Apr 30th, 2012
It had been far too long since my last visit to Tierra del Fuego’s beautiful Rio Grande River and Estancia Despedida. In preparation for my upcoming hosted trip I had been tying flies like a wild man when my co-worker Charles Gehr returned from his hosted trip, only two weeks earlier than my own. I soon found out from him that I would have to begin the whole tying process over again as the bugs I had been assembling were way too big! Apparently, the water was low… really low… and there was no hope of rain in the forecast for the foreseeable future. Charles’ trip had been excellent; lots of fish on dry flies, dry lines and intermediate tips. Oh yeah, and all of them were bright silvery blue and tail-walked to beat the band when they were hooked. Needless to say, I was pretty pumped up!
After meeting up with the group and spending the night in Buenos Aires, we flew down to the town of Rio Grande and made the 20 minute drive to the lodge where we were greeted by owner Danny Lajous and his fine crew. It is a perfect little place, casual and cozy and ideal for groups of six or less. Moreover, it’s located right in the midst of the Rio Grande’s best water; the water the locals call “El Corazon del Rio”, i.e. “The Heart of the River”. Even their most distant pools are just over ten minutes from the lodge and during the week each angler fishes each pool twice; once in the morning session and once in the evening.
Our week was pretty darn solid. It wasn’t quite as good as the week before, nor was it as good as the week following, but considering the massive drop in air/water temperatures and the severity of the wind for the first three days, it was still excellent by my standards. Due to the extreme wind and cold, we put the dry lines away and fished tips with long leaders and remarkably small flies. Some anglers in the group caught fish on every session, while others simply got on the wrong side of random circumstances and fought hard for each and every bite.
These sea-run browns are seriously strong, and nearly all of them were bright and big. The average fish weighed in at just over 10.5 pounds and six of seven anglers landed a fish of 20 pounds or better. All and all we had nine fish over 20 pounds and every one of the monsters launched clean out of the water! The high rod for the week, Pete Laskier, landed something like 22 fish including a 20 pounder on a #16 Copper John. Overall numbers for the group would have been even higher, but we were straightening out a lot of hooks on heavy fish. The following week it warmed back up and the wind died down (that is relatively speaking) and I think the Dave Douglas party who arrived just after us doubled our numbers and landed an obscene number of fish over 20 pounds. “Should have been here next week” if that even means anything!
The bottom line is that we had a blast. I caught a couple of handsome sea trout over 20 pounds including a great buck of 23 pounds and I got to fish with all six guys in the group. I had a number of memorable encounters but the most shocking was hooking an extremely large fish on a relatively short line. I had just fished the run but had a hunch that there was something I missed on the inside edge. I tied on a sparse #6 Crab Cake (a muddler-like bonefish fly that I like) and swung it down into the eye of the pool. Midway through the swing the fly stopped dead and I set into something so solid I thought it was bottom. I leaned on it hard and it lurched in a fashion I can only describe as terrifying. Then it bucked violently out into the main current… I think I was crying aloud for my momma as this happened and apparently my hands grew heavy with fright. The rod must have been bent deeply as the gap on the stainless saltwater hook bent open and the line sprung back in my face. I was a limp, distraught, jittery mess. I’m certain some words inappropriate for print slipped my lips and were carried off in the wind. It was my opportunity at a true fish of a lifetime and it was over before it even began.
Will I be back to Estancia Despedida? You bet and I hope it is soon. In my book there is no better place on the Rio Grande for anglers who want long hours on the water, a great value, unpretentious home style hospitality, and proven pools that hold big numbers of fish each and every week of the season.
For more images from this amazing trip please check out the slideshow below: