Trip of a lifetime - Sea Run Browns in Tierra Del Fuego!
March 15, 2016
Sea Run Brown Trout in Rio Grande: Tierra Del Fuego Argentina
Fly fishermen around the globe form their bucket lists, and several destinations are likely to appear on most of them. Weve all seen the photographs of the white sand flats surrounded by turquoise sea of Christmas Island, or the lush grass hillsides towering above the crystal clear trout rivers of New Zealand. Those are a couple of places that may top the bucket list, as much for the beauty of the landscape as for the fishing. Tierra Del Fuego (TDF) is another spot that registers on this list, but not so much for the surrounding beauty, as the unique fish that we target there. Our targeted species in TDF is the Brown trout. These are not just regular brown trout, though. They are anadromous fish, meaning they migrate to the ocean as juveniles, where they live for 2-4 years before returning to the river to spawn as adults. There are only a few places in the world that have brown trout populations that behave this way, and Rio Grande in TDF is by far the most prolific, both in terms of numbers and size of fish. This is a hard thing for some to comprehend, because there are so few places in the entire world that it occurs. To simplify your thought process, think of Steelhead, which are Rainbow trout that exhibit this exact same behavior.
The last time I fished in Tierra Del Fuego was in 1998. Myself and a couple of friends who I guided with in MT landed a guide job trout fishing in the Patagonia region of Chile. We worked there from December through the end of March, and then travelled South to Rio Grande, Argentina to fish THE river for THE fish. While we were working in Chile, we had met and fished with a couple of gentlemen who owned and operated lodges on Rio Grande, and they had invited us down to fish there when our season finished, and had even mentioned the possibility of working for them the following season. So, we flew even further South from where we were guiding in Chile then took a ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan to arrive in Rio Grande, Argentina Home of the Sea Run Brown trout! Wed seen photos and read stories, and we were so excited to actually be there. We rented a truck at the airport (which cost us $140 per day!), found a hotel, and called the first guy whod invited us down. Oh great, youre here! Ill meet you at the airport. I am dropping one of my Russian guides off in an hour. This was the guy whod given us the original invite and said he may have some guide openings the following season.
He showed up, sat down, and said Well guys, it looks like all of my guides are coming back next year, so I dont think Ill need any help. One of my buddies responded, Thats no problem, but how about us fishing the Rio Grande? Well he said, I still have clients, so I cant get you on the river right now, but you could go and fish some of the lakes around here. There are some really nice Browns up to 4 pounds in some of them...
I gave a sarcastic Yeah, thats a great idea. Thats exactly what we travelled to the Southern tip of South America for is to go fish some lakes! There may have been a few expletives in there, too. Needless to say, he headed out, and never did give us a call to return and guide for him!
At least we still had the other guy who had a lodge on the Upper River whod invited us to come down and fish, right? We received the same response from him, Oh yeah, I still have clients so I cant get you on here, but you could fish the tidal water
Holy smokes wed made it this close and couldnt come up short now! It was not looking good, and the news was devastating. We were in Rio Grande for the next 3 days, and we may not even get to fish THE river for THE fish! We did what any young, intelligent fishing guides would do, we headed for the pub and drank a bathtub full of beer. Sometime after dinner (which is like 11 pm in Argentina), my buddies decided it was time to go to bed. I, on the other hand, had seen a casino earlier and thought maybe Id have better luck there than with the fishing access. After all, I had a wad of tip money from the entire guide season burning a hole in my pocket. While some of these details are a bit blurry, I know I was up big, then down big, and made a lot of new friends in the process. I found myself walking back to the hotel at sunrise with a big smile on my face and no money left. I said hello to the bellman at the desk, and seeing a photo on the wall behind him of him holding a Sea Run Brown, told him of our woes. This entire conversation took place in Spanish. I can communicate pretty well, but my Spanish is industrial to begin with. I know the words and conjugations, but I speak with a strong MT accent. I cant imagine it was making a whole lot of sense at that point, but we worked it out. His face brightened up and he said, You want to fish Rio Grande today? Of course! I replied. You be down here in 1 hour and Ill get you on the river.
Sweet! I headed upstairs and began packing my fishing gear. My other 2 friends were still asleep (just FYI - the room did have 3 beds in it. Nobody was doubling up!) but woke up with all of the ruckus. What are you doing? Agee asked. Were going to fish the river. Get your stuff ready! I replied. Youre drunk. Go to bed, Kowalski said. No way. The bellman got us on! Im serious you guys get ready. By the time I had my waders and boots out, they actually realized I was serious. We grabbed our gear and our bags and headed downstairs. The bellman made a call and spoke really fast to someone, then drew us a map which we somehow managed to navigate to arrive at a farmhouse somewhere in the middle of nowhere. A thickly bearded gentleman came out and spoke with us in Spanish equivalent to Im full, but you got money? Yes sir! was my response. He made another phone call and sent us back to the hotel. He said Danny will be there in an hour and take us to fish.
And that is how we met Danny Lajous. We followed him in our truck across the fields and through several gates, eventually ending on the bank of Rio Grande. The terrain was flat, the bank was smooth gravel, and the river itself showed defined buckets and riffles below gravel edges or cut dirt banks. The size was not intimidating, and probably smaller than anyone would envision in looking at the pictures of the fish it produces! There were a couple guys fishing downstream of us, and Danny told us to wait while he went down and assumingly moved them to a different section. He came back and told it was all ours and that hed be back later that night. We fished the rest of that day, each landing one Sea Run Brown. Those first ones were not real big, all three in the 6-8 lb range. However, we saw some of the big ones rolling in the current, and they seemed as big as Volkswagens! Danny showed up in the evening to collect his money and asked us if we wanted to fish the next couple of days. Absolutely! Thats what we came here for!
Ok, its $220 per day. He said. Do you guys want a guide for the next couple of days? I was just about to say no, but then thought of the truck. How much is a guide, and will they pick us up at the Hotel and bring coffee and snacks along? I asked. Its $100 per day, and yes he will pick you up and bring coffee. Great! I said. Sign us up for the guide! I just saved us $40 per day by being able to return that damn truck!
And thats how we met Gabriel. Gabriel picked us up the next morning at 7 am. We arrived at the river bank and he immediately made some gear adjustments to our set ups. We had been fishing floating lines the day before and we switched to sink tips or full sink. None of us had even seen a spey rod at that point, so we were all fishing single hand 8 weights. We had also been throwing big Yuk Bugs and nasty streamers that wed tied just for this occasion in the previous months. Gabriel flipped through our fly boxes and got REALLY excited when he saw my trout nymph box. He pulled out the Prince nymphs and PTs in size 12 and 14, and couldnt get those tied on quick enough. That day, we landed lots of fish, and several of them were in the 15+ lb range including the biggest fish of the trip which was about a 23 lb hen caught by Kowalski! Danny again came down in the evening to visit and told us he had us on the best pool in the river for our final day of fishing. The name of the pool was Arturo, and Danny claimed he and one of his friends had once landed 80 sea run browns there in one day! We ate a big steak that night at the hotel, and while we were eating, the bellman brought a package over for me. It contained 2 custom made leather jackets. As soon as I saw them, I remembered walking into a leather shop on the night of the casino... I had ordered one for me and one for my girlfriend then, whos my wife now. Luckily Id paid for them that night, too. This day just kept getting better! Before bed we scrounged through every fly box we had, looking for nymphs with peacock hurl on them in the size 12-14 range with hooks strong enough to hold these big fish. By the end of that second day, we were fishing some pretty ugly fly specimens. Agee even dug deep into a lake box where he found a halfback nymph and got one on that! We didnt have a lot of quality flies left, but we had just caught some incredible Sea Run Browns that day, and we were headed to Arturo in the morning...
When we arrived at Arturo that, the sun was low and there was a bright glare on the water. It was a long, broad run, with a trough that started on the far bank at the head then tailed into the middle of the river. This run was wide enough that we could not easily cast all of the way across it unless we were to wade out too far and likely spook fish. The run was about 300 yards long, and with a few fish already rolling on the surface, it looked like the fishiest piece of water wed ever laid eyes on in that morning light. It didnt take long for each of us to begin hooking up. Wed discovered the fish liked the small nymphs, and often they liked it when you pumped them versus fishing them on a dead swing. To do this, you pinch the line in your fingers like youre going to strip it, but dont take any line in or let go of it. You pull about 8-12 in, then let it back out slow enough that you dont ever lose tension. That presentation with a sink tip or full sink line with about 4 of 16 lb tippet certainly did the trick. By mid morning we were all out of good nymphs. I did have some size 16s in my box, which the fish certainly liked, but they werent strong enough to hold those beasts. Theyd grab the fly, take off downstream, make one or two jumps, and the line would go slack. Id bring it back in and clip off the fly, which I didnt even need to look at to know the hook was straight, tie another one on and cast back out. Repeat process. Repeat process. Repeat process All of us have fished a lot of amazing rivers and places, and we all agree that this day on Arturo is still the best day of fishing weve ever seen. Between the 3 of us, we landed 37 fish over 10 lbs. We also landed some smaller ones, and lost a whole lot more! You hear of epic days, and this would have been epic fishing if these were small trout in MT; however, these were Sea Run Brown trout in Rio Grande in TDF
So after 18 years, I am returning to fish Tierra Del Fuego again. Danny Lajous opened Hastancia Despedida a few years after we were there. Gabriel continues to guide on Rio Grande, and I look forward to spending time with both of them. The gear that we are bringing has changed considerably. I am packing 3 rods along on this trip, all of which are 2 handers. Ive got my 7136 Sage One to fish scandi lines in the low light, 8130 G Loomis NRX to fish Skagit heads with tips, and my Sage Method 6119 to skate dries and fish smaller buckets and slots around gravel bars. I am bringing the full lineup of sink tips and versi leaders to fish with. The timeframe that were there is late October in terms of our season, which means Skagit lines and sink tips to most NW steelheaders! While it has been 18 years since weve been there, my fly box is heavily loaded with all kinds of nymphs in the size 8-16 range tied on sturdy hooks with good tungsten and brass beads. I do have, and will fish the intruder style swinging bugs, but those small nymphs were so effective there that it may be hard for me to get away from them. I havent been this excited while packing for a fishing trip for a long time.
Stay tuned for PART 2 of this report after I return. I think I'll hold off on the leather coats this year!