Kau Tapen was the first fishing lodge on the Río Grande, opening its doors in 1984. Its name means “House of Fishing” in the Ona Language and here, in the heart of the Río Grande watershed, live the best pools on the river.
If the walls of this magnificent lodge could talk, they would tell story after story of battles with huge trout over thirty-plus years. Kau Tapen Lodge embodies the fly fishing experience and to hundreds of anglers, it is their fishing home. On the river, short walks and shallow wading are the norm. Single or two-handed rods are both effective. Skate a bomber over a resting lie, or drift a nymph next to a cut-bank for Sea-Run Trout you’ve only seen in your dreams.
Built-in 1984, Kau Tapen Lodge was designed to offer rods maximum comfort during their fishing trips as well as easy access to the best pools on the world-famous Río Grande. The lodge accommodates up to 10 guests (and occasionally 12) in en-suite single rooms to ensure privacy and comfort. Kau Tapen has 10 en suite single rooms; some offer a king bed, some have one queen, and others are furnished with two doubles. A large living room opens up to peaceful vistas of the Menendez and Río Grande valleys and includes a roaring fire and a well-stocked bar. The lodge also boasts a tackle shop with an excellent selection of Loop rods, quality fly reels, flies, lines, Simms clothing, and other fishing essentials. In addition, guests have full use of the lodge’s fly-tying table and equipment. Additional Kau Tapen highlights include two wading/fly gear rooms, a full spa with jacuzzi, a sauna, and a Finnish steam bath.
What time of the year should I come?
Kau Tapen lodge is situated in the middle section of The Río Grande. It has the privilege to be situated just upstream from the confluence of The Río Grande with The Río Menendez. Menendez flows from the south, fed by the cold water of the Andes range with snowmelt, and collects rainfall from a glacial basin. It is the largest tributary of the system bringing up to 30% of the water mass The Río Grande has in its lower stretch. When you spend the week fishing in Kau Tapen lodge, you will fish The Río Grande and Río Menendez as both are included in the lodge’s fishing beat rotations.
Kau Tapen lodge starts its fishing season at the beginning of January. At that moment you will be able to catch medium-sized fresh fish and a good amount of colored-up trophy fish, mainly females, that got into the river in an early run. These big fish enter the river in November and distribute all along the midsection of the river, where Kau Tapen lodge is situated. This run is abundant in numbers and its distribution is uniform in most of the pools. That “older” run plus the fresh running fish set up a great scenario to kick off the season!
In early January the river level is on the higher side, with a nice even speed along the pools but very safe to wade and fish. You will have to cover a lot of water with your flies and learn to feel the subtle takes of early-season sea trout. Throughout January, the river starts to drop its level – in a normal season and with no extraordinary and exceptional rains – and reaches its lowest point during the first two weeks of February.
During February the pools start to flow slower, the water becomes clearer and warmer during the warmest month of the year in Tierra del Fuego. All this leads us to wade and cast carefully, use lighter rods and lines, and longer, thinner leaders. We also start using smaller flies from the first cast of the day as the fish get more skittish and starting with a heavy line with a big profile fly can be counterproductive most of the time.
By the end of February, our seasonal rains start to arrive. That new water generates a bigger movement of fish, which start arriving from the lower sections of the river. It also prompts the trout that were settled along Kau Tapen’s stretch to start shifting positions and move from pool to pool trying to find better places to sit as they get stirred up by the arrival of new fish. With these rains, the river increases flow and that is something that keeps happening until the end of the season in early April.
At Kau Tapen, you will experience three big runs of fresh fish: November, the end of January, and in mid-March. By the end of the season, they get mixed with the fish that were already in the stretch. Due to this situation it is very important to fish the heads and tails of the pools in every beat.
The dark-colored big males can be caught with different techniques and flies according to the watercolor and temperature from mid-February to the end of the season. During this part of the season, their level of aggression increases as they start fighting over the fresh, egg-laden, trophy-sized females that are arriving from the lower part of the river.
During the whole season, there is continuous arrival of small to medium-sized chrome fresh fish (3 to 10 pounds). They run in very important numbers, especially after each full moon / high tide cycle.
April is the month of the big catches with a higher-than-average size. There is almost no activity with regards to the smaller fish. The water is cold due to snowmelt in the Andes and freezing nights. These seasonal changes mean that early in the morning and late afternoon the fish activity is very scarce. But, around noon and in the early afternoon hours, the activity improves as the water rises in temperature.
April can be a difficult month, as the weather can be tricky. One year can be great and the river be in perfect shape and the next year it can be overflowing with murky water. The prize? If you hook a fish, it’s nearly a certainty that it will be a trophy that will stay in your memory for a long time!
As far as fishing techniques go, we recommend spey/ two-hand rods no longer than 13 feet. The use of switch and single-handed rods is possible during the whole season, always depending on the wind and the angler’s skills. Any of those rods can be fished with lines ranging from Floating to Type 6, using multi-tip lines. Having a good array of tips from 3 to 15ft is the best option to cover almost every situation.
The Menendez is an amazing river! It is not an alternative river anymore and it has gained international respect that competes in reputation with The Río Grande itself.
The new roads along the river give our guides better accessibility to most of the pools for every client and allow the river to become a permanent fixture in the lodge’s beat fishing rotation. And most of all, it is a pleasure to fish! 70% of the time you will fish it with single-hand rods and light switch rods matched with an intermediate line or tip. We can also say that the fish fight differently when we compare them with The Grande’s specimens due to Menendez’s shallow depth and structure so the fish are able to run fast between deep pockets and underwater structures.
The river experiences less seasonal water level fluctuations than the Grande and they work in a different but complementary way. It is a great option when one of the rivers gets un-fishable due to water level and color shifts after heavy rain or substantial snowmelt. When The Río Grande has a sudden water level increase we can see a massive push of large fish into The Menendez even if it is running with a low level making the fishing an absolute blast.
When we open the season in late December/early January The Menendez runs with a normal to low water level. Around mid-to-late February, its level gets a nice lift due to rains and it keeps that higher level all the way to the end of the season. This is when most of the tributary’s record fish are caught. At this time the river’s flow, depth, conditions, and structure make The Menendez an absolute favorite for the fish, and its pools become overcrowded with trout. The proof of that is the 3 last seasons Kau Tapen’s records were caught in The Menendez and in the second half of the season.
According to the biological studies that we facilitate in the Rio Grande Basin, the radio tagging results showed that this section of The Menendez River and the lowest section of the Grande (Villa Maria lodge stretch) are the principal spawning grounds for the sea trout of the system and where the record-sized males and females are located.
The wind is not a problem when you have to fishThe Menendez River as the casting distances are short. Ideally, we have to treat it as a spring creek and the best result is when you fish it without stepping into the river and, even better, if you are able to cast from a few steps back from the shore.
The sun can be a problem, especially in the evening as it drops straight in the face of the fish. During morning sessions it’s not such a big problem. Cloudy days and twilight are the best times to approach and fish it. It maintains excellent water clarity through the season and it is not a deep river, so, we have to be extremely careful about casting our shadows into the pools. The river’s morphology and smooth flow make The Menendez a fantastic river to catch sea-run brown trout using less common techniques like dry flies and skated flies. Bombers, Riffle Hitch tube flies, and Green Machines are all great options when the river conditions and the wind suits these techniques.
Kau Tapen Lodge’s beats offer unbeatable access to the fishing sections of the Rio Grande’s midsection fishery. Here The Menendez and Grande work together according to the seasonal pulses of rainwater, and multiple runs of fish throughout the season. The result is an excellent balance in the angler’s fishing week with opportunities for solid catch numbers, trophy-sized fish, and a great variety of fishing spots and angling challenges.
Guests fly into Buenos Aires, Argentina, and typically overnight there, with a day to spend touring this wonderful city. Arrival day at Kau Tapen is set for Saturday. Commercial airlines fly from Buenos Aires to the airport of Río Grande (RGA), where a lodge representative will meet you after the 3-hour flight. The transfer from Río Grande airport to the lodge takes 30 minutes. Depending on flight schedules, guests can also fly to Ushuaia Airport (USH). From there, the transfers to the lodge takes 3 hours. On arrival at the lodge, guests are welcomed with cocktails by the entire Kau Tapen staff.
The lodge is located on the banks of the Río Grande in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. The success of the fishery on the Río Grande is a modern-day fisherman’s Cinderella story. In just a decade, through access control and catch-and-release regulations, average catch rates have risen from less than a fish a day in the early ‘80s to multiple fish per person, per day. Starting with the opening of Kau Tapen Lodge in the early ‘80s, the Rio Grande has become the most productive sea-run brown trout fishery in the world.
However, trout numbers fluctuate with ocean variables, tides, water levels, and a host of other natural factors. The Río Grande flows west to east from the Andes down to the Atlantic Ocean through approximately 60 miles of Argentine territory. The landscape of Tierra del Fuego is reminiscent of Wyoming or the Scottish low country. It includes sparsely populated wilderness, large sheep farming estancias, and wild herds of llama-like Guanacos, as well as plentiful fox and condor populations.
Although most of their lives are spent in the ocean, sea-run brown trout seem to retain more of the eccentricities of resident browns than, for instance, steelhead do of resident rainbows. Moody fish, they must be shown flies the way they want to see them at the precise time that they’re ready to take. The Rio Grande isn’t a big river. Thus, it’s compatible with a wide range of techniques; critical since a large sea-run brown trout may demand that a fly be fed to it on the bottom one hour but rise to a skating fly the next. Water levels can change from week to week and they generally drop as the season progresses.
Vary your presentations in each pool fished until you find the right formula of fly, line, drift or swing, and retrieve. Also heed the advice of your guide, whose primary aim is to recommend methods that will help you hook and bring more fish to the net. By and large, the Rio Grande’s sea-run brown trout seem to lie near cut banks during the middle of the day, though in low water they will also lie in the faster necks of pools. They typically move into these areas during the early morning, evening, and nighttime hours.
Generally, “tails in the morning and heads at night” is a good rule. Also look for fish distributed throughout pools on calm, overcast days. On sunny days, one theory holds that sea-run brown trout will take best if they don’t have the sun in their eyes, although this theory, like others, is often affected by the number of fish in a particular pool and the number of “takers.”
Guests will leave the lodge around 9 o’clock after breakfast, and fish until 1 o’clock. Following a big lunch and a siesta (the duration depends on the season), guests return to the river in the late afternoon and fish until dark. Guests will be greeted with cocktails upon their return, shortly followed by dinner. Fishing hours will change slightly depending on the time of year.
The first Brown Trout were stocked in Tierra del Fuego by English angler John Goodall in 1935. Shipped from Puerto Montt, Chile, 60,000 Salmo trutta eggs survived the arduous journey to be planted on the Candelaria and McLennan rivers, both tributaries of the Rio Grande.
These fish eventually found their way to the sea, likely attracted by the rich nourishment found in the brackish estuaries. Sea-run brown trout now complete annual migratory cycles similar to other salmonids, spawning during the fall in freshwater. Juveniles remain in the river for up to four years until their first ocean migration, where they will feed and grow for about 6 months before their first return to freshwater, weighing approximately 3 to 6 pounds. Researchers have found sea-run brown trout that have spawned more than 6 times. A trout that has completed 4 cycles of returning to freshwater can weigh more than 20 pounds. The frequency with which they return to freshwater is also an indicator that the fish face few threats. It’s also an example of the benefits of catch and release.
The Río Grande features an instream architecture perfectly suited for Spey rods. Mending and controlling the line is also easier with a two-hander. Use 7 to 9 weights from 12 to 15 feet long. If you’re new to Spey casting, our guides are expert instructors and will help you learn quickly. Lighter switch rods are increasingly popular and allow anglers to cast a comfortable line with less effort, particularly on windy days.
Single-handers in 7 to 9 weights—and up to 10 feet long—can also be effective in light-wind conditions on the Grande or for technical, close-range nymphing on the Rio Menendez tributary. Longer rods make casting easier with the normal downstream southwest wind, while an 8 or 9 weight helps you to drive your line into or across the wind when necessary. Given the Rio Grande’s moderate flow and generally even gravel bottom, you’ll find an 8 or 9 capable of doing battle with even the river’s largest sea trout (15 to 25+ pounds), while it ensures the most action with smaller sea trout (4 to 10 pounds). Sage produces many of the best rods we use regularly on the water. In addition to a stalwart lifetime warranty, the company engineers several high-performance options perfectly suited for this fishery.
Choose a quality reel with a powerful, adjustable drag. Reels (and spare spools) should have enough capacity for your fly line and 100+ yards of 20-pound backing. We recommend reels from Loop, who produces several options perfectly suited for the Rio Grande.
To be well prepared for Tierra del Fuego, anglers should include at least three lines to accommodate varying water levels and wind conditions. Weight-forward fly lines are generally used on the Rio Grande. Floating lines are most useful during low-water conditions and in the early morning and evening hours when sea-run brown trout feed near the surface. Integrated sinking tip lines also work great, while intermediate lines are also effective in some conditions. For Spey rods, we’re mostly using shooting heads, from floating to fast-sinking (S4). Most shooting heads can also be used with sink-tips so you can target different depths. RIO AFS are easy to cast and effective, whether fished floating or sinking. RIO offers sinking poly leaders for those lines. If you’re fishing a Skagit-style set-up, also check out RIO’s MOW Tip system in varying weights and sink rates. Fish Skagit heads for easy rod loading, for casting larger flies on heavy tips, and for effectively casting into the wind. Use 400- and 700-grain heads, depending on your rod. Even experienced anglers often find their running line snarls when buffeted by the wind. Prevailing southwest winds can be “harnessed” by roll casting or Spey-casting, which eliminates the need to backcast—difficult to do with a tailwind. We’ve found that a simple roll cast carries even large streamers 35-to-50 feet across and downstream, or far enough to cover the holding lies. Weight-forward lines can be rolled effectively by stripping and shooting line during the cast.
Experience on the Rio Grande indicates that sea-run brown trout are not particularly leader shy. While reasonable stealth should be exercised, your chief concern is to bring monofilament in sizes that will turn over the array of fly sizes and patterns you’ll be using. Spools of monofilament should include 10 to 15-pound test weights. While fishing sinking lines, a few feet of straight (not tapered) monofilament will do fine. Maxima Ultra-green is a good choice as it has plenty of stretch, a factor worth considering when the sea-run of a lifetime hits your fly! While fishing, be sure to check your mono regularly for casting knots and abrasions. After each fish caught, test your leader knots. For floating lines, it’s good to have knotless tapered leaders from 9 to 12 feet, with 0X tippets.
Plan to bring a good selection of flies. However, most of the fly patterns as well as a supply of back-up tackle will be available for purchase at the lodge. Sea-run brown trout are mysterious fish. The only constant in their tastes seems to be a penchant for black. The trout that accepts your small salmon patterns today may demand flies with white rubber legs tomorrow! Historically, most Rio Grande fish were taken on large streamers, perhaps because those were the patterns most commonly used. In low water conditions, more large sea trout are taken on smaller wet flies, nymphs, and drys. We suggest packing a range of flies in various patterns and sizes and urge frequent changes when one combination isn’t working. These combinations will be determined based on light conditions, water levels, and especially on your guide’s advice. Barbless hooks are strongly encouraged. Double and treble hooks are not permitted. Catch-and-release is mandatory.
Our kitchens come to life through the use of fresh and regionally representative meats and products. By combining these elements, we create delicious flavors and varied textures that harbor hidden stories and share dining traditions with each plate. We have curated a top-notch team of experienced Argentine and international chefs, trained in both classic and avant-garde culinary techniques at each of our lodges.
Each meal is prepared with an artisan’s touch and influenced by the earthiness of the surrounding landscape. Sustainability is at the heart of our cuisine and a true connection to nature runs through every dish. To top it off, our guests enjoy each meal in our beautifully designed lodge dining rooms and outdoor lunch experiences. Chefs prepare every dish from scratch to be served at a minute’s notice. Freshness is paramount and perfecting the flavor is our key to success.
All our beef comes from Aberdeen Angus and Hereford steers. It is grass-fed cattle from our Pampas. We carefully select our suppliers, which guarantees the high quality, flavor, and tenderness of our meat. You will enjoy meat cooked on the fire and in several different ways in our lodges and in the field.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day in our lodges. Choices stretch from local free-range Eggs Benedict to organic and healthy breakfast options. We change our menu daily to keep things fresh. Later in the day, our superb lunch and dinner menus are paired with some of Argentina’s—and the world’s—best wines; Bodega Catena Zapata.
In addition to our focus on fresh food with organic origins, we also celebrate our Argentine heritage with a wine partnership that brings truly world-class vintages to our lodges. Our wide selection of finest wines, the best Argentine Malbec from the Mendoza region, and a large variety of other grape selections, are served by a knowledgeable team. We feel that the food we present and the wines we serve should mirror the sporting opportunities we offer—and be the finest available.
At Kau Tapen Lodge, our kitchen is characterized by both classic preparations and modern flavors, offering local and worldwide specialties in a cozy and contemporary setting. No Kau Tapen stay would be complete without enjoying our legendary Asado, like our famous Patagonian Lamb cooked gaucho-style over the open flame, paired with a table of fresh grilled vegetables, salads, and, of course, our house special Chimichurri!
We specialize in creating meals that you will remember for years to come. Fresh over roasted vegetables and baked desserts are the perfect way to warm up during those cold and windy Tierra del Fuego days. Mere miles separate our lodge from the sea, and you’d be remiss if you missed out on our ocean-fresh seafood offerings including King Crab, savory Sea Bass, Black Hake, and freshly plucked mussels. Fresh homemade pasta dishes are always available on our menu and rotate daily.
Of course, every Nervous Water’s meal features our decadent desserts prepared by our in-house pastry chefs. Favorites include homemade ice creams and sorbets, fresh baked cookies, seasonal baked fruit, and rich cakes.
Season 2022: January 1 – April 9, 2022
Rates are based on 7 nights and 6 days fishing, and include single room (subjected to availability) and shared guide.
Non-angler: $650 per night per person
* Saturday to Saturday weeks within January 1st. and March 19th. include:
Our research and experience tell us that over 65% of anglers are also actively interested in bird hunting and big game hunting. If you are a part of that majority and are interested in adding variety to your sporting life, look no further than David Denies Bird Hunting and Red Stag Patagonia. All three brands are owned and operated by the same company, The Kautapen Group, and each operation is dedicated to making your outdoor experience fun, memorable, and productive.
One great week was in the books and we were all very happy with the start of the season, despite of its rather late nature this year. While we had to say “good-bye” to our first week’s amazing bunch of, we were keen on meeting our new guests for this coming week: A fairly small group would await us, which is always refreshing, because you get to spend more time with each guest and it feels like you really get to know each group member along the week.
Brian and Christina, a lovely couple out of Chicago, both who never spey-casted before (and a fishing debut for Christina!). Fred and Chuck, two old friends who have known each other since medical school and stayed life-long fishing friends. Alex and Pat, both keen fishermen and simply overall “good-time havers”. And last but not least Santi from Nervous Waters, who joined us mid-week for a couple of good fishing days. Except for Santi, all members of this week’s group were Kau Tapen first-timers and just as they were keen to experience our pristine sea trout waters, we were much looking forwards to invite them into our world here at Kau Tapen.
The water conditions did not change much from last week: The visibility remained clear and the water level at a stable + 5-10 cm (2-4 inches) above normal. The weather however did not, almost every day we experienced severe changes. If it was sunny in the morning, it could be hail-storming in the afternoon, if it was quite the first few hours, it might blow 75 km/h a couple of hours later. Strong rains on Monday night and Tuesday caused a minor rise in the Rio Grande, but pushed the Río Menéndez up a foot, rendering it dirty and unfishable for almost the entire second half of the week.
The fishing was still patchy. There was no clear pattern of which approaches worked best and pools could switch on and off within just hours. If one would intercept running fish, it was very possible to connect to half a dozen fish in one pool, while others did not produce a single bite. But the first full moon of the season was predicted for Monday, and the big tides that go hand in hand with it would hopefully push a lot of fish into the system. Luckily, the comfortable water level would make it easy for these fresh running fish to hopefully enter our waters relatively quickly. Unsurprisingly, our anticipation to finally intercept these fish in our beats was as great as it could be.
But despite the unpredictability of the fishing, we had a great start into this week. Although everyone was still getting their casting sorted out on Sunday, some good fish were landed during these first couple of sessions already. Brian decided to take all the pressure off his trip by landing three double digit fish on day two, amongst them a stunning 16 and an amazing 21 lbs fish. But also Pat did not mess around for long, after losing a couple of good takes, he was able to bring in an immaculate 16 lbs buck from lower Menendez. While the Río Grande still felt slow and unpredictable, the lower pools of the Río Menéndez were already holding good amounts of fish and in the right conditions, offered some incredible fishing. Unfortunately, it blew out on Wednesday and was unfishable for the remainder of the week.
Tuesday was the day of the lost giants. In the morning session alone, Pat and Alex hooked into five big fish, none of which made it to the net unfortunately. They redeemed themselves the same afternoon, when they intercepted one of those schools of running fish, hooking into nine fish within just 1,5 hours and landing six of them, all of which were in superb conditions and amongst them a silver fresh 13 lbs for Alex.
Brian kept consistently delivering solid double-figure fish in almost every session, just like the stunning 18 lbs that he managed to hook on Thursday just before dusk. It took him just a few practice casts to pick up the basic principles of spey casting and by the first evening, he was already covering the water consistently. But also Christina, without any preliminary fishing (!) experience, learned incredibly quickly and was able to bring a few nice fresh fish to the net, a couple of superb ten-pounders amongst them.
While Chuck and Fred were a bit unlucky during their first couple of fishing days, they finished strong and could both end their trip on a double-digit fish each.
Although the fishing still felt a bit inconsistent, all of our guests landed some great fish and considering the intimate size of this week’s group and the fact that most of our anglers were spey-casting beginners, we are very happy with the effort everyone put in and the final fishing results. While some days were very tough fishing with winds up to 80 km/h and hail-/rainstorms, our team in the lodge tried to go the extra mile to make the time off the water as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. Funny stories around the dining table and the bar, supported with good food and drinks, and topped off with some incredible sights of the elusive Condor hopefully added to the experience off the water. By the end of this week, we all felt like having made a bunch of new friends and that exactly is what makes this job as special and fun for us as it is.
Thanks for an outstanding week of great fun, good conversations, and of course great memories out on the water! To hopefully be repeated next season…
Paulo Hoffmann – Kau Tapen Fishing Guide