The January, 2009 trip to Andes Outfitters & Chime Lodge in Neuquen, Argentina was a smashing success! “It seemed like there was at least one rainbow under every single willow,” said one of the gals, and she was right. The fun of fishing rainbows on dry flies just can’t be beat, and these are fish that don’t get much pressure, so that made things even better.
We started off the trip in Buenos Aires where three of us enjoyed seeing the 6-million dollar opening flower that is considered one of the art world’s most unique installations, as well as boating on the Tigre River, one of Argentina’s most famous resort areas.
Once we were all assembled in Barilouche, (one of us from GA, one from LA, one from WA, and two from AK) we got our Argentinean fishing licenses and headed out on the three-hour shuttle to the lodge. The trip proceeded along a famous rafting river into a canyon with unbelievable rock formations and through rolling hills reminiscent of the high desert in New Mexico or Arizona. As we came around a bend, the driver pointed out the lodge to us, perched above the lovely Chimeuin River (pronounced chim-oo-ween) and lit by the warm glow of the evening sun.
We were supposed to have fished that afternoon, but numerous flight problems made it impossible, so we oohed & ahhhed over the views from every side, including Lanin Volcano, that iconic symbol of this South American country, which we could see from the front porch, and settled down in the comfortable lodge with some of the legendary wines that we’d heard so much about. Gustavo & Willie, made us welcome and set out the plan for the next day’s fishing before we ate the first of many of Pato’s delicious dinners and then quickly crashed.
We were up early and Pato spoiled us (as she did every single meal) with a hearty breakfast and we were off to the beautiful Malleo (pronounced ma-jay-ho) river for what the guys referred to as “fishing the worm.” Wading the banks we could easily see the rises tight up against the bank and right off the ends of the over-hanging willow bushes. The temperature was over 90º and the water was warm, but that didn’t seem to slow down the fishing.
In January( the equivalent of June in North America) the chartreuse worms (actually a small caterpillar) fall into the water from the willows that line the banks of the area’s rivers. The trout take full advantage of the bounty. “Cast right there,” the guides would say as they pointed to a small opening in the over-hanging willow branches. Rise after rise after rise indicated quite clearly where the fish were.
Dampening down our excitement at actually being there, we settled down and started catching fish. Yes, we missed some takes, and yes, we lost some flies in the trees, but it was fabulous, nevertheless. After a great, river-side lunch and a glass of wine, we moved to different spots on the river. For a change of pace, I chose to nymph-fish with a rubber-leg hare’s ear and stonefly rig, which was working fabulously, while Julie ended up standing in front of a deep hole containing some of the largest rainbows she had ever seen in her whole life. That evening we all heard the story about the one she finally hooked that managed to disconnect. Willie was still talking about it three days later!
Willie’s sense of humor kept us all hooting with laughter the entire trip. We loved practicing our Argentinean pronunciations on him as much as he enjoyed practicing his American pronunciations on us.
The next day we met up with the rafts to fish the Collan Cura river. (pronounced cojon-cura), and Roy, a veterinarian, joined us to row one of them. We drew straws to see who would take the first stint in the single raft and did quick work of setting up a leader with the same large dry fly and a green-worm dropper from the day before. Of course, we got hung up, and of course, we lost flies, but it was exciting, challenging fishing that everyone was definitely up for. Tracy was really getting the hang of dropper and dry fly fishing after having fished mostly streamers in Washington state where she lives, and she hooked fish after fish.
It was Chrys’ first day ever in a raft or drift boat, and she quickly got the hang of the one-shot cast that didn’t hit the guide, and managing her line in tandem with the other angler. She liked it so much she vowed to do more drift boat or raft fishing in the future.
Each day at lunch, we drew straws again and shifted fishing partners for the afternoon session. This river is one of the longest in Argentina and we only fished part of the lower section, reserving a float on the upper section for the next day. Both parts were incredible. It was hard to choose which rise to cast to because there were so many.
Our float on the lovely Rio Alumine (pronounced Aluminé) was full of surprises. We had a few rapids to run, and some awesome mid-river rocks to admire, photograph and fish, and a wonderful lunch setting with a long back-water lagoon behind it where we could see and cast to some very spooky fish. Brush on both sides required a side-arm cast with a back-handed flip to present a fly. We’d run out of the standard green worms that day and were using not-quite-right substitutes. The fish certainly knew the difference. Roy had us fishing large streamers and big nymphs, which resulted in some large rainbows for Sandy as well as some of Argentina’s famed perca (perch) for several of us. He even stood arm-pit deep in one pool to extract a trophy perca of mine from under a submerged bush where it had run to hide out. Naturally, his waders filled up with water. What a guy!
We also put the rafts in at a campground in the town of Junin de los Andes and fished the lower Chimeuin, and went back a second time when it was too windy to fish the lake. It quickly became several people’s favorite float, in spite of the section where the smell from the local dump was over-powering. We quickly rowed on by that. Chris, one of the lodge’s other guides joined us for those two days, and his exceptional rowing skills held the raft in the current an amazingly long time to give us ample opportunity to target the fish. The first day we ended up doing quite a bit of nymph fishing. When we stopped to get out and wade, we were in an absolutely perfect drop-off situation for nymphing. After I had caught several fish in a row, some of the others abandoned their dry flies and worms and switched to nymphs. Both Julie and Tracy caught double-digit numbers of fish at the tail-out of that rocky ledge.
It was on this river that Julie and I, on two different days, landed the two largest brown trout of the trip. Julie’s was a 26-inch hog that had everyone talking. She was still shaking with excitement when we met up with her and Gus at the take-out on the last day. Gus was so excited that he had to bring his make-shift measurements over to the ruler that I had on my rod to actually confirm the size of the fish.
All of the guides were absolutely terrific! Their expertise and professionalism were outstanding. They put us on fish, they entertained us, they picked perfect, shady spots each day for lunch, they poured the wine, they told us fish stories, and they helped make sure we caught many, many fish. A toast to them!!
Our days were filled with lots of action and laughter and camaraderie, marvelous fishing, scrumptious food and wine, a beautiful and peaceful lodge, and, also some expected and unexpected wild-life. First and foremost were the pancora crab that we’d read so much about as a staple of the rainbows diet. We searched and searched for them along the rivers, and Willie made it his mission to find them for us. First he spotted a very large specimen that we saved in the hopes of having it dried out and un-smelly enough to bring home, but something took it away during the night when we laid it out for the ants to clean out. He later found a bright orange one (a male in breeding color) and a couple of small ones that we tried to photograph but ultimately turned loose. I have a much better image of them now to copy with flies than I did before.
Different species of birds were everywhere, and the first thing I did when I got back to the US was buy an Argentinean bird book! We also had a female deer run right beside our truck, and then, just a few seconds later, her white-speckled fawn darted by to catch up with her. Another morning as we left the lodge a mother fox and her single offspring crossed the road and posed briefly before heading into the brush where they instantly because invisible.
While in Buenos Aires on the return trip, Chrys, Sandie and I headed out on an Estancia (ranch) tour that focused on the history of the gaucho. It was absolutely fascinating. We also visited the exquisite Japanese garden. It’s a leafy oasis in the hustle and bustle of the huge city.
“Definitely, a 5-star trip!” Tracy Beville, Snoqualmie, WA