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If you are thinking about going to Patagonia in 2008, its time to start planning your trip. As you do that, you may want to consider arranging a somewhat footloose trip like the one I took this past March. Ive had the good fortune to fish Patagonia for 10 of the last 11 years. On most of those trips I spent time near Esquel in Argentina, sometimes just across the border in Chile. Ive been fortunate to visit a number of the fine lodges there and found they generally provide excellent and fulfilling experiences. However, in March of 2007 I decided to wing it a bit. I hooked up with an independent local guide, and we spent a week exploring and fishing basically on our own.
To get started, I asked my good friend Jim Repine for some help. Repine is a life-long guide, photographer, author and fly fishing journalist. In addition, hes recently retired from a dozen-plus years of owning his own lodge in Chile. He obviously knows his way around the trade, and I was confident he would not steer me wrong in suggesting a local partner for a week. Indeed he didnt. The guide he linked me up with is Rolo Pradere, a Buenos Aires native working on his own out of Esquel.
I arrived in Esquel late in the afternoon expecting some time to settle in at a local hosteria Repine had booked for me. But Pradere was raring to go, and I barely managed to change my clothes before we headed out to a local secret spot for the evening hatch. The highlights that evening included landing a 22-inch male rainbow and hooking a gorgeous 25- to 26-incher that broke me off in the reeds. I was glad to have missed my nap!
For the week, I had arranged a rental car from a local agency (no Hertz or Avis here, but the agent was a personable and committed local entrepreneur). Having Pradere in the seat beside me considerably allayed my fears of driving in the rural area of a foreign country. Pradere not only speaks the language; he knows every road, every snack spot (the good ones from the bad ones), where the next gas station is and most all of the local people of the towns and farms. Hes accepted by the community. Thats not to say that a gringo by himself would not be accepted. Ive experienced nothing but the most gracious interaction with residents around Esquel. Still, it was reassuring to see them smile broadly and knowingly whenever I drove into a farmyard with Pradere.
Pradere, I should note, is also a great traveling companion with an affable nature and lots of stories. Best of all, hes aware of some fishing spots that are not mentioned in any of the glossy lodge brochures Ive read.
For six days Pradere and I drove the countryside sampling waters from the extreme (the Corcovado at the boca of the strikingly spectacular Lago Vintner) to the sublime (a day at the well-known Arroyo Pescado). We experienced a variety that you simply could not duplicate by staying in a single spot. For example, we spent one day on a small freestone stream in an almost sagebrush-desert environment east of Esquel. The next day we floated the natural lakes and streams in the Alp-like Andes of Los Alerces Park west of town. You might think we spent hours driving each day to experience such variety, but that was not the case. It just required some advanced planning to easily move from one area to another.
I stayed in Esquel several nights at the aforementioned hosteria, a pleasant ski-condo-type place just off the main street. Esquel is near a ski area, but since I was there in early fall, there were no crowds. That made it easy to come and go, booking a unit for only a night or two at a time. After fishing, wed share a cerveza and a comfortable dinner at one of Praderes favorite restaurants. We chose the menu and the variety, fancy or simple, according to how we felt that evening. Each morning, wed stop at the grocery for daily provisions. Our shoreline lunches ranged from things as simple as those you might throw into a paper sack for yourself, to all the ma