Fishing Diversity and New Car Smell in Northern Patagonia

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Leaving my hotel in Bariloche, I hopped into Jorge Trucco’s new Ford F-150 for the serpentine journey northeast to the Limay River Lodge. Highway 237 parallels the lodges namesake, and every time I gandered to the right, I was abruptly and pleasantly reminded of what brought me to Northern Patagonia. Soon the truck’s “new car smell” was overtaken by the familiar wafts of wood smoke, livestock and lupines, which are the scents that affirm my arrival each time I visit the region. The Upper Limay River looks like a shiny ribbon tucked in the bottom of the narrow valley with jagged shark tooth-like granite peaks flanking either side. With each passing kilometer, my excitement level increased as I knew that I was getting closer to wetting a line in the river I had longed to return to and fish again since my last visit in 2008.

Originating near Bariloche, the Limay is a mid-sized freestone river. The river’s flow makes it easy to maneuver a drift boat with little problem covering the prime trout holding water on both banks. I was heading to the middle Limay, or Limay medio as the locals call it, where the river becomes larger below the Pichi Picún Leufú Dam. This 50-mile stretch is like no other water that I have fished in Patagonia and the river was burned in my memory after the productive fishing I had experienced several years ago.

The scenic and winding road eventually gave way to the vast Argentine pampas that flickered outside my window for several hours before we reached the former Argentine Army outpost town of Piedra del Aguila. The town now serves as a home to the oil and natural gas employees who work on the land rigs and pumping stations. It’s also a stopping point for Argentines, who drive from Buenos Aires to visit Patagonia, and a place to sleep for anglers – like myself on my initial trip the Limay – interested in testing their mettle on some of the hardest fighting trout in Patagonia.

As I crossed over the hydroelectric dam, that marks the beginning of the Middle Limay, once again, I recalled how I had stopped there years before to look down to the waters below and the trout holding in the swift currents. Unfortunately, I did not have time to stop now as I made my way through the dirt road toward the new and only fishing lodge on the river. Jorge Trucco, a man I have worked with for the past decade, and his partners decided to buy a pristine swath of property on the river and open a lodge on the Limay River.

After meeting Jorge, his staff and guides, I got acquainted with the lodge facilities. The traditional Spanish style architecture of the lodge was inspired by Argentina’s founding culture. My room was very large and contained two single beds, ample storage space and a private ensuite bathroom. No expense was spared in providing world-class comfort to guests staying at the lodge. Although my room was the furthest away from the dining area, it was only a short walk past an open air fire pit, a main focal point of the property. This area is where guests tend to gather over a Malbec to enjoy a nice warm fire and to talk about the day’s adventures. A selection of spirits, wine and beer are available for guests to enjoy along with appetizers prepared by the chef. The dining area and living room are in one room, which also contains an indoor fireplace and two large sofas.

After touring the lodge, Jorge and I were on a mission to get on the river and see what was hovering below the surface. It was this afternoon fishing session that changed my view of the Limay River.

After launching our drift boat, the guide led us down a channel away from the main branch of the river. I must admit that this channel was no small piece of water and is a river unto itself. However, working the river was much easier than expected and it became more apparent which bank held the best water on a given stretch. We stopped often to get out and wade in order to work the productive runs with dry flies. Other times we stopped at the riffled head of a deep drop off where we knew that a brown trout lie in wait of a small pejerrey, a silver fish sort of resembling a shad. We would work the deeper holes with a shooting head and streamer waiting for the tugs and the eventual screaming of our reels.

At one particular channel, I saw that the head consisted of two smaller streams that joined together to form its main stem. The water was shallow and could be easily waded, so I worked my way up the far stream above the confluence. It was there that I saw a small deep hole directly under a willow tree. Its dark water looked inviting, and although I could see every stone in the bottom of its deepest depth, I could not see a fish. A small back eddy was formed from the mixing currents. My first cast floated over the pool and received no interest from any fish. On my second cast, the foam hopper landed in the nervous water where the currents battled each other, the fly suspended for a moment and slowly drifted in the channel toward me. Immediately a flash shot up from the bottom and a rainbow swallowed my fly. For the next few minutes, we battled in the pool and I landed the 18” hen rainbow to my great satisfaction.

Before you think that the Limay is all attractor dry fly fishing, I have to state here that I did encounter hatches on this river. In fact, one night I had caddis flies all around my face, both inside and on the outside of my sunglasses. Another afternoon, we floated a side channel and stopped to work a section of a productive river that flowed underneath the red clay cliffs. My guide and I walked carefully up the river to where the glassy water near the shore mixed with several currents that were bouncing off of the rocks underneath to form a perfect circular eddy. This fifteen foot circle of moving water spun in a clockwise direction. We watched and waited until we saw a rainbow quickly come up and take something off the top of the water and disappear just as rapidly. We saw another rainbow do the same thing, and then another. We saw that a brown mayfly was emerging in between the thrusts of the downriver wind and my guide tied on a similar pattern from his fly box. Working the current and playing the wind to create a drag free drift was challenging. With proper positioning and some fortunate stops in the wind, I was able cast to the outer current of the eddy and get a solid drift. My dry fly floated around toward the feeding fish and he sipped the pattern from the surface of the water. I caught several fish that day on that pattern before the hatch shut off.

I came away from my experience with a much better understanding of the Limay and what it can offer. While certainly a large river, its numerous channels offer lots of wading opportunities where anglers can work the riffles and runs thoroughly while still drifting and covering the high banks on the way downstream to the next productive wading spot. The numerous channels can also buffer a lot of the wind that you may encounter on this river. The river’s hatches and consistent flow and temperature make it immune to low (and high) water conditions. This also leads to minimal temperature fluctuation compared to many rivers in Patagonia. Plus, the river’s trout are pound for pound the strongest that I have caught in the region. I look forward to my return to the Limay River and wonderfully unique new lodge.

By: Ben Hoffman, South America Destination Specialist