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There is fantastic sea-run brown trout fishing in Britain. Doublefigure fish are regularly taken and a bag of a dozen six-pounders a day is not uncommon. Very few visiting anglers take advantage of this gem of a fishery, although some locals do. But it is a rarity to meet another angler on the bank or river mouth.
Yes, I do mean Britain. The pound sterling is the currency. There are red telephone boxes outside the post office; the local police force drives Land Rovers; beer is served by the pint, and the supermarket is stocked with all the usual fare from Waitrose, Tesco, and Sainsbury. How about a cheeky little Languedoc red with your Stilton and Carr Water Biscuits?
The main problem is access. This part of Britain, you see, is 8,000 miles southwest of London and can only be reached by a (very) long-haul flight. It’s the Falkland Islands, which must maintain one of the best-kept angling secrets on the planet. On the two main islands, East and West Falkland, there are miles and miles of peaty rivers carrying sea-run brown trout, the by-product of an experimental introduction of Chilean brown trout 50 years ago.
What do little brown trout do, after all, when they sniff rich pickings just down the estuary? They go out to sea and fatten up on krill and squid and turn from little brook-size beauties into chunky silver slabs. The record sea-run brown taken here weighed 22½ pounds; 12- to 14-pounders are regularly taken. In one recent weekend two anglers took 176 fish.
So why don’t you know about this? That’s a question for the Falklands Islands Tourist Board. Organized sea trout fishing in Chilean and Argentine Tierra del Fuego is widely marketed, but very few operators offer the Falklands as a fishing destination. As far as I can gather, only 20 foreign anglers laid a line on the Warrah or San Carlos Rivers in 2013.
Tierra del Fuego sea trout do, admittedly, run very big and for that reason attract trophy trout anglers. The Falklands variant might not be as big, but they are numerous, and what can be more uplifting than looking down a couple of miles of utter wilderness knowing that the only feet on the bank that day will be yours and those of a few sheep?
To arrive in Falklands on my recent trip, I flew from RAF Brize Norton near Oxford on an RAF flight via Ascension Island (Don Causey Note: See sidebar for more on these flights). The flight from the UK is the equivalent in time and distance of two trips across the Atlantic, so you lose a day each way in travel. But the river gods made it worthwhile, for me at least.
I landed on a chilly mid-afternoon at the Mount Pleasant Army Base Airport, was whisked away to the hotel my trip organizers had arranged for me, and slept in a room overlooking an inlet whipped with waves. It was like being in the Shetlands or on Lough Currane in Waterville, Ireland. The combination of scudding cloud, choppy water, and the cocktail smell of salt and sweet water spelled sea trout.
The next day I was driven just out of the capital, Port Stanley. They call it a town, but village would be more appropriate. We left the tarmac close to the Murrell River and bumped across the camp. Camp is what locals call the endless landscape of moorland, white grass, and craggy hills. It is derived from the Spanish word campo for countryside. My guide dropped me by the river not far from the estuary. The water was low. A sign said “Drunk Rock—no fishing above this point.” Nothing appeared to be moving in the shallow brown water.
I was alone. I had arranged for a non-fishing ghillie that day, but he had errands to do. So I waded to the edge of the river and started to walk slowly downstream in search of a deep pool or stretch of likely water. I found one within half an hour. Within minutes of tossing a black Woolly Bugger into the water, a sea-run brown trout had found me. It was fresh and feisty and hurled itself into the air as if it had grown wings. My bright yellow Orvis floating line disappeared downstream pulling meters of white Dacron backing behind it. I eventually banked the fish with my weighing/landing net. It was a tad over five pounds, a rugged cock fish, bright and beautiful, and my welcome to the Falklands. I flopped down on a stone when I had released it. I don’t know if it was pure exhilaration or the effects of the flight, but there was no more fight in me for a while. I took six more like that on my first day, plus some pugnacious Falklands mullet—rock cod, actually—that are street fighters.
I fished East Falkland for a week and never had a fishless day. My ghillie, Ade Lowe, took me to the San Carlos and Malo Rivers, to the Swan Inlet, and the famous Frying Pan, where the former governor, Nigel Hayward, used to fish. “You’d see his Land Rover parked here and know he was down there. He loved his fishing,” Ade recalls. He’s left now, but there is an illuminating YouTube video online in which he is interviewed in mid-Frying Pan.
There are two main runs of sea-run brown trout in the Falkland Islands, one at the start of the season in September/ October and one at the end, March/April, but I’m told there are fish around all year, and the locals do like fishing for them. Not that there are many locals around with a population of 3,000 over the entire territory, which is about half the size of Wales.
There is plenty of water and lots of fish and no permit is required anywhere. But you will need to go through a tour operator to ensure you get someone with local knowledge to both drive and guide you. In this unmarked and unpopulated vastness, going off-road in a “likely” direction is not advised, as there are quite a few (well-marked) minefields around. Local car-hire operators are happy to take your money but specify that you cannot drive off the beaten track. Fishable water in the Falklands is overwhelmingly on private land, but tour operators and ghillies, together with the Falklands Tourist Board, negotiate access, which is freely given, except for the Malo River, which is very private.
On my last day fishing East Falkland I visited the Frying Pan, just a half hour’s drive from Stanley, and found a river running into the inlet and an amiable exile from Portadown called Bob taking fish every half dozen casts. They were bright silver, up on the tide, and weighed between one and four pounds. He’d got the best spot and was reluctant to move, so I fished farther down the bank and was into a three-pounder within minutes.
The following week I flew to West Falkland, stopping to do two days of penguin, elephant seal, and bird watching on Sea Lion Island. The islanders get from island to island using the local FIGAS internal flight operator, which runs Islander aircraft made, ironically, in the Isle of Wight. On West Falkland, I stayed at The Lodge in Port Howard, a settlement of 30 people. “That’s our school,” said my host, Wayne Brewer, pointing to a small white building. “We have four pupils. The teacher is rushed off her feet.”
The Lodge is like ones you encounter in Sutherland or the Scottish isles, toasty warm and old-fashioned comfortable. There are tantalizing pictures of recently caught double-figure fish in the little bar and reception area. Owner Sue Lowe offered so much good food I thought I would not fit my waders for the final day.
I was the only angler in residence for all but two days, when another Brave-heart arrived in the person of the secretary of the Scottish Mountaineering Society, John Fowler. We fished the Warrah River, miles of it, just the two of us and Wayne Brewer, after a bumpy, 30-minute, 4WD trek across the camp.
Cautionary tale: if you think Irish weather is all four seasons in a day, wait until you get to the Falklands! They have five seasons in an hour. I took my biggest and brightest fish of six pounds on the Warrah. It grabbed my General Practitioner when it was raining, was banked in a hailstorm, and released into the peaty waters with snow falling. Ten minutes later I got a three-pounder and had to put on suntan lotion because the sun was so hot. It’s that kind of place.
Wayne reckoned the main runs of fish had not started because of a long dry spell of several months. But that did not stop me taking 14 fish up to six pounds in one day and 10 on another. There was one day when the fishing was not so hot—only two, one of five pounds, one of three—but that was probably because of a large yellow object in the sky and a background of cloudless blue. Nevertheless, I landed around two dozen brownies, many a pound or more, on a Kingfisher Butcher and Silver Invicta (#12/14)
Back at The Lodge I met members of the Falklands legislative assembly, who were meeting constituents and traveling around using both the ferry service and FIGAS. Several of them admitted to fishing with spinners, which is legal and widely practiced. Their names are being withheld in this publication.
The 1982 war to retake the islands from Argentina has left a legacy of minefields, but these are known and marked and bother no one, not even sheep. There is some debris around—the tail of an Argentine fighter shot down by a Harrier is now the signpost where you turn off the tarmac to camp it over to the Warrah. And Wayne has a splendid war museum of guns, ejector seats, and clothes left behind. But this war also gave a spurt to economic thinking and planning, and there is a functioning road network now across the main islands. Before 1982, the roads were either rough graveled strips between key places, or a case of “follow the Land Rover tracks across the camp.” Bogging—getting stuck in peat bogs— was a regular hazard, and there are even some in the islands who think of that as the good old days. Thinking like that has become more prevalent as the island contemplates the possibility of offshore oil and gas finds.
My two weeks in the Falklands were over all too quickly. They flashed by in a cycle of cooked breakfast, silver fish, packed lunch, silver fish, epic dinner, comatose sleep. Throughout the experience it was often hard to appreciate that the South Pole was nearer than Southend, such was the Britishness of it all. Imagine landing a five-pound sea trout in an Antarctic gale, then getting into a Land Rover and hearing live coverage of Chelsea demolishing Arsenal 6–0 over cheese-and-pickle sandwiches and hot tea. Enjoy!—Andy Hill.
Don Causey Note: I have another report in the works on the Falkland Islands that will include much more information about going there to fish as an American. The report will include, among other things, the contact details for additional booking agents. Stay tuned.