May 21st, 2015
By Ken Morrish
For more than 20 years anglers have been chasing the mysterious steelhead of southern Argentina’s vast, sweeping, blue-gray Rio Santa Cruz. It has never been an easy, high catch rate proposition but recently the river has entered a new era where it is finally well enough understood to make a dedicated trip here a truly worthy world-class steelhead adventure. To say that the first ten years of exploring the Santa Cruz were tough would be an understatement. Several outfitters scouted the river and some even set up shop but it was hard to keep the beds filled as the river hoarded its secrets making the system far more enigmatic than consistent. Roughly 11 years ago a group of very experienced steelheaders from BC floated the entire 240 mile river and were humbled. The type of water that they had been trained to sniff out was rare at best. The Santa Cruz, was simply built from an entirely unique and often confounding template. The experienced sea-trout guides from the Rio Grande and Gallegos were also met with very modest results. Accordingly it earned a reputation as a tough nut and to some degree faded from the radar of traveling anglers.
Between 2007 and 2013 Loop invested considerable time and energy on the most promising section of the river. They enlisted many of their best guides from the Gallegos to learn the most promising section of river 50-75 miles upstream of the Atlantic. This was a very fruitful time period and catch rates climbed steeply but still the set-up was imperfect with long drives from an awkward estancia to the river. This program was also abandoned and the river lay fallow except for the continued personal fishing of a number of dedicated guides like longtime Las Buitreras head guide and manager Claudio Martin. Claudio had seen too much great fishing there to let the dream of the perfect South American steelhead lodge die on the vine. Accordingly he and his business partners at Tres Amigos Outfitters Juan Manuel Biott and Diego “Pollo” Coscia pushed forward with the building of Los Plateados Lodge; the ultimate four person mini-lodge. Set in a strategic waterfront location on the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz’s best section, this modest and intimate set up will be the first to stand the test of time on this remarkable river.
Interview with Los Plateados Lodge Manager, Claudio Martin
Recently Kyle and I sat down with Claudio Martin and drilled him with questions that would help us and others better understand what the Santa Cruz experience is all about and how the fishery has evolved into a system where catch rates and size of fish can be easily compared with famous rivers like the Kispiox and Sustut. The following is from that interview:
How long have you been fishing the Santa Cruz?
I have been fishing the Santa Cruz for roughly 15 years. Half of that time I have fished it as a guide, the other half fishing it on my own.
Have you seen catch rates improve?
Yes, drastically. In the early days we would go long periods without strikes or hook ups. It was a very hard river to read and learn and we were also trying to figure out the timing of when the run is at its peak. In the early times it was a big deal to catch a fish. Now days we expect to see fish in hand every day.
What is the average size of the steelhead?
On average the fish are 9-10 pounds and most are very bright and strong. What is interesting though is that roughly one in ten of the fish we land is 20 pounds or larger. From what I understand of the steelhead fisheries in the US and BC this is very unusual to have such a large percentage of the landed fish be so big.
How many fish should anglers expect to catch a day?
This season we averaged one fish per person per day and many of the days we had inexperienced anglers. Also to land one a day typically means that the anglers had one or two additional opportunities each day.
Why are your catch rates so much higher than they used to be?
Lots of reasons! The first is that we have spent hundreds of hours learning the river. There was lots of trial and error but then we started getting some consistent places. We also used sonar to better understand the structural elements of the river. Now we have over 30 named pools and runs that have produced for us. About a third of these spots are what we consider “holding pools” where we consistently catch fish throughout the season. They are not always obvious at first glance but they are for real. These key pools now account for 70% of our landed fish and the other runs are great for targeting travelling fish.
Are there additional reasons that your guests are more successful?
Yes, certain elements from North American steelhead fishing have helped us out. The most important of which has been Skagit lines. We used to fish full sinking heads and could not fish the hang down. Now we can fish to the inside and catch plenty of fish on the hang down.
What is the visibility like on the river?
It is often about knee deep. When we can see our boots when standing waist deep we consider it rather clear. If you look at pictures of our steelhead, they have really big eyes, I think because of the cloudy water.
What type of flies do you like?
I like big ones! The bigger the better as long as you can still cast them well. Intruder style flies are great and so are big tubes. I also think weighted flies work best here but I cannot tell you why they work better. If I only had one color, I think I would choose orange.
What is unique about the river?
Really everything is unique about this river. It is huge and winds through harsh desolate country. There is very little sign of human activity but there are lot of old artifacts and chips from the ancient people that lived here 3000 years ago. The river has very little obvious rock structure so it challenges North American anglers in new ways. It can also be very windy.
Who is best suited to visit the river?
It is a very natural and important river for experienced and well-traveled steelhead anglers to visit because it is in South American and it flows into the Atlantic. These type of anglers who want to see all the great steelhead rivers in the world need to see this place. They will never forget it! Also sea trout fishermen should come fish the Santa Cruz. Really anyone who like likes remote places and enjoys a challenge is suited to visit, as we are very good instructors and help anglers of all skill levels.
Can the river handle fishing pressure?
Well this is an interesting question. The river is very large (average flow is 28,000 CFS) and it is very long. Also there is very little pressure on it but still we felt it very important to keep our lodge small so we can insure that our guests are fishing only the most productive pools. I think you could put a hundred anglers who don’t know the river on it and it would not matter much but if you were to put three anglers on it who knew it the way that we do, this big system might suddenly feel smaller! Since we have guided so many years on the Gallegos, we love and believe in big beats of water and that is what we are offering our guests.
What is the best time to visit?
Our season runs from Mid-March through the first week of May. We offer both full and half week packages with set transfer days.
Does this trip combine well with other trips?
Yes, our program marries well with travel itineraries at other programs on the Rio Grande, Rio Gallegos, and Jurassic Lake.
How do you get there?
Most anglers fly from Buenos Aires south to the city of Rio Gallegos and are transferred by truck 4 hours to the lodge. Alternatively, it’s equally as easy to arrive or depart from Calafate.
What are the rates?
Please see the Rates and Details section of our Los Plateados Lodge web page for the current rates: https://www.flywatertravel.com/destination/Los_Plateados_Lodge
How do I book it?
Contact Kyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-552-2729 for more program details and to check dates of availability.