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I’ve discovered some great new trout fishing in Argentina with a guide by the name of Fernando Mosso who plies his trade in Mendoza Province, hundreds of miles farther north in Argentina than most visiting anglers ever get. I’ve fished with Fernando four times since 2006 – once on a pack-and-camping trip north of the town of Uspallata, near the border with Chile; and three times at a remarkable place called Valle Hermoso (Beautiful Valley) near the ski resort, Las Leñas, about 200 miles south of the city of Mendoza. Fernando doesn’t have a lodge but he will meet you at the Mendoza airport. There are connections to Mendoza via either Buenos Aires or Santiago, Chile.
When I fished Valle Hermoso with Mosso, we stayed in a comfortable apartment at Las Leñas, the ski resort. It is open during the best of the fishing season, as well as during the ski season. The apartments have a living room/kitchen, bedroom and bath. Fernando cooks breakfast and some evening meals, and there are two restaurants in the complex (as well as a five-star hotel, a grocery, and various services). It’s cold early in the morning here, even in midsummer (January and February), so you can leave at 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning and still be fishing by the time the water in the valley warms up and the fish are active. The season here begins before Christmas and continues into March.
Have you ever had days when you lose track of how many trout you’ve caught within an hour or so after starting? Valle Hermoso is like that. The valley is more than ten miles long, about two miles wide and roughly 6,000 feet above sea level. It lies about an hour beyond the resort of Las Leñas, and it is reachable only via a high, tortuous dirt road requiring a 4 x 4 vehicle. Two long, braided rivers meet in the valley, plus there’s a large and very deep lake, along with a smaller lake with many brown and brook trout. There is also a spring creek here.
The main attraction is the lower section of the Rio Toldillio that braids and twists its way for miles along the flat, stony floor of the valley. Most places are shallow and wadeable with substantial current, but there are some deeper pools. The fishing is pretty technical. An upstream nymphing technique that Fernando has developed is what works best. The essence of this is avoiding all traces of drag and reacting to the slightest hesitation in the line or indicator. Big stone fly nymphs are the key. Typically, I lose track of how many trout I’ve caught at around 20, and this usually happens before lunch.
Fernando taught me to hold my rod high and watch the tip of the line or an indicator for the slightest hesitation. This technique can produce four or five strong well-fed fish from a single good pool or run. If you pick up rocks along the bank, they are literally black with nymphs waiting to emerge – mainly mayflies and stones with a few caddis. I’ve never seen such incredible richness, which explains the great fishing. Later in the season, from mid-February to mid-March, there can be excellent dry-fly action in the afternoons.
On my most recent trip, in mid-January, Fernando arranged a one-day horse pack trip of a little over an hour up over a high ridge to the middle section of the Toldillio. This place is very rarely fished, so there are lots of trout. Most are medium-size but some are considerably larger. The ride itself was a pleasure, with marvelous views. There were seven or eight condors circling near the highest point on our ride; some above us, but others at our level or even below us, so we could see the white on the backs of the big males’ wings. The horse wrangler roasted a kid while we fished and we had a delicious lunch. I took a short nap and then we fished very successfully again in the afternoon before the ride back.
The other main river in the valley is the Rio Cobre (Copper River), which is less accessible but I understand also offers fine fishing of a similar nature. Fernando prefers to pack in to the Cobre on horseback and camp there.
The spring creek on the floor of the valley is small and clear, with the usual spring creek vegetation and open spots where you can put a fly. Both times I’ve fished the spring creek the brown trout – some in the three- to four-pound range – have responded enthusiastically to big dries. The smallish lake is very clear, making it hard to avoid spooking the numerous good-sized brookies and browns. I’ve caught both species, though, with patience and careful presentation and retrieval of big nymphs cast into deep parts of the lake.
On the way from the city to and from Las Leñas, we usually put in a half day of fishing on the Rio Salado or other streams about 20 minutes from the resort. There are fewer fish in the Salado but the ones you hook can be large. On my most recent trip, I hooked some very strong rainbows there between three and four pounds. One got into heavy current and broke off. When the next fish tried the same thing, I handed Fernando the rod and he ran downstream over the rocks. The fish was deep into the backing when I caught up to him but we landed and photographed that big, well-fed and very strong four-pound rainbow.
The other place I’ve fished with Fernando is near the town of Uspal- lata between Mendoza and the Chilean border. Fernando met me there and took me to a place to which he has private access. Our mule skinner had our docile, sure-footed mounts with good saddles all ready to depart when I arrived. The skinner had his own mount ready, too, along with a pack mule for carrying camping gear and food. Our final destination was a small river up toward the border with Chile. The trip took about 2½ hours. The stream is small in most places and usually clear. The average trout in the stream are around 13 to 15 inches but there are much larger ones in major pools below waterfalls. The fishing is mainly nymphing. The fish here are not as abundant as in Valle Hermoso, nor is the nutrition as rich, but the fishing is excellent all the same.
I was the only client so I had my own comfortable tent. The wrangler sets up camp and cooks. I confess that on one day we killed enough of the plentiful trout to have them for dinner. One morning a red fox was right inside our camp area looking for scraps. Another morning, Fernando pointed up to a condor that seemed extraordinarily low. “He’s not low; we’re at 6,500 feet,” Fernando told me.
Fernando is an outstanding guide and excellent companion. His English is good and he has guided international fishermen who speak only English without problems. He is very well organized, always uses top-quality vehicles and knows everybody in the areas you visit. He can provide the flies you need, including both nymph and dry imitations of a mayfly found only in Mendoza and parts of neighboring provinces.
He prefers to work with one or two anglers. The price of his trips is $450 per person per day, including lodging or camping, food, flies, soft drinks and transportation in his 4 x 4. Pack trips starting in Valle Hermoso may be extra. In order to make an early start on your first day of fishing, you may want to arrive a day early, or more if you want to spend time in the lovely town of Mendoza and tour the many top wineries in the area.