There’s nothing quite like fly-fishing in Argentina. The itinerary on this trip would make Ernest Hemingway blush. Picture this: quad bike to a jungle-lined river with parrots and toucans flying above, then cast flies as big as mice to fish as big as dogs! Retire at night to a feed of tender beefsteak washed down with red Malbec beside an open fire, followed by latenight banter with mates and friendly locals. Welcome to fly-fishing in Argentina.
Most fly-fisherman are drawn to Argentina for the trout fishing, usually in Patagonia on the border of Argentina and Chile. The fish that lured me here (this time) was the golden dorado. Their trademarks are big hits, high jumps and stunning golden colours that burst out from the green jungle foliage.
GOLD IN THE NORTH
I headed over with a mixed crew of Australians and Americans. Their accents may have differed, but they had twos thing in common: they were crazy for fly-fishing and they wanted to catch a golden dorado. We landed in Salta, a beautiful city in the north featuring historic buildings and the sweet smell of charcoaled meat hanging in the air. With cold beer on tap, we had no trouble amusing ourselves on our layover before the fishing began.
I was the only one among the crew to have landed a dorado and was targeted with a steady stream of questions. “So what fly is best? How many do you think we will catch? What did you have for breakfast when you landed that big one?” I agreed to trade information for the local Salta beer and steak. Big mistake. Before too long, all my dorado secrets were sold out.
FLIES & TACKLE
Golden dorado have incredibly sharp teeth, and a very strong jaw. 20-30lb wire trace is mandatory to have any chance of landing one. 6-8 weight fly fishing rods covered both river situations. The headwaters, and smaller creeks of the Dorado River are amazing fun on a 6 weight. Next time, I might even try a 5. The Juramento has a fast flow, so we tend to fish bigger Andino Deceiver-style flies in a large range of colours. Smaller but similar patterns work well on the Dorado, along with the dry fly options of Mice, Lizard and terrestrial-style flies. You tend to hook less on the surface flies, but the visual take is worth it.
JURAMENTO RIVER BEASTS
El Tunal was our base for the first few days’ fishing. The lodging was modest, but the food was amazing. Our guides Ale (the owner) and Tom (an expat) from Juramento Fly Fishing shared stories with us wide-eyed tourists as we rigged fine wire to the fly line connected to 6 to 8 weight rods. The promise of giant, toothy golden dorado filled everyone’s dreams that night.
The Juramento, a controlled fishery, is a big river with plenty of flow, and known for some of the largest golden dorado in Argentina. It’s also an unpredictable beast. It may yield plenty of opportunities one day and then seem devoid of any life the next. Such is the challenge and appeal of golden dorado – each day is a different story.
We approached the launch point for our drift. Kurt, Garrett, Lenny and myself were panting to be let out, like racehorses in the gate before a race, while our guides were at ease, prepping the boats for another day in the office.
“Dorado love overcast days, right?” I asked, looking to the sky, knowing there wasn’t a single cloud in sight. “Juramento dorados have their own rules,” Tom smiled. I didn’t know if that was a good or bad response, but we offered up silent prayers to the fishing gods and clambered into the boats.
“Kurt, you take the front of the boat, I will ride back,” I said, as we loaded up. Ale, our guide for the day, explained the Juramento program. “The dorados will be very close to the snags, overhanging trees and fallen timber, so get as close as you can with three to four big retrieves then recast. The more casts the better.”
As the words tumbled out of his mouth the muscles in my arms twitched. I promised myself that I would cast until my arm fell off, knowing a trophy fish could appear at any time.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the fish appeared. Kurt managed to ‘trout strike’ several big fish before Ale gave him the serious talk. “Kurt, you must pull the line to strike, do not lift the rod!” My banter from the back of the boat probably didn’t help. Kurt eventually took on the advice, and not long after was rewarded with his first: a solid 10lb dinner plate of gold.
Our boat seemed to hold all the numbers from that point on. Almost every piece of likely water delivered a fish, or at least an enquiry. Lenny and Garret on the other boat weren’t getting so much attention. But Garret kept casting away and was rewarded with a mighty explosion late in the day. A series of jumps followed from the biggest golden dorado I’d ever seen.
“Ale, we need to catch up, they’ve just hooked a huge one!” I yelled. Jumping from the boat into shoulder deep water, camera in hand I was nervous for Garrett, hoping this fight would end well. He’d come so far and laid down so many casts, then hooked the fish of a lifetime – which was still connected to his fly rod.
The fish pulled hard, but Garrett remained calm, carefully following all of Tom’s directions. Tom tail-grabbed the fish and all six of us yelled in celebration. Garrett had caught his first dorado – a 30lb beast – and had a huge smile on his face. Snapping from every angle with a huge smile on my face as well, it was like I’d caught it myself. With fading light, we sat on the river’s edge to soak in the momentous occasion. After a few backslaps it was back on the boat. On the very next bend it was Lenny’s turn and, just like that, another huge dorado was added to the tally. How a day can turn. That night we drank Salta beer with gusto and gnawed on huge steaks with our chests puffed out. It was only day one and we were feeling very satisfied.
The next morning, we loaded the boats under an overcast sky. Could it possibly get any better? At the first bend, Lenny hooked into a large fish. Ten minutes later, Garret was once again bent over. These two were now unstoppable – the dorado duo! The fish fired up the whole day and everyone got amongst it. We never got sick of jumping golden dorados. I reckon the fishing gods were on our side.
DORADOS & MICE
Leading into the trip, I’d warned the group that while they’d enjoy the Juramento, they’d damn well fall in love with the Dorado! A clear-flowing mountain stream in the midst of jungle-covered mountains – with dorados up to 20lb willing to rise and eat a floating mouse fly, almost like trout – it’s paradise for the adventurous fly fisherman.
We rose early on day four, loaded the cars and made our way to the Dorado. Juramento Fly Fishing has the exclusive rights to fish the best sections of the river. The local lodge (a refurbished former school from the old logging days) provides a comfortable stay on the jungle’s edge.
I’d been waiting for this moment ever since my last visit. The Juramento is an amazing river, but it’s hard to beat the Dorado’s sight-fishing for big fish in such tight, clear water.
We navigated our way to the river on quad bikes, riding through the jungle, admiring the bird life above. The cool breeze under the jungle canopy was a welcome change to the dense heat of the first part of our trip. “Cover up guys, the bugs will love you here,” Tom warned as we set up rods by the river.
Anyone who has fished New Zealand before would be well aware of sandflies. Fortunately they’re not as bad on the Dorado. Tom, Lenny and Garrett made their way downstream, while Kurt and I joined our new guide, Jose, to explore upstream. “Kurt, this is all you mate, I’m leaving the rod here to lighten the load while I take pictures,” I said.
We caught a few and lost several more. But wading the shallow runs and watching large dorados come up to the dry flies provided plenty of great moments.
The second day started slowly. The fish had gone off the bite. We had lunch, talked the usual theories on why we’d come up doughnuts, then finally resolved to move upstream. “I’m going to stay here a little longer to take photos of flies and bugs,” I said to the guys, assuming they were in no danger of hooking anything.
Five minutes later, I heard screams of joy. Kurt had landed a stunning fish from tiny water and his well-earned excitement couldn’t be contained. The dorado switch had been flicked and that afternoon the fishing was hot! Even watching the smaller 3lb-6lb dorados rise to inspect the mouse fly was exhilarating. Often they’d reject the offering or we’d miss the strike, but it was pretty exciting fishing.
The day done, we headed back to the lodge, parrots and toucans filling the trees with a magnificent array of colours. The cool evening air as we zoomed along the forest track was a refreshing end to the day. Knowing golden dorado can sometimes be a tough fish, the group was more than happy with 52 fish landed over six days. Not to mention the array of 18 to 30-pounders. Sometimes you strike it right and this was definitely one of those times.
SAVE THE DORADO
Golden dorado is a protected species, the law not allowing any fish to be killed. However, this is hard to police. I was invited to catch golden dorado by Fish Simply. This organisation has been working with Juramento Fly Fishing to improve the systems of control and educate people on the need to conserve the fish. If you’d like to join us on our return trip next year, contact aussieflyfisher.com