Journal of Dan T. Cook - Fly Fishing the Globe
Traveling 75,000 miles around the world in search of fish and friendship.
December 7, 2007 - Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego
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Okay....... I made it to the Brown trout mecca of the World....... Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego! "Lots of fishing and a lot of new friends" is the theme again. Here are some of the details......
Fishing with "Goma"
I was instructed by Claudio in Rio Gallegos to contact "Goma" (means "rubber" or "rubber band" in Spanish) upon arriving in town. Turns out that nearly every one of Rio Grande's 50,000+ residents know Goma or at least of him. Goma speaks less English than I do Spanish, but we never-the-less hit it off right away. He checked his schedule and in the usual Argentinean way...... which I'm becoming accustomed to..... said "We fish in 3 hours!" "How about next week?" I suggested. "No. Booked!" He was, in fact, booked nearly every day for the next month. So it was settled.
I often have conversations with myself about just how much of fly fishing is luck. There are so many uncontrollable elements involved that I won't even attempt to re-hash the argument here. Suffice it to say that when I'm catching fish, I believe that luck plays only a minor role. I think it was golfing great Ben Hogan who said "The more I practice the luckier I get!" That is how I feel when the "going is good." However, when I'm doing poorly, luck plays a pivotal role. So, I can tell you with complete and utter honesty that my luck with sea run brown trout is awful. Horrible! Terrible! Worse that terrible!
Back in 2002, I took a trip to the Rio Grande in Chile to fish for sea runs. It was March..... the best month. There were 6 other anglers with me on that trip. Over the course of 4 days of fishing the whole group caught 2. And they were on the last day in the last hour of fishing. The reason was that the river was at a 50 year low water level and most of the fish couldn't venture all the way up the river into Chile from the mouth in Argentina. "Bad luck" was the sentiment passed around along with the bottle of scotch at the group's last dinner together. Three months later I read an article in the New York Times travel section. The writer, who had NEVER fished before, had taken a similar trip in March, except he went to Argentina, not Chile. On average, the story said, he caught 15 fish per day. I immediately started dry-heaving. But that was then, and this is now. I figured I'd paid my dues and everything would be fine in 2007.
To make a long story short, I still haven't caught a sea run brown trout in the world famous Rio Grande. (To give myself a bit of credit.... it is very early in the season.) The guides say the river is in great condition...... "low and clear." These are indeed ideal conditions...... if it were FEBRUARY!!! Apparently the fish are awaiting the "go" signal and that will come with a higher flow. So..... in 2 days of fishing with Goma I caught nothing but resident trout. The very first fish was a Rainbow. Who knew!?!
Goma is an amazing guide, however. In thirty years of fishing and guiding on Estancia Maria Behety, he knows every inch of the river and river bottom. It is uncanny! I'd enter the river and in 2 steps be up to the limit of my waders. "Move 2 meters to your right and it'll be better." So I did and he was right. This sort of situation repeated itself over and over during the 2 days. I reckon if I can't catch a fish with Goma as my guide, there were no fish to catch. Luck or no luck!!!Estancia Aurelia
After striking out on the lower Rio Grande, I decided to give another of Claudio's friends a call. Peter is the manager at the Aurelia Lodge and immediately agreed to meet me for a cup of coffee. Peter invited me to fish the lodge's 20 kilometers on the Rio Grande and as much of the lodge's frontage on the Grande's main tributary, the Rio Menendez, that I could handle. I thought perhaps a change of scenery could turn things around, so I readily agreed to his offer.
Although I fished some pools that I was almost certain contained fish, the results were the same: lots of casts in the wind (and rain) and only small resident trout in return. I was nearing a serious depression when Peter summoned me to the lodge for a traditional parrilla (another Argentinean term for "grilling meat!" There are many) with the owners of the lodge. What followed was one of the most enjoyable evenings in recent memory. The owners, "Pancho" and Ricardo, had a few of their friends over and everyone was happy, drinking wine, snacking on delicious cheeses and chorizo, toasting each other and the fish that never were. After dinner my hosts insisted that I sleep in one of the guest rooms. Usually, I decline such offers as I would hate to spoil myself and perhaps come to the conclusion that my accommodations in the back of the LandCruiser are somehow lacking in creature comforts. Such concerns drifted from my noggin as I fell asleep on the most comfortable bed in existence.
Peter introduced me to Gustavo Criado, whom he said could take me to some interesting lakes for Brook trout. Eager for some fishing that didn't have to do with not catching sea runs, I agreed to go with Gustavo up to Lago Yakusel. Like all the good lakes, getting to Lago Yakusel is a challenge in itself. The three hour trip from Rio Grande included broken pavement (main Route 3), decent gravel road, bad gravel road and then horrible gravel road. We also crossed over 3 bridges that looked as if they would collapse at any moment. We then hopped on his ATV and passed through swampy mud bogs before arriving at the pristine lake. Gustavo has been coming up to the lake since he was a youngster. Before he had the money to buy the ATV's, he used to pack in his inflatable raft and his outboard motor on HIS BACK! He is a bit loco, as you might guess.
Anyway, we went to his favorite fishing spots and on the first cast I hooked up with a beautiful Brown trout. Turns out the lake isn't full of Brookies, it is full of big Brownies! The best part about the lake is the west end, which becomes very shallow and is the perfect spot to stalk cruising fish. Many fly fishermen agree that stalking fish is the purist, most challenging and most rewarding method of fishing. I had a blast and the pictures can attest to that.
Rio Ewan (this story is for my friend Tim Feeley in Tasmania. Tim, this story has "worts n' all" and was very close to being only worts!)
Figuring that I am cursed on the Rio Grande, I took Gustavo up on his offer to drop me off at the confluence of the North and South Arms of the Rio Ewan. Both forks of the Rio Ewan are not much to look at--each is barely 6 feet wide where they are crossed by Route 3. Never-the-less, these rivers were stocked with the exact same trout by the Goodall Family over 100 years ago. While it doesn't have the really big, big sea runs, they do have a nice population that returns to spawn each year.
I unloaded my pack from the ATV and bid Gustavo "chau!" for 2 days. The 6 mile track from the highway keeps most anglers out of the confluence area during the work week, so I was almost guaranteed to be the only one around. In the bitterly cold wind and rain I set up my tent and went about getting my fishing gear organized. Rods, check. Rain gear, check. Reels, check. Wading boots, check. Waders, che...... WTF!?!?!?!?! I FORGOT MY WADERS????????? What a bonehead move! In my attempt to make sure the neoprene feet were completely dry I hung them inside the main trailer tent. This is the same tent that I subsequently packed up and stored away (the waders are still in there as I type this). I'm even the kind of person that writes up "pre-trip" check lists! (but then rarely consults them).
Great...... so I'm looking at 2 full days on the wrong side of the river. Plus, as anyone who fishes estuaries knows, the tides tend to render the whole river area a mud hole. Leaving my waders was a catastrophic error on my part. So what did I do??? I took off my boots, socks and pants and waded across the frigid, waist-deep salt water. You want to talk about cold? Picture this: strong winds, moderate rain, 45 degree temps, very cold ocean water and no pants. Not to mention after crossing the channel, it took about 45 seconds to get the mud off my legs and feet before I could re-dress. And I did this FOUR TIMES! The long-term health effects of this decision are yet to be fully measured.
Obviously, fishing is important to me. Rightfully so, as I caught some beautiful Brown trout near the confluence. The weather improved on the first day but was downright awful on the second day. While attempting to photograph the best fish of the trip (pictured below), the wind blew over my slim-profiled Pentax twice during the 10 second shutter delay! It was a great experience and you can bet I won't forget my waders ever again.
I'll be moving on to Chile this weekend. I'd like to thank Goma (contact Goma at "email@example.com" for the best fishing on the Rio Grande) for the guidance and the dinners with his family, Peter and the crew at the Aurelia Lodge (www.aurelialodge.com) for the wonderful hospitality. I haven't sleep on a bed that nice since...... well, ever! A big thank you to Gustavo Criado for sharing some of his favorite fishing spots, and Victor at the tourist information kiosk for indulging my request that we communicate only in Spanish.
This will be the last update before Christmas........ so Merry Christmas to my family and to all the friends, both new and old, that I am fortunate enough to have all over the World. Best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008!