Patagonia is a place I call mine, because it is mine. Of course I don’t own it. In a sense, it owns me… and my heart.
Patagonia is the place where my grandfather, my father, and my brothers and I learned to fly fish. It’s where my children were born. It is the place where I am my true self. That sense of self is a watery feeling. I need water to be me. And most of all, I need moving water. Crystal-clear moving water, with promises of trout hiding in its innermost pockets is what keeps me alive.
When I was five years old my grandfather packed the whole family, and his English pointer, into the car for a thousand-mile drive from Buenos Aires to Junin de los Andes. After long hours and sleepless nights we saw the Lanin Volcano, our first signal that good fishing was close. The three hours that followed from Collon Cura to the hosteria was pure excitement. We drove parallel to the Collon Cura River, crossed the one lane bridge at La Rinconada, and went uphill for 10 miles. At the top we found Condor nests and sky-scraping views of the Chimehuin Valley.
At Junin de los Andes the adults jumped into their waders and the kids into old jeans and Alpargatas (felt-sole gaucho shoes). At La Curva del Manzano (Apple Tree Curve Pools) on the Chimehuin we entered the river and fished. Fly selection was easier then; streamers or wets. We fished Matonas (Pepe Navas’s fly), the Radziwill, Wooly Worms or Zulus, Hormiga Negras, Muddler Minnows, and Watson’s Fancy. March Brown wets completed a basic selection.
Casting down and across was enough to produce several nice Patagonia trout. I recall catching dozens. And I’ll never forget the photo of my dad’s American friend Nick Rotz holding a 19-pound brown from that same Chimehuin stretch. His image still hangs from the walls of the Hosteria Chimehuin.
Today, Patagonia’s Chimehuin River is considered one of Argentina’s best. It runs out of Huechulafquen Lake until its confluence with the Collon Cura River. It holds a surprising number of large trout. And the famous Boca del Chimehuin is where Patagonia fly-fishing pioneers like Joe Brooks caught the monster trout that put Argentina on the fly-fishing map more than 50 years ago.
In addition the Chimehuin we fished and loved the little Malleo River. Its headwaters stem from Tromen Lake and it runs for about 50 miles until it joins Patagonia’s Alumine River. You can catch trout on dries almost all season long. And it remains a favorite for its notable green inchworm “hatch.” Pete Wood from Idaho, a great friend and one of the best guides I’ve ever met, is an inchworm fanatic. He says he could fish the Malleo year-round and never tire.
It’s funny to see that as we get older the rivers of Patagonia grow smaller. This is the impression I get when I fish Quilquihue River. Contemporary anglers often overlook this small stream. It crosses the paved road that goes from Junin de los Andes to San Martin de los Andes and is easily accessible. I remember it fondly because it was wade friendly as a kid. As an adult, I still fish it during the early season, when water levels are high enough to support larger trout.
While writing about Patagonia, I remember my Grandpa. I can still see his smiling face while walking across the tall, dry grass to fish “La Canchita” Pool on the Chimehuin. It was an endless road that now seems like a short walk.
I was following him while my brothers, Luis and Diego, were behind my Dad—a couple of pools downstream. Grandpa paused to explain that rainbow trout liked the riffles and that Patagonia’s bigger brown trout rested against the banks and in deeper pools. He made a cast and hooked a nice fish. The sound of his Hardy Marquis temporarily cancelled the sound of the wind and the moving water. Of course, the fish was caught where he predicted it to be.
And then it was my turn. My Patagonia, it lives with me forever.
[Capt. Martin Carranza lives in Key Biscayne, Florida. He is the managing partner at Chime Lodge—located within striking distance of many of Patagonia’s best trout waters.]