I went to Estancia Laguna Verde fishing lodge in southern Argentina in hopes of catching the largest rainbow trout of my life. This fishing lodge has Lago Strobel as its home waters or as it is known to fly fishermen “Jurassic Lake,” which has captured the attention of those who love to catch big trout for years.
I had seen the photos and the videos of the chrome slabs in the hands of my happy clients. Needless to say, I was very excited to see this for myself. I knew the trip would be something of an odyssey due to the fact of the logistics involved in getting to this remote part of Santa Cruz Province, but then again I believe some of the best fishing spots you find are the ones that are off the beaten path.
After spending a night in Buenos Aires, I flew to El Calafate where I was met by Nicolas Botting, manager of Estancia Laguna Verde. He gave me the brief tour of the town which was bustling with hikers, bikers, and lovers of the outdoors. Then we drove to the Perito Moreno glacier where I saw one of the only glaciers in the world that I am told is actually growing. On this bright sunny day, I noticed that most visitors watched the icy mass in near silence anticipating the next time chunks of blue ice would break off and fall into the river below. When the glacier would crack and groan everyone’s attention would heighten and if your eye caught the movement in time you would see an automobile-sized piece of ice fall off the ancient mass splashing silently into the water below. Moments later, a freight train sounding roar from the crash would reach your ears moments later. It is certainly a destination that I recommend everyone see when in El Calafate.
We hit the road and continued on our journey only stopping briefly at a little roadside cafeteria and gift shop called La Leona for some tasty empanadas and a drink. Then it was onward toward our final destination. It was a charming little place and a welcome respite from the road.
Soon the pavement gave way to a two-lane graded dirt road and eventually, it became a rocky dirt track. I had heard that the last portion of the road into the ranch was the worst and that reputation is well earned. Four-wheel drive is mandatory to negotiate the rock-strewn path into the ranch, and Nicolas was very skilled in his driving abilities making sure that the truck did not hit anything that might puncture a tire or break an axel. It is slow going, but I kept thinking that it would all be worth it when the largest rainbow trout that I have ever caught came to my net.
We arrived at the lodge at night in time for dinner, and to meet the host and owner Luciano Alba. Luciano is a wonderful host and an extremely gracious person, who is always looking to make his guests feel at home. While it was great to meet him, his staff and guides, I was road weary and tired — but the stories from the other guests about the large rainbows that they caught in the nearby lagoons got me excited. I knew that my time would soon come.
Martin Robino, the head guide at the lodge and my companion during my stay, met me on my first morning of fishing and we drove to the Barrancoso River to begin fishing. The road inside the ranch is nothing more than a track. The guides follow marked by an occasionally painted rock pile or a small flag wedged in between the stones. It’s slow going – 45 minutes to over an hour to most beats. Although after seeing the unforgiving landscape it is pretty amazing that the roads exist at all. The effort that it took to even come up with a road down the volcanic cliff face to the lake shore is a wonder in itself.
The Barrancoso River flows through a tight rocky gorge that meanders down to the lake. The lowest portions, which include the river mouth, are reserved for another lodge and a gentleman’s agreement is honored, so that beats are not poached by competing lodges.
The Mouse Trap pool was to be my beat for the morning and it was a short walk from the truck to where I would begin fishing. The head of this pool had a small plunge of water that led to a deep channel which opened to clock-faced eddy. A large boulder separated Mouse Trap into halves and I could fish the head of the pool above the rock and the tail below it. There were rainbow trout in both sections holding in the prime lies. My first trout hit on a large Tarantula dry fly on the first cast. I saw its nose break the surface and inhale it and the fight was on. Martin landed it and measured it. It was a healthy 28-inch trout and after a couple of photos, I released it back into the pool. I caught two more of the same size in Mouse Trap both on streamers – one of which I had tied and that was a special thrill. Both trout pulled hard on my 9-foot 8-weight rod, but the fly was tied to a stout leader so I knew that I had a good chance of landing them provided they did not wrap me around any submerged rocks. Martin shared with me that in the early and late season the Barrancoso River is filled with trout and that the water level is much higher than it was presently. I still could not imagine this water stuffed with trout over 10 pounds. It must be a sight to see.
I could have stayed all day to fish the river, but we left the river in order to head to the lake where we met other guests for lunch. The lodge has constructed wooden shelters where guides prepare shore lunches for clients. This shelter was on a beat called Sea Bay that was an inlet off of the lake. The wind had picked up as the guides and lodge owner Luciano Alba told me that it would do for the next few days. I saw one guest standing in waist deep water off a point in the mouth of Sea Bay casting into the wavy white-capped water. When he came in for lunch he told me that he did catch fish but that the wind was a factor that he was not quite prepared for.
One thing to account for is always the wind at Jurassic Lake. If you plan to go then you owe it to yourself to prepare for it by practicing your casting in the wind and honing your skills. I had to use all the casting tricks that I have in my arsenal. I had to cast over my opposite shoulder when I faced a crosswind into my casting arm. I also used roll cast when I had a hard tailwind and I found that with this stroke all that I had to do was get the fly line up in the air and the wind shot my line out into the lake. Other times when I had a headwind, I had to try to keep my line low and use a hard double haul to get the line speed up so I could deposit the fly in the blue water. While no one likes to fly fish in high wind, practicing your casting before your trip will make your visit to Estancia Laguna Verde more productive.
After some plated chorizo, cheeses and sandwiches for lunch, I walked to the shore and picked up a couple of rocks in the water and turned them over. The bottoms were almost alive with squirming grey scuds. These Jurassic Lake rainbows gorge themselves on the seemingly endless supply of nutrient-rich scuds that live in the water.
Back at the lodge, stories were swapped and photos shared over glasses of fine Malbec wine and wonderfully prepared Argentine beef. Everyone at the dinner table remarked at the wind and how it affected their fishing day, but they all persevered and caught fish. Some of the nicer trout were tipping the scales at 13 – 15 pounds. The group was happy but tired. Luciano and his staff are very attentive and often our conversations would run late into the night, during my visit.
I fished the lake in several locations over the next couple of days. The wind was strong as the guides told me it would be, so I adapted my tactics accordingly. Most times I threw a floating line with a weighted streamer with a slow retrieve and this produced strikes. As long as I kept my flies moving I was getting bites. At Chalub Bay, I changed my floating line for a Type #7 sink tip and cast streamers into the steep drop off located a few paces from shore. Almost immediately I caught two rainbows – an eight-pound male and a six-pound female that looked deformed because she was loaded with eggs. Trout cruised the edge of a deep drop off eating scuds and were tempted by an attractive alternative like my little blue streamer. My eight-pound rainbow jumped four times before it came to the net, and I am not sure that I had ever had a trout that large jump that many times during a fight. It was exhilarating. I found that these hefty trout in the six to eight-pound range really put on an acrobatic show, while the larger fish tended to run around the lake pulling your drag and getting into your backing. These fish are incredibly strong and your adrenaline gets flowing on every hookup.
The weather became cold after lunch and a drizzle of rain started. Martin and I left to go explore more of the lake and the ranch. We stopped by a cabin that the owners are converting into a guest house where a couple fishermen can stay for the night with their guide after spending the day working the waters around Chalub Bay. It will be a great addition to the program especially for intact groups like families or good friends. He also told me about the ancient Tehuelche Indians who lived here and showed me some of the rock blinds that they built and hid behind in order to surprise and kill a passing guanaco – a llama-like animal – that was one of their main food sources. These Indians were extremely smart as I noticed that nearly every blind was facing the wind – which as any hunter will tell you keeps your human scent downwind from your quarry. We saw a number of guanacos, hawks, hares and even fox stalking the barren landscape looking for food.
The guides constantly check the weather on their phones. They were all waiting in anticipation for mid-week when the wind was to die down because they all felt that the fishing would really get hot then. Unfortunately, this would be the day that I was departing. Although, I had productive fishing in the lake despite high winds.
For the most part, the fishing on the lake is not terribly difficult or technical. Often you cast to spots and let the fly sink and vary your retrieve speed until you get a strike. But when the sun is out you can see the rainbows cruising in the bays and it is almost like fishing for tarpon. As you cast to the spot in front of them and watch them take the fly. It’s exciting and I loved the sight fishing opportunity. For the most part, I used small weighted streamers but I did catch a couple fish on size #12 pink scud pattern and in fact, one guest used two small nymphs almost exclusively and caught several nice fish every day.
Although I did not experience dry fly fishing in the lake, I have heard stories that it can be amazing. I hope that upon my next visit that I will get that opportunity.
I fished the Barrancoso River once more. This time Martin and I went above the Mouse Trap pool to fish Long Pool. This section of the river was characterized by pocket water, small riffles, and deeper but narrow runs. A 30-foot cast might cover the water, but the difficulty lies in the fact that the wind made your casting less accurate and your line mending a whole lot harder. The water was very clear and the trout were spooky. Martin and I climbed above the river and looked down into the water for trout. His eyes were incredible, as he could find fish where I could not see them. More often than not, I had one shot for a particular fish making this the most technical fishing that I had experienced during my stay. I had a great time working my way into position and casting for a particular trout. Admittedly, it was not the easiest maneuvering around the rocks, and only fit anglers would be able to fish this way but I loved being able to pick my fish and have a shot at catching it. Martin told me that this was about as hard as the fishing gets, but I did manage to catch several of the smaller trout that were a lot of fun to catch.
Although I did not make the Wall of Fame – which is reserved for guests who have caught a 20-pound rainbow, I certainly accomplished what I had flown over 3,000 miles to do and that was to catch the largest rainbow trout of my life. Jurassic Lake or Lago Strobel – whatever name you want to call it – is a really incredible place to fish. It is an experience like no other as you certainly have a chance to catch a huge fish in a remote area that receives little fishing pressure.
I cannot wait to go again!
By: Ben Hoffman