Trout Bum Rio Pico
The sign over the dining table read ” No news, No Politics, No we’re not kidding” !! I had just traveled 5600 miles from Upstate NY to Rio Pico , Argentina to read those words that would help filter my thoughts for the next 10 days. I had finally arrived at a place where you can breathe out all the garbage of everyday living and breathe in the quiet vibe of a simpler way of life.
What brought me here? Brook Trout. Salvalinus Fontinalis . To me the most beautiful of all the trout species. I have spent a lot of time in the Adirondack Mountains fishing for Brook Trout. Mostly on remote ponds and lakes that I have selected by studying the NYS stocking lists. I started back in the 70’s after being introduced to the Moose River Plains area through a chance meeting with a fellow camper/fisherman. I immediately fell in love with the beauty of the Plains and the variety of fishing opportunities there. You can pull off the gravel road at a stream and fish or hike a few miles to more remote ponds that always produce nice sized trout. Back then I usually kept the fish I caught and cooked them up in camp or took them home to share. In those days I usually fished with garden hackle (worm) and a Lake Clear Wobbler trolled behind my canoe.
I was fortunate to find my lifetime fishing buddy Don somewhere along my travels. Don and I have spent many years hiking to those ponds in search of new trout waters. From the beginning Don was a fly fisherman. He tied his own flies and I was amazed to watch him cast and present one of his flies to a rising trout and hook and net it. Fly fishing seemed intimidating to me. Don kept urging me to try it. I bought a fly rod and reel to give it a try but always took along my spinning outfit to fall back on. Often I would use the fly rod but still troll a worm. Quite often at the end of the day Don had out fished me so I kept at it until one day I showed up with my fly rod, a box of flies and no worms. Don was grinning from ear to ear. “Finally" he said, “No more dried up worms in the bottom of my canoe.” The other concept Don introduced me to was the concept of Catch & Release fishing. Put the trout back and let them live to be caught another day. Today I am tying my own flies and what a thrill it is to catch a trout on one of your own flies and then release it. I think every fisherman goes through several stages of development in their lives, Catch Fish. Catch a lot of Fish. Catch the biggest fish. Then you may reach enlightenment. You learn it is enough to enjoy yourself in the moment, to take in the beauty of your surroundings and the chance to share it with a close friend.
Back in the 1800’s until the 1940’s or 50’s, before the ADK was indiscriminately logged of its trees for lumber and before the Midwest industrial plants spewed their pollutants into the air, the Adirondack trout would reach 6 pounds or more on a regular basis. Through deforestation and the onslaught of acid rain the native populations of trout were all but eliminated in many ADK lakes and ponds. As anyone who fishes the Adirondacks today knows, a “big" ADK Brook Trout now is anything over 12 inches. We have caught them over 18 inches and my personal best is one just over 4 pounds and 22 inches long. In the last 5 years the NYS record Brook Trout has gone from 4.5 pounds to the current 6 lbs. Things are slowly improving and I hope that in my children's lifetime they will see a return of the glory days.
So back to Rio Pico. The monster Brook Trout of Rio Pico are the same trout that were once native to the Adirondacks and Canada. The early immigrants to Argentina stocked the local rivers and lakes with the Eastern Brook trout strains in the early 1900’s. The rest is history. They thrived there. They are like Brook Trout on Steroids. With pristine waters and the lack of industrial pollution the trout reproduced naturally. The fishery was practically unknown to anyone but the locals until fairly recently. Over the last 25 years the fishing guides of North America started hearing the stories about these big trout and spent their winter seasons exploring the area. Fast forward to today and the fishing has become a Mecca for trout enthusiasts. The fishing lodges and guiding business have had a tremendous effect on the local economy . The guides today are locals that know the area well and know how to catch the Browns, Rainbows and Brook trout that populate the local waters.
My son Jay and I had been planning this trip for over a year and I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas to come. We often wondered if the day would ever arrive. We had done our research and had selected Hemispheres Unlimited run by Justin Witt as our choice of outfitters. Their "Trout Bum" package sounded perfect for our budget. It is a stripped down adventure that promised to deliver what every fisherman dreams of, Fish, Fish and More Fish. Their website touted a philosophy of less is more. Less frills and more fishing at an affordable price. We arrived to pleasant accommodations, enjoyed good and ample food and unbelievably large trout at a fraction of the cost of most other outfitters in the area. Our lodging was clean, efficient and quaint.
Karina, our resident cook, was always there whipping up some type of hearty dish. Usually eggs and toast with jam for breakfast, a packed lunch for the noon meal and a hearty meal in the evening. Chicken , pasta, pizza, steaks and hamburgers all deliciously prepared. On one night of the week a traditional Asado of butterflied lamb is cooked on an open fire by local legend and historian Paulino Arias. Paulino was instrumental in setting up the fishing opportunities and conservation plans in the Rio Pico area, He was probably the first to fly fish the local waters.
The trout of the area are all sustainable populations and no stocking takes place. The waters are crystal clear and strictly protected to ensure the quality of the fishing and longevity of the ecosystem. Our Argentine guide for the week “Rocky” really knows his stuff and has to be the most patient 29 year old I have ever met. I believe I may have set the record for putting my fly in the bushes but he never complained. Did I mention the wind gusts that would snatch your fly off the water and deliver it to the nearest tree? Honest, it wasn’t my back cast. Did I mention that it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit our first day of fishing and 4 days later we were layered in everything we had to wear because it was 45 degrees and the winds were 50 mph with 3 ft. whitecaps? Rocky worked his butt off to keep us on fish in spite of the conditions.
I have learned one thing in my life. Don’t set your expectations too high and you won’t be disappointed. The brochures and the websites for any fishing destination always lead you to believe that any novice can arrive in this paradise and with no problem at all hook into the fish of a lifetime. They tell you you’ll catch so many big fish you will be amazed, maybe get bored with it and your arm will feel like it will fall off from fighting the monsters. Justin never made any promises but he said we would not be disappointed . Well, over the next few days I caught so many large trout that I WAS amazed, I NEVER got bored with it But I thought my arm was going to fall off from casting to and fighting the monster trout of Rio Pico.
So when I tell you that I stopped counting fish on this trip somewhere around 200 it will give you an idea of the abundance of hungry trout roaming the streams and lakes here. The fishing we did was in small streams with dry flies where the Brook trout ranged from 8-22 inches to larger rivers where we caught Browns and scrappy Rainbows in the 20-22 inch size. One lake we fished produced over 20 Browns and Rainbows up to 27 inches. Another lake contained only Brook Trout that looked like footballs and one exceeded 7 lbs. They eagerly attacked large streamers. These rivers and lakes often went unnamed as did the secret flies we were given by our guide. Only with our promise to never reveal their description to any other human being would “Rocky" dole them out.
Rio Pico is located in the Chubut Province of Argentina. A flight to Buenos Aires , another 2 hour flight south to Esquel where your guide will meet you and then a 2 1/2 hour drive further south and you arrive in Rio Pico at the foothills of the Andes mountains. Rio Pico is a dusty, windy little town of maybe a few hundred people, almost as many dogs ( they are friendly ) and about a dozen little corner stores where you can find most anything you forgot to pack. A great selection of local wines, beers and some of the best fresh baked bread and pastries I have had anywhere. You are likely to see a Gaucho riding his horse down the Main Street or a vintage Ford pickup with a 1930’s Packard hood ornament. A few hundred yards down the road you can visit the graves of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid who hid out in the local hills. When you reach the outskirts of town the blacktop ends and the dirt and gravel roads stretch out for miles before you . You eat dust for 20 miles then you reach a turn off, a gate and the rockiest road you will ever drive on. In every direction there are numerous rivers, streams and lakes where the Brook Trout can reach 8-10 pounds and the Browns and Rainbows are in the same range. The fishing is Fly Fishing only and strictly catch and release. At the end of each day there are photos and stories to share with your fellow guests. Fishermen were arriving from all over the world to enjoy the adventure. We met two brothers from Denmark. They told us about the huge Char of Greenland and we made an addition to our bucket list.
Would I go back? In a heartbeat!! I just turned 70 and if the Good Lord blesses me with a few more years of good health I shall return. In the meantime you will find Don, Jay & I pouring over the stocking lists. “Look” Don exclaims. “Here’s a pond that was stocked four years ago and is only 5 miles off the beaten trail. “ Let’s check it out” "Sounds Good, When"? “I’m not getting any younger” Check out the possibilities for the trip of a lifetime at HemispheresUnlimited.com or contact the author for more information. Tight Lines everyone, Larry Trexler