Tuesday, January 8, 2013

De Los Andes!!!

Getting out of bed at our sweet little hostel to a bright spring day in Bariloche that morning had me buzzing.  Spencer and I had been here now for 5 days and had yet to cast a fly.  We hit the road around 10 am for San Martin de Los Andes and had an adrenalin shot as we crossed the Rio Limay (which is a gorgeous piece of water btw) as tens of thousands of sulphur looking duns where fluttering over a bridge.   There version of a PMD I imagine.

The landscape is quite barren on the drive, similar to that of the eastslope of the Rocky Mountains or the Okanagan area of BC.  There are virtually no trees in the foothills except where there is water.  Rows of willows are a good indication as to where the river is.  Driving over the Collon Cura river I looked down and in behind an old stump there's a large rainbow sipping in the foam line.  We get the feeling we're here on time as the water is considerably low for this time of year and the weather is turning to spring.

Street Signs in Junin

You know your in trout country when there's a coarse statue of Mel Krueger playing a massive trout  as the welcome post of the  town.  This is Junin De Los Andes, trout capital of Argentina and home of the Chimehuin river.  The street signs have wood engraved trout on them and the roads are dry and dusty.  There's not much to this place but we know at some point we'll be back here to work the sorrounding waters of the town.

We arrive in San Martin and find a humble little hosteria with a beaten down Bavarian theme and we rest for  a little while before heading into the local fly shops to talk business and get some info.  The first shop I head into I meet the owner and there happens to be a couple of local guides in there at the same time.  It's the start to their season so they have some time on their hands and are grazing the shop for whatever tying materials (foam) they can get there hands on.

We introduce each other and then go to one of the guides places (Tommy) to look at flies, talk shit and have some beers.  The other guide Herbie decides  that tommorrow would be a good day for us to float the Chimehuin together so the plan is made.  Our first day of angling in Argentina will be a float on the Chimehuin.  The winds are supposed to howl to 80 km/hour (and they do). but Herbie and Tommy know the river well and take turns rowing the two boats and sticking some nice fish.  Throwing mostly foam patterns--red bellied Fat Alberts and Card's Cicada's, we hook a good mix of browns and rainbows.  The water although fast is really clear and the willow lined banks and deep boulder runs are giving up the bigger fish of the day.  It's nice to see some new water, even though it's similar in character to what we have here at home, there are some distinct differences.  Mostly the presence of willows hanging over and into the water as well as some geological distinctions.

Spencer, Herbie and Mr Brown on the Chimehuin

It occurs to me on this day that I need to spend some time angling as my cast is faultering in the extreme wind.  After a summer of guiding and not much fishing, my casting stroke has become weak and is need of repair/practice and I feel blessed to have the time afforded to me to do that.

At days end we head back to San Martin and enjoy one of the many sweet restaurants in the village and make the decision to move to Junin which is much closer to the action.  Meanwhile somewhere out in the plains of Argentina,  a shaken and recently river dunked Jim Carter is heading north with the same intention.  We wake up and head out to grab supplies from the well serviced San Martin and one of the first people we see is Jimmy.  Easy to spot  that bright white mop of hair flying in the Patagonia wind, we're happy to have found him and we eat some food before hopping in our vehicles, following him to the Rio Dorado Lodge in Junin which becomes our second home.

Day one of our self guided venture has us on the Majello River, a walk and wade gem that is full of rainbows and browns.  A small creamy, white caddis clouds the willows on the bank when we arrive but Jimmy isn't buying it.  He's fed these fish a lot and as Spencer and I stand above a break in the willows rigging up; Jimmy hops in, wades out about twenty steps and begins throwing a Card's Cicada at the opposing bank of willows.  Third cast brings up a large rainbow and he buries the hook in it's jaw and we know he's enjoying this moment.  Showing us how it's down Texas Style. 

Root Straws of the Chimehuin Willows

We have a chat and then take our seperate routes.  I take the first run and let Jimmy and Spencer head upstream.  This is a really cool river and I'm feeling myself  in the act of angling.  All the shit I've been carrying around in my cluttered head for the last few months is vacating and I'm dialed into the task at hand.  I'm not convinced that the trout won't eat the abundant Caddis so I'm throwing a 16 cream cdc caddis and it's getting the odd fish, but definitely not unlocking any great mystery.

I head up a tight braid  that is accessed by climbing a small waterfall over some rocks and as I climb over I notice there's a really nice pool right at the tailout to the falls.  There's a partially sunk willow bush that is trailing a thick band of willows that lines the upstream shore.   A slow foam line tails below the willow band and gets split by the smaller partially submerged willow.  There's a  slot  about 3 feet deep that runs on the bank side of the small willow leaving   a 12" wide lane that a 16" rainbow is making a good living out of.  The bugs are pumping through there...mainly caddis and the rainbow is working hard on the surface.  I love his lair, it's an excellent choice and I begin delicately trying to feed him caddis.

A few flail shots and a couple of nice drifts over the trout tell me that caddis is not on the menu.  I begin to notice a smaller dark mayfly (size !8) as I examine the water surface.  I have already made the switch to a size 18 curved shank pheasant tail with the hopes of him eating it as a caddis pupae, but I figure if I grease the tippett with floatant I can get enough float on that short  drift to bring him up to the fly.  So I do and the results are instantaneous.  Even though I placed the cast 6 inches left of the seam, as soon as the fly hit the water the trout locked in and hammered the flashy offering.  He wrapped himself in the smaller willow about 4 times but I was able to wrestle him from the branches and let him go.  It was truly one of my favourite fish ever; definitely not the biggest, but what an excellent choice for a place to live.  It was a fine piece of aquatic real estate.

Guerilla Angling

I went all guerilla style shortly after that, hunkering down in the willows as rainbows rose in the narrow corridor between the two lines of willow.  I had to laugh when I looked upstream and about 30 yards up, Spencer was in the same motion.  Looked like we had crossed enemy lines, found the bunker and were in the early stages of   laying waste to the batallion.  The overhang proved to be too much as I fed a keen trout the floating nymph and he gave one solid run into the branches that severed the line between myself and him.  SNAP!!!   We let go of the Guevera style angling and looked for a pool which we found shortly after.

Jimmy had headed somewhere else...said he had to "re-acquaint"  himself with the area (which we soon figured was code for--go hit something way cooler than the shit I'm showing you guys).  Pays to play and Jim's done lots of that down here.  The pool we have found is as idyllic as a pool gets.  Deep and slow with a rocky point that allows a back cast.  There is a massive scum line, looks like an island of vegetation debris and trout are picking out the bugs trapped in it as well as plucking fresh ones out of the centre lanes.  I'm perched above the pool as Spencer is trying to feed them caddis.  There's three big rainbows working and none of them are having any of the Trichoptera patterns Spencer is offering.  I continue to watch, he continues to put nice drift after nice drift overhead of the trout.  Changing after every four or five drifts. 

It was fly change 4 that was critical and changed the way the trip would go.  Downsize and darken is often the route to go when stalking large, selective fish.  So on went a size 18 small black EC caddis (which he threw as a mayfly imitation) and on it's first drift, it connected with a 19" rainbow.  This is one of those key moments in fly fishing, where you work a group of tough fish and after countless rejections you pick wisely and solve the mystery.  These to me are the great flies out there....the ones that hook the tough fish.  For the rest of the trip this fly caught almost every difficult rainbow we encountered.  Our stock was limited so we would throw small black para ants and carlson's purple haze to hook a lot of the fish we caught.  But any time a larger fish decided to be particular, it's tune would change when offered that fly.  They ate the shit out of that thing.

Rainbow and Panda Hat

Other top performers on the trip were the black/red power ant w legs, the red thread fat albert, the Card's Cicada, the FB Pheasant Tail nymph and the Kauffman's stonefly.  Overall it was an excellent trip and their fishery altough different in many ways shared some amazing resemblances.  I am happy to have found the area and owe a lot of my decision to getting down here to Jimmy Carter and Ralph Clasby.  They both have had numerous good things to say about the fishery and my expectations were definitely met.

I will see you next season my new Southern friend.  For all those interested in trips to this area and others in South America consult my website for packages that we have put together after our adventures down there.  We are confident that we can provide you with a better price with the same level of service as some of the other outfitters from the US.  Visit http://www.freestoneflyangler.com/travel/ for a look at what we are offering.