PART 2: PRG NORTH – HUECHAHUE
The drive from Trevelin to Huechahue is said to take anywhere from 6-9hrs depending on the traffic and the “recreational” weekend drivers you might find yourself behind. Fortunately for our group, a private Metro 19 plane was chartered and shared to “jump” the hour north to San Martin de los Andes. While not the cheapest option of getting up to PRG North, definitely the best use of time and energy.
As soon as we landed, our group of 5 was met by the smiling faces of PRG North’s head of office and logistics, Nerina and the handsome head of fishing and PRG North, Alex Krull Knull They warmly greeted us and made their introductions. While Brownyn and Rick headed off to Huechahue with Alex, Nerina took Matt, Jeff and me to town for the night.
San Martin de los Andes is a quaint Swiss Alps looking town with its pine cottage homes and hosterias right on the edge of San Martin Lake. We lunched at a delicious eatery that over looked the huge lake and then were picked up by the infamous Argentine photographer Isaias Miciu-Nicolaevici to spend the afternoon in his father’s, Georg Miciu and family’s art gallery. Now as an artist and a student of art, I have been to some galleries in my life, but never had I seen so much talent possessed by one family. Not only was Isa’s father’s work just jaw dropping in his use of the a palette knife and paint, but both his brothers in the paintings and photography respectively, let alone Isa’s amazing landscape prints as well. The building itself is a work of art, so it a must while visiting San Martin.
That night Isa took us to a local pub, called Crux where the walls boasted Isa’s brother, Elias’, photos from every wall. After a few hand-crafted beers, we headed over with Nerina to saturate ourselves in the world’s best comfort food, pizza. Callo Pizza is awesome! More delicious cheese on one pizza than I ever thought possible and cheap. The people-watching too was great at this busting little pizza joint.
The next morning headed to Huechahue (pronounced way-cha-way), our home for the 4 nights and 5 days. The estancia is located on a gorgeous ranch about an hour from town or 40 minutes from the San Martin/Chapelco airport. It is a working horse ranch that also boasts a full farmyard and greenhouse garden. The lodge is centered over a courtyard with a stream running through it. Around the courtyard, sits 2 cabins with 3 rooms each, a guides cabin, the assada house and the main house, all with great front porches.
Almost everything that was put on the table for all meals were straight from farm to table: the berries, homemade apple juice, veggies, milk, cheese, and to some chagrin the meat. Most nights, the head Guacho (a cowboy/ ranch hand of the Patagonia grasslands called pampas), would prepare for us an assada. Cooking on a spit over a live flame/coals, some tender meat from the ranch’s wide selection. Our dinners ranged from pork to venison and cow to chicken. Dinners always came accompanied with fresh tomatoes and lettuce from the greenhouse and usually avocado and potatoes from the garden. Lest I forget to mention the delicious Argentine red wine served at both lunch and dinner.
DAY 1 – MALLEO
Our first day started out with partly cloudy skies and a nice wind. Jeff and I were introduced by Alex, to our guide, Santos. With a glimmer of humor and excitement that constantly danced across his face, we could tell from the moment we met him, that he loves fishing. After the 40 minute drive to turn off onto the private property with red sand dunes and desert grass, we walked down the canyon’s side to wade the gorgeous Malleo river with the snow-capped Lanin volcano as its the backdrop. I started the day with Alex and with both of us loving sight casting spent the first few hours stalking and trying to move big browns. Unfortunately, I had still not learned my lesson (or had quickly forgotten it) and had a huge brown (over 25”) come sip my dry fly and I manage to set the hook like it was a 80lb tarpon, snapping the poor fish off before I could even cry out. That day, we caught mostly 15-18″ rainbows on Dries and dries with a dropper.
After a delicious picnic lunch of wine cheese, sausage and bread, Santos and I set out in the drizzle. On my 2nd cast with a Madame X dry fly, I caught and landed my biggest brown of the trip. A 24″ long lanky beauty. As the afternoon moved on and the wind picked up, I managed to catch another 10 on the Malleo amidst the rainbows, sun and rain.
DAY 2 – ALUMINE
Jeff and I spent the next day, floating the Alumine River with Santos. It is a slow, wide river lined with bright green willow trees. Upon putting in, Santos began to get excited as he gazed at the cluster of willows. As quickly he quickly grab our rods to re-rig them, he began to ask us to notice the lack of leaves on the trees compared with a grouping of willow trees further down the river bank. Jeff and I both looked and nodded our confirmation of notice and with that Santos said 3 words, “green worm hatch”, while at the same time holding up a recently tied on “green worm” fly. This was definitely a first for me. While, I had fished various insect hatches before, I had never seen a green worm hatch. Apparently, the gluttonous little leave eating inch worms get a little ambitious at time and drop into the water below. The smart and ravenous trout swim back and forth under the tree waiting and watching for there delicious green snack to fall from the heavens. Needless to say it was a blast. Jeff and I caught several right off the bat, but like all hatches they ebb and flow. Midday slowed a bit, but remained consistent with several little 12-14″ caught. We ended the day boating over 20 and getting to experience our first green worm hatch.
DAY 3 – CHIMEHUIN
Our most productive day, was Jeff and my day floating the Chimehuin. It is a pretty and fast moving river with lots of fish. Our day was windy and a bit chilly, but the fished seemed not to care. We caught a ton of both browns and bows, mostly 15-18″ biggest being 21 rainbow, but Jeff had several 20” bows on the San Juan worm. I had one huge browns eat my mouse pattern and I nearly came out of the boat with excitement. He was so strong that the darn fish jumped over a short rapid then proceed to swim upstream in heavy current, as Santos did everything he could to stall the boat. My line hung up in the rocks of the rapid and we quickly went to shore so that I could run the river’s edge back to my mouse muncher. Unfortunately, by the time I got up there, he had manage to wrap the line several times and snap off. But it was enough to leave my heart beating double time for the next hour or so. With the fishing being so on and rarely did 10 minutes go by without a fish, we threw all sorts of flies from various hoppers, beetles, Chernobyl ants to streamers and mouse patterns. That day we estimated that Jeff and I caught 60-70 trout.
DAY 4 – ALUMINE (HALF DAY)
One of the best aspects of PRG North is its proximity to so many rivers and fisheries. One of those is the Alumine. Huechahue has over five miles of private river frontage. So knowing I had some time constraints with a mid-afternoon flight out, Santos offered me a “local” 2.5 hr half day float, allowing us to take out just minutes from the lodge. It started out a warm and calm morning, but within minutes, as it does often in Patagonia, the winds picked up and a chill settled on the water. Alas, as always, the fish didn’t seem at all to notice the weather or Santos’ struggle with the wind to get us down river. All and all, Santos and I caught 10 fish that morning, mostly on the dropper and a 3 nice ones on the dry (one over 19″) and funny enough only a few on the green worm.
As I came off the off that day, and stood gazing up at the hills and mountains around me and the river at my feet, I knew for certain one thing, I would be back.
The plane flights home were easy and well-timed. Flying always causes me to be nostalgic and reflective. So as I sat there flipping through all Matt’s incredible pictures and reminisced about my Argentine adventure, I am in awe of all that has to come together for me to experience such an epic trip. From the perfectly planned trip, coordination and prepping of Tailwaters Travel to the seamless transfers and domestic travel logistics of LOL, to the hosts, themselves, Patagonia River Guides with their beautiful lodging, amazing food/wine and the fun, knowledgeable and skilled guides and finally to the diversity of incredible fisheries, it was a trip of a lifetime, one I hope to duplicate time and time again.
I invite you all to come and join me on my next Argentine PRG Adventure. Come taste, catch and see all that this wonderful country has to offer.