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Las Pampas Lodge The Essence of Patagonia

Privacy and poetic beauty in Argentina’s upper Rio Pico region. Photo: Bryan Gregson

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as Pampas’ head guide Martin had me at “hello.” You rarely know what you are in for before it actually happens, but this time, shaking his hand in the tiny Esquel airport, I somehow knew that my ultimate Patagonian trout fishing experience had already begun. My hunch was spot-on, and while it took months for the details and nuances of the experience to fully sink in, I can now clearly identify all the elements that, in my mind, make Las Pampas Lodge the quintessential Argentine trout fishing operation. Its unique location, welcoming staff-driven atmosphere and its highly diverse multi-species trout fishing program combine to make this a Patagonian classic that is extremely hard to beat.

Gem of Chubut As Martin and I began the three-hour drive south from the airport to the lodge, I thought I was getting a feeling for what our final destination’s landscape would be like. Not so. In the first hour we passed through arid lands reminiscent of Utah, then an hour later things looked more like eastern Montana, and then finally regions that reminded me of Yellowstone and Montana’s Paradise Valley. By the time we reached the lodge it became clear that this was a place unto itself, both familiar and totally unique at the same time. Ultimately, we were tucked up against the base of the snowcapped Andes, in a fantastical landscape with endless diversity and intrigue. Well beyond the lush bustle of Bariloche to the north but shy of the harsh,

By Kyle Kolodziejski almost uninhabited steppe typical of the Santa Cruz province to the south, this region of Chubut seemed a mature mix of everything one could want. We were well past where the good roads ended and just outside a tiny border town where the outermost tendrils of rangeland blended into native bush and steep scree-faced peaks. There were countless lakes, rivers and streams and they were virtually ours and ours alone. To those familiar, this region is called Rio Pico and took its name from Octavio Pico who helped engineer the border lines between Chile and Argentina in 1881. It is appropriate that this unique region was named after him and equally appropriate that he was Argentine: drawing the border to deviate from the Pacific/Atlantic divide model and designating the upper 25 miles of the glorious spring-fed, west-flowing Rio Pico as Argentine. It is a remarkable region nestled east of the Andes’ highest peaks where fertile lake systems and multiple spring creeks coalesce into an intimate and iconic South American trout stream, which ultimately slips west across the border into Chile and on to the Pacific.

The Fisheries When it comes to available water types, fishing styles and trout species, Las Pampas Lodge may be unbeatable. With a multitude of spring creeks, small to medium-size freestone rivers, and trophy still waters as well as a mix of rainbow, brown, and brook trout all within a relatively small radius, anglers are


LAS PAMPAS LODGE presented with far more options than they could experience in a two or even three-week stay. This provides anglers the opportunity to sample multiple different types of water during their stay or concentrate solely on those they most prefer. Generally speaking, rainbow trout make up the quantity of one’s catch with brown trout providing the size. Highlights of some of the key systems follow.

guests to both blind cast and sight cast large dry flies towards the banks. While many northern hemisphere anglers immediately dismiss the thought of lake fishing, we feel it remiss to visit this region without giving it a go. Not only do these lakes produce the region’s largest fish but they also can provide very exciting fishing complete with crushing top-water takes and memorable sight fishing opportunities.

The Rivers: The Rio Pico begins as a small willow-lined Trophy Brook Trout Program: In late March spring creek and grows quickly as additional spring creeks and and April some very specific waters in the Las Pampas lineup small freestone rivers add to its volume. These upper reaches mature and offer visiting anglers a unique chance to target some are accessed very easily by Las Pampas Lodge. As the river of the world’s largest brook trout. During the majority of flows westward, the Pico breaks into multiple channels the season these monster brookies inhabit a number of key that flow swiftly through open pasturelands. Below lakes where they are hard to catch, but in the Austral the channels the Pico is joined by two small freestones, Fall they migrate up a number of key rivers includfirst by the Rio Pampas and further downstream by ing the Rio Corcovado where they become easier to Fat A l b er t the Rio Nilson. The next ten miles of the Pico offer target. These systems are hard to reach and the subject abundant and sometimes large rainbows and fewer but larger of the Patagonia clothing companies upcoming films in which the browns that can surpass the 27-inch mark. Although these guides at Las Pampas take Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard sections of the river are public, they are very hard to access, on an expedition in search of the elusive ten-pound brook trout. requiring two things that Las Pampas has: permission from For anglers serious about big brook trout we recommend booking local landowners and keys to locked gates! All in all, the Pico this special extension trip onto a standard lodge stay. offers more than 25 miles of water, endless wade fishing opportunities and five distinct floats before crossing into Chile Fishing Program on its way west through the Andes. One of the most unique elements of the Las Pampas fishing In addition to the much-touted Rio Pico, Las Pampas experience is that every pair of anglers is assigned a guide and Lodge fishes two additional systems, the Rio Pampas and Rio assistant guide each day. At first this might seem overkill but Nilson. These can best be described as medium-sized freestone once the truck pulls up to the first of many gates en route rivers where anglers typically see steady action sight casting to to the fishing grounds it becomes very apparent how much rainbows and browns in the 10 to 20-inch class. Both streams this subtle difference enhances the experience of every angler. offer miles of fantastic walk and wade opportunities. Outside of being the official gate-opener and closer, the assisSpring Creeks: The Rio Pico watershed is home to nearly tant guide is constantly busy in the background and takes care a dozen spring creeks, all of which ultimately feed into the Pico. of the initial setup of client rods, prepares rafts, runs shuttles, Varying greatly in size, length, depth and current speed, each creek and prepares lunch so the main guide can focus on the guests presents its own unique set of angling challenges. For lovers of and creating the best possible experience on the water. small and at times technical waters, these often-overlooked gems Their enthusiastic and passionate guides are the best in have a great deal to offer. Most of these intimate spring creeks the area, and for good reason: they are real locals and they hold surprising numbers of good-sized rainbows and browns that spend the entire 180-day season fishing the Rio Pico region. are all too willing to rise to a well-presented dry fly. With that many days on the water these guys know where Stillwaters: Despite the wide array of river and stream and when to find the best fishing. Typically anglers and guides fishing options, the Rio Pico area is best known to locals for a leave the lodge in the morning in well-equipped 4x4 trucks series of five highly productive lakes scattered throughout the and spend the majority of their drive time on rough, unimregion’s rugged hills. Though each lake has its own nuances, proved backroads that are interesting and adventuresome in they all share similar shorelines dominated by rocky outcroptheir own right. This well-choreographed fishing program depings and thick vegetation. Typically the Las Pampas guides livers a level of customer service and genuine adventure that puts will row their anglers just off the shorelines enabling their Las Pampas in a class by itself.

“Its unique location, welcoming staff-driven atmosphere and its highly diverse multi-species trout fishing program combine to make this a Patagonian classic that is extremely hard to beat.”


Top: A large brown trout; a tasteful guest room; releasing a large brook trout. Middle: Rafting a secluded reach of the upper Rio Pico. Bottom: Images from after hours at the main lodge. Photos: Bryan Gregson


LAS PAMPAS LODGE

“The best aspect of Las Pampas Lodge, other than the superb fishing, is the egalitarian atmosphere at the lodge, where the guides, staff and clients are all part of the family” - Yvon Chouinard, Founder and Owner of Patagonia

Methods: Las Pampas guides are dry fly junkies. They push share it with their guests. At the time of this writing in 2016, Las beyond the boundaries of what most dry fly enthusiasts would Pampas is in its fifth season of operation and the lion’s share of consider optimal top-water conditions. They challenge their Oggy’s 100% local Argentine crew have been with him since day anglers to stick to their guns and use dries at times when most one — something that speaks strongly to what has been created north Americans would back down and switch to subsurface in this special part of Patagonia. techniques. Best of all, they make it work. Despite their strong tendencies to focus on head hunting for rising fish, when The Lodge Experience conditions dictate, they happily switch into their signature “we Las Pampas Lodge is a beautiful European-style log and stone do what we gotta do” mode and approach the water with dry/ structure featuring a main common area with a guest lounge, dropper, nymph, or streamer rigs to get their clients into fish. dining room, and bar which is flanked by four spacious The appropriate gear to most successfully fish the Rio double occupancy guest rooms, all with private baths. Each Pico area is simple and familiar. If you could only bring one guest room opens onto a cobblestone veranda overlooking the rod, a 6-weight rigged with a floating line is without doubt the surrounding mountainous landscape. The inviting main room best all-around option. However, 4 and 5-weight rods have has a central fireplace surrounded by a semicircle of plush their place on some of the smaller spring creeks and when the built-in lounge chairs where guests can gather each evening wind blows hard or when casting sink tips with weighted for cocktails and share their daily adventures. Generally streamers, a 7-weight is nice to have on hand. Another speaking, the lodge has every amenity you’d expect from a unique feature and highlight about Las Pampas Lodge classic trout lodge without being too over-the-top. is that the guides provide all terminal tackle including The cuisine at Las Pampas Lodge is best described leaders, tippets, and flies. No more filling your boxes as gourmet farm-to-table cuisine. Their head chef, a with often-unneeded fly patterns or worrying about graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, is passionate about the how old your tippet is, Las Pampas has you covered. In food he prepares and uses only the freshest local and orMartin’s words, “this way we know every angler has the ganic ingredients. Many of the vegetables are grown El k Hair right stuff for every fishing situation we put them in.” by the community in the nearby town and sold to Cad d is Should you want to fish your own flies, a diverse selecraise funds for the local school. Eduardo, the lodge’s tion of large foam terrestrials along with an assortment of classic full-time caretaker and cameo breakfast cook, collects fresh western dries, nymphs, and streamers will serve you well. eggs daily and prepares fresh cuts of chicken, lamb, and beef from the free-range livestock that roam the property. Local Lodge Culture Breakfast is a standard yet filling meal featuring madeIn addition to stellar fishing, the entire Las Pampas experience to-order eggs, toast, bacon, fruit, coffee, tea, and juice. is infused with a special and incredibly appealing vibe. The staff Lunch is served streamside by your guides and commonly calls this soulful, inclusive, yerba-mate-fueled way of being “Las includes homemade gourmet dishes, salads, beverages, and Pampas Style.” In my eyes, this character-rich friendliness gives desserts. Dinner is served late evening in traditional ArgenLas Pampas Lodge the “it” factor that puts their lodge experience tine fashion and the typical menu is comprised of inspired in a class by itself. They create a relaxed and welcoming atmochoices that range from fresh lamb and vegetarian dishes to sphere that makes every guest feel at home and part of a larger, thick-cut steaks and chops, all of which are paired with local fun-loving family. Argentine wines. With a trusted dream-team at his side, it comes as no surprise All in all, Las Pampas is a truly remarkable place and one that lodge co-owner and general manager Agustin “Oggy” Fox is that I feel fortunate to represent. From its location way out at grateful to have such a fine crew of dedicated individuals to work the end of the road, to its spectacular mountainous backdrop, with. They possess a natural team chemistry that enables them to to the depth and diversity of its fishing program, few places consistently deliver more than just a good day of fishing. It doesn’t can claim all that it offers. Add to that a dedicated, friendly take long after meeting the guides and staff to realize the depth and inclusive local staff, and it comes as no surprise that Las and sincerity of their passion for the region and their eagerness to Pampas Lodge captures the true essence of Patagonia.


Clockwise from left: One for the region’s five spectacular trophy lakes; author and Fly Water’s South American specialist Kyle Kolodziejski with a typical brown; the moment of truth on the upper braids of Rio Pico; the warm rustic fireplace at Las Pampas Lodge. Photos: Bryan Gregson & Kyle Kolodziejsk

Notes

Travel: Anglers typically overnight in Buenos Aires on Friday, fly to Esquel in the afternoon on Saturday, then transfer by truck to the lodge. Season: November-May Capacity: Eight anglers Essential Tackle: A favorite 6-weight rod with weight forward floating line. Top Flies: Caddis, mayflies, and foam attractor patterns with rubber legs are the go-to dries, red and silver copper johns are staples for nymphing, and assorted dark-colored weighted woolly bugger patterns with rubber legs are a good choice for streamer fishing. 2016 Rate: $5,000 per person for 7 night/6 day package, based on double occupancy.

Las Pampas Lodge  

The Essence Of Patagonia

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