For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
Don Causey Note: Chime Lodge in Argentina has changed hands recently, and our correspondent, Bill Owen, was invited to take a weeklong look. Here is what he saw and caught. Enjoy!
In late 2013, The Angling Report helped me arrange for a free week of fly fishing at Chime (“Cheemay”) Lodge (www.chimelodge.com) located in the midst of some of Argentina’s most famed trout streams. The lodge sits on the banks of the Chimehuin (“Chee-may-whin”) River, only a few miles downriver of the “Boca,” perhaps the most fabled location in all of Argentine “troutdom.”
The Boca is the place where the Chimehuin River exits the large glacially carved Lake Huechulafquen (“Wheychu- laf-kwin”). Here at the Boca in 1961, the late “Bibi” Anchorena landed a 24-pound brown trout on a streamer. For many years Anchorena’s trout stood as the record brown trout caught on a fly. Later, other fly fishing luminaries including Joe Brooks and Mel Krieger also landed double-digit trout at the Boca and through their writings spread the word of Patagonia’s other rivers and streams.
The offer of a free week at Chime Lodge was made by Nervous Waters (www.nervouswaters.com), owners and managers of a portfolio of some of South America’s most celebrated destination lodges. Nervous Waters has only recently added Chime Lodge to its offerings and asked Don Causey and The Angling Report for an impartial appraisal. Don asked me whether I was interested in evaluating the lodge. I jumped at the chance.
So, this past fall 2013, my wife, Kit, and I started cobbling together a three-week itinerary, the last week of which would be time at the lodge. We would travel the entire time with friends Janet and Doug Camp. During our week at the lodge, Doug and I would fish and the women would sample the “nonangler” attractions offered there.
After our first two weeks in Argentina, we were picked up by lodge staff in the Andean resort town of Bariloche. Travel time from Bariloche to the lodge is three hours. However, most visitors to the lodge would elect to fly into the much closer Chapelco Airport.
The closest settlement to the lodge is the self-proclaimed “trout capital of the nation,” Junin de los Andes. Junin (“who-neen”) has a population of about 10,000 people. The street signs feature images of trout, and at the north entrance to town there is a 10-foot-tall carved and garishly painted image of Mel Krieger playing an immense and equally garish trout. Junin has a rustic, non-touristy feel, and the streets are frequented by mounted gauchos and battered pickup trucks—a huge contrast to Andean tourist destinations such as Bariloche.
When we arrived at the lodge in the early afternoon we were greeted by the guides and staff. The kitchen staff offered us champagne and beautifully prepared light dishes, which we enjoyed on the lodge’s expansive deck with views of the river. In addition, a look to the north presented the south face of Volcan Lanin (“la-NEEN”), the Fujilike glacier-covered volcanic cone that dominates the area. The expansive national park just to the west of the lodge is named for this volcanic monolith.
Chime Lodge is located on the edge of a dramatic climate transition zone. To the west are the Andes and large glacially carved lakes sprawled amid temperate forests. In contrast, the lodge is located where the Patagonian Steppe begins. The Patagonian Steppe is the seventh-largest desert in the world, stretching eastward to the Atlantic Ocean and southward to Tierra del Fuego.
It is the dramatic change in topography and climate from the Andes to the desert that gives Patagonian trout streams their unique character. The large glacially carved lakes that are strung along the eastern front of the Andes act as large filters of glacial and run-off sediment. Thus, the outflow rivers are crystal clear as they run eastward from the lakes into the desert.
A few minutes after our arrival, five other fly-fishing guests arrived from the Chapelco Airport. The arrivals were all Swiss, traveling together after long flights from Europe with only a singlenight stopover in Buenos Aires.
There would be no fishing this day. The guides took our passports in to Junin in order to arrange fishing permits for the balance of the week. Meanwhile, we were shown to our rooms, which were spacious and nicely furnished. The lodge has six guest rooms, of which one is designed for single occupancy. The double-occupancy rooms have two queen-size beds. All bedrooms have private bathrooms with showers. Five of the guest rooms are on the second floor, arranged around a common sitting area. The lodge website states that the capacity is 10 guests.
On the ground floor there is a large common sitting area, a dining area, the kitchen, and offices, as well as the remaining guest bedroom. There is Internet service, but it is slow and guests are asked to avoid e-mailing photographs, as it slows the service. A complimentary self-service bar and generous wine service is provided before and during evening meals. All in all, the lodge facility is well appointed and comfortable and the surroundings are reminiscent of the wide-open spaces of much of the American west. The only thing missing is sagebrush.
The lodge’s daily fishing routine is to breakfast and then depart for fishing at 8:30 AM. Our return from a day on the water was usually 12 hours or more later, with dinner after 9:00 PM. Our first day of fishing was on the lower Alumine (ah-loom-EN-ay), a large, low-gradient river that flows from the north after gathering water from several famed tributaries. The drive to our put-in point on the Alumine was more than an hour and a half with the last 30 minutes down a steep track through a private estancia. Transportation of all anglers was in a large air-conditioned Mercedes van pulling two inflatable rafts, each outfitted for two casting anglers and an oarsman/guide. A third raft was already at the riverside when we arrived.
Our day on the Alumine was productive for numbers of medium-sized rainbows and a few browns, but no large fish were boated. In the afternoon, following a tasty streamside lunch on tablecloth-covered tables and folding chairs, Doug and I both lost good-sized browns. Most of the day involved blind casting dries or “hopper-dropper” rigs to likely holding areas.
On our second day, Doug and I accompanied Andreas, the least experienced of the Swiss contingent, to wadefish the upper Malleo (“mah-jayo”). The Malleo originates in Lake Tromen, north of Volcan Lanin, and empties into the Alumine many miles downstream. We traveled north in two of the lodge pickup trucks, driving for well over an hour and then parking under some towering araucaria trees. We then hiked for about 45 minutes through the forest. As we hiked, there were striking views of the north face of Volcan Lanin.
When we stopped to begin fishing, the river was swift and strewn with large boulders that created many current seams populated by lots of small trout. This was rugged country, and getting to and from the river often involved scrambling through thick underbrush and up and down steep embankments. Most fishing was with dries and numerous small fish were caught. The only sizable fish spotted was a trout estimated to be in excess of 18 inches in a pool near where the trucks were parked. This was at the end of the day and we were so tired that Doug only spent five minutes casting to it without results.
It seemed to me that the upper river was pretty sterile, as we saw little insect activity. This is in contrast to the lower river, many miles downstream in the Mapuche Reservation. The lower Malleo in the reservation is a favorite among friends of mine, who describe it as “one of the best dry-fly trout streams in the world.” I was disappointed that we weren’t able to visit the lower river during our stay. I learned later in the week that the head guides, Kurt and Christian, prefer to float-fish rather than wade-fish. I recommend that anglers who prefer wading make their desires known in advance so that appropriate arrangements can be made.
In the evening Kurt announced that the plan for the next day was to take all anglers to float the lower Chimehuin. Thus, the next morning, Doug and I piled into the van bound for the lower Chimehuin. The drive to the put-in just downstream of the village of Junin took about 45 minutes. This is a long float of about 20 miles, ending in a take-out shortly after the Chimehuin meets the much larger Collon Cura (co-jon coorah), which is really the same river as the Alumine, as there its name changes at its juncture with the Chimehuin.
All the guides that I quizzed during the week agreed that the lower Chimehuin is their favorite float. The lower river is picturesque, running through heavy willows with fast and narrow passages in many places. The rafts are the perfect craft to negotiate this river. During this float, the guides expertly negotiated the flow complexities while pointing out the preferred trout lies for us to cast to.
The lower half of the float passes through a large estancia, which prevents public access, thus, fishing in the lower section typically improves in terms of numbers and size of fish landed. The highlight for me occurred during our lunch break midway through the float. While the guides organized the lunch tables, I waded into a nearby riffle and within 15 minutes caught three strong rainbows drifting a nymph under an indicator. After lunch, I returned to the riffle and caught two more, a rainbow and a brown. Unfortunately, the length of this float does not allow time to thoroughly wade-fish the many goodlooking riffles of the lower Chimehuin.
At breakfast the following day, head guide Kurt announced that we would all be fishing the upper end of nearby Lake Huechulafquen from the rafts and the lodge’s motorized boat. The plan was for the boat to tow two rafts to the south arm of the lake and then to fish the shoreline from the rafts and the boat. We would be targeting large cruising trout. Doug was dubious of the plan, as he has a personal dislike of big lakes.
The drive to the upper end of this huge lake took well over an hour. By the time we were ready to launch, whitecaps had formed on the main lake, but calm water on the protected arms was visible. However, to reach the calm water we’d have to negotiate about a half mile of whitecaps. Following some delays, an attempt was made to tow the rafts to calm water. After about 200 yards of rough going, the attempt was abandoned.
Then, the guides decided to give the near upper arm of the lake, called Lago Paimun (pie-moon), a try. The water craft were reloaded onto the trailers, and, after a short drive, the two rafts and boat were relaunched. Even though the surface of Lago Paimun was smoother, it was still less than ideal, and Doug requested that our raft return to shore. In the meantime, four of the Swiss anglers headed farther up the lake in a raft towed by the outboard to a more protected cove.
Doug and I made some sporadic attempts casting from the shoreline, catching a few small trout. After a while, and feeling marooned, I gave up on the fishing and took my sketchbook and watercolors to record the spectacular scenery of a nearby lakeside chapel with towering Volcan Lanin in the background.
At the end of the day the Swiss anglers returned with big smiles, as two of them, Oskar and Rolf, had landed two hefty browns. Oskar proudly displayed his photos of his 24-inch and Rolf’s 28-inch brown. Both were beautiful deep-bodied fish caught on stripped streamers.
The next morning, our fifth fishing day, Kurt announced that all hands would return to float the lower Chimehuin. As we left the lodge, we could see that the wind was blowing strongly from a new direction—the east.
This, our second day on the lower river, was much like our first float of this section. In the morning we caught lots of trout on both dries and nymphs on droppers. The fish ranged in size from 12 to 20 inches. All fish were caught while blind casting to holding areas pointed out by guide Kurt as he expertly maneuvered the raft.
Late in the float, with several miles left to reach the take-out, the winds increased dramatically. At times the wind blew directly into us, causing whitecapped waves to move upstream. Kurt said that he had never in many years of floating the river seen anything to equal these conditions. For some stretches Doug and I sat on the floor of the raft to minimize drag as we slowly moved downstream.
There were frequent lulls (when the wind was only blowing about 20 mph) during which Kurt asked us to resume fishing. The surface of the river was very turbulent from the wind by that point, but even short, 10-foot casts produced trout for us on nymphs. It was during this period of high winds that I landed my best fish of the day, a strong, 19-inch brown. We finally reached the take-out at about 7:00 PM. This had been a long, but productive, day.
In the morning Kurt announced that the weather looked good for a “windless” day on the lake. He proposed that Doug and I accompany him in the outboard and motor into the lake’s protected southern arm, named Lago Epulafquen (“eh-poo-laf-kwen”). The boat launch went smoothly, and we were soon in the glassy waters of Lago Epulafquen.
With the motor shut off, Kurt began slowly rowing the shorelines. He instructed that the bow angler fish with dries and the stern angler fish with streamers. The latter were to be quick stripped, he said, on a sink-tip line. Doug took the bow position and during the morning he landed four strong trout, the largest being a 23-inch brown. I had a few follows on streamers, but no takes.
After lunch, Doug and I switched positions, but the trout activity was noticeably slower. We each caught strong rainbows in the afternoon. Late in the day we returned to the lodge for our final dinner.
That evening, I reflected on the week and how quickly it had gone by. A week is hardly adequate to sample the many fabled waters of this area. On the other hand, a lodge experience is ideal for anglers who don’t have the time or resources to explore new and challenging waters on their own. The Chime Lodge guides were all knowledgeable and fluent in English. The rafts were well suited to the rivers, particularly the tight quarters of the Chimehuin.
The lodge is centrally located to most of the noted waters of the Junin area. So, even though the travel times that I have noted may seem long, Argentina is a big place and the slow-going roads are consistent with the sparse population—two lanes paved or gravel.
As for the lodge, it is nicely furnished and the staff is excellent. Guests are given dining choices at all meals and the dishes were beautifully prepared. Several of the evening meals were focused on local meats (beef, lamb, and sausages) grilled Argentinastyle on the parilla, a large grill.
On a non-fishing note, our wives, Kit and Janet, spent the week at the lodge as non-anglers. The Chime Lodge website lists a number of activities that non-anglers can experience while their companions fish. These include golf, hiking, a massage outing, and a “Seven Lakes” (siete lagos) tour. It should be noted that none of these activities can be undertaken without transportation from the lodge. During our stay, nonangling activities were organized by Kurt’s wife, Mercedes, who also provided transportation.
Mercedes was a charming companion for our wives, but most of the things to do were not full-day activities. Kit and Janet are not golfers, but they enjoy hiking and nature. Only the Seven Lakes tour was a full-day outing. A hike near San Martin de Los Andes, with lunch, was also an enjoyable outing of several hours. Other activities, though interesting, were brief and sometimes accompanied by running errands for the lodge while in Junin.
Our conclusion was that the program for non-anglers has not been fully developed, which may relate to the fact that this is only the second year of Nervous Waters’ sponsorship. It may also be the result of the fact that few nonanglers have actually visited the lodge to date. My advice to a potential nonangling guest would be to make a detailed inquiry of the available activities and related costs prior to booking.—Bill Owen.
Postscript: The web address for Chime Lodge is www.chimelodge.com. The web address for Nervous Waters is www.nervouswaters.com.