Patagonia Combo Trip

White cliffs along the Rio Collon Cura

White cliffs along the Rio Collon Cura

Our much-anticipated trip to Patagonia is now behind us and I can tell you it was quite the adventure.  The trip combined a four-day, three-night float down the Rio Collon Cura, with four days at the iconic Estancia San Huberto and wade fishing the Rio Malleo.  The excursion was thus divided more or less equally between “roughing it” (more on that in a moment) and fishing streamers on fairly big river, and staying at a well appointed lodge with outstanding service while casting small dry flies to wary trout in gin-clear water.   Talk about contrast!

 

I’ll say right up front that our primary guides, Nico and Martin were wonderful hosts, and certainly know the rivers and the fish.  As with all good guides, they were free with their tips and praise, and kept their own counsel when we screwed up.  I’m sure I’ll be fishing with them again soon as they know what they’re doing and run a great program. 

 

For the float trip portion of the trip we fished from drift boats and occasionally waded along gravel bars or smaller side channels.  This time of year, the trout are mostly focused on the schools of small minnows that are plentiful in the river, so smart money says swing or strip minnow patterns and fish deep.  To be sure, we caught fish on nymphs and even a few on dries, but the vast majority took some variation of a matuka pattern.  We caught plenty, and though most were under 15 inches, we did boat several in the 20+  range.

Camp on the Rio Collon Cura.

Camp on the Rio Collon Cura.

 

As for roughing it?  Everything is relative, right?  In the case of float trips in Patagonia, the bar is pretty high.  Think African safari.  Each day the camp crew presses ahead in the morning, and have camp fully pitched, the bar set up, the wine breathing, and dinner on the fire well before the tired anglers drift into camp after a full day of fishing.  And although we’re all familiar with the idea that everything tastes better when eating outdoors, that is especially true when you’re eating argentine beef, whole lamb a la cruza (on the cross) or grilled Patagonian chorizo (sausage).  Hell, the camp chef even served lasagna one night!  And all this served in the dinner tent on real plates accompanied by good argentine Malbec.  Pretty tough to take…

 

One down side to fishing the Collon Cura is that it is often windy – even by Wyoming standards!  We actually experienced white caps on the river one afternoon but fortunately the wind had died down some by the time siesta was over.  Yes, siesta!  Days on the river are long and one quickly realizes that not only is the pace in Argentina slower, but there are so many hours available to fish when you wake up and go to sleep on the river that there is just no need to fill them all with casting.  In a typical day, we got in more than eight hours of fishing even with a relaxing shore lunch followed by a nap.  Believe me, this is the way to go!

 

A healthy pair of Collon Cura rainbows.

A healthy pair of Collon Cura rainbows.

As great as the float trip was, camping is still – well – camping.  And what better way to follow it up than heading straight from the take-out to a great lodge where you can partake of a hot shower, followed by cocktails in the great room and a dinner that includes grass fed, dry-aged, ojo de bife (rib eye steak) grilled to perfection?  And of course, a nice Malbec to wash it down. 

 

View from the bridge over the Rio Malleo at the lodge.

View from the bridge over the Rio Malleo at the lodge.

San Huberto is a working estancia owned and run by the Olsen family.  The land has been in their family for five generations and the lodge was built to cater to hunters and fishermen in the early 70’s.  The setting, the service, and the fishing are all wonderful.  Our days at San Huberto consisted of breakfast at 8:00, fishing from 9:00 to about 2:00, lunch on the terrace followed by (what else?) siesta, and then fishing again from 6:00 till 9:00 pm.  After that?  You guessed it – clean up, cocktails in the great room, and another amazing dinner.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

 

Like the lodge itself, the fishing on the Malleo at this time of year is as different from that on the Collon Cura as night and day.  This is late summer in Patagonia and the river is low and incredibly clear and the fish wary.  We fished primarily dry flies, often in sizes 18 and 20 as we attempted to match the prolific hatches and fool fish that have been playing this game for several months now.  This is technical fly fishing to be sure.

joe casting.jpg

 

The rewards can be huge though!  Fish well into the twenties are caught here regularly and the lodge walls are adorned with photos proving that 30 inchers have been taken from this relatively small stream.  Of course that is far easier said than done when fishing fine tippet (5 or 6x) and tiny flies.  Nonetheless, our happy band of anglers comported themselves well and although no monsters were landed, some were hooked (who can prove otherwise?), and as with the Rio Collon Cura, several fish in the 20 inch class were brought to hand. And even when you’re not catching, the views are absolutely awesome!

Lanin volcano is visibly from many places along the river.

Lanin volcano is visibly from many places along the river.

 

By the end of the week, we all agreed that the combination of overnight float and lodge-based fishing was a great way to go.Experiencing different rivers, different types of fishing, and different “accommodations” during the excursion made it all the more amazing.What was constant was the level of service, the amazing scenery, and the great companionship of our group and the guides.All in all, a great trip.