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Anglers who want to get way off the beaten track for trout could do worse than link up with an American ex-pat by the name of James Drummondo, who currently lives in the town of Cuenca in the highlands of southern Ecuador. A retired fire chief from California, James will pick you up in the town of Cuenca, drive an hour through spectacular scenery to a 13,000-foot-high parking spot, and then lead you on a 20-minute walk into Cajas National Park, where you can fly cast to trout in a catch-and-release lake. He charges a very reasonable $100 for this service, and it includes all needed equipment and plenty of warm clothes.
A highly trained EMT, James will make sure you don’t have any problems adjusting to the altitude. On my trip with him, he cooked up some local tea from bushes along the trail that took away any altitude adjustment problems I had and actually made me feel great and open to enjoying the scenery, which was spectacular. A longer walk to the lake would have been just fine with me.
The lake we fished was on private property. James told me he is working with the owner to create a catch-and-release fishery that is accessible without a long hike. He’s hoping, in time, to create other catch-and-release lakes and possibly extend that restriction to some of the rivers that flow from the Andes into the city of Cuenca. The potential of the area around Cuenca is great for both lake and stream trout fishing, as the climate and terrain appear ideal for trout habitat.
The best fishing in the area currently is in remote parts of Cajas National Park, where, James says, fly-only fishing regulations are in effect. They may be in effect, but they are clearly not enforced, as locals seem to fish any way they want inside the park and catch and keep as many trout as they can. That does not mean there is no quality fishing in the park. If you are game, James will take you far into the wilderness interior, where there is no significant fishing pressure. That has allowed some monster trout to grow old and fat, he says. James will also take you for an overnight camping/fishing trip, if you are up to it, or a long, full day of hiking and fly fishing.
The lake I fished was quite small. It took us only 20 minutes to walk completely around it on a good path. Clearly, you could fish the entire lake in one visit. Just be aware that it can be windy and cold, clear, and cool, and even warm – a bit of everything in a single day. When the wind dies, the rainbow trout rise and can be caught quite easily with dry flies. At other times, when the wind was blowing, we used either Wooly Buggers or an attractor/nymph combination. There were plenty of opportunities to catch and release rainbows from eight to 22 inches. After a few hours fishing in the lake, I told James I wanted to walk around the area to see more of the beautiful landscape and maybe some birds or wild llama. On our walk, James took me over to a small, narrow pond where there was a very large trout cruising, taking an occasional insect, and charging something under the surface. By approaching on my knees, I was able to sight fish for this trout much as one does in New Zealand.
Cuenca is one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever had the privilege to visit. The fairly large, old section of the city has a European feel to it, with many plazas, magnificent cathedrals, French-style architecture, balconies, excellent museums, great walking areas, and parks. My wife described Cuenca as a miniature Paris in Ecuador, but with colorful indigenous markets and native Ecuadorians dressed in their traditional clothing, doing artisanal work, carrying and selling vegetables, and cooking food on the street. Cuenca has a spring-like climate year round, with great hiking available within 30 minutes to an hour from the city. The Ecuadorian food served in Cuenca is great.
If the area and the fishing intrigue you, James Drummondo can be reached by e-mail at jcdrummondo @fastmail.fm. His guiding business is Fintastic Adventures.
Postscript: We were unable to find a Web site for Fintastic Adventures but we did find a lengthy essay on Ecuadorian fishing by Drummondo on a Web site called Gringos Abroad. The address is http://www.gringosabroad .com/angling-on-the-equator-howsthe- fishing-in-ecuador/. That essay, by the way, gives another e-mail address for Drummondo: [email protected]. Obviously, this story is far from completely reported. A place on our Subscriber Honor Roll awaits the first subscriber who files a more detailed report.