My wife, Barbara, and I first discovered Patagonia in 1976 when, in our mid-20s, we spent six months traveling there. We'd just completed our two-year Peace Corps service in Guatemala and decided to explore South America. We hiked national parks in Chile and Argentina that had wild, pristine rivers but never fished any of them.
In 2005, 29 years later, we returned to Argentina and discovered the wonder of fly-fishing rivers in northern Patagonia. For the next three years, we returned to the province of Neuquen, each time with one of our adult sons, and fly-fished various rivers with exotic names like the Chimehuin, Malleo, Calfiquitra, Collon Cura and Quillen.
This year was different; it was the year of the ladies. My daughter, Trina, joined me and Barb to fish the Rio Rivadavia, a legendary, blue-ribbon fishery of wild brown and rainbow trout in the province of Chubut in central Patagonia. We spent three days floating this enchanted river and camping under the stars.
Our guides told us the Rivadavia was the most beautiful river in Argentina. The river is only four miles long, flowing from Lago Rivadavia to Lago Verde in Los Alerces National Park, but it is a world apart: a river from the Jurassic period. Its turquoise waters flow along banks that rise steeply, covered with emerald-green primordial ferns and giant coihue trees. Exotic cries from unseen birds pierce the forest, and the atmosphere is mysterious and haunting.
My skin tingled as we floated toward the first riffle. I expected to see the head and long neck of a brontosaurus poke through the tree line.
The trout are all wild and average from 18 to 22 inches, and there were hundreds of them in the gravel bars feeding on tiny nymphs. The water was so clear we had to use lightweight 6X tippets and delicate presentations.
After several casts, I hooked up, and the trout immediately made a screaming run toward deeper water and the main current, where it rocketed out of the water like a missile, twisting and turning. My heart was in my throat, my aorta was pumping like a jackhammer and adrenalin was coursing through my veins like an electric current. The fish fought like a wounded cougar, making several more runs and acrobatic jumps, constantly shaking his head in an effort to dislodge the fly. After an epic battle I finally landed a magnificent, fat, 20-inch rainbow and then released him back into his native habitat.
Barb and Trina were a short distance away, and they had the cutest cries of delight when they hooked up. I'd hear a euphoric whoop and glance downstream to see their rods bent over in parabolic curves. Women fly anglers are a rarity in Argentina, and our guides had never had a mother-daughter duo as clients before. It blew their minds that Barb and Trina were accomplished at the art.
Later that afternoon, floating along the bank, Barb surprised our guide, Roberto, by making a clutch cast with a dry fly under an overhanging branch, where a huge rainbow savagely devoured her fly. She played the fish perfectly, steering him away from the logs underwater and gradually bringing him to the raft.
Trina was floating with me and went tit for tat with her mother. She drifted a nymph through a seam at the edge of a riffle and suddenly shrieked with glee as a large brown blasted out of the water, after swallowing the fly, and took off on a blistering run downriver. She kept her cool and let the fish run, then finessed him up to the net.
Perhaps the most astounding aspect of our floats was that we had this magical river all to ourselves two out of the three days, even though it was midsummer in the Southern Hemisphere.
At night, sitting around the campfire, drinking Argentina's famous malbec wine, we'd converse in Spanish for hours with our guides about the similarities and differences between Argentina and the United States. We discussed food, music, politics, history, customs and traditions; they were a fountain of knowledge, and it was a very informative and fascinating cultural exchange.
Happiness is having a wife and daughter who love fly fishing. Sharing this passion with them in the wilds of Patagonia was a dream come true.