Words and photos by Riccardo Vaccaro
Here is the diary entry from a recent trip my wife and I did to Argentina. We traveled the whole of that massive country for one month, and after chatting to Fred about some fishing possibilities, I made sure my fishing kit was packed. All told, 70% of my bag weight was fishing related equipment…
The story kicks off in the North-West of Argentina. After having travelled by bus for a day and a half, from Puerto Iguazu to Salta, we spend the night in a small hotel at a tiny town called Las Lajitas.
DAY 9 – Fishing for Dorado
I wake up before the alarm to the sound of running water. It’s raining outside and the clouds look set in. We have the usual pastries and coffee for breakfast at the hotel and then get in the Landy and head towards the estancia.
We arrive in the rain at the farm house, where the other “kitted out” Landy is supposed to meet us at 9am. It’s now 10am and the other Landy hasn’t arrived. “You know how to ride a horse?”, asks the guide Ignacio. I haven’t ridden a horse since I was about 10 years old, so I’m hoping he isn’t serious. He explains that the other Landy must have got stuck with all this rain, so we will have to go in with the horses. It’s 20km and will take about 3 hours!! My wife looks less impresses than before.
The day before we organize all our things into 1 bag so as to take less things to the jungle camp, but now that we are going by horse, the bag needs to shed some weight… We frantically empty the contents of our main bag into the only other bag I had, a dry bag, and leave that behind in the car.
The horses saddle looks luxurious and soft. But after just 5 minutes, the sheep’s skin covered in leather feels like a brick, and my horse seems to have spent the night drinking, as it can barely stand up straight at rest.
Anyway, we ride through some amazing forest scenery, crossing rivers, see parrots fly overhead and traverse some pretty steep up and down hills. The horses have a rough time, but there is no way any 4X4 could do the same road. Just to prove my point, we come across the Uber Landy, stuck in the bushes where it attempted to climb a muddy hill. The other guide had tried to come fetch us but failed…
It’s been raining the whole way, but we finally get onto single track, through thick jungle, dodging fallen branches and poisonous shrubs and I get my first glance of the river. It’s about 2/3rd the size of the Vaal and running slightly murky. “Perfect”, says Ignacio, “the fishing will be fantastic!” The river is usually crystal clear, which makes sight fishing the order of the day, but it also makes the Dorado a bit weary. This discolored water gets theDorado into a feeding frenzy.
We arrive at our camp. It’s quite basic, with 2 corrugated iron shelters and a gazebo for the kitchen/dining room. No time to sit around though, we have a quick bite to eat and rig my rod 8wt rod with a large rat pattern (normally tied for Taimen) and 20lb bite wire, ready for the Dorado.
Ignacio wants to check my casting ability, with the big flies. He seems happy and promptly says, “come, we catch your first Dorado here”. There is a rapid that enters into a quite pool and I’m told where to cast. I make the mistake of putting the fly on the water whilst I strip off line to cast, and 2 Dorado rush at the fly but don’t commit. “Make sure your first cast is the best”, warns Ignacio.
Then I get my first glimpse of a Dorado. It’s facing upstream at the very head of the rapid, it’s dorsal fin and tail sticking out of the water, and the distance between the two sends by heart rate through the roof. I put the fly just ahead of it and the second it comes past, it slashes wildly at the fly but doesn’t connect.
After a few more cats with the rat fly, Ignacio decides we should change to a large floating lizard fly. 2 casts later and a massive golden head breaches the water and engulfs my fly, straight away it clears it’s whole body out of the water, and then runs downstream where it cartwheels in the air again. Suddenly the line goes slack and the fly comes back, the hook point bent at 45 degrees. “That was a big one, probably 9kg!”, says Igancio.
A few casts later and the lizard gets “sipped” off the surface as though it was a size 20 mayfly. Then all hell breaks loose with the fish jumping and running all over the place, and after a few tense moments, the guide tails the fish. Photos don’t do it justice. It’s an incredibly beautiful fish of about 5kg. I’m ecstatic and can’t believe how big it is, but the guide is less impressed and says it’s a smallish one… Right there, my dream had already come true and everything else was just the cherry on top.
I catch another two fish of between 5-6kg, each fighting just as hard. One in particular I won’t forget. The guide said to cast towards a “cave” made by some overhanging branches on the opposite bank. The deeper into the cave the fly lands, the bigger the fish he promises.
It’s a long cast and the wind resistant fly isn’t the easiest to present. I make the cast and the loop unfolds under the canopy of shrubs, landing in the dark recess deep inside. I’m not sure if I’ve overdone the cast, but my doubt is soon dispelled by a huge splash as a Dorado nails the fly and starts its aerial acrobatics. It was textbook…
By the time we look, it’s 7:30pm and the rain is staring again. We head back to camp almost in the dark, and I make one last cast at the first pool I tried. As the fly hits the water it gets attacked and a smallish fish is on. I fight it for a while but I’m standing in the middle of the rapid on my own and don’t really want to take the hook out of those jaws with the fish thrashing around. Thankfully it comes off. I put the fly in exactly the same spot again and it seemed like hitting the replay button… It gets smashed, but this one doesn’t spit the hook and I’m forced to walk through the rapid to land it…
We get back to camp in the dark and find that the inside of those tin “shacks” are pretty sparse, with nowhere to even hang our wet clothing. There are 2 stretches in the centre of the room with sleeping bags on top and that’s it. Luckily I brought some rope, so we make a make shift drying line. We meet 3 other Argentinian fishermen. They walked far upstream today but only landed 3 fish between all of them, so I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.
It’s still raining, so the meat gets grilled under some shelter whilst we share a mug of Fernet and Coke amongst the other fishermen. Vic gets quite tired waiting for the meat to grill so she heads off to bed.. I’m really impressed with her. The shack is leaking, there are ticks crawling on her…but she never complained. She also did such a great job of filming and taking photos of my fishing.
The meat gets grilled to perfection and is enough to feed 15 people. We stay up late trading stories of our fishing exploits and the wine keeps flowing. All in all I land 4 fish, hook another 3 and have 3-5 knocks that day. What a day!! We have THE WHOLE DAY to fish tomorrow and it can only get better!!!
I don’t sleep much as the rain doesn’t stop the whole night and I’m constantly checking my bed for wet spots from the leaking roof. I’m sharing my bed with my large camera bag to stop it getting wet on the ground. During the night branches get so heavy with rain that they break off and fall on our roof. It sounds like a gunshot going off. The last one sounds like a cannon and I suddenly remember the rods are outside and leaning up against the shed. Luckily they are all ok, but the the gazebo has collapsed in on itself from all the rain.
A few minutes later I see Ignacio, and he doesn’t look impressed. He says the river is impossible to fish. I go down to check. The footpath leading down to the river looks like a small tributary. When I get to the river I see what he means. It’s risen 1.5m and it’s gone from the colour of weak tea the day before, to the colour of Milo. My heart sinks into my stomach as I see my last day of fishing flowing downstream with the floating branches.
With the river this high, we couldn’t even leave if we wanted to. The horses would not make it across the river. We pack our bag, putting wet muddy clothes and shoes into our only bag (that dry bag we left behind would have been handy at this point). We wait a few hours hoping the rain will subside and the river shrink in size. It does start receding and we start having lunch with the intention of leaving after lunch. Suddenly the rain picks up again, and the guides tell us we must go NOW, half way through lunch.
But now there are 8 of us and only 5 horses. The two guides volunteer to walk and the one other fisherman is too scared to ride a horse across the river. We start the trip having to cross the main channel. It’s past the horses shoulders but we somehow manage to get across. The second river crossing is easier but the last one, which is only 3km from the farm house is still flowing too strong.
We make our way along the river bank, cutting our way through the jungle with a panga, looking for a shallow spot to cross the river. Finally we find a better spot and get across, and after cutting another path thought the jungle we make it back to the farmhouse. All this was in varying degrees of rain, so we are soaked to the bone after 4 hours of riding. By now, it feels as though I have been to a Nigerian prison…
The 2.5 hr drive back to Salta seems much longer, and the guide keeps cursing the rain,which is still coming down. Part of me is so disappointed, but the other half keeps reminding myself how lucky I was to even get half a day in yesterday. I can only fantasize about what the fishing COULD have been like…