Blowin’ In the Wind in the Esquel Region of Argentina

“Trout live in beautiful places” was never more true than on a recent trip to the lakes and rivers in the Esquel region of Argentina.   Our group of six went there in April to fish for fall browns in the scenic lakes and rivers in and near Los Alerces National Park, staying in the lovely Le Fario Lodge http://www.argentinawaters.com/.

This was an area of Argentine Patagonia that new to me, having never fished in the Esquel area before.   One side of the Los Alerces National Park borders on Chile; we were perhaps a few minutes boat ride from Chile most days.   The park is pristine and beautiful, as there is little access to the interior by road.  The park was originally created in 1937 to protect forests of alerce trees, which look rather like Sequoias.   Similar in size, some alerce trees in Chile are about 3,600 years old.   The park has mountains, forests, clear deep lakes and rivers, and marshes that provide a variety of habitats to fish for rainbow and brown trout, land locked salmon, and migrating chinook salmon.

Our plan was to throw streamers for big fall browns.  The closest water, Laguna Larga, is a short walk from the lodge and is accessible from shore and by boat.  There are only browns there, and they are big.  An average brown in Laguna Largo maybe 18-19 inches, often over 20, and trophy fish can be over 25 inches.   The best setup for throwing streamers is a 24 ft 250-300 grain sink tip on an 8 wt rod; the fish are deep and it can be very windy on the lake.   Preferred flies are leggy buggers, Geisha Girls, articulated flies like Galloup’s Barely Legal, and Barr’s Slumpbusters and Meatwhistles.   The guides here like to use a perfection loop to tie on flies.  Most evenings there is a caddis hatch in the reeds on Laguna Larga, fishable from shore.  A Goddard caddis is the fly of choice for some end of the day action before or after dinner.

“One does not talk about the wind” is a phrase often heard in Patagonia in an effort not to jinx a day of fishing.  The wind is not usually a problem in April, but on this trip the wind howled very day.   Anglers of every ability, even rote beginners, can have a great trip to Patagonia, but practicing casting in the wind beforehand at home can help make for a more productive (and less painful) experience   If you ever needed to be reminded to wear eye protection and a hat, and to debarb hooks, this would be the time.   There are many lakes to chose for fishing here, but on this trip the guides had to be creative to find places we could handle in the brisk winds.   We used drift boats and larger boats, as it was too windy for rowing a raft, with some opportunities for wading.  Although the unusual wind seemed to put the fish down, everyone got some nice fish over the course of the week, including guest Bob Langland’s 26 inch brown on a hopper one day.

This is definitely a place to which we would all like to return to try summer fishing.  We all tried casting small dries to trout we saw sipping and can only imagine the action with a dragon fly hatch.  For those who like to nymph there are plenty of venues that will likely yield plenty of fish.

Laura and Gonzalo Martinez are the hosts and owners of the Le Fario Lodge.  Both trained as chefs in France and dreamed of creating a fishing lodge.   They built the lodge ground up on an exquisite property on Laguna Larga, with a sweeping view of the lake and mountains from the dining room picture window. They describe their cooking as “European – Patagonic”, using French techniques with local ingredients.   Indeed, many ingredients are but a step away from the kitchen, as they have a flock of chickens for eggs, a vegetable garden, and cattle being raised for next year’s asado.   Breakfast included those eggs each day, along with Laura’s freshly baked breads and homemade jams.

Laura and Gonzalo have made every effort to make the lodge as eco-friendly as possible.   Hydroelectric power for the lodge is provided by a waterfall on the property.  A roaring woodfire heats a stove for cooking and baking, the lodge itself, and water for the lodge.   Guests received a refillable water bottle for the trip to reduce the use of plastic.   Filtered water for drinking comes from the waterfall itself, and is delicious.  Laura buys yogurt in glass jars and reuses the jars as containers for desserts.   This kind of attentiveness to conservation is not often seen in Argentina and is most welcome and appreciated by guests here.

On top of all that, everyone felt we had been invited into their home to stay.   Gonzalo engaged the guests with lively discussions of Argentine politics at dinner; Laura gave me a corkscrew, and told me where the wine was stored and to just help myself.  The lodge staff was gracious and efficient, making for a seamless stay.  Gustavo and Laura have provided their family with an idyllic place to grow up.   They have two adorable, multilingual children who charmed us with their patience with our fractured Spanish, willingness to help around the lodge, and acting as our guides on a hike to see the waterfall.  “There’s a dog in every story in Argentina” is an aphorism often heard.  The family pups rolled about on the grass out the window, playfully stole shoes and reel covers left outside, and maybe ate a charging cord or two.

The closest town is Trevelin, unusual in that it was founded by Welsh immigrants in about 1860 around a flour mill. Some Celtic names of surrounding places have still survived, and there are Welsh flags around the town. Trevelin is thriving, with its own well-equipped fly shop, bakeries, and businesses; it’s not unusual on the way back from a day’s fishing for Gonzalo to make a quick stop there to pick up some last minute item for Laura for dinner. The fields around the town support carrot farming and other agriculture.

Getting to Le Fario Lodge is easy flight from Buenos Aires to Esquel, followed by a short drive.  For more information, check out argentinawaters.com and andesdrifters.com.

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