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Editor Note: Subscriber Don Armstrong recently returned from his second trip aboard The River Cruiser in Argentina chasing golden dorado. Don, who is surely becoming a fount of knowledge on this species and outfit, says that even though the week proved to be more challenging than his previous trip, it was still a great week. He had this to say about his experience:
I just returned from fishing on the Golden Dorado River Cruiser for the second time. This year, I released a little over 70 Golden Dorado and three Piranhas. On my trip last year, I released over 400 Golden Dorado. Of course, that was an unbelievable week, and probably not one that is replicable, but I hope I can get close in the future. Even at 70 releases, plus many explosive strikes, it was a great trip, and one that I plan to repeat when I can.
The logistics of the trip are fairly easy. You just have to fly to Buenos Aires. The outfitter will arrange to pick you up at the airport or at a hotel. Then there is a three-plus-hour ride to a marina near the city of Rosario. At that point, you meet members of the crew, who will help put your luggage in a small boat and then transfer you to the River Cruiser. Generally, the boat ride is about an hour, through many channels and parts of the Paraná River.
Once at the River Cruiser, your bags are taken to your designated room. There will likely be a meal ready, depending on the time of day, and soon it’s time to get gear together. If you get to the River Cruiser before 4 p.m., you can fish that afternoon. The guides will be ready!
There are four clean and comfortable rooms on the River Cruiser with two twin beds, some furniture, a television set, and a separate bathroom for each of these rooms. On the upper level of the River Cruiser, a nice, spacious room has chairs for the guests to sit and share stories from the day’s fishing. Additionally, there is a large dining area with a table that seats up to 10 people. And the food is fantastic, prepared by a genuine chef. Don’t plan on losing any weight on this trip.
The River Cruiser resides inside the vast Paraná River’s upper delta system, amid miles and miles of grassy flatlands, marshes, and back channels. It accommodates eight anglers, and there are five boats, with a guide for each. The boats are 18- to 20-foot shallow-water craft (North Carolina skiffs) rigged with casting platforms. Generally, we took rides of up to 45 minutes to various fishing areas. The guides rotated through the guests, giving us different perspectives on the fishing each time.
Each day we would rise at approximately 7:30 a.m. for breakfast and leave for the morning fishing at about 8:15. We would usually fish until about noon or so and then return for lunch—and maybe a quick siesta. In the afternoon, we would start fishing again about 3:30 or 4:00 and fish until twilight. Generally, the last part of the afternoon, as the sun was going down, was some of the best fishing. We would return about dark and have a little break before dinner. It was a nice time to gather in the lounge upstairs with appetizers and a favorite drink, sharing the successes and failures of the day as well as fish stories from all over the world.
On a side note, the boat contains an extensive wine selection plus plenty of other alcoholic beverages. We were blessed to have one of the owners, Luciano Alba, there for four days, and he shared stories and gave us info on the origins of some of the Argentine wines available. They also provide all the nonalcoholic beverages you could desire for guys like me who don’t drink alcohol. All of the beverages, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, are included in the price. Some guests also brought a bottle of their own libations for the bar.
Each day of fishing was different because we went to different locations on the marshes. Generally, the guides looked for areas where there was moving water near drop-offs and shallows. Some of these spots really produced a lot of good fish. Usually, we would fish where a channel flowed into or out of the larger channels or in sections around vegetation. The fish we caught generally ranged from about two pounds up to about 10 pounds. One of the anglers saw a fish trying to eat another fish on the line that could have been 20 pounds.
The flies we used for these golden dorado were very large. The Andino Deceiver was the favorite. They are available from several fly manufacturers in the States. I found some at Big Y Fly Company (https://www.bigyflyco.com). The outfitter’s pre-trip list details other relevant flies. Some of the time, top-water flies like poppers will work. Those takes are explosive and well worth the effort.
The tackle list is pretty simple. I would bring at least two rods of 7-, 8-, or 9-weight variations. At least one reel should have a floating line and one an intermediate line. You also need to bring some wire leader of 30- or 35-pound test. For the leaders and tippet, 30- or 40-pound test leader material is good. With the large flies it seemed like 8- or 9-weight rods were best. I thought of using a 6-weight, but it just wouldn’t carry the large flies. For my fishing, I used an 8-weight for the floating line setup, and a 7-weight for an intermediate sinking setup—we only used the intermediate line occasionally for a few deeper sections.
Longer casts were very helpful. The entire week is a great opportunity for practicing and learning casting. You are casting virtually all day long. And the casting is more difficult with the large flies, so the practice is great.
Occasionally, we actually caught some piranha, with those evil-looking teeth we have all heard of. The guides were very careful to stay clear of those teeth and the fishing guests stayed at the other end of the boat. We always knew when they were piranha because they would stay down, whereas the golden dorado would always give an acrobatic fight.
Golden dorado are vicious predators, and they strike hard and fast. Consequently, it is often difficult to get the hook to set well. The hook set needs to be a very direct strip strike, and line tension must be immediately applied—without interruption. The flies and hooks are large, and many of the fish don’t get the entire fly far enough into their mouth for anglers to be successful 100 percent of the time. Generally, a 50 percent hookup rate is very successful. Apparently, I still have a lot to learn because my overall hookup percentage was down near 32 percent.
As mentioned above, often the last hour of fishing in the day was the most active. And with the sun going down, it was often very beautiful. The golden dorado became much more active and aggressive at this hour. It was often difficult to quit fishing then and go back to the River Cruiser.
The weather was generally pretty warm. We did have two or three days of very hot and bright sun, but it was not too hot to fish. Of course, it is almost never too hot to fish, right?
On the last day of the trip, everyone shares another great breakfast, and then boards a boat and heads back to the marina. At the marina, luggage is loaded onto vans or cars for the ride back to Buenos Aires. The transportation driver will drop you wherever you need. In fact, they will accommodate all types of transportation needs. Last year, they sent a driver several hundred kilometers north to Corrientes to pick me up after I had fished at another lodge.
The price we paid was $4,400 for the week, and that was all-inclusive after arrival in Buenos Aires. Unlike most locations, as mentioned above, this also includes all beverages and total service from head to toe. . You can find the Golden Dorado River Cruiser online at www.goldendoradocruiser.com. The owners of Cruiser also own and run another lodge at the south end of Patagonia, called Estancia Laguna Verde (http://www.estancialagunaverde.com), which is located at the famous Jurassic Lake. Trips can be arranged combining a week on the River Cruiser and a week at Jurassic Lake.
And the final question, would I go again? I have already booked my week for next year, and that speaks for itself.