Great Location, Bad Timing

This is NOT me, yet! But it is the place I am in, Lago Strobel in Patagonia, Argentina and this is, believe it or not, a Rainbow trout, caught by one of the guides here. Stay tuned an hopefully you will see my smiling face next to a monster like this.

The title of today’s blog is Great Location, Bad Timing. For a flyfisher you can understand why I say Great Location. I’ll explain below. And, unless you have just returned from the moon, you know what I mean my Bad Timing. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the world and I am currently at a lodge a 5 hour drive from the nearest town, and my BA flight home has been cancelled. At this writing I have no way home and British Airways are not answering the phones or taking any new reservations. So. . . It may be a while before anyone other than fishing guides and rainbow trout see me again.

The Great Location refers to the most magical trout fishing spot in the world, which came about in a way that seems more like fiction than reality. Here is what I know about how and why this place has the largest rainbow trout population on earth.

Early in 1900s some British businessmen in Argentia thought that trout fishing needed to come to Argentina, guess they were tired of shooting and tea. So they talked the Argentine government into studies to see if trout could survive in Patagonian rivers and lakes. The research was promising so they talked the Argentine government into paying to stock the rivers and lakes in Patagonia with trout and salmon from the US. So, as the story goes, they thought Rainbow trout eggs from the Baird hatchery on the McLeod River in California would be a good stock. But the problem was how to get them to Argentina!

A former US hatchery manager from Colorado came up with an ingenious plan of using the steamer ships that transport Argentinean beef from the East Coast of the US to the UK, and then travel to Argentina to pick up the next load of beef. The ships had refrigerated sections to keep the meet cool, and the trout eggs needed to be kept cool as well. So in 1904 the first load of trout and salmon eggs (some 50 to 100 thousand each) went across the US from California by train, were loaded onto a steamer for Southampton, England, then on to Argentina. From there they were shipped by rail and then horse drawn carts to Lake Nahuel Huapi in Patagonia.

Then between 1904-1907 other trips were made and eggs introduced in other lakes and rivers. The trout thrived. And according to the owners of the lodge where I am staying, rainbow trout fingerlings were introduced into Lago Strobel in 1998 from a hatchery in Patagonia. At Strobel Lake they found an abundance of natural food in the form of small fresh water crustaceans known as Scuds.

The trout gorged themselves and grew to monster size, hence the popular name Jurassic Lake.

An incredible story.

And another incredible story will be how I am going to get home to England. There is nothing I can do at the moment until the world settles down and opens up again for international travel. In the meantime, I am going fishing.

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Fishing Amid the Coronavirus Crisis

Early morning over Laguna Verde in Patagonia promises a challenging and exciting day of fishing, learning and planning for the future. Flyfishing is one of the only sports I know where all three are allowed at the same time. Even encouraged. Maybe that’s why there are more books on fishing than most other sports.

Every cloud has a silver lining. At least that’s what I choose to believe and the COVID-19 global pandemic (panic or crisis? Probably both) is no exception. Amongst all the chaos, confusion and unfortunately, deaths of loved ones, somehow we humans will emerge stronger, hopefully this time on a global level and not just a national level. We as a species need to learn a lot, quickly, about living with each other and building a future that works for everyone.

I’ll give that some thought while I head out for a full day of fishing on what is lovingly known as Jurassic Lake.

For those new to my fishing blogs, I’ve been to this remote part of Patagonia, Argentina five times before, to the same lodge, Estancia Laguna Verde, run by my friend, Luciano Alba, who by the way is a lawyer by trade, but a passionate fisherman. Strange but in my global fishing journeys I’ve met quite a few lawyers and bankers who seem to find their soul and renew their humanity through flyfishing.

Anyway, Jurassic Lake, whose name on a map is Lago Strobel, was formed when the massive glaciers that covered this entire region in the previous Ice Age began to melt. The lake is massive, 65 square kilometers (that’s around 10 km long and 6.5 km wide) and when the wind is howling at 70 km per hour its is more like an ocean with crashing waves. Here’s a short video at our lunch spot at the edge of the lake – windy.

The lake is named after a Jesuit missionary who worked in the Patagonia steppes converting the natives and ministering to those hearty ranchers who made Patagonia their home. Father Matias Strobel.

The trout, Rainbows, were introduced into the lake in the 1980s (will tell you more about this extraordinary story in a later blog posting)

And they are stunningly beautiful.

Today was a tough fishing day since the wind was howling about 50 km/hr most of the day, but we managed a few nice fish. Always satisfying to conquer the elements and gain the reward of a big fish landed, admired, then put back into the lake to grow even bigger!

On the way from the lodge to the lake we came across this group of Guanaco, the South American version of a Llama. Graceful and not too skittish since hunting them is highly regulated.

Only bad news concerning the state of the world right now. My wife says I am probably in one of the healthiest places on the plant at the moment. So I will enjoy my week of fishing while also trying to contact British Airways to find out how to return to London.

You might be seeing Argentina fishing blogs from me for the next few months!

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Argentina: The Third Largest Glacier Mass in the World

I learned a new fact today. Argentina has the third largest glacier mass in the world, behind Antartica and Greenland. Argentina has over 100 glaciers and the one in the picture above, Perito Moreno Glacier, is over 30 km long and moves at an incredible 2 meters per day.

My non-fishing trip today was to this glacier, where we could see the falling ice sheets break away from the front of the glacier and crashing into the lake. Largo Argentino is the third largest lake in Argentina and is fed by several large glaciers.

The good news is that today was one on the sunniest and warmest days at 18 C degrees and it was magical to walk down towards the face of the glacier and watch the sheets of ice break off and fall into the lake. The face of the glacier is 50 meters high, but the depth below is around 175 meters. And it sounds like a cannon shot when the ice sheet breaks off and hits the water.

We then boarded a large catamaran and sailed up to the face of the glacier. Talk about magical to see and hear the ice falling into the lake with a thunderous roar!

All this closeness to nature and the wild was somewhat dampened by the news that COVID-19 seems to be spreading out of control and nations are reacting swiftly to shut down all conventions, sports venues and even airports. My return trip to London has been cancelled and my wife is working on alternative flights, assuming there are such things.

So, as the world comes to grips with COVID-19 and the first modern pandemic, I will be spending the next 6 days out in the Patagonia steppes with only 6 other people and hopefully lots of fish. There could be much worse places to be marooned than Lago Strobel! My wife in London tells me that the supermarket shelves are empty of the essentials: toilet paper, baking flour, dried noodles and pasta. And Gin is rapidly disappearing – that at least I understand.

So, tune in tomorrow as I take a 5 hour drive from El Calafate to Estancia Laguna Verde and the beginning of what was supposed to be a non-event fishing holiday, except that everyday the news seems to get a little worse.

Today I learned that Butch Cassidy spent nearly 10 years in Patagonia after his legendary bank robberies. Hopefully I can get back home before 10 years.

And in honour of my last evening in El Calafate, I treated myself to an Argentina-sized Gin & Tonic

Tight Lines.

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A Long Travel Day to El Calafate

My Aerolineas Argentinas Plane at El Calafate

Finally in El Calafate after a 13 hour flight from London to Buenos Aires, a 3 hour layover and a 3 ½ hour flight to El Calafate. Fortunately the Travel-Gods were smiling on me (hope the fishing Gods do the same) and it was uneventful. The only ones wearing hygiene masks were a few Chinese tourists.

However, I have never seen the Buenos Aires airport so empty. Last time I was here 2 years ago it was packed with people pushing and shoving. Today, nearly empty. And when we disembarked from the London flight they had temperature reading machines set up to screen us as we came off the plane. Good thing I tend to run cool. Must be all the time standing in freezing rivers.

Here is what I mean by empty:

Check In at Buenos Aires Airport

My luggage arrived safe and sound, although a little scare at BA airport to collect luggage after exiting customs. My bag arrived on the last belt but I couldn’t find my fishing rod case, although several other travelling anglers got theirs right away. Darn. So I decided to walk over to the other baggage belts (there are 9 of them) just in case my rods got on the wrong belt. And I happened to glance back at my baggage belt and saw my rod case had fallen inside the circular belt and was lying partially hidden on the floor. Whew! And a young nimble baggage attendant retrieved it for me. Safe!

In case you are curious where I am, here is a map of Argentina with Buenos Aires in the middle on the Atlantic Coast, and El Calafate is way down at the tip next to the Chile border. A long way to go for fishing, but it’s worth it, as you will in my coming posts.

Tomorrow I am taking a sightseeing day and going to the Perito Moreno Glacier. Can’t wait as it is one of the wonders of South America. Stay tuned for lots of pics. But tonight, its a nice juicy Argentinian steak and a fabulous red wine from the Mendoza Region of Argentia. Definitely worth traveling for.

Tight Lines

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Leaving Spring, Heading to Autumn

Finally, Spring in the UK

Tonight I leave for Argentina, where it is Autumn while the UK is finally getting a glimpse of Spring. After the wettest February in recorded history there are finally a few sunny days. It’s amazing how plants know that their time has come. The miracles of Mother Nature.

Where I am headed, Patagonia, it’s already cold and windy. Not much rain in the high desert but a good chance of a snow shower or two. Here is the landscape.

Patagonia with Guanaco herd

My BA flight is at 10pm so will be able, hopefully, to sleep on the plane. I land in Buenos Aires, have a 3 hour layover at the airport, then on the El Calafate in Southern Patagonia. The only hassle is that I have to collect my bags in Buenos Aires and recheck in for my Aerolineas Argentinas flight. The BA rules say you can’t check bags all the way through unless your flights are all on the same record, and BA and Aerolineas Argentinas don’t play well together.

Checked Bags for Argentina

Normally I would hand carry my fly fishing equipment, but because of the new airline restrictions I have both a suitcase (with waders, boots, reels, flies, etc.,) and a case for my three rods. No you don’t fish with all three at once. I have two 7wt 9ft rods for river fishing and a 7wt 12.6 ft double handed rod the windy lake conditions. Using a longer rod gives me more leverage to cut through the gale force winds that are not uncommon in this flat landscape.

Ready to roll. My bags next to my carved fish sculpture, hoping for good travel karma.

Stay tuned. And for those of you who only care about fish, I will be fishing on Sunday, after a day in El Calafate visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier and on Saturday a long drive to Lago Strobel and Estancia Laguna Verde.

Tight Lines.

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Flyfishing, International Travel and COVID-19: A Diary

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Starting tomorrow, March 11, 2020 I board a British Airways flight from London to Buenos Aires, then connect with an internal Aerolineas Argentinas flight to El Calafate, where I will be transported to the Estancia Laguna Verde flyfishing lodge in the middle of the sparse, windblown Patagonian desert.

I have been to this particular fishery, better known by anglers as Jurassic Lake, 6 times over the past 10 years and always found the entire experience a delight. Great flights, great people, great food and wine, and world class trout fishing.

Yet this year promises to be different. Things change, we all know that. Yet for the travelling flyfisher, unfortunately not for the better. Forget the COVID-19 pandemic for a moment. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for those who want to fly on a commercial airplane to a fishing destination due to the tightening luggage restrictions. For example, with British Airways you can’t have flies with hooks (what other kinds are there) in your carry on luggage. And with Aerolineas Argintineas you can’t even carry rods, reels or any fishing equipment on board. All must go in checked luggage.

And there is not a dedicated flyfisher who does not have at least one gruesome tale of lost or damaged fishing equipment in checked luggage. The risk of lost or damaged equipment is a hundred times greater than the risk of a deranged passenger using a wollybugger to attack the flight crew!

And don’t get me started on the reduced knee space, smaller seats that barely recline, and the exorbitant price of economy tickets, let alone Premium Economy or Business Class.

And now we come to COVID-19. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect, other than in the 3 months between when I first booked my flight and now, the plane has gone from nearly full to nearly empty, according to the seating plan on the website for my flight. An ominous sign for the airline. And Argentina seems to be increasing in the number of Coronavirus infections, with 19 cases and 1 death. Who knows?

So, I will try to chronicle my travels, fishing and adventures daily. So watch this blog for updates and please reach out if you have any questions, comments, etc. Hopefully I will be doing more fishing than blogging!

John R Childress. You can reach me at john@johnrchildress.com

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The Business Reason Culture Comes Last, Not First

As one of the first researchers and consultants on culture, beginning in 1978, I fully understand how important culture is to customer satisfaction, employee engagement, cyber security and overall business performance. (see Culture Rules) Yes, culture matters; big time!

It is now well understood among business leaders that culture can be either an enabler or barrier to such important business outcomes as safety, cyber security, customer loyalty and repeat purchasing, innovation, conduct risk, productivity, diversity and inclusion, and M&A integration, among others. And the company that does not proactively manage their culture is doomed to what I call “cultural drift” as more and more employees join the organization, bringing their old culture habits with them. Before long, a unified and aligned culture becomes a fractionated camp of subcultures, competing more than cooperating.

Yes, corporate culture is a critical element in business success. However, in the drive to bring culture into the mainstream of business, I believe it is given too much attention. Culture is important, but it is not everything to the sustainability of a business enterprise. Culture exists as one important element in the company business model. It is important, but not sufficient. The truth is, a great culture cannot make up for lack of funding or a poor competitive strategy.

They had a great culture, everyone was happy; and they happily went out of business!

Culture is important, but it comes last, not first.

Let me explain. A sustainable business is essentially the alignment between three critical business subsystems: Strategy, Structure and Culture. A clear strategy lets everyone know where we are going. Clarity of structure means everyone knows who does what and whom to talk to for information. Culture provides clear understanding of how to behave, with customers, suppliers and peers, in getting the job done.

All three must be in alignment to create a successful organization. And they are interdependent, each reinforcing the other.

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An effective organization starts with an effective competitive strategy and a profitable business model. In many cases this rests on an understanding of Product-Market fit, and customer insight.

But then it must have a structure is designed to help deliver the strategy. If the structure is out of alignment, the company will find it difficult to deliver on its strategic objectives.

A good example is the fad of Matrix Management in the aerospace and defense industries in the 1990s. Essentially matrix management was a cost saving structure to eliminate redundant roles and move expertise between various programs as required, rather than fully staffing each program. Good idea for reducing headcount, except it was not designed for effective program delivery and ultimately led to program delays and cost overruns.

And last, but not at all least, the culture should be designed to help deliver the strategy within the structure. A key question to ask is: What day to day behaviours do we need in this company to ensure the delivery of our strategic objectives? And not just people behaviours. You should also ask what policies and work processes do we need to support strategy delivery? These are some of the hidden culture drivers that don’t show up when most consultants talk about culture.

Answers to these culture questions will go a long way in building an effective and aligned corporate culture that is an enabler for effective strategy realization.

What is the right corporate culture? The one that best supports the business strategy!

Learn more about John R Childress as www.johnrchildress.com

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