Argentine Patagonia is a faraway world of gauchos, guanacas, and hard to pronounce rivers. The landscape is reminiscent of Wyoming and Montana, but the night sky is full of stars that can't be seen from home. The fishing can be spectacular, yet strange... the dry fly fishing is often done with flies imitating worms that fall from trees and the streamer fishing is done with flies that imitate crabs. It is all the same and yet all very different - and it all adds up to a perfect cure for winter blues.
We had successfully fished the lovely Manso River yesterday, but now, five hours from Bariloche, we were close to the intended purpose of our trip - to float and fish the remote and unspoiled Alumine River. Under a hot summer sun, we had cruised up the Collon Cura Valley past ostriches (rheas), guanacas (wild llamas) and red stags. With catarafts in tow, we lumbered past the famous Malleo River and climbed over a parched landscape into the Alumine River Valley. As we loaded rafts and rigged rods, gauchos on small, sturdy horses rode by staring impassively at our efforts. I wondered what they thought of us in our Gor-tex waders. From the moment we shoved off into the clear, pale-blue waters of the Alumine, I loved this river.
This was a classic, high dessert river; its waters elegantly framed with sculpted canyon cliffs, poplar groves and dry rolling hills - a true wilderness that few North Americans, or Argentines for that matter, ever see. Classic riffles and runs over rocky bars, long pools and great pocket water only partially describe the beauty of this Patagonian gem. High hills and sandstone crags glowed red in the setting sun as we pulled into our first night's camp. Soon we were enjoying steaks and a fine Merlot under a full Argentine moon.
Over the next six days, we gradually descended from the narrower, upper canyon stretch to the broader, more open, lower section. We covered some 60 miles and enjoyed beautiful summer weather, typical Patagonian winds, and challenging, yet productive, fishing for deep, strong rainbows and browns. We caught numerous rainbows from 18-22" on streamers, parachute adams and sauce (pronounced souse-eh) worms that are blown into the shaded pools at the water's edge from the willows that line the river's banks Here, a quiet and patient angler sees 15-22" rainbows waiting for the wind to deliver their next meal. We had caught the tail end of the hatch, but had enough action to see what the peak of the sauce worm hatch could be like.
In the mornings, we fished our sauce patterns in the surface film like a dry fly. As the days warmed up, the worms, upon falling, would penetrate the surface film. Then we fished our sauce worm flies just subsurface and up to 2 feet deep with a typical nymphing strike indicator. We caught some amazingly robust 'bows this way. My most successful technique was to sneak up on a shaded pool, hide in the shadows until a fish was spotted and then make a short cast to the fish. These aggressive 'bows would sometimes move 6 to 10 feet in the crystal clear water to take a well-presented worm. The trick was to wait long enough to set the hook. Adrenaline produced from the locked-on charge of a 20" rainbow often elicited a premature hook strike - apparently, according to our guides' experience, a normal condition during the sauce worm hatch.
Foam lines on many of the river's eddies held one or two feeding trout. Attractor patterns and #12-16 parachute adams often took these rising trout. I had one shady pool where I caught a 20" 'bow on a sauce worm fished just subsurface, a 19" 'bow on a #16 parachute adams fished further out on the eddy line at the outside edge of the pool and a 21" brown caught on a black wooly bugger stripped right next to shore. The big brown came out from under the cutbank - we had seen him earlier chasing a minnow and had re-rigged a #4 bugger on my 4wt!
Fishing on the Alumine was sometimes slow and sometimes outstanding, but always interesting and challenging. No matter if the fishing was slow or fast - the Alumine always produced a beautiful and enthralling backdrop to our efforts.
Our two guides, Esteban and Guillermo, were excellent. Technically proficient, they were also very helpful, gracious and entertaining to be with... and they spoke excellent English! Our camp/cook manager, Pedro, broke down camp each morning, passed us mid-morning, prepared a delicious lunch, passed us again mid-afternoon and had camp set up and dinner started when we pulled into camp sometimes as late as 8:30 pm.
Our meals were taken, except for lunch, in a comfortable dining tent. These meals were always excellent and included roasted chicken, steaks and traditional Argentine stews. We had a different Argentine wine each evening and none of us, even in our most deluded state, could ever have termed this type of deluxe camping as "roughing it". Breakfasts and lunches were equally good. All camp chores, including unpacking rafts, erecting tents and assembling sleeping cots, were done by our hosts. All we had to do was fish. And fish we did - as long as we wanted, sometimes quitting only because a cold gin and tonic seemed the better way to watch the sun set beneath the high hills of the Alumine.
We spent one night at the beautiful Estancia Aida just below the Malleo's confluence with the Alumine. We took hot showers, ate fresh cherries and apples from the orchard and enjoyed a sumptuous asado of fresh lamb cooked Argentine style over an open fire. Built in 1934, this estancia is a working ranch and our gracious hosts served two extensive meals with everything coming from the ranch but the coffee. While reluctant to leave Aida the next morning, the seductive Alumine carried our contented crew downstream, unrepentant eyes focused on the next bend.
I would recommend this trip to anyone who loves the out-of-doors and loves to fish. Even if you choose to camp only one or two nights of a week's itinerary, you will most certainly enjoy the experience with this well-seasoned and well-organized crew.
And oh yes. . . we saw no other fishermen on the Alumine. We had virtually no bugs, no rain and only one day of overcast weather. Usually, it was hot and sunny with afternoon winds - sometimes fairly strong afternoon winds. We experienced no problems due to Argentina's economic woes. We found the Argentine people to be warm, gracious and extremely accommodating. Our cabin fever temporarily cured, we expect a relapse next winter. Not surprisingly, we made plans for next year's trip on the flight home.
Angling Destinations will be hosting a group next winter (January 11-18, 2003) timed to coincide with the peak of the sauce worm hatch. We will probably float two rivers next year as most of us from this year's trip are eager to sample some other Argentine rivers. Please let us know if you are interested in our hosted trip or if you would like to make plans for a trip south on alternate dates of your own choosing.