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Mike Lucey was gracious enough to prepare and send in this report at the last minute before the June issue went to press. His report includes very useful reviews of some rivers and lodges in the northern region of Patagonia, and I’m sure you will find that it makes you long for the one-of-a-kind beauty and experience only found in Patagonia. Mike writes:
“My wife and I planned a spring trip with friends to Machu Picchu, and since we were going to be on the same continent as some fly fishing I insisted upon a pre–Machu Picchu fishing trip to Patagonia. I used Yellow Dog Fly Fishing Adventures for the first time. They were terrific to work with.
“Our criteria for the trip were these: We had to be in Lima, Peru, on a certain date. We wanted couples-friendly venues with a mixture of floating and wading. And we wanted the opportunity to participate in non-fishing activities if we wished to (as it turns out we fished every day—yes!).
“John Hudgens at Yellow Dog quickly identified Patagonia River Guides (PRG) North as the outfitter. PRG partners with several estancias in the northern Patagonia region to provide a great overall experience. We were only going to fish a week, so the first question was how many lodges we wanted to visit. We started with three and then cut it back to two, which was a good decision. Patagonia is a huge area, and many of the roads are improved dirt roads, so getting from one lodge to the other is a half-day affair, which cuts in to the fishing.
“We originally wanted to stay in the northern region of Patagonia, thinking that with fall approaching we might get warmer weather up north, which turned out to be true. We also figured it would be closer to Lima—and ultimately to the second part of our trip—but it turns out it did not matter, since all flights into Patagonia have to go to and from Buenos Aires. To reach the northern Patagonia region, you fly into San Martín de los Andes, which has a very nice airport, about the size of the airport in Missoula, Montana.
“If you time it right, you can take a red eye to Buenos Aires and then take a car from the international airport right to the local airport for the flight to San Martín de los Andes. You need at least three hours for that transfer to be sure you pass through customs, get your bags, deal with traffic, and so on. On the other hand, a night’s stopover in Buenos Aires is not a bad thing either. We stayed over on the return leg and enjoyed a day and a half in Buenos Aires, a very cosmopolitan and fun city.
“We started our fishing stay at the Tipiliuke Lodge. Tipiliuke is a high-end lodge on the Chimehuin River. We fished the Chimehuin and Malleo Rivers over three days, both wading and floating. The fishing was good, but not great. I would say that the trout, specifically the rainbows and browns, were about what you would expect to catch on a typical day in Montana, both in terms of size and numbers. We mostly fished small dries, as you would expect for that time of year. If your goal is to catch huge trout or massive numbers, this may not be the place, though in a different season perhaps it could be. The Malleo was an off-the-charts beautiful wade river, with great structure and good-sized fish. The access is private, and they regulate the number of anglers each day. We had the river all to ourselves, which was really nice. I really enjoyed fishing there. The Chimehuin River was a slightly larger river, which you could wade or float, so we did each. The fish were smaller, but numerous. Our fish were all in the teens, but another guest caught a nice brown that looked to be into the mid- to high 20s.
“The real uniqueness of this trip came with experiencing the Argentine way of fishing. The estancias are huge. Tipiliuke is a 50,000-acre ranch with two rivers running through it, so you don’t have to travel much to get on the water, nor do you have to fight crowds. You start with a huge lodge breakfast at 8 a.m. and hit the road at about 9:30. At first it seemed late to me, and I was antsy, but I went with the flow. After a half day of fishing, you return to the lodge at about 1:30, take off the waders, and sit down to a massive “lunch.” It looked more like a full dinner, complete with steak, wine, and so on. This, of course, necessitates a siesta, which means that you don’t get back on the river until about 4 p.m. We then fished until about 7:30 or 8 and headed back to the lodge for a (thankfully) smaller dinner at 9:30 p.m., with more good wine. We usually went to bed around midnight, so the 9:30 a.m. start time turned out to be a good idea.
“The Tipiliuke Lodge is a very-high end, comfortable place. The rooms are great. I regularly fish at “lodges” in places like Christmas Island, and by comparison, Tipiliuke was like the Taj Mahal. The group at the lodge, about 16 people, was made up of mostly couples. This was hunting season, so a little more than half the guest were there for red stag, which left the rivers pretty free for us anglers. There is also horseback riding, bird-watching, a spa, and other activities, but we did not do any of that—the day was pretty full with fishing—and lunch.
“After three days at Tipiliuke, we traveled by truck for a couple of hours to Quemquemtreu Lodge, which is an even larger estancia (160,000 acres). To give you some sense of the size, there are about 25 miles of the Collón Curá River running through the property. The scenery, which reminds me of the eastern Sierras, was exceptionally beautiful and full of wildlife. We saw guanaco, red deer (including many huge stags), and an abundance of birds. The lodge is more of a working ranch, so it had fewer of the high-end amenities, but it was still very nice and very comfortable. We liked the style better, in fact—it seemed a bit more “authentic.” We floated three different sections of the Collón Curá over three days. We ate lunch on the river, which we preferred, but the guide insisted on the picnic version of the massive Argentine lunch program, which was unique and fun but sometimes made for a sleepy afternoon. Fishing on the upper and middle sections was very good. My wife fished dries with great success. The guide kept encouraging me to fish with a minnow pattern (looked like an anemic woolly bugger), which was moderately successful. The fish were all in the mid- to high teens.
“On the third day, we floated the lower section down to the lake. That’s where the minnows paid off. Before hitting the lake we hooked up with, and broke off, some big fish, and the guide kept saying that the really big fish were right in the approach to the lake. He was right. After lunch, we made it to the inflow, where the river turns into a delta with several small rivulets entering the lake. In each little branch of the river you could see very aggressive splashes, where trout were hammering minnows as they washed into the lake. We walked each branch, quartering the little streamer across the flow. We got hit on almost every cast. By day’s end, we probably caught 30 to 40 fish, all in the 20s. Dozens more broke off, some huge ones too, though it’s hard to say how big they were. I don’t often use the word “epic,” but this was truly an epic afternoon.
“A word about Yellow Dog and PRG: The folks at Yellow Dog were great to work with about the fishing options. Our trip was really tailor-made, which was really nice. John Hudgens is their Patagonia expert, and he was very knowledgeable and easy to work with. They have an in-house travel person named Kimberly Franke who really knows her stuff too. Together they were able to set us up with a very efficient and well-thought-out travel plan that went off without a single travel/lodging hitch. There is no added cost to working through them as far as I could tell, so why not?
“PRG guides work independently of the lodges, but they provide all the equipment, guides, and transportation for the fishing part of the stay. I always bring my own gear, but for this trip, I didn’t want to drag a bunch of gear around Machu Picchu, so I only brought a few flies, a spool of 4x, and a lanyard with snips and forceps. That was it. PRG provided Simms waders and boots, Winston rods, and all the fixings. We did not want for good equipment or tackle on our trip. The guides all speak English pretty well and are very enthusiastic and charming. My wife really enjoyed their help and instruction.
“All in all, it was a wonderful trip.”