Patagonia Bamboo Week 2011

text and images by Steven Hoye

The Invitation

Back in November 2010, my friend, Robbie Smith of Waxhaw, North Carolina sent me an email asking me if I would like to attend Massimo Tirocchi’s “Bamboo Week” in Patagonia for a week of Argentina fly fishing in February 2011. After pondering the invitation for a considerable amount of time…about ten seconds…the decision was made to go. After all, I’m not getting any younger and, over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading articles about this South American fly fishing destination which boasts of trophy rainbows and browns, spectacular scenery, and the friendliest people on earth. After the experience, I can say that, without a doubt, the published claims made about this magical place are truly understatements.

The Bamboo Week Itinerary

Service and put together a well thought out weeklong Patagonia fly fishing itinerary which included 4 nights at the exclusive Spring Creek Lodge located near the town of Junín de los Andes on the banks of the Chimehuín River followed by a 3 day, 35 km, float down the famous Rio Collon Cura.

Chip and Massimo’s Bamboo Week Itinery proved to be a great resource to aid in our trip packing and fishing gear selection for the trip, not to mention the fact that its informational content served to further fuel our appetites to begin this magical vacation. The trip would begin on February 24th which, from a weather and temperature standpoint, Patagonia’s climate should be similar to the weather we experience in Western Pennsylvania in late August…PERFECT!

February 24th can’t get here too soon…let’s go…the anticipation is killing me!!!

 

Five of us hooked up at Atlanta Hartsfield airport on the evening of Thursday, February 24th to catch a Delta 10 hr. redeye direct to EZE Airport in Buenos Aires: Robbie Smith of Waxhaw, North Carolina; John McConnell of Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey; Brian Heath of Waxhaw, North Carolina; Jon Lewis of Traverse City, Michigan; and myself from New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. After clearing customs in Buenos Aires, we were greeted by our Andes Drifters driver at EZE International who would shuttle us 45 minutes across town to AEP Airport where we caught a 3 hour hop on LAN Airways to Bariloche. We would spend that Friday night at the Cacique Inacayal Lake & Spa Hotel, a 5 star on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi arranged by Andes Drifters. myself standing motionless and immersed in the absolute beauty of the Patagonian landscape overshadowed by the ever present Volcan Lanin …we had finally made it.

Getting There

Day 1 & 2:

 

When arriving at the Spring Creek lodge, we were greeted by Massimo, Chip, the rest of the Andes Drifters guides and Memo Stephens, editor of the Patagonia Journal. Memo spent several days fishing with Massimo and his rods and has since written a feature article for the Patagonia Journal on Massimo’s bamboo rod business.

The Spring Creek Lodge staff served up to us the first of many delicious Patagonian lunches. After lunch and getting moved into our cozy 2 bedroom bungalows, Massimo gave us an impressive Italian style bamboo casting demonstration with several of the rods he had built for the trip.

Day 3:         The Arrival

At 10:00 am Saturday morning, Eduardo Dona and Gonzalo Flego, both Andes Drifters guides, loaded up our stuff and we headed 3 hrs. north to the Spring Creek Lodge. It had been 48 hours since stepping out of my shop in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania until that moment when I found myself standing motionless and immersed in the absolute beauty of the Patagonian landscape overshadowed by the ever present Volcan Lanin …we had finally made it.

When arriving at the Spring Creek lodge, we were greeted by Massimo, Chip, the rest of the Andes Drifters guides and Memo Stephens, editor of the Patagonia Journal. Memo spent several days fishing with Massimo and his rods and has since written a feature article for the Patagonia Journal on Massimo’s bamboo rod business.

The Spring Creek Lodge staff served up to us the first of many delicious Patagonian lunches. After lunch and getting moved into our cozy 2 bedroom bungalows, Massimo gave us an impressive Italian style bamboo casting demonstration with several of the rods he had built for the trip.

Then it was off to the Rio Malleo for the evening fish. The Rio Malleo is a beautiful mid-size freestone meandering through willow banked canyons on its way to its confluence with the Rio Alumine. Volcan Lanin’s grandeur can be seen from many of its runs. Stimulators on top w/ Copper John droppers fooled several of the Malleo’s 14” rainbows and the occasional brown. We fished the “Auca Pan” Mapuche Indian reservation on the Lower Malleo but not before Eduardo, one of our guides for the evening, paid a friendly Patagonian gentleman several pesos at the gate of the reservation to cover our fishing privileges.

My fishing partner for the evening, John McConnell, guided by Andes Drifters’ Dan Etcheverra, got off to a great start for the trip with a 23” rainbow and a bunch of mid-teeners. Back at the lodge, Head guide and Andes Drifters partner, Gustavo Hiebaum treated us to an Argentinean wine taste of several of Patagonia’s premier wines, including my new favorite, A Malbec.

The evening was topped off with a traditional style “Asado” dinner. Various cuts of beef and chorizos (argentine sausages) were grilled over wood cokes, along with roasted vegetables and potatoes, fresh salad and dessert…Spring Creek Lodge style.

Day 4:         The Rio Caleufu

 

The next day, I fished the Rio Caleufu with John McConnell and Eduardo. It was a day I will not soon forget. After a 2 hour drive, I started off the morning with a large Royal Coachman Trude with a Copper John dropper. Eduardo then put John at the head of a run and tied on a pair of his Minnow patterns. We were fortunate to time our trip with the “Minnow Hatch”; In February, huge schools of spawning Pejerrey minnows head out of the reservoir and up into the rivers where the awaiting trout eagerly ambush them during their upstream spawning run. Splashy takes and acrobatic rainbows on the feed reminded me of fishing a heavy caddis hatch.

John quickly brought several nice 14” – 16” rainbows to hand on Eduardo’s Minnow patterns so Eduardo motioned me upstream, tied on two of his minnows and put me in the head of the next run.

Several casts into the run and a nice rainbow slammed my top minnow and…just like that…broke me off. Eduardo quickly adjusted my leader to 2X tippet as the 3X and two of Eduardo’s minnow patterns were now hanging from the rainbow’s mouth. About 10 seconds after the large rainbow broke me off, she made an acrobatic leap out of the center of the run with what appeared to be about 2 feet of tippet hanging from her stinging mouth…my tippet and Eduardo’s flies, I presumed.

Not wanting to experience that again, I now felt comfortable swinging and dead drifting my point and dropper minnows from 2X instead of 3. About 3 casts in…Smash! No acrobatic leaps; the trout headed straight to the bottom of the center of the run and parked himself…must be a brown!!! When he finally figured out he was hooked, he bolted down river and put me into my backing in a flash. The burning sensation on my thumb and index finger from trying to slow him down with the line pinch method reassured me that these are big, powerful trout with, in many cases, a strong current on their side…“better to “palm” than to “pinch”. Five minutes later, A 23” male brown was brought to net; photographed, and released. Now this was what I came here for!!!

We had good action on the minnow pattern all morning. Shortly after the brown, a nice rainbow in the 20” range came to hand…my morning on the Rio Caleufu was complete.

To escape the sun and wind, Eduardo set up lunch under the twisted remains of a washed out wooden bridge which, for years, had served as one of the only river crossings on the Rio Caleufu. During a lunch of beef, salad, noodles, and dessert, we were greeted by what appeared to be a large black and white German Shepard looking dog with the largest white ears I have ever seen on a dog. The canine then wandered down to a landlocked stream pool next to us for a drink. Several seconds later, a wide smiled Gaucho on horseback hollered “Hòla” and gave us a wave. He was followed by his wife with 2 small children riding fore and aft on her mount. Salutations were exchanged and the family slowly rode off to cross the river in a nearby shallows then headed down the dirt road on the far bank. I thought to myself: “Where are they heading??? Where did they come from???”. We drove over 15 kilometers on a desolate dirt road, fit only for a 4 wheel drive vehicle, to get to this REMOTE fishing spot. Aside from the traveling Gaucho family, we saw only three other people at this spot all day…a guide and two of this clients. We had this Blue Ribbon trout water all to ourselves the whole day!

That morning I had caught a beautiful small, 8” trout which had few spots on a predominantly green body which reminded me of a Colorado Greenback I had caught at 10,000 ft. outside Breckenridge Colorado. “I wonder if they have Brook Trout in this river” I thought; “this doesn’t look like a brown.” So, while eating lunch, I asked Eduardo if it was a Brook Trout. “No, Sir…he said “It was a brown”.

After lunch, we headed further downstream and fished the last run before the Caleufu’s confluence with the Rio Collon Cura in the backwaters of the Piedra del Aguila reservoir. Just for fun, I dunked my stream thermometer in for a temp: 70F / 21C.

Here the migrating 2” – 3” minnows from the reservoir would meet their first upstream challenge; dozens of eagerly awaiting trout ambushing minnows at will off the surface in the head of the run. These opportunistic trout rewarded us with numerous surface takes while we dead drifted and swung Eduardo’s minnow patterns through the run…what a great way to fly fishdry-fly takes on small, unweighted streamers!!!            Fish continued to take the minnow pattern and John landed a fat 20+ brown to highlight the evening fish. Back to the Spring Creek Lodge for a fine dinner and a glass, or two, of Malbec but, not before seeing two large wild boars with their young slowly strolling along the edge of our road back to the lodge.

Day 5: The Rio Malleo

 

Back to the Rio Malleo the next day with one of Massimo’s bamboo rods in hand, the Pitornius, a 6’ 3” 3/4 weight dark flamed beauty with bamboo ferrules and an Olivewood grip and seat. This was my first experience with a Massimo Tirocchi progressive action bamboo rod and I was immediately impressed with its fast tip action…something I had not previously experienced with the more traditional “full flex” bamboo rods I have thrown in the past. Right off the get-go, I could throw a reasonably tight looped cast an impressive distance in my mind as well as turn over a bushy Stimulator and bead-head dropper. Twelve to fourteen inch rainbows were the fare of the morning with Robbie taking a dozen or so nice rainbows from a single run throwing dries w/ droppers on one of Massimo’s bamboo rods: The T-Rod Indica, a dark flamed, bamboo ferruled 7’ 2” 2 piece for a 3 weight line. Eduardo prepared a fine lunch amidst the setting of a 100+ year old Indian mud hut dwelling. A meandering herd of sheep and goats which wandered into our lunch area also enjoyed a few table scraps. That famous Patagonia wind was right on cue that afternoon after lunch as we fished our way upstream amidst a large herd of sheep grazing their way up the riverbank. We fished into the early evening and, with the waning winds, emerged a sporadic caddis hatch of a variety 1 – 2 hook sizes larger that what I am used to seeing in Pennsylvania and the trout took notice chasing emergers and sipping duns. Back at the lodge, we were greeted by a selection of three fine single malts and a Cuban cigar which went well with the gang’s hearty conversation of the day’s fishing stories… “Massimo took a 20+brown on a Fat Albert dry while fishing the upper Rio Malleo today”.

Along w/ the Scotch & Cigars that night, we enjoyed a beef filled ravioli style pasta entree, fresh salad and potatoes culminating with a delicious Flan dessert. To top off this feast, Massimo treated us to some fine Grappa, a traditional Italian brandy-like wine spirit, which he had brought with him from Italy.

 

Day 6:         Back to the Rio Caleufu

With that first day on the Rio Caleufu still fresh in my memory, I jumped at the opportunity to fish it again with Robbie who had yet to witness the Caleufu’s Minnow Hatch. This day our guide was Gonzalo Flego who tipped our leaders with his personal minnow pattern much to the distain of those trout who felt the sting of his flies that morning. This day was my first real taste of those Patagonia winds that’ll strip the shirt off the fisherman’s back. The wind had stiffened in the afternoons on the previous days but today it got an early start and blew relentlessly till dusk. Around 3:00, Gonzalo said he was going back to the truck to pack up lunch. We fished our way back to the truck and when we arrived, Gonzalo had packed lunch into his backpack and said: “Let’s head down to the mouth…lotta minnows down there.” So we fished down to that last run before the reservoir which had been so productive for me two days prior.

To get out of the wind for lunch, we wandered over to a stand of Willows only to find out that an armadillo had beaten us there. Gonzalo tried to catch him by the tail but he escaped into the brush. After another fulfilling lunch, we all found a comfortable spot amidst the shade and wind barrier of the riverside willow hammock for a little siesta. After resting the eyes for what seemed like about 15 minutes, I decided to walk out and see if our fishing spot for the evening was still vacant…I thought I had heard fisherman talking while we were having lunch. Yep, the run was open so Robbie and I quietly gathered up our rods and gear and snuck out of the willows careful not to wake Gonzalo from his nap.

As we walked back towards that last run before the reservoir, our anticipation grew knowing that we had “rested the pool” for at least an hour during lunch. We were right; when we arrived, we were greeted with spashy rises as the resident trout were working their backyard at the expense of the hapless minnows.

The anticipation grew as we stepped in…no net; no guide; no glove; no extra minnows…just us. Before I even had my dropper unhooked from my rod guide, Robbie hooks up on the first cast…BIG BROWN! A great fight ensued and, not having a net, we took extra caution not to harm this trophy as we prepared to take a picture.

Speaking of pictures, I should have one here of Robbie’s beautiful 20+ brown but I spooked the big brown while trying to take the picture…and whoosh…he was headin’ home. Wow, 5 minutes in and already one big brown for the Evening fish.

The next 10 minutes were magical…

Back in our positions and thinking positively, I hollered to Robbie, OK, 1……2……3……CAST!” What we hoped would happen did…we both hooked up on acrobatic rainbows. Being careful not to tangle our lines and risk loosing these beauties made me think of “Combat Fishing” for Steelhead on Lake Erie’ s Elk Creek in PA or maybe the Cattaraugus Creek in western New York.

We managed to help each other land both fish harmlessly and moved back in position. “OK, here we go again, 1…….2…….3…….Cast!

I don’t remember if it was on our first or second casts but we did it again…A Double Double!            Four nice 15”+ rainbows and a 20+ brown brought to hand in 15 minutes.

Gonzalo joined us shortly after and we continued to hook fish after fish not being in any hurry to start the 2 river crossings and what seemed like at least a mile walk back to the truck. Gonzalo spoke up as the sun crept behind the streamside hills: “Let’s fish till we see the first star”. Robbie and I had no problem with that! And fish we did amidst minnow gulping trout. When the stars started to become visible in the Patagonia sky, Gonzalo shouted to Robbie as he was landing yet another 15” rainbow: “BONUS CAST then we go!” And, yes, as I remember it, Robbie’s “Bonus Cast” worked!

I hitchhiked to California with a friend in 1974 but, looking back on it, that star-lit walk back to the truck was one of my most memorable hikes ever. Although, during our dark trek back to Gonzalo’s truck, I did have two concerns on my mind: Falling and getting hurt or taking a dunk in the river…didn’t wanna do either.

We rustled up a few critters out of the brush (rabbits, I think) as we walked back the Caleufu’s banks and we also had to make two “Arm in Arm” river crosses along the way. If one guy were to stumble making those two crossings in the black, stiff current…we were all goin’ down! Fortunately, we arrived dry…and thirsty…back at the truck then started our journey back to the lodge.

Half way out the 15 km dirt road back to the hard road, Gonzalo pulled over on top of a ridge and Robbie and I stood star-struck as we gazed into the most awesome night sky I have ever witnessed. The Milky Way was a very bright white narrow swath. Gonzalo pointed out a Black Hole and a cloud-like Nebula. This was also my first good look at The Southern Cross, known also as “the “Crux Constellation”. I always look forward to sitting under the stars by a campfire when I go up to my camp in Klondike, Pennsylvania but never had I ever seen a night sky like that.

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand now why you came this way…” *

  • Lyrics from “Southern Cross”, words and music by Stephen Stills, Richard Curtis and Michael Curtis.

We arrived back at the Spring Creek Lodge at 11:45 and just in time for a delicious Argentine steak dinner with all the trimmings…and, one or two, of Massimo’s Grappa before we retired.

As an interesting sidebar, there was a rumor circulating around the dinner table on Monday night that Past President, Jimmy Carter, an avid fly fisherman, might be staying at an estancia located about a mile upstream from the Andes Drifters Rio Caleufu parking spot. The next day, Jon Lewis was fishing with Brian on the Caleufu and noticed a fisherman??? milling around his truck at the parking spot apparently making ready to go fishing. A fisherman knows another fisherman and Jon was convinced that this fella wasn’t there to fish.…some important gentleman must have been fishing upstream on the Rio Caleufu that day!

 

Day 7         The Rio Collon Cura Float

 

After breakfast, we packed up our Andes Drifters’ supplied dry bags with what personal items we wanted on the float trip and said “Goodbye” to Memo, and the Spring Creek Lodge’s staff. We also wished group member, Brian Heath Good Luck as today he set out on a three day hunt with Andes Drifter’s hunting guide, Federico in search of a trophy Red Stag. We drove maybe 45 minutes to our Put In on the Rio Collon Cura. We boarded the waiting rafts and headed out onto the river.

Remember those winds that I mentioned something about while fishing on the Caleufu? Those were a gentle breeze compared to today’s blow which would smack me relentlessly for most of the day.

Beforehand, I knew I had a couple challenges for that day; (1): this was my first ever float trip; (2): the rod I chose to start off with was a 7 wt. which I had built on a Sage Z-Axis blank that I had cast only once before the trip; (3): I would be using a VersiTip 6-8 ips 10 ft. Sink Tip on a Rio Outbound Short shooting head line…a set up I had never casted before, and, I almost forgot, those Patagonia winds!

About 5 minutes into the float, an errant cast (one of many that windy day) snagged an exposed Willow stump. “I’m Snagged!” I hollered to Gustavo Hiebaum, my guide for the day, who immediately put it in reverse and started rowing feverishly backwards to hold the raft stationary in the swift current.

Gustavo expertly guided the raft cross current over to another willow snag downstream from the one I was hooked in and tossed the anchor into the snag to hold the raft stationary in the swift current. By the time Gustavo had us securely anchored to the Willow snag downstream, I was in my backing…I seriously thought I was going to loose my whole fly line! Gustavo reassured me...”No Problem, I’ll get it” as he worked his way back upstream about 40 feet all the while fighting the swift, waist high current and proceeded to quickly free my Hopper. Thank you, Gustavo! We were, once again, on our way. The Rio Collon Cura, meaning Stone Mask in Mapuche, is BIG water! And I loved it! Only a couple 12 – 14” rainbows were brought to hand that windy morning but, as they say, “Catching is just a bonus”. The scenery, the camaraderie, and the education received from Gustavo on how to fish these unfamiliar conditions was quite a memorable experience. I remember commenting to Gustavo that these were the worst winds thus far for the trip but the winds during the first couple days were more intimidating to me…somehow we all learn how to adapt. Standing on the shore of our willow sheltered lunch spot, I felt like my face was burning…must be wind burn because I slathered up good w/ 40 SPF earlier in the morning. A little cold water splashed on the face took care of the temporary symptoms.

After a good lunch, we all spread out for a little snooze. As we cleared the cobwebs and were getting ready to get back to fishing, a crisis occurred. Jon Lewis could not find his rod! He had left it securely in the front of the raft before lunch but now it was gone! Jon’s guide, Dan Etcheverry, immediately started looking around the raft for the rod. Seeing nothing, Dan said “I’m going in…it must have got blown out of the raft”. Just as Dan was ready to sacrifice his dry clothes and dive in to scour the bottom around the raft area, Massimo walks out of the Willows, Jon’s rod in hand, and exclaims “Look what I found”. All Jon could say to Massimo was “Touché!” . You see, we all took a little siesta out of the wind that day…I guess Massimo’s siesta was a little shorter than the rest of ours. Let’s back up to yesterday afternoon. Jon, Brian Heath, and John McConnell took a break from fishing yesterday morning and traveled up to walk the streets of San Martin, a quaint, alpine Andes ski resort town about 30 miles from the lodge. Upon their return, Brian and John headed for the Evening fish on the Rio Malleo but Jon stayed back at the lodge to catch up on some business back home that afternoon. Well, he must have had a little extra time on his hands because Jon took the liberty to short-sheet all of our beds! Massimo must have thought a little pay-back today was in order for Jon’s dastardly deed the day before. Ever the life of the party, Jon Lewis kept us in stitches the whole trip. Jon had done a 6 day float down the Rio Limay several years back making this his second trip to Patagonia. Jon’s previous experiences fishing Patagonia helped greatly in our pre trip planning regarding what to, and, what not to, bring on the trip. Jon is a big water fisherman who likes to yank big streamers and target big fish. He was right at home and comfortable with the elements that first windy morning on the Rio Collon Cura boating 15+ nice trout before lunch. The winds began to behave a little better as the evening approached and we continued to fish our way to Camp through the majestic scenery of the Region of Patagonia. Lorenzo and crew had camp all set up when we arrived to our island campsite that evening. I heard someone say that Ted Turner owned one side of the river and an executive of Pepsi-Cola owned the other side where we were camped.

We were greeted into camp with a glass of Malbec and a fine assortment of beef appetizers to nibble on. We wanted for nothing while in camp both nights…hot water; hot shower, electricity, bathroom tents, and 4 man tents with two guys per tent on comfortable cots w/ North Face 0 degree bags…and pillows!

We then sat down to a goulash style “Chicken on the Disco” cooked over the campfire in a big iron wok which included chicken, green and red peppers, onions and peas all cooked together in a white wine sauce, After dinner, Gustavo, Eduardo, and Gonzalo brought out their vises, their hen necks, their Crystal Flash and size 8 hooks and tied up a bunch more minnow patterns for tomorrow’s fishing. As we retired to our tents that night, the guides reassured us that the windy weather front had passed through and tomorrow would be a gorgeous Patagonia day.

Day 8         Rio Collon Cura         (Day 2)

 

The guides were spot on with their weather forecast the night before. We woke to a brisk beautiful morning with no wind. Lorenzo had the coffee on and we enjoyed bacon and eggs, fresh melon, oranges, and peaches.

After breakfast, we packed up everything into our dry bags (or so I thought) and headed for the rafts…more on this later… As we floated closer to the Piedra del Aguila reservoir that morning, spashy rises indicated one thing…the trout were taking Minnows. I put away the 7 wt. and got out “Old Trusty” , my old 5 wt. built on a pre Shimano GLX blank that had served me so well earlier in the week. Gustavo and I had a great morning…we spent a lot of the morning wading the riffles where the trout seemed to be the most active.

What a difference 24 hrs. made…just a slight breeze today under bluebird skies…perfect conditions for the Morning fish…just as the guides said it would be. Pulling in to the lunch spot, my shoulder was telling me that the dozen or so trout taken this morning would require a couple more Aleve. I had enjoyed a day and a half being the lone caster in Gustavo’s raft but my shoulder really needed a break so Robbie jumped in w/ Gustavo and I hopped into the back chair with Massimo and Gonzalo for the afternoon fish.

From the back, I got the opportunity to witness fly casting poetry in motion. Massimo was on point throwing dead accurate tight loops an amazing distance. I got to witness the full potential of a Massimo Tirocchi T-Rod Bamboo Fly Rod and I was impressed. We continued down the Rio Collon Cura that afternoon taking turns hooking up along with being serenaded with snippets of songs by The Rolling Stones, the Doors, and Sumo, an Argentine rocker, courtesy of our guide Gonzalo.

 

If we all thought we knew the words to a particular song, it must have been one hell of a trio serenading the wildlife along the shores of the Rio Collon Cura that day. We were truly Riders on the Stream that afternoon and lovin’ every minute of it. As the day was nearing Dusk, the breezes went dead calm and rises started to appear in the deep slack water along the cliff banks. Massimo went to an Elk Hair Caddis and was justly rewarded. When it got too dark to see the fly, we just floated along soaking up the moment and, before you knew it, the camp lights appeared up ahead. Once in camp, I grabbed my dry bag and searched out my tent for the night. While sitting with Massimo having a glass and talking rods outside my tent, I dumped out my dry bag only to find that my shoes were missing! Oh no, they’re 12 kilometers back upstream!

Lorenzo had collected them up earlier this morning and had them close at hand when I asked if he had found a pair of shoes. I now realize Senior Moments can happen anywhere.

Tonight was the last night in camp so Chef Lorenzo pulled out all the stops with a goat cooked over the open fire “Iron Cross” style. Remember back on Day 1 when I mentioned the Patagonian gentleman who Eduardo paid the fishing fee to at the gate to the Mapuche Indian reservation? Well, just two or three days ago our Iron Cross feast of goat that we enjoyed that night at dinner was grazing in his pasture. Thank you, Gatekeeper!

While at dinner that night, we again reminisced about the day’s memorable moments and also wondered if Brian Heath had bagged his Red Stag yet. The usual lively conversation at the dinner table that night turned to a somber tone as we were forced to come to the realization that we only had one more day to fish together in the Patagonia region of Argentina. One by one, we wandered off to our North Face bags to rest up for our final day on the Collon Cura.

I was awoken from a deep sleep sometime in the night by the roar of a Red Stag. He sounded reasonably close to camp and I enjoyed his callings for what seemed like 10 minutes. As I lay there awake, reminiscing about the last 8 days, I suddenly felt compelled to go out and get one last good look at the Patagonia stars. I gazed up and said my farewells to the Southern Cross, the Black Hole, and the Nebula…hopefully, I’ll be back to see them again someday.

 

Day 9         The Last Day on the River

Like the last 8, we awoke to bright sunny skies with just a whisper of a breeze today. After breakfast, we packed up our dry bags for the last time…one person in the group making sure he packed his shoes this time. I joined Massimo and Gonzalo for the trip’s last float and the Rio Collon Cura trout obliged us at most every spot we fished that morning.

At one spot which we were wading right next to this spectacular cliff, my casts were continually distracted by the screech of several eagles perched high above on the cliff…of all times to NOT have my camera with me!

While wading, Massimo found this side channel with a nice pool under a overhanging willow and took several nice ones out of there in a matter of minutes.

A little farther downstream, Gonzalo put me on the edge of a nice wide run that he had seen some splashes in. He then walked a ways downstream to see if anyone had reached the lunch spot on the far bank that was about a 1⁄4 mile downstream from where we were fishing. After landing a couple, I decided maybe I should check my fly. Good thing I did as all that was left on it was about one turn of green Crystal Flash dubbing, a mostly bare hook and a beat up hackle for a tail. Massimo came to my rescue, however, with another fly and my fishing continued. No nap today after our final shore lunch. We were on a deadline to reach the Take Out by 6:30. If we wanted to fish our way out, we better get moving. We picked up fish here and there on our way down to the final run before the Reservoir where Massimo handed his “Patagonia Series” bamboo rod over to Gonzalo for a few casts. From the shore, Gonzalo targeted a rise, laid a cast several feet above that previous rise and brought to hand a nice rainbow. Robbie and Gustavo had anchored several hundred feet below us and now it was Gustavo’s turn with the Tirocchi Bamboo which resulted in another nice rainbow brought to hand while Gonzalo videoed the catch. We all got back into our rafts for the final 40 minute paddle through the back waters of the reservoir to the Take Out. Pink flamingos fished in the shallows and the Red Deer came down to browse the shoreline. Floating by the willow stands growing in the reservoir’s backwater was strikingly similar to poleing the Mangroves on a bonefish flat in the Bahamas. With the day’s shadows growing longer by the minute, we reached the Take Out and, just like that, the last leg of our journey down the Rio Collon Cura had come to an end.

At the Take Out, we organized our travel luggage, broke down our rods and stuffed our wet boots and waders into our gear bags while the guides loaded up the rafts. Farewells, Thank

Yous, and Good Byes were exchanged with our new found Patagonian friends and a couple parting group photos were snapped. We also said our Good Byes to Massimo who would be staying on a couple extra days and would be flying back to his home in Italy from San Martin.

Brian and Federico were there to greet us and share their good news with us…a 550 lb. 10 point Red Stag taken at 200+ meters on Thursday plus a 22” rainbow caught in a stream near the hunting lodge. With everything stuffed into the van, we set off with our Andes Drifters’ driver on the two hour drive back to the Cacique Inacayal Lake & Spa Hotel in Bariloche where dinner and a bottle of Malbec was waiting for us.

Day 10         Headin’ Home

 

The next morning, our shuttle driver would pick us up @ 10:00 am to take us to the San Carlos de Bariloche airport to catch the first leg of our journey back home. The Bariloche shops on Main Street opened @ 9:00 am that morning so we walked over and picked up some mementos and gifts for our families before our shuttle to the airport. Two pairs of earrings crafted out of Inca Rose, the national stone of Argentina, caught my fancy. These wife & daughter gifts would take care of the unused Pesos I was still carrying with me.

Back in Buenos Aires, our pre planned shuttle driver met us at the gate of AEP airport and headed us back around town to our connection to Atlanta out of EZE International. We had about five hours to kill before our Atlanta flight so our driver suggested a nice restaurant in downtown Buenos Aires for a good meal before the 10 hr. redeye to Atlanta.

The La Nazarenas was a fine Argentine steakhouse reputed to be one of the best in Argentina which had several Iron Crosses of beef and lamb simmering in their glassed-in barbecue pit which would later be enjoyed by that night’s dinner crowd. Robbie, Jon Lewis, and Brian were invited by the Matra De to view the restaurant’s wine cellar downstairs and, 10 minutes later, returned with several bottles of Malbec to be stuffed into their luggage and enjoyed with family and friends back home. Jon Lewis tried to check his six bottles of wine onto the Atlanta flight but was informed that he would have to pay the dreaded $100.00 extra bag fee. Being the resourceful guy that he is, he opened up a collapsible pocket section of his gear bag right there at the counter and started stuffing…problem solved.

We all had a lot of good reminiscing time together between the Take Out and Atlanta. Someone asked me what my favorite river was and my answer came quick to mind…the Rio Caleufu. Its isolation; its rugged high desert steppes which had a stark beauty devoid of any trees except the occasional streamside willow; the view of the Piedra del Aguila reservoir and, of course, the fishing.

 

Day 11         Separate Ways

 

After a somewhat restful flight back to Atlanta, we made our way through customs and headed towards our respective connection gates for our hops back home, but not before high fives and hand shakes with all of our parting comments resonating a similar theme…WE GOTTA DO THIS AGAIN SOMEDAY!

With rod case and backpack in tow, I slowly walked towards my Pittsburgh gate reflecting on the past week and thinking to myself…My lifelong passion for fly fishing has now surely been satiated!

Steven Hoye

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