Chris Batterham reports on his recent trip to Tierra Del Fuego
By Charlie White
After the success of my first trip to the Rio Grande in Tierra Del Fuego last year it was not a difficult decision to sign up for a repeat visit on the same week...
The party duly assembled at Heathrow on Thursday evening 26th Jan with high expectations. The party was the same as last year: David, his daughter Karen and her husband John, Richard, Me and a new addition, Mike. John, my fishing companion from the US last year had decided to give it a miss this time and we were given first option of finding a rod to fill the vacancy. As it would be my fishing companion I was particularly pleased when Mike, a good friend from Yorkshire, signed up for the trip. Mike had been to Argentina before on a couple of occasions on a different river and was due to go last year until prevented by a very serious illness so he was very keen to give the Rio Grande a try. We have fished together before, always enjoyable experiences, and as Mike pointed out I’ve usually been a lucky companion for him – notably when landing a beautiful 21lb spring salmon on the Lees a couple of years ago.
Reports from the river were good although the water was much lower this year. Talk soon moved on to flies and with Mike, John and Richard being keen fly tiers stories were swapped of this year's new flies – Richard being particularly keen on his ‘articulated special’.
The journey out to Buenos Aires was uneventful. On Friday we had a pleasant lunch and then a long walk round the city culminating in a visit to the Japanese garden with its monster Koi carp. We tried a new restaurant for dinner, Las Lilas, a magnificent steakhouse in the reclaimed dockland district. The steaks were spectacular, particularly the house steak – a huge rib eye on the bone and it was great to be sat outside in the warmth after the recent UK weather. As we sat down Mike ordered another beer alongside our order of a very nice Malbec magnum. He then chased it up when it hadn’t appeared and was told it was on its way. The bottle of Stella duly appeared in its own wine cooler! It was proudly placed next to Mike, half was poured and the remainder returned to the cooler. I believe Mike will be suggesting the idea to Ralph next time he visits the Ednam.
On Saturday we opted for the later flight to Ushia rather than the 4.15am start for the Rio Grande flight and therefore had a very scenic 3 hour drive through the mountains – sweeping empty roads which would be fantastic in a sports car providing you knew where the odd pot hole was.
Villa Maria Behety had not changed and the guides were the same as before Jorge, Red, and Fredricco - a great team and incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. The food if anything was better than the previous year and the wines from Alexandros’ cellar were also tremendous.
Mike and I started with 2 days with Jorge, the head guide. The previous year it always seemed the Jorge had the better of the pools being fished and the team with him (each pair has 2 days with each guide) caught more fish so we started with high hopes. It soon became clear that the water was much lower this year than last - probably 18 inches to 2 feet lower and very clear so in some cases pools were shorter and with the fish showing in slower water more effort needed to go into moving the fly. Last year I had seen few fish moving but this time on several days we saw fish almost continuously. Having tried my favoured green chartreuse tube to no avail I ran the changes before putting on a small prince nymph at Jorge’s suggestion. I soon had a fish on which took off downstream at great speed. As my backing disappeared I cranked up the clutch and put a huge bend in the rod which surprised Mike behind me. I finally stopped the fish and it then became clear that it was hooked near the tail resulting in an arm aching fight before a very fresh 12lb fish was safely released. Half an hour later another ‘take‘ resulted in a 15lb fish this time hooked in the head. I changed the fly but still have difficulty in understanding how such fish could hook themselves on such a tiny single hooked nymph fished so slowly unless they moved to the fly in some way. Mike blanked and with 3 fish from the other 4 rods it was a slow morning.
In the evening Mike broke his duck with 2 fish on a sunray shadow as dusk fell, Karen and John had 3 fish between them and the rest of us blanked, so a tough day.
Monday morning continued in a similar vein with 2 fish for the group but including a lovely 20lb fish to John on his acclaimed Bow River Bugger. In the evening a few more fish were landed notably by David who after a quiet start landed 7 to 10lbs. Richard fishing with him and using identical tackle bar his running line managed 1 – that’s fishing.
On Tuesday we had Red as our guide and started on Julia’s, a lovely long pool with a good flow. Mike started at the bottom and I was at the top. Mike landed 3 good fish including a 20lber and then went in above me and landed another. After 4 blank sessions I was beginning to get suicidal as I’d not even had a touch. As I got to the bottom of the pool there were plenty of fish showing and a change to a heavier tip and the green tube brought 2 fish in 3 casts including a very hard fighting 16lb hen – finally!! I landed 1 more and Mike finished with 6 so a great morning. Karen also had a brilliant morning on Antonia’s landing 4 fish averaging 18lbs including fish of 20lbs and 21lbs. In the afternoon she went on to land another 20lb fish, where else in the world would that be possible. Whilst Karen had been top rod in 2011 she had not landed a 20lb fish so in one day mission accomplished 3 times over!! Richard also had a very good evening with 4 fish averaging over 15lbs.
As always these trips are not just about fishing. We had some very entertaining tales told over lunch and dinner. It’s clear that there are missed vocations amongst the group. Karen and Richard should be making guest appearances as judges on ‘What not to Wear’ specialising in ladies in tight trousers and students shoes respectively and a one hour special ‘Adventures with a chain saw’ starring Mike would be a huge hit on Dave.
We also had a reprise of our previous conversation on the merits of seaguar versus maxima – this time we were all, with the exception of ‘Orvis super strong’ John, on maxima although there was some debate as to whether the chameleon was too dark for the very clear water. This led on to a conversation about testing lines and drag and tying up dogs and children in the garden and ‘playing’ them and testing drags. Mike then told us about a new boat rod he acquired a few years ago. He was keen to see how it might perform under load so fixed up his multiplier and line. Looking round for something suitable to attach to he spotted the coal scuttle on the lounge hearth with a handy looking 30lbs plus of coal in it. The line attached he duly achieved a satisfying levitation off the scuttle with an impressive bend in the rod. There was then a loud crack which brought Trica, his wife, running into the room. Coal lay over the carpet and Mike was covered in plaster dust from the hole in the ceiling caused by the rod tip which was now minus the end ring!!
After a couple of whiskies (Monkey Shoulder highly recommended) we retired to bed leaving Mike and Richard tying a fly. Their session resulted in the whisky E M B nymph – a rather injured looking version of the original with legs of varying lengths going in multiple directions – not surprisingly it took them until 3.30am to produce and they were not looking their best next morning; however the fly duly caught fish!
We had been warned that there would be stronger winds on Wednesday and the predictions were correct. It was cold and we were battered by winds of 70 to 90 kmph. After a couple of hours we recrossed the river to Red’s car for coffee and a break. We were close to the spot were I caught my 20lb fish the previous year and I suggested to Red I had a cast. He said despite the waves there was little current but try if I wanted to. I waded over and cast. The line barely moved as Red had predicted. I was reeling in and wading back when Mike and Red went in below me and Mike promptly hooked a fish on his favoured Sunray shadow. Typical of my luck - he thought I’d make a good guide. He called me in and I also landed a fish- a satisfying end to a hard morning. The evening was similar and after a fish second cast I connected with nothing else whilst Mike landed fish of 14 and 15lbs, memorable in the conditions.
On Thursday morning we went upriver and fished a pool on each of beats 3, 4, 5 and 6. The river is very different up there and very pretty. Mike landed 1 but despite not catching I really enjoyed the morning. At one point our new guide Freddy said ‘you’re fishing with confidence’ and its true with the line fizzing out on a double spey and a favourable wind it was very enjoyable. It was an interesting comment from Freddie, a psychologist, and something I will return to later.
After lunch David was persuaded to the fly tying bench and used John’s very nice CFD travel Fly Tying kit. He duly produced his own version of the whisky EMB, totally on his own, – his first ever fly and promptly caught his first fish on it within a few casts and exclaimed loudly "it works!!", he went on to catch 5 with it!
That evening we fished Antonia’s, a pool discovered by Freddie and named after his daughter, and where Karen had caught her 4 nice fish earlier in the week. Freddie explained there was one real hotspot and after catching a fish we should alternate. I had first go standing on a promontory some 12 feet above the river, casting across. My favoured tube was soon taken by a 13lb very fresh fish below me and safely landed. It was then Mike's turn. I went down river and promptly had the tube taken first cast but failed to connect. We were fishing close together and the banter grew into a friendly rivalry, Man United versus Leeds. Mikes first fish was a beautiful deep fish that we were certain was a 20 but weighed in at 18. We continued fish for fish until Mike lost one and Man Utd moved into what looked like an unassailable 2 goal lead. When I was back in the hotspot after a couple of casts Freddie suggested a change to a tiny green nymph that he had been given by the camp manager of the upper camp. As I was about to cast it I looked down and noticed a green line below my feet disappearing down stream. Before I even had time to speak ‘poacher’ Mike 30 yards upstream, who had been feeding out line at the end of his cast, lifted into a fish and ran down past me. He was duly ‘rewarded’ after a strong fight when the fish came off!
After another fish each I then had a tremendous take on a large black fly and a large fish immediately jumped high out the water. After a further 5 jumps it was close to the bank but then took off downstream with me following and at one point falling over. I finally landed a magnificent 21lb hen well downstream - my biggest sea trout. Mike had also been busy and it looked like a 4 all draw. However as he landed his last fish Freddie declared 2 last casts of ‘fergie time’. I had a violent take in the darkness on my last cast to complete a magnificent evening and an unexpected and memorable 5-4 win for Man Utd!
It had been a relatively ‘quiet’ evening with a more gentle breeze downstream. On returning to the Villa Karen said she could hear everything despite being more than half a mile downstream and what was all the cheering and laughter about! A memorable night and 4 big fish for the book.
On our last day we all caught fish including Karen who after her earlier big day had suffered a number of blanks. The Bow river bugger came up trumps again for John who succeeded in landing a fish on each of his 4 rods.
We had drinks and pizza with the guides and the fishing records were distributed. We had 100 fish for the week, 30 over 15lbs and David finished as top rod with newcomer Mike 1 behind. Mike caught most of his fish on a Sunray, David on an EMB nymph and John on his Bow River bugger. Very different flies. Clearly we probably all fish our favoured fly more often but do we fish it ‘with confidence’ as Freddie had observed and does that make a difference? I suspect it does.
We bade farewell and returned to Buenos Aires and returned to the Tango Rojo show on Saturday evening. The dancers are magnificent, many the same from the previous year, and I have great admiration for the way they can put in such great performances day after day. I have a good friend who is a cousin of Sir Ian McKellan. After a memorable performance of King Lear I was lucky enough to meet him backstage and asked him how he could perform to such a level night after night. He said each time he learnt something new about Shakespeare. Like the tango dancers who want to deliver a perfect performance we seek to find that perfect cast each time, whatever the conditions, and sometimes succeed - then it looks like we are fishing with confidence.
Despite the best efforts of the Air France strikers we returned home on time. We had a great crew on the flight to Paris, most amused by Mike’s ability to freeze his film on the only nipple shot in each of the films he watched as the meal was being served.
Another brilliant trip made by the quality of the fishing, the Villa, the brilliantly helpful guides and a great group of fishing companions. Particular thanks to David our party leader and Mike my fishing companion – we had so many laughs.
Things to remember
It gets very cold
River can be very different heights therefore flies of all sizes
Fishing bag free on local flight
Only 2 bags on Air France flight
Beviam Cavas del 23 Syrah 2006
Callia alta Syrah 2005
Ruca Malem Malbec 2006