© 2011 Pudge Kleinkauf
A stay at a beautiful B&B in Bariloche, Mariana's, helped alleviate our jet-lag after our arrival in Argentina. We walked to town to find the fly shop the first day and had dinner at lovely restaurants both that evening and the next. An early morning shuttle got us to the lodge late morning on the third day. Julie, Sandy, Chrys, Margaret and I had scheduled a four-day three-night raft trip before our regular week at the lodge, so we quickly got re-packed in the dry-bags, met Mark, the new lodge manager, and took off for the river. The rafts had all been equipped with hard floors and "leaning" bars since last year, and we got used to the changes quickly.
The raft trip took place on the upper Alumine River. We all caught lots of rainbows and many browns. During the trip we saw guanacos (a camelid native to South America), lots of birds, the wild pigs, flamingos, fox, lots of ducks, frogs, the red deer, and more. Amazing rock formations jutted into the sky as we floated along, most with willow trees decorating the banks and providing hiding places for the trout. Margaret nearly put the rest of us to shame one afternoon with rainbow after rainbow she caught on a #8 Chernobyl Ant with orange rubber legs that Gus found in one of my fly boxes.
Each night the camp helpers would set up camp right on the river. They even put up a little potty for us. Very windy and cold the first night, so the potty blew over in the night. Other nights were cold, but not so windy. Dinner was always delectable. One night it was roasted chicken cooked over the open fire, the next night it was roasted goat (which I had never tasted, but which was wonderful) and the third night it was Argentinian sausages and beef. All the meals were served on a white table cloth with real silverware, and both red and white wine to top it all off-even at lunch!
We had a great time with all the bugs. Each evening the mayfly hatch took place in the air as we ate dinner, and Mark developed a close relationship with a sparkling dragon-fly at breakfast one morning. Christian, one of the guides found a huge Argentinian stonefly, so we took pix of it on my Patagonia waders.
On our last day we drifted by the parrots' nest holes on the bluffs and got back to the lodge late afternoon. Patti, Aja, and Felecia were there waiting for us. Pato, the lodge chef, greeted us with one of her great dinners. Dessert was a brownie with fruit topping and whipped cream. Another night it was a flan and then it was a chocolate cake with creamy frosting topped with fresh fruit. She also made us her wonderful little quiches and salads for lunch, along with my favorite lemon bars, and the ever present hard-boiled eggs.
Day one of the lodge trip we waded the astonishingly beautiful Malleo (pronounced Majho) River so that the novices could work on their casting before we fished from the rafts. We met the new guide, Herbie, and caught some rainbows and brownies. We headed out on the rafts to fish the spectacular Collon Cura River (pronounced "cojon cura") the next day. I got up in the front of Gus's boat to help Patti, who was the least experience of the group, and soon she was casting confidently right into the spot where Gus told her to.
The group got in some shopping in Junin De los Andes one day and we'd hoped to fish the upper Chimeuin that afternoon, but it was too late when they got back. Some hiked the four miles to the lake instead while others read or just took a little nap. (We couldn't arrange the day any other way, because the shops are open in the morning, and closed in the afternoon for siesta.) Rather than shop I had one of the guides take me down to the river below the lodge where he landed a gorgeous brown trout and I connected with some rainbows. We also had a great time photographing some of the huge, orange mayflies that were everywhere on the river.
Another day we fished the willow-studded middle Chimeuin River, part of which flows through the town of Junin De Los Andes. It's one of my favorite stretches of river. Marcos, another of the guides, and I helped Felecia work on her casting with the steeple and "over your shoulder" casts to use in the raft so she felt more confident in her casting. Fishing was fairly slow, but everyone caught lots of small trout & brownies. Felecia missed a couple of hits, but finally landed a good-sized fish that was over eighteen-inches in length, plus two more nice ones quickly afterwards. When we met for lunch Margaret & Julie reported many small fish, Sandy had caught a nice brown and Chrys some good rainbows, one of which she landed just as we were pulling into the bank at the lunch spot. Aja missed a couple of fish, and so had Pattie, but both were becoming much more confident in casting from the rafts. Both were working on the technique of setting the hook.
The major fly set up was with a #6 PMX fly with a pheasant tail or brown body and a bead-head pheasant tail or red or green copper john on the dropper. We fished streamers for a while a couple of mornings, but most of the action was on the dry flies. Some of us would trade on and off between dries and streamers throughout the day.
While we were eating lunch one day we spotted lots of rises under the willows nearby, and as we launched the rafts for the afternoon's fishing, everyone cast to them with no luck. Felecia and I and Marcos were the last to launch and we decided to stay in the spot for a while and try different things. Success occurred with a tiny caddis emerger dropped off a large PMX dry fly!
The following day the wind was absolutely howling. It was impossible to fish either wading or from the rafts. So we decided to drive to the National Park and see Lanin Volcano and Lake Tromen. Wind soon brought low clouds & rain that completely obscured the volcano. They all had to be satisfied with the great view from the porch of the lodge. We took a few pictures at the lake where the standing waves were very visible, and then made the short drive to the border between Argentina & Chile where some of them walked to the "Welcome to Argentina" sign, just as it started to pour rain. They all came back soaking wet. There is a tiny village nearby with an Artisans shop but it was closed for siesta. So we ate our lunch in a willow grove nearby and waited for it to open, but it never did, so we left. That night everyone went into town for shopping and dinner because it was Pato's day off.
Our last day we split up with some floating the lower Chimeuin and some floating the upper. The fishing was terrific no matter where we were. It seemed as though the big browns had really come out to play, and we all caught at least one over twenty-inches! Patti, the least experienced of the group at the start, ended up with one of the largest brown of them all, a 25-inch beauty!! Aja's big fish wasn't far behind. Julie maintained her title as "queen of the brownies" though, as she definitely caught the most over the course of the trip.
Our shuttle left for the airport at 6:00 a.m. the next morning, but Pato gave us a good send-off with a hearty breakfast and lots of hugs. Mark and Gus helped us load the bags, and we were (reluctantly) on the road. Some flew back to Miami, some to Atlanta, and some to Alaska and Oregon. It's a very long journey, but well with the effort!