Thursday, November 19, 2015

Jurassic Lake - Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina

I was wondering how Jurassic Lake Lodge could ever make such a boast - "the most prolific rainbow trout fishery in the world"...I stopped wondering that last week.
One of the Lodge staff shot and edited this video for me, I can't thank him enough, his name is Germán Cerrotti ( and he's as accomplished a videographer as he is an accommodating and friendly person.  My only contribution to the endeavor was footage I manage to capture from my drone (DJI Inspire 1) which Germán eagerly spliced into his work.

Jurassic Lake Fly Fishing from the fly syndicate on Vimeo.

Situated in northern Patagonia, in the Argentinian province of Santa Cruz, Lago Strobel (aka Jurassic Lake) is a 65 square kilometer (16 square mile) body of water.  To be more descript, it's an 800 foot deep caldera filled with about 300 feet of alkali water.  Situated east of the Andes, it's fed by a sole year round tributary, the Rio Barancoso.  This river has cut a deep and rugged channel through the Patagonian desert steppe ultimately terminating in the lake.

Jurassic Lake Lodge is the only lodge on the lake, the only lodge with exclusive access to the most productive bays on the lake (the legendary "boca" and the "bay of pigs") and is the only lodge with access to the most productive first half mile of the Rio Barancoso...despite what marketing for their nearby competitor might suggest.  If you're making the time and financial commitment to go this far, spend an extra grand to get to the A+ waters, trust me on this.  The best way to describe the lodge is exceedingly remote, off the grid and basic.  That said, it has all you'll ever need for a wonderful experience including a SUPERB guiding staff, great food, warm beds and showers, private baths per each double occupancy room, a warm dining room and lounge and a large selection of delicious local Malbecs always being uncorked.  A generator runs half of the day and powers type-A outlets, a satellite TV and something the Argentinians referred to as "satellite internet", but I don't believe in unicorns either.
Due to a diet of crustaceans (scuds), the trout flesh is the same color as Sockeye Salmon which also lives on a diet of crustaceans (plankton).
Trout Sashimi - Ever seen red trout meat?
Gaucho-style lamb BBQ

Getting to and from the lodge is a journey and experience in and of itself, you're going to need some help from Fly Water Travel, they're experts in this field.  From Reno, NV we had 2 domestic US flights, then a red-eye to BA, then a transfer to the domestic airport, then another domestic flight to Comodoro Rivadavia and finally a charter plane to a newly constructed gravel runway right at the lodge.  A chartered Twin Otter eliminates the infamous 7 hour "road to hell" and substitutes 1.5 days of 4x4 travel for world class angling...provided the Patagonian winds allow the Otter to land.  Upon our departure, we experienced sustained winds of 146 KPH (91 MPH) so we learned all about crossing the Rio Barancoso when swollen and the "road to hell" after all.
Rio Barancoso after a rain storm in the Andes.  They tell you to roll down the windows because if the truck gets swamped, you won't be able to open the doors...yeah, that advice made me feel better too.
The lake is a biological anomaly, devoid of fish until McCloud River Rainbows were transplanted in the 1990's, these fish quickly flourished due to an almost limitless scud population.  As I understand it, this allowed them initially to grow to gargantuan proportions, but what's kept the population in check and therefore the average size of the fish extremely large is the ruggedness of the lake's only year round spawning tributary, the Rio Barancoso. 
An endless torrent of rapids and waterfalls prevent most fish from successfully navigating to the upper sections of the river which are most suited for spawning.
 Below is an aerial drone photo of what the call "the Big Pool".  It's only 500 yards up from the lake and practically the only substantial piece of soft water for the first mile or more of river.  Because of a really rough rapid immediately below, most of the biggest fish can't even reach this first and only rest stop before the next mile of continuous rapids guarding the upper spawning grounds.  The concentration of spent fish is so high here that after a short while you'll realize there is no sport in fishing this section of river and will move on in search of a challenge.  The fish in both the lake and river will take mice and attractor dries.  Additionally, fish will grab streamers on the swing, all of which make for a great angling experience.
I found sight fishing in the side creeks, pockets and edges of heavy rapids a good balance of risk/reward.

The lower section the river has more hot chromers.

 Now there are two primary beats near the lodge on the lake, the "boca" at the confluence of the river and then the "Bay of Pigs".  Each had their own nuances, challenges and opportunities.  Below, my buddy Clark is displaying a quintessential chromer from the Bay of Pigs.  Their color gives them away but you can easily identify a chromer hook-up blind folded: your reel will scream and the fish won't spend much time in the water.

  Not every fish is in the teens.  Below is a pretty average fish, and yes, I'd put the average close to 10 on certain days, but not quite 10 pounds, you'll inevitably get a few 4-5 pounders.
The lake's alkaline waters are a petri dish culturing the lakes biomass, primarily scuds which fuel this fishery.  I never attempted to max out on the number of fish I caught, for me it wasn't about that, but I'd estimate on my better days I caught between 400 and 500 pounds of trout.
An aerial drone photo of the "Bay of Pigs", about 200 trout foraging on scuds immediately below.  The fish school up and move a lot, they'll come in, feed heavily, then move out.

Word to the wise, protect your hands, these fish are as toothy as the women in Buenos Aires are leggy, and they're live wires to boot.  We learned after the first couple of days that there is an advantage to being able to C&R fish up to 12 pounds w/o a net or forceps - flies last longer, you don't have to chase down a net and you can get back to fishing much quicker - you just hand line them once you got them in close, but it's murder on the hands.  Not to mention the cuts you'll get from retrieving your floating line all day.  My buddy Jay discovered Minnie Mouse and Goofy bandaids held up the best - My Little Pony not so much...he plans to write the manufacturer when he has free time.

I get pretty geeked out about history and had an opportunity one day to travel to the other end of Lago Strobel to meet the 80 year old Gaucho and his next two generations who own the Estancia underlying Jurassic Lake Lodge.  Their contiguous land holdings total 45,000 hectares (111,000 acre) and boarders Lago Strobel, most of Rio Barancoso, Lago Quiroga Norte and Lago Quiroga Sur.  They were so humble and lived so modestly you'd never know they had such a wealth of real estate.  We shared the traditional Argentinian social drink of Mate, a hot herbal tea which is passed around and continually recharged with hot water and fresh herbs.

Below is some real gaucho shit, that's a wild horse they just shot and are butchering, and yes....they plan to eat it.
With Lodge owner and manager Carlos Lopez (in the orange puffy above) translating, we were able to attain permission to traverse a 4x4 road beyond his modest homestead in search of ancient Indian Petroglyphs estimated at 12,000 years old (amongst the oldest in South America and North America for that matter).

Puma Tracks
Rhea tracks? (indigenous flightless bird similar to a small Ostrich)
Mother and Child's feet

Unassuming rimrock - site of the petroglyphs
Baby's feet


 Armadillo foraging near camp.
A Guanaco, an ancient camelid of the South Americas, a close relative of the Llamma.
What an amazing place, I did my best to describe it but it's one of those "you have to be there" experiences.  There are many similarities between Jurassic Lake and Pyramid Lake in my back yard: Large alkali lake over 300 feet deep and receding, white limestone tufa rock surrounding its entire boarder, a mixture of rock, pebble and sand beaches, unusually productive waters, disproportional biomass, trophy sized trout eclipsing 30 pounds, remote, rugged and wind swept with almost electric turquoise waters acting as a terminus for a sole feeder river.  Throw in petroglyphs more than 10,000 years old and the  similar ancient Native American association and you damn near have a match!

I hope you enjoyed this post!


FisherDad said...

Simply awesome! Maybe someday...

I enjoyed your comparative analysis to Pyramid... I was starting to wonder about the similarities myself until you stated them.

I am also getting a kick out of your drone video.

BensonKanemoto said...

I just returned from Jurassic and would like to thank you for the drone footage you are sharing. I am enjoying the DVD created by the videographer and the drone footage really adds another perspective to the whole experience. P.S. We flew both in and out, got an extra day of fishing and were the only two in the camp all week.

Ben said...

That trout Sashami looks delicious.

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