A Great Day (for flyfishing at least)

The mind is a very curious thing. And the mind of a fisherman, well . . . It’s complicated! Fishing takes focus and a mind full of thoughts is probably a fisherman’s worst enemy. More than howling wind, biting cold or a frayed tippet. An overactive mind ruins casts, results in poor presentations and missed strikes. And yesterday was a classic tale of the woes of a lost soul.

My mind was full of thoughts (mostly negative) about cancelled flights, loved ones far away, and the general unhealthy state of the world (both physical and mental health). As a result, my casting was crap (that’s a technical fishing term), I tripped over rocks on the trail, my concentration was like an overactive puppy, and as I result, while others had a good day, my catch was 1 (one fish and multiple lost flies from snags on the rocky bottom.

But, a new day and a new mindset. I have all my flights home arranged, a day later than my original itinerary, my wife and daughter are home and healthy, and the gale force winds have receded. And a clear mind with a singular focus, enjoy a day of fishing in a beautiful part of the world in a world-class fishery with a great guide.

The result?

In the morning we fished Barrancoso Creek. Strobel Lake is a glacial melt lake with no outlet and only one stream coming into it, which is raging when the snow melts and a trickle in the fall. Which is now. We drove 30 minutes to the stream and hiked up about half a kilometer to the first pool, which was about the size of a home swimming pool, yet only 3 ft deep. Yet with my polarized sunglasses I could see probably 6 huge rainbow trout holding in the slots and behind boulders in the pool, along with several smaller, resident trout.

The “jurassic sized” trout from the lake migrate up the creek to spawn in the Spring and some of them take up residence while the rest return to the lake. The smaller ones are resident and because of the sparse food supply in the creek compared to the lake, don’t grow as large, yet their coloration is one of the glories of Mother Nature.

Talk about a flashy dresser!

And trying to hook and land one of the monsters is a challenge of technique and patience as the water is gin clear (I love that term), shallow and they can see almost any movement on the bank and dart away at any unusual large movement, like a clumsy angler or a bad cast that crash lands like a Gooney Bird on the water.

Yet after an hour of casting, changing flies, letting the pool “rest” for 10 minutes, one of them, probably not the sharpest tack in the box, decided my nymph imitation looked pretty edible and he was hooked. Now the hard part, bringing him to the net. Which may sound easy in such a small, shallow creek, but these fish know all the tricks, and hiding places. After he was hooked he headed straight for a small opening underneath a large boulder. A perfect hiding place. My guide had to jump in the pool and tease him out without breaking the line. Then he was off like a Formula 1 car racing around the pool, jumping and trying to dislodge the hook, which is barbless by the way and quite easy to come out if the tension on the line is lessened.

But together, my guide and I accomplished what all fishermen want, a great fish and a great thrill.

Great fishing is more enjoyable with a good guide. What is a good guide? Someone once told me the most important decision a person can make in their life is the choice of their spouse (or life-partner in modern language). Very true. And the second most important choice is your fishing guide. Fortunately the guides here at Estancia Laguna Verde Lodge are all excellent, otherwise they wouldn’t last a week. And like all guides at a remote lodge, they coach each other to constantly improve their abilities to work with the guests and produce great fishing opportunities.

My guide this week is Nehuen (an Indian name, but an Argentinian from the Andes foothills, of Italian heritage and one of three brothers to work as guides here at the lodge). In another blog I will spend more time on the characteristics of a good guide, much like the characteristics of a good mentor for a business executive thirsty for learning, without making all the mistakes themselves!

That was a great morning, and then off in our Toyota HILUX pickup truck (the same brand ISIS fighters use because of their dependability – except ours didn’t have a 50 Caliber machine gun mounted in the truck bed) to lunch at a hut at the lake. Everyday we have lunch at the lake with the other fishing parties (this week there are only three others at the lodge – a gentleman and his doctor wife from Sao Paolo, Brazil, and a young American lad from Colorado).

Lunch at the lake is definitely worth a separate blog, stay tuned. But suffice to say it is definitely hearty and outdoor gourmet, with beer and wine as well. Here is one of the many Argentinian Merlot brands, all exceptional. With a trout label no less.

After lunch Nehuen and I headed off to the edge of the lake. He said to me: “can you cast into the wind?” Now that is a loaded question. Under normal fishing circumstances the wind is mostly a nuisance, a headache at times, but a competent flycaster over time learns the tricks of casting against the wind. Sometimes its as simple as casting with the wind, or casting over the other shoulder if the wind is coming from your left or right. But this is Patagonia. There is a reason there a no trees or even tall bushes out here on the Patagonia steppes. The constant wind stunts everything, including my casting.

So I said what every red blooded male flyfisher would say, “No problemo!” Well, that was more bravado than truth, but I persevered and with a lifetime of flyfishing and casting, I was able to cast out into the lake with the wind mounting a full frontal attack. Not every cast, but enough successful casts to result in an afternoon of spectacular fishing. Maybe one of the best afternoons I’ve ever had here at Lago Strobel. 6 fish landed and an equal number hooked but not landed.

Here’s a sample:

So long until tomorrow. The adventure, and learning, continues.

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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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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