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Subscriber Jim Aylsworth is back with another report from a recent trip to Argentina to fish for world-class rainbow trout on the shores of Argentina’s Jurassic Lake. Like all of his reports, Jim thoroughly outlines his experiences and gives us a detailed look at the lodging and fishing he experienced at Estancia Laguna Verde. He has this to say about his trip:
You know the old adage, “It is not the edge of the Earth, but you can see it from there.” Well, I finally made it. I actually found the edge of the Earth.
I just got back from Jurassic Lake—well, actually in English it is called Lake Stobel, or Lago Stobel to locals. Deriving its nickname “Jurassic Lake” from the so-called “brontosaurus” rainbow trout that are caught in these waters, this place is truly off the charts. It sits on the edge of the Earth, and is nestled into an essentially barren landscape devoid of trees—as in, not a single one for as far as the eye can see.
To be in this remote location means one thing; wind. Wind is normally the bane of one’s existence in the fly-fishing world, which often translates into strings of expletives. And, while this fishery has the greatest number of trout weighing over 10 pounds, the wind here can be daunting.
The landscape has many contrasts; it appears desert-like, yet it houses an immense body of bright blue water reminiscent of a tropical paradise. On this plateau, you would not expect to find such a large lake. It is truly mind-blowing.
As always, life is better when surrounded by friends who share a common denominator. For me, this includes my friends who love to fish. On this trip, an old fishing buddy, Jack Handey from New Mexico, and a new fishing buddy, Brad Wistrom from Minnesota, joined me.
Getting there was no easy task; nonetheless, it was worth it. First, I had to fly to one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world, Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is often called the Paris of the Western Hemisphere, and from my brief time there, I can see why. It has a unique European flair with a Spanish twist. After I spent the night there, I had to go to a different airport and fly three more hours south to El Calafate. It is worth noting that Argentina Airlines is just about the worst airline I have ever flown. El Calafate is a nice resort town on Lake Argentina (Lago Argentina) with a population of 6,200. It is situated near a huge glacier in Los Glaciares National Park at the edge of the southern Patagonian Ice Field. We also had to spend the night in El Calafate.
The next morning, the first extreme portion of the trip came in the form of a five-and-a-half-hour drive. “Don’t worry!” I was told, “The bad part is only the last two hours.” It starts off as a paved road, but it quickly turns to a gravel track. This is not the worst of it, however, for then it becomes a rocky road. We look around at almost nothing. Civilization fades away, and the ride continues. We bump our way along at ten miles an hour through Patagonia’s barren pampas in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck. It felt like my kidneys were being bruised.
Along the way, we saw numerous wild animals: sheep (wool is huge is this area of the world), nandu (rhea, a bird that looks like an ostrich), parakeets, armadillos, a large number of guanaco (the original llama species of the world), and a few jackrabbits. It is a place that stirs the imagination, and in my mind, I can almost see the early indigenous people called the Tehuelche. Initial reports about them by the first European explorers said that they were nine to twelve feet tall (actually they were six to six and a half feet tall), and that is why the region is called Patagonia, which means “land of big feet.”
Having grown up in the deserts of Arizona, I have learned to find beauty in what others see as just vast wastelands, and these high deserts of Patagonia are no exception. If you look for it, there is a hidden beauty to be discovered. This place has a unique energy. I found it gave me strength, motivation, and peace of mind. It is an unspoiled ecosystem awaiting exploration.
Jurassic Lake is a desert sink lake in a treeless basin at an elevation of 3,000 feet on the wide expanse of the Patagonian Steppe within the province of Santa Cruz. It is about 10 miles long and eight miles wide. Here, temperatures vary from 80° F to a low of 40°, but the water temperature normally was in the upper 40s. I was told that they have been experiencing drought for several years.
The lodge we stayed at, owned by Roberto (“Beto”), was Estancia Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon Ranch). It is a massive property (containing over 37,000 acres) located on the south coast, and has private access to over nine miles of Lake Stobel’s shoreline. This property has several coves to avoid the gale-force winds coming down from the Andes to the west, and also includes about six private lakes that they call lagoons.
The lodge has 10 guest rooms for 12 anglers. Each room has its own private bathroom. There is a staff of six guides and six lodge staff; including the manager. All the guides spoke some English, but I would not call them fluent. Only the owner and manager were fluent in English. The lodge is powered by a gas generator on the property, which is backed up by wind power that provides electricity and heat to the lodge along with satellite internet. There is a nice dining room and bar, a faux wooden deck surrounding the lodge, and even a wader drying room for when you depart for, or arrive from, the water. The main living area also has a 42-inch LCD TV. They offered laundry service, and they even had a library with a small fly-tying station. The lodge is a typical estancia, or ranch house, meaning not too fancy. However, it is nice and comfortable, considering the location and distance from any civilization.
The private lagoons were kind of a brownish/green color, especially in contrast to Jurassic Lake, which is an extraordinary Caribbean blue. The crystal-clear water has a large intake and no outflow. This, coupled with biological characteristics and conditions that provide plenty of sustenance, causes an amazing growth of trout. It supports a large number of these monstrous fish. The usual big catch of such a trip is somewhere in the 10- to 20-pound range, but there are rainbow trout in there over 25 pounds! With no doubt, all the fish are huge, and they are measured in weight, not length.
In my 61 years of walking on this Earth, 14 pounds was my personal record before this trip. So, in the back of my mind is the thought, “Could I soon beat my personal record and even possibly become a world record holder? How will I handle all the fame, and which fishing equipment manufacturers should I allow to sponsor me?” You know, the usual thought process when daydreams take over.
I could see upon arrival that the wind was clearly going to play a big role in the next week of fishing. I could not help but think how I had traveled 6,000 miles, and success would now come down to the final 60 feet of fly line. I had better be able to cast in the wind. Average wind speed was 20 miles per hour, but often would gust to between 35 and 45 miles per hour. One day, the gusts topped 60 miles per hour.
The rainbow trout here eat a protein-rich diet of Gammaridae scuds (freshwater shrimp) in well-oxygenated water that never freezes over in the cold winter—unlike the nearby lagoons. The scuds are so prolific due to the naturally high alkalinity of the water, which comes from an unusually alkaline soil stratum lying beneath the lake. Match that food source with a constant year-round water temperature along with no natural predators, and it results in huge trout that pack on about two to three pounds per year.
The trout, first planted here almost 30 years ago, were the McCloud River strain of rainbow trout from a hatchery on the Santa Cruz River. They have since taken off in such a way as to get worldwide attention. Most spawn in the river, but some spawn in the lake, normally in the early season of November or December. All of this is to say that the trout we caught were all wild trout and were extremely strong. They also displayed great acrobatic abilities, a feature that I greatly enjoy in wild trout.
The season to fish here runs from November to April—when the southern half of the globe is at its warmest. We went in February, and it was the summer season with long days. Our trip was the regular routine of seven overnights from Sunday to Sunday, with six days of fishing. On a good day, you will catch 10 to 15 fish on Jurassic Lake.
After first wetting my line at two of the private lagoons, sight casting to trout on Ocho and then fishing the lagoon next to the lodge called Laguna Verde and catching a few bows, my destination the next morning was set for Jurassic Lake.
On that first day, my friend Jack caught four fish and I caught zero. Afterward, the guide came to me with a strong Argentine accent and said, “Yim, you must catch a fish.” Finally, on day three, I caught over a dozen huge rainbows on Jurassic Lake, upon which the guide said, “Yim, you are on fire.” I saw it as a kind of graduation in the eyes of the guide. The number of fish caught is impressive, but the size is the real appeal. They are all huge!
Despite the wind, I did not have too much trouble adapting to the conditions. I used a single-handed Sage Xi 8-weight rod with a Tibor reel and over 150 yards of backing—which I used several times. The trout are not leader shy. I used a heavy leader, sometimes all the way down to 0X. Some of the time, I used medium-size nymphs with beads, and at other times, I would add a large dry like a Chubby Chernobyl or Thingamabobber strike indicator.
Most of the time, I would wade into deeper water and stand on a rock, then stabilize myself against the constant wind—though I occasionally got wet from the wind-driven waves. I would cast to cruising rainbow trout, or simply blind-cast to the gradual drop-offs, and catch 10-plus-pound rainbow trout. This happened over, and over, and over again.
Like I have done a zillion times before, I often walked the shoreline looking for giant shapes and shadows in the water. But the landscape and shoreline here are extremely uneven. We had to hop from one large calcified rock to another one, all the while avoiding a fall that would result in a broken bone and/or fly rod. Between the waves we could see into the deep water, as if through a small window. This added a nice sight-fishing technique to my outing every day, but most of the time I would just blind-cast out to a deep part of the lake. First, I would catch a five-pounder, next a 10-pounder, and so on. The prospect of catching a rainbow trout over 20 pounds kept my level anticipation at an all-time high.
I was at a place called Sea Bay using a Thingamabobber with a red Copper John about three feet below when I caught my new record rainbow trout—15 and a half pounds. The guide was so happy for me that after giving me the customary high-five, he hugged me. I ask you, when was the last time your guide hugged you? I love the Argentine people. The largest trout caught in the lodge for our week came in at just over 19 pounds.
On the last day, the wind died down for the first time since we arrived. Both Jack and I called that day “The one that got away.” I had a three-minute-long fight with potentially a 17- to 18-pound trout. This guess at the weight was by the guide, who told me this after watching the battle and seeing the beast jump. Then he added the dreaded prophesy, “That one is very large, don’t lose it.” Just as I was bringing it in for the net, it made a last hard run, went around a large rock, and broke off. Later that day, Jack had one scream into his backing only to break off. We never got to guess its weight other than know it was “muy grande!”
We caught some of these monsters on dry flies, like a Chubby Chernobyl or a large beetle pattern. There is something special about sight-casting a large pattern to a 10-pound rainbow trout. The top-water take was not gradual; they would either slam it or roll on it like a tarpon.
When it came time for lunch, we would get in the trucks and the guide would drive us to a designated spot with a small man made shack that gave us shade. Most importantly, it got us out of the wind. We would meet up there with the other fishermen and guides. Lunch always started with a board of cheese, meat and some quiche. It was followed by a hot meal cooked on the spot with a side salad. We usually finished it off with dessert and coffee.
At the lodge, we ate traditional Argentinean food, like Asado, or what we Texans call, BBQ. Meals varied, from lamb to beef—we even had rainbow trout one time—and of course, the wine served with dinner every night was fantastic. In particular, the malbec was outstanding, especially when matched with a thick steak! Then, on the last night we had traditional empanadas. The executive chef provided breakfast of bacon and eggs with some toast and cereal, and it was served at the reasonable hour of 8:30 AM. Interestingly, dinner was not served until 9:30 PM or as late as 10 PM; a tradition I first found in Spain. But, it means we got to fish late, so I call that a win.
I travel, then I fish, then I photograph, and then I write. That way, I can repeat the fun times over and over again in my mind. My fishing buddies all know how much I like to take photographs with my digital SLR while we are fishing. That is because fly-fishing takes me to some of the most beautiful spots on earth. But, just as a photograph is more than a collection of pixels, fishing is more than the act of catching fish. It is about connecting, about feeling wild. Each time I feel small in a world that is beyond my wildest dreams. When I write reports like this one, I get to relive the experience through my words.
The one aspect of the trip that I can still not wrap my mind around was the size of these fish. It was not just the length of the fish, but their width or girth. I would describe each fish to be the “Texans Football Defensive End, JJ Watt” of rainbow trout. Landing one of these monsters ain’t easy my friend. I did my best to get a picture of these beautiful beasts, but there is nothing like God’s nature up close and personal. Patagonia is a region that is so impressive that just being there is satisfying. The scenery, people (in the least populated area of Argentina), food, and lifestyle all come together to inspire and impress you.
Fly fishing has a never ending learning curve, and I am always learning something new. Despite being an old dog, I learn new tricks on each trip, but what really keeps me coming back to such beautiful spots, it is that I am always learning something new about nature – mainly, my connection to water. I answer the water’s call because of the places it takes me, and the fellowship that surrounds me on these adventures.
To complete the whole experience, I spent the last two days of my vacation being a tourist in Buenos Aires before flying home to Texas. First, I did my research on the city, and I even hired a private guide so that I could see all there is to see in a short time.
Clearly, this was one of the most amazing trout fishing adventures I have ever been on or have ever heard of. This was extreme fly-fishing, and it is not a place for a beginner learning how to cast a fly. For me, the challenge was part of the fun, and I enjoyed testing my ability to double haul my fly line into the wind.
When describing this area, The Fly Shop’s travel catalogue said the reason to visit this far flung corner of Argentina is, “To test your mettle and the quality of tackle against the toughest and largest concentration of giant rainbow trout found anywhere on our planet.” If Patagonia and Jurassic Lake are not on your bucket list, then large numbers of fat rainbow trout are not on your list either.
It all began in 1955 with an invitation from Jorge Donovan to famed fly-fishing legend Joe Brooks to go fly-fishing in Patagonia. That opened up the whole fly fishing world to Argentina. Join me and continue to chase your dreams! You have to see it to believe it. Find humongous rainbows in a land time forgot within a prehistoric diorama. Go extreme fly-fishing.
Postscript: Jim listed the price of this trip at $5,400, which he booked through Pat Pendergast of The fly Shop. Learn more at http://www.theflyshop.com/travel/argentina/lagunaverde.html You can also see pictures from Jim’s trip at https://www.anglingreport.com/trip_photos/jim-aylsworth/