fly fishing in Patagonia Argentina

By Yancey Forest-Knowles

There exist for all Fly fishermen certain waters that affect us magically. The elixir that flows through my imagination is that of the rivers and lakes of Patagonia, and it seductively draws me back again and again. Once experienced, the spell is binding, never to be broken. I have been fortunate to have fished many of the world’s fabled angling destinations, including the majority of Patagonia’s classic waters. With this background, I firmly believe that Patagonian waters support some of the most rewarding and diverse fly fishing in the world, and there are more of these waters than can be fished in a lifetime.

Patagonia, however, is much more than fly fishing for trophy trout. It is also a land of awe-inspiring beauty and endless vastness that is full of surprises that energize and capture the imagination. The massive and bold vistas start in the west at the crest of the Andes and extend east, peering into the high desert steppe, an area that resembles the semi-arid eastern side of California’s mighty SierraMountains. Whether at either of these extremes or anywhere in between, the binding aspect that exemplifies all of Patagonia is surely its majestic scenery.


A successful trip to Patagonia includes not only the great fishing and marvelous scenery, but also embraces the culture, people, and spirit of this unique land. The people I have met have had as much influence over my time there as has the fishing. Their welcoming hospitality and genuine warmth has earned them the well deserved reputation as some of the nicest and most enjoyable people you’ll ever meet. Friendships will develop quickly and last a lifetime. As you step off the plane in the Swiss-styled gateway destination of Bariloche, you begin to sense something special. With its incomparable setting on the shores of Lake Nahuel Haupi, Bariloche puts you in mind of California’s Lake Tahoe.


As you explore this strikingly beautiful area, your anticipation of the fishing that has brought you there begins to heighten. The reality of where you are reminds you of Dorothy’s famous words from the Wizard of Oz that you are definitely not in Kansas any more. Patagonia is blessed with many of the world’s greatest trout waters and they abound with trophy rainbows, browns and brook trout. Fly fishing for trout is deeply rooted in the history and culture of this angling paradise and knowledgeable fly fishers from around the world make annual pilgrimages to these hallowed waters.


Like many renowned fisheries, the diversity and dependable conditions throughout Patagonia actually create several distinct, as well as unique fisheries, and each of them offers something special. Patagonia and the American west share many similarities. For me, it is like stepping back in time where rivers still flow free and fishing is dependable. What makes fishing in Patagonia so exciting is that anglers experience more than just quality fly fishing, they also experience the sense of true adventure. The classic angling waters of Patagonia lie within the triangular area formed by Bariloche, Junin and San Martin.


Each of these charming towns has distinct personalities, but all have one thing in common, their proximity to famous rivers and lakes with rich histories and exceptional lore. Just as Bariloche is often compared to Lake Tahoe in California, San Martin is frequently compared to Aspen in Colorado, and Junin is compared to West Yellowstone and Ennis in Montana. The best way for serious anglers to experience all that Patagonia has to offer is to stay at one or more of the fabled estancias.


By making arrangements in advance, anglers can create their own unique fly fishing itineraries. At each estancia, owners and staff are committed to maintaining the local charm and will go to all lengths to ensure that the needs of guests are met. Most enjoyably, guests are treated as family and will encounter the pleasure of an authentic cultural experience. Exceptional lodging is enhanced with tasteful regional cuisine and wonderful selections of Argentine wine. From the perspective of many knowledgeable and long-returning angling visitors, the estancia experience is every bit as important and fulfilling as the fishing itself.


There is something profound and inexplicable in the estancia experience that goes to the heart and soul of Patagonia. Perhaps it is the way it combines marvelous fly fishing with the people, food, culture and landscape in a way that transforms a fly fishing trip into a memorable adventure. The following list of classic rivers, lakes and premier estancias is offered as a suggestion of where to begin casting flies and staying for the first time in Patagonia. It is by no means comprehensive nor meant to dissuade the angler from visiting the many other fine rivers, lakes and lodges in this region.


Rather, it is an effort to guide fly fishers to tried and true waters that exhibit the most diversity and place them in highly sought after accommodations. Estancia Arroyo Verde, with its breathtaking scenery and flawless luxury sets the gold standard for Patagonian ranches. It is only a stone’s throw away from the superb TrafulRiver and its magnificent browns and world record landlocked Atlantic salmon.


The irresistible splendor and exceptional hospitality has made this ranch a favorite with such notables as Dwight Eisenhower and Ernest Schwiebert. At 250,000 acres, Estancia Quemquemtru is among the largest ranches in all of Argentina. The sheep operation at the ranch center boasts so many quaint ranching buildings that it resembles a small town and invites photographers to explore.

The mighty CollonCuraRiver flows through the ranch and provides several lengthy floats for its thick-shouldered browns. In addition, it offers world class red stag, boar and quail hunting. Estancia San Humberto is located on the exquisite MalleoRiver, renowned for its rewarding dry fly fishing and resemblance to eastern Idaho’s Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. If you would like to experience a classic asado, or Argentine BBQ, this ranch presents an exceptionally memorable event that all others are judged by.


While there, you’ll also want to experience the crystal clear waters of the QuillenRiver and its dependable hatches and LakeTromen, unquestionably one of the most strikingly beautiful and exciting waters to fish in the region. Estancia Llamuco is located on the banks of the AlumineRiver. The lodge hosts are classically warm and friendly and will go to great lengths to make you feel like family. This river has over 90 miles of floats that can be approached as three distinguishable and fish rich sections. There are a variety of other rivers and lakes in this northern region and they receive little angling pressure.


No list of classic rivers would be complete without including the famous Chimehuin and its record producing Boca. After all, this is the spot where LakeHuechulafquen enters the river and where both history and lore were made in the 1950s. This was a time when every notable fly fisherman in the world came to these storied waters and in so doing, literally introduced the fishing wonders of Patagonia to the world. There are a number of lodges in this area but most fishermen choose to stay in Junin de los Andes, the quaint regional town on the river’s banks. In Junin, Hosteria Chimehuin has been a favorite of fly fishermen who have come for decades to fish the mythical mouth of the river and the walls are lined with photos of the famous guests and the large browns they caught.


Unequivocally, The Limay is one of the finest brown trout rivers in the world and offers the best opportunity today to land the fish of a lifetime. The river is divided in three distinct sections, the upper, middle and lower. Most anglers staying in Bariloche take day floats on the upper river beginning at its mouth, completing one of the numerous sections in the first thirty miles. No fly fishing trip to Patagonia is complete, however, without a two or three day floating/camping experience on the Limay Medio, or middle section of this stunning river. Many browns landed, as well as several of the numerous rainbows, will be in the three to five pound range, and browns in excess of ten pounds are caught throughout the season. The largest browns, up to twenty-four pounds, are migratory and become most active in April and May.


Well provisioned river camps allow anglers to be on the river longer each day and to reach areas not accessible on day floats. Not enough can be said about Patagonian outfitters and guides and their commitment to ensuring a safe, quality experience for their guests. They are bi-lingual, have access to all of the finest waters and pride themselves in their ability to match their client’s desires with unique, personal itineraries. Plus, they can help with flight arrangements and hotel accommodations, as well as helping with activities in Buenos Aires, the Mendoza wine country and other special areas of interest.


Equally important, they are seriously committed to being responsible stewards of natural resources and conduct business in an ethical manner. Whether it is classic estancias, day trips or scenic multi-day wilderness floats with comfortable camps, unrivaled quality of diversity and dependable fly fishing is awarded to the visiting angler. With the extent and uniqueness of opportunities, breath-taking landscapes and charming culture, there is little wonder why Patagonia is such a popular angling destination. There is one thing for certain; you have to experience Patagonia to believe it.