Catch and release is the custom in Patagonia. Photo: Tipiliuke Lodge
Should you wish to master the art of fly fishing in Patagonia, it’s worth remembering this: “There is nowhere in fly fishing for you to drink beer.” Fishing guide Adrian Cataldi tells me this, and Cataldi should know; for there is no more seasoned fly fisherman in all of Argentina.
There’s also no more patient fisherman in Argentina. For it’s Cataldi’s job to take guests like me – novices who think they know how to catch fish because they’ve, on occasion, hooked one trolling from the back of a boat – into the wilds of Patagonia to show them that they know nothing about fishing.
“Think of fly fishing as hunting, not as fishing,” he advises as we push our way through pretty yellow willow on the banks of the slow-moving Chimehuin River, here in the Lakes District of Argentina.
The sky’s enormous, so bulging with blue it looks purple, and on days like this I wonder if it’s ever known clouds. Across the bleached-blond steppes, the snow-capped Andes rise to the heavens, conveniently creating a border with Chile.
The Chimehuin is so clear you’d call it transparent. No-one is permitted to travel on it under motor: fishermen must either wade from its bank or float down it. And it’s catch-and-release in these parts of the world, so the water below my feet is actually wriggling with fish.
This northern region of Patagonia is widely regarded as the river trout capital of the world. But while most international travellers will stay in lodges near the city of Bariloche, some of the most interesting lodges – and the best trout fishing – can be found a couple of hours north. And nowhere’s more interesting than Tipiliuke.
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I’m driven to it along a dirt road which cuts its way through the foothills of the Andes after landing at St Martin’s tiny airport. I pass cowboys (gauchos) on horseback, some of whom have worked this cattle estancia for three generations. Set across 20,000 hectares of radically undulating pasture land, the lodge here is petite by Argentinian standards: nine rooms are set around a communal dining room and bar which look out through french windows to an English-style garden.
While the fishing on site is considered by many as the best in northern Patagonia, there’s more to do here. On arrival, I’m given a horse to ride and am sent out with gauchos to check the cattle (there are 4000 here). The gauchos can’t speak much English, so it gives me time to observe the silence, and the Andean condors (the world’s second-largest bird) looping in the thermals above.
Next morning I’m driven a short distance south to Argentina’s best new golf course, Chapelco Golf & Resort, designed by Jack Nicklaus (who stayed at Tipiliuke … to fish). Its 18 holes look out across the Andes with fairways set between gigantic Oregon pines and freshwater lakes.
In the evenings, when my activities are done, I sit outside with the other guests watching dinner get barbecued and drinking local malbec till the stars come out. In these balmy summer months it won’t get dark till 10, then we lie on blankets on the lawn and watch the stars shoot across the night sky.
And as for the fishing? Well, there’s sure a lot to learn: I discover fly fishing’s best done with a wrist that won’t move and a line which never stops. Cataldi tells me even the worst fisherman on earth can catch 10 trout at Tipiliuke. He says these rivers (the Quilquihue also runs across the property) are so full of trout they jump onto your line.