing countryside. 

A typical day on our float part of the trip was waking up and having breakfast by the fire. We would ease our way into the day, never being in too big of a rush. We came to realize there was really no need to be in a rush as the fishing was great all day long. After we ate and un-packed camp, we would load up the two boats (both pontoons) and head out. One boat would have all of the camping gear, food, supplies, etc… and would go out ahead towards where we would stop and have lunch. Our boat though was all about the fishing. We would fish all morning, slowly drifting our way down river. We would stop at sections that were good to wade and that we really wanted to fish thoroughly. Then we would load back up and keep heading down river. When we stopped for lunch, we would have a great meal, pop open a Quilmes or bottle of wine, and take a little nap. When done, the first boat would again go ahead and find a spot to start setting up camp for the night. We'd fish all afternoon loving every minute of it. When we got down to camp for the night, we would make a drink and kick back. Juan would grill up some amazing Argentinean steak, lamb or sausage and we would sit around the fire and talk about the fishing. Pretty sweet set up!

As far as the fishing itself, it was pretty amazing. We would generally catch about thirty or so fish a piece each day, ranging from browns and rainbows to their local perch, which looked somewhat like a largemouth bass. Most of the trout averaged around 17-18 inches with some getting much bigger. The fish of the trip came on the second day when Greg hooked into a behemoth. After a ten minute battle, he pulled in a seven plus pound brown that was a beautiful fish. There is no photo evidence though because ole buttery hands dropped the fish as he was raising it up for the picture. The fish landed on the boat and somehow squirmed its way to the only opening and slid ever so smoothly back into the river. To this day, I still tease Greg about that. Luckily, we did get it on video which you can view below. Sorry about the picture quality, I know it's not the best.

The patterns we used would depend on the conditions, structure, and time of day. When the wind was calm in the morning and evening, we would throw dries. As the wind picked up (it can get very windy in Patagonia), we would either drift nymphs, or more likely switch over to sinking lines and strip streamers. The fish seemed to love them all. 

                                                                          Argentinian Perch 

One of the most memorable hookups of my life came on the third day of the float. We were drifting and a good sized fish took the dry, it was off to the races from there. I'm not exactly sure how big this fish was as I never saw him, but he was a fighter. He headed down stream and just about spooled me before I could finally get some back on him. We pulled the boat off and I jumped out and started fighting him from shore. I got him within about twenty yards of me before he decided this time to head straight up river. Once again, he got well into my backing as I gave chase. Finally, I got him to the point where I thought I had the upper hand but he had other ideas. He spit the fly and was gone. I was pretty tired at that point as this had been going on for a while. Even though I didn't catch the fish, I had a huge smile on my face, what a battle! I knew I was going to remember that one.

The first part of the trip was such an amazing experience. Fishing all day long, camping beneath the Southern Cross each night, not seeing another human being for four days, really just a perfect escape. Part two would be just as fun, but with a whole different feel to it.

More to come...


The Big Thompson

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A buddy of mine and long time local angler, Andy Barclay, was kind enough to write up a piece on a past trip he had to Colorado. Andy is a native Austinite and an avid fly-fisherman, and loves getting out on the water any chance he can. Read more about Andy at the bottom of this blog, first though, here is his take on the Big Thompson River.

Mention the Big Thompson River in Colorado to any serious fly fisherman and you'll see his eyes get as big as silver dollars and a grin come across his face. Yes, there is a river that holds Brook Trout, Rainbows , Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, Yellowstone River Cutthroat Trout,  Greenback Cutthroat Trout, and Browns  in Rocky Mountain National Park and if you fish it right then you'll catch them.

As soon as I graduated from college and could afford trips and fishing gear I decided to make a rule of hiring a guide the first time I attempted fishing new waters and the Big Thompson was no exception. My friends Brian and Dave and I booked Mike Oatley from The Estes Angler Fly Shop. Mike has a young family and is a veteran of the Big Thompson and knows exactly where to go and the techniques to catch trout. Meeting him at the fly shop we piled in to his old jeep and with the windows down and good tunes on the radio headed out to the river. He took us to the Fern Lake Trail in the park where you can access the Big Thompson and the river holds the most handsome and colorful fish you will ever see. The river itself is something to marvel at in all of its beauty.


Fishing the river can be done by wet wade in warmer temperatures or wearing a quality pair of waders and hopping right in the river. Summer time and early fall seem to be the best times to go. 3-5 weight  8-9 foot rods also work well with 7-9 foot leaders and  5x-6x tippet. Your local fly shop can advise the best flies for the time you are there, however, standards such as Wooly Buggers, Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams, and stonefly nymphs can catch trout. It is recommended that you practice your roll casting prior to hitting the river as some stretches are narrow with lots of brush to hang a line on. 

                                                                         Big Thompson Brookie

One advantage to using a guide and outfitting service, in addition to the local knowledge which can save much frustration on the water, is not having to pack waders and a rod in your suitcase when traveling.
Most guides have extra rigs and are happy to accommodate, although they will charge you for flies used on the water. Lodging for fishing Rocky Mountain can be found close to the park or camping in the park and we chose a cabin in Estes Park to be our home base. Estes is only an hour and a half drive from Denver, Colorado so all you have to do is fly there from anywhere in the nation, rent an SUV and head in the mountains for some fishing action.

In addition to fishing, there are many hotspots in the region to check out if you decide to break from days fishing. In addition to exploring the park, the Cache de Poudre river is only about an hour or so away near the town of Fort Collins if you are in search of some white water river rafting action. We booked a trip with A-1 Wildwater one of the days on our trip and found them to be a decent outfit. After rafting, the New Castle Brewery in Fort Collins is a must stop for quality beers and relaxation. The bar area can be packed, but come ready to enjoy a fabulous beer tasting and tour the facility. In my mind, the Rocky Mountain experience in search of trout is one of my favorites and haunts my fishing memories. No wonder, I keep going back.

Thanks Andy, great write up! It certainly makes me want to get back to Colorado to enjoy the Rockies. Here is more about Andy  in his own words.

                                                              Andy (Left) and his friend Dave

My first fly rodding outfit was a South Bend Trophy Tamer Rod and Martin Reel that my mother purchased for me at an Academy store that no longer resides on Burnet Road in Austin, TX. My first flies came from the Austin Angler and from an Orvis store that was located out at the Arboretum, but both fly shops have since closed down, I guess, after the fly fishing craze from the movie “A  River Runs Through It” died down in the early 2000s and most city dwellers got caught up in the latest new hobby. The first fish I caught were sunfish down at Bull Creek, when there was enough water to hold fish. I then graduated to the Blanco, Frio, Guadalupe, Colorado and San Gabriel Rivers and bigger fish. I had an old copy of Bud Priddy’s “Fly Fishing the Texas Hill Country” which I still have and a copy of the Roads of Texas which were considered the premiere guides of the time. My best high school friend, who taught me how to fish at a school retreat on the Frio River, and I would take off, first in my pre-owned black Volvo that my parents had me driving and later in my buddies tan Chevrolet 4x4 pick-up truck that could hold all our gear and could transport a canoe and kayaks. The old days are fun to think about. I don’t even have the Trophy Tamer or Martin Reel anymore. I eventually upgraded to Sage Rods and Cabelas reels. Fishing trips do get fancier and to further away places in search of rainbow trout.

Bucket List: Panama

Sunday, October 14, 2012

For today's bucket lister, we are heading to the central American coast. Panama has been a sport fishing paradise for quite some time. With over 250 International Game Fish Association world records broken, Tropic Star Lodge in Pinas Bay stands as the poster boy of all that Panamanian fishing has to offer. This has been a dream trip of mine for quite some time as it has all of the attributes of a great fishing adventure; foreign travel and culture, untamed landscape, and world class fishing. 

A typical itinerary for this trip would be to fly into Panama City and stay a night to sample the local flavor. The following day, take a short, fifty minute flight to Pinas Bay and then hop on a panga for a short boat trip to the lodge. From then on, it is fishing, kayaking, swimming, beach-strolling and exploring jungle rivers until you have to head back home.

Monster Black Marlin
Panamanian Sailfish all lit up

Tropic Star can be a great trip for the whole family. A wonderful initiative they offer to help introduce the outdoors to the next generation is the kids club event. Every June through August, this event allows any kid under 16 to fish for free with a paying adult. 

If I make it to Tropic Star, my focus will be on offshore action including the blue and black marlin, mahi mahi, sailfish and tuna. You can bet I won't miss the incredible inshore fishing as well though, which includes huge rooster fish, snapper, grouper and amberjack to name a few.

Fishing isn't the only thing Tropic Star offers, take a hike to a mountain waterfall or head over to White Beach.

Offshore fishing is something I really enjoy doing but do not get to do that often. It doesn't get a whole lot better than Panama when it comes to offshore action and I would love to make it down there some day.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

October, what a great month! Cooler weather is back, you've got the Texas/OU game next weekend, Oktoberfest beers, big reds tailing down at the coast, so many fun things going on. It's also time for Oktoberfisch, the annual fly fishing festival hosted by The Fredericksburg Fly Fishers. This 9th edition of the annual festival is set for the weekend of October 19th-21st out at Morgan Shady Park along the banks of the South Llano River in Junction. I have never been to this event but have heard it's a blast, and what a good way to meet fellow central Texas fly fisherman. With plenty of activities planned including casting clinics, vendor booths, and of course fishing, this promises to be a really fun weekend. For more information, log on to the FFF website: