Merry Christmas Everyone! Ok, so I’m a couple days late. The crew here had a big Yankee style Christmas for once in Esquel, with Tweed and his fiancé Marcela, Trey and Shelby Scharp, and Ana and I all around a table that the Negra sat beneath. I made a pumpkin pie from scratch (none of that canned stuff down here), and stuffing from scratch as well, and Trey scored us a Turkey that barely even fit in the oven. As evidenced by the fact that none of us could walk, move, or really even breathe without discomfort at the end of the meal, everything turned out to be delicious! We had all more or less digested sufficiently by morning though, and so Ana, Zach, Negra, and Marcela and I drove ourselves down to the put in for the Corcovado and floated the river all day. The weather was beautiful, the tabanos non-existent, and for all that the fishing was a bit off in terms of catch-size, everyone had a wonderful time. We swam, and rowed, and played, and Tweed introduced his Chilean bride to be to a lot of little Argentine brown trout along the way. I hope everyone up in North America had just as good a time, and can continue that same strategy on into the new year! I am about to be headed out on the client trail for a while now, so if you don’t hear from me just know I’m putting blisters on my hands with the oars and loving every minute of it; I’ll be back in touch as soon as I can!
This last month I finally found time to do some serious exploration, and took advantage of it without asking twice. Zachariah Tweed happened to roll in from his adventures up in Salta just in time so he jumped in the truck as well, and the two of us and Negra headed south – way south. I’d had my eye on some of these lakes and drainages for quite a while via maps and Google Earth, but since they’re quite a ways from where we normally operate they always stayed on the list and off the itinerary,… until now. Where there were roads we drove, and where there weren’t we walked, but over the course of a couple of weeks we managed to make good speed and ticked off every coordinate on the list. Some of them turned out to hold nothing but smallish fish. Others, well, I’ll let the photos and videos speak for themselves.
We also experienced a good deal of local off-the-beaten-path culture, with varying extremes in its consistency. On day two we received our first ever (and this is a life-first) honest to God smoke-signal, wondering as the gaucho thundered up on us with his mount what the heck he might of been burning up on the hill before riding down. “No! He said, that was for you! I was telling you to wait so we could talk and have a mate!” Seeing us driving up the creek bed from a couple kilometers away, and not having had a conversation of any kind in quite a while I guess, he threw together a bunch of brush and set it ablaze before mounting up and giving chase. We were just too stupid to know it was an attempt at communication meant for us! Oh well, live and learn. We had a very nice visit and got lots of, err, hum, useful information from him; such as the fact that the creek we were on drained into both the Atlantic and the Pacific via four different rivers, all of which, he thought, came from somewhere up to the North of our current position. He also told us a story about a Puma he had recently killed with his knife, reacting to our incredulous expressions with “What else could I do? I hadn’t brought the gun!” I Love these guys.
A few days later though we had a very different gaucho run-in, getting caught in the midst of a large-scale sheep drive and then talking to the men on horses at the end of it for quite a while. They were a typical looking bunch, all leather chaps and rawhide hand-made reins, big knives and dogs with that wild look in their eyes. But when I asked the one who had the information we were looking for how I might get in touch with him in the future he replied “Well, you could look me up on facebook.” This had me stopped and without words for a minute or two, since facebook, even I don’t have.
All in all though we passed a hell of a couple of weeks. The weather was great and we only even pitched the tent a couple of times, mostly sleeping out on the ground or in the bed of the truck, and seeing a heck of a lot of the most startlingly beautiful and amazingly vacant country you could imagine. The Pumas are truly the only ones really at home up in these parts, and are definitely still present, as evidenced by this track we found one night right where we were laying down our sleeping bags. And of course along the way we caught the rainbows, browns, and brookies that made us wonder why we would ever think about heading back in to take part in “the rest” of the world again. But alas, of course in the end, we did. It’s a trip I won’t forget anytime soon though I think.
Lo and behold ~ it wasn’t the end of my Austral season after all! After more than three weeks of no fishing, Emiliano Luro and I loaded the truck up with boat, gear and camping supplies in a fit of piscatory mania that would probably make heroin withdrawals look like a day at the beach. And off we went. went,… and went,… and went,… all the way to the Rio Limay. This river forms the border between Neuquen and Rio Negro provinces to the north of Bariloche, and is open to fishing through the end of May. The drive, needless to say, was long. In fact we left about two hours before dawn and still weren’t putting in on the river until almost three in the afternoon. The Limay is a weird, tortured thing, smallish and unobtrusive as it leaves Lago Nahuel Huapi up by Bariloche and begins its long and winding journey to the Atlantic. It is pretty immediately into the pampas at that point, with the usual sauces and red-rock cliffs along its banks the whole way, and a lot of twists and bends, encountering the first hydro-electric dam just after its confluence with the Rio Caleufu from the North and Arroyo Pichi Leufu from the south. This begins a series of dams and flood control gates that form several distinct reservoirs and tailwaters all the way to the city of Neuquen. The section we floated is known as the middle Limay, below the first two dams and between the tiny town of Piedra del Aquila and Picun Leufu. The river is somewhat bleak here in its appearance above the waterline, but utterly fascinating below the surface. At times all at once unbelievably deep and wide, and at other times dividing into a maze of interconnected channels and islands with shallow riffles all around, the only thing that is consistent is the clarity of the water and the cleanliness of the seemingly manicured pebbly bottom. Although there are certainly plenty of resident rainbows swimming about and eating mayflies the attraction, for most anglers anyway, is the influx of migratory browns from the reservoirs that the river connects. And Emiliano and I got our first taste of these only thirty minutes into our float. What fish! Big, strong, angry, hook-jawed male brown trout are in no mood to play when autumn’s orange light hits the river, and they attack most anything smaller than they are that comes near them as they make their way upstream from the lakes. We caught fish on a variety of large streamers using sink tips and intermediate sinking lines, but I must say that the Green Giant accounted for more than its fair share of the hook-ups. Our float was three days in total with two nights camped on the river’s islands, and although the temperatures were less than balmy we enjoyed excellent weather throughout, with light winds and no precipitation. Overall I’d have to say that this last week of the season float has all the makings of a yearly event that will likely become the closer of my Patagonian fishing year for many years to come.
I took Mario Garcia, keeper of Cabanas Toldos on Lago 3 and an all around great guy to spend any sort of time with, out on the lake for a bit of fishing this afternoon in the newly arrived Aire raft with its NRS fishing frame. This is actually the same boat sold by Castaway, just with different markings, and we bought it with the idea that it will be an easy to move around driftboat of sorts, capable of handling heavy whitewater in the areas rivers but also comfortable enough for a calm day of rowing and casting on the lakes. Today turned out to be mostly calm, that is until Mario hooked a bruiser of a big male brown, which broke the tranquil mood in the boat at least for the time it took to bring the fish to hand.
This photograph is now being printed in Esquel and is soon to hang on the wall behind the counter in Mario’s store at the Cabanas.