When you travel over 8,000 miles to go flyfishing for a week, and it’s your major fishing trip of the year, you hope and pray that everything goes smoothly. But there are as many uncertainties in adventure travel for flyfishing as there are flies in your overstuffed fly boxes. Gale force winds and driving rain, delayed flights, lost or damaged luggage, broken rods, loud, obnoxious heavy drinking guests at the lodge, surly or bored guides, and the inevitable “you really should have been here last week, the fishing was great”.
For the second time in four years I traveled from London, England to Patagonia, Argentina to spend time with Luciano Alba, his father Roberto, the guides and staff at Estancia Laguna Verde to fish the monster rainbows of Lago Strobel, affectionately known as Jurassic Lake. But with this magical place in the middle of the high Patagonia lava plateau, you can be certain of the most important requirements for a flyfishing holiday in a faraway place. No matter what the weather, the fishing is outstanding. The guides are well trained, knowledgeable, and great fishing companions. The food and wine at the lodge are first class. And the owners, Luciano and Roberto, are always in residence and ready to accommodate any request. But most importantly, you will definitely catch the trophy trout of your life!
When someone tells you the weather in Patagonia is gale force most of the time and casting is a bitch, that is true, but even in the midst of a downpour and 70 mph winds, the fishing is still superb. In fact, in my experience, the fishing is better on rough days than calm, mainly because the turbulence in the water kicks the massive numbers of scuds off the bottom and up into the water column, where the monster Rainbow trout act like piscatorial vacuum cleaners, gorging on great clumps of greenish-black floating scuds. And they will greedily suck up your scud pattern as well.
I have been fortunate enough to fish with Jack Hemingway in Iceland and other great flyfishing friends in such adventurous places as the Amazon for Peacock Bass, the Ponoi Peninsula in Russia for salmon, the virgin Kamchatka rivers for trout and sea-run Arctic Char, the Rio Grande River in Tierra del Fuego for large sea-run brown trout, and various rivers in the Western US and Alaska for salmon and trout. All great experiences. But when I think about an all-around positive flyfishing adventure, my mind always returns to Estancia Laguna Verde and Lago Strobel.
My first trip:
In mid-March, 2013 my flyfishing buddy Bruce West and I met in Buenos Aires, he coming from California and me from London. I love Buenos Aires; the food, the European atmosphere, the people and of course the Tango shows. After a great meal of Argentine steak and mega-Martinis on steroids, early the next morning we boarded an Aerolineas Argentinas flight to El Calafate, the jumping off point for tourists visiting the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park.
After being met by one of the lodge guides and collecting our gear, instead of heading towards the towering, snow-capped Andes, we headed East on Highway 40 out onto the dry and desolate Patagonia lava plateau. During the Miocene and early Pliocene Eras (between 6 and 20 million years ago) this 40,000 square mile plateau was a solid flat sheet of lava, which over time has been weathered into valleys and high plains with only scrub vegetation. Not a likely haven for monster trout.
But the large accumulations of gases that form under the slowly hardening molten lava flows often explode outward, leaving lake-sized depressions in the lava fields, which then fill with water from ice age melts, underground streams and springs. Lago Strobel, a 40 sq mile lake, has a spring creek inlet, but no outlet and a high concentration of calcium and other encrusting minerals, leaving the shoreline looking like a moonscape. And by some strange quirk of nature, this combination is magic for the growth of small greenish scuds and the waters of Lago Strobel and the other small lakes are absolutely teaming with them.
Then in the early part of the 20th century a few land owners bought rainbow trout fry and seeded Lago Strobel and other lakes in this part of Patagonia, then for the next 30 years forgot about them. When they started finding 10 to 20 pound rainbow trout with girths like rugby balls in great numbers, a new destination fishery was born.
Luciano Alba and his father bought the struggling Estancia Laguna Verde fishing lodge about 10 years ago and through hard work and savvy marketing have built it into one of the finest adventure fishing destinations on the planet. They have devoted time and energy to training the guides, almost all local Argentinians, traveled to Mendoza to purchase some of the best Malbec wines, and established a lodge atmosphere where courtesy to others and respect for the love of flyfishing are the only rules.
A word of warning, if this is your first time flyfishing, go somewhere else. This place quickly breaks the rods and spirits of novice anglers. The wind is harsh, the terrain difficult to walk and wading is very slippery. Last trip I fell three times, dislocating my ring finger in the process (but I yanked it back into place and kept on fishing, of course). But if you are up for a 360-degree, all around adventure, with some luxury and good wine thrown in, then Estancia Laguna Verde is for you.
Let me describe as best I can the fishing experience. There is no need for big spey rods, but a small double hander, say 12’6”, 6wt rod is perfect, as are single hand 7/8wt rods. No real need for heavy sinking lines as the monster fish cruise the shoreline scooping up clumps of scuds. In many cases the best approach is sight fishing for a single cruiser or a small pod of moving fish.
And the good news is you don’t need to cast 100ft as the fish are pretty close to shore. And that’s very good since the wind is almost always directly in your face, and it’s not a breeze, but mostly just below gale strength. At the end of the week, you will be pretty good as casting into the wind, and your arm will be sore for a week after!
Like an Alaskan summer, at Jurassic Lake you can regularly enjoy all four seasons in one day, from blazing sum to snow flurries, so bring clothing for all eventualities. But you can count on two things, wind and rain. No, three things. Catching huge trout as well.
And these trout have been practicing with Cirque d’Soliel as they are areal acrobats of the highest order. And being between 10-20 lbs makes them difficult to land. My average is about one in three landed. The others either found a weak knot or broke me off on the jagged volcanic rocks.
So, I will return again and in fact my brother and I are heading down in January, 2017 to catch the early part of the Lago Strobel season when the Barrancoso spring creek is high and the trout are moving in from the lake. So if you go early in the season you get both great creek fishing and outstanding lake shore fishing. And I tossed out my old felt wading boots and bought some new Vibram bottom boots with studs, hoping to avoid any bent fingers and bruised hips this trip.
A few pictures to whet your appetite in case you are interested: