Limay River Giants – Hunting for “El Uno” in the Heart of Patagonia

Limay River Giants – Hunting for “El Uno” in the Heart of Patagonia

Everything about the Rio Limay is big.  It is born at the outlet of the massive (Surface Area = 205 sq. miles; Max Depth = 1,522 ft), glacially carved Lago Nahuel Huapi at the base of the Andes, emerging crystal clear and powerful, and regularly flowing between 3,000 and 5,000 cfs in the Fall.  The Upper Limay is one of the most scenic rivers in Argentina, confined between willow lined banks that glow gold in Autumn, with classic riffles, beautiful runs, and clear pools as deep as 30 feet!  Downstream, the river is captured by two consecutive and massive reservoirs developed for power generation, and takes on the flows of tributaries legendary in their own right among fly anglers – the Rio Traful, and Rio Collon Cura (which is formed by the Rios Chimehuin, Malleo, and Alumine).  Below the second dam, the Middle Limay, as it is known, is simply massive – the main channel is typically around 500 feet wide, and with its many side channels and islands, the overall width is nearly a mile in places.  The surroundings are arid and vast – the Patagonian Steppe.  It is South America’s Big Sky Country!  Flows in the Fall typically run between 5,000 and 10,000 cfs, with power generation pulses occasionally bumping flows as high as 20,000 cfs or more.  Because of the dams influence, however, the river remains crystal clear and fishable even at those massive flows… if you know where to look for the fish.

The setting is vast and spectacular, but what makes the Limay absolutely unique are the races of giant, migratory brown trout that live there.  In most places, a 5, 6, or even 8 pound brown would be considered a true trophy.  But on the Limay, thanks to a combination of interconnected lake, reservoir, and river habitats, and the presence of pejerrey baitfish and pancora crabs in huge numbers, a fish over 10 pounds is considered very large, with individuals pushing 15 pounds considered true trophies. Simply put, there are few rivers in the world like the Limay.  People often think the photos they see of Limay browns have come from the Rio Grande in Tierra Del Fuego, which is home to some of the largest sea run brown trout in the world.  But the fish of the Limay spend their entire lives in fresh water.  We have been fishing, exploring, and guiding anglers on the Limay for over 15 years and we continue to be blown away by the massive brown trout that come out of the river. Fall in Patagonia (April and May) are the prime months to fish the migratory run.

For many years the Limay simply wasn’t talked about.  Local guides selfishly kept it quiet.  It was the place they went to fish and unwind after a long season behind the oars. Where they went for a shot at the fish known as “El Uno”, or “The One”. The fish of dreams.  Over the years, word of this fishery has gotten out, and today the Limay is no secret, but there are still very few anglers and guides who really understand how to target its largest migratory fish.  Justin was among a small group of Argentine guides who devoted weeks every fall to cracking the code on the Limay.  By thinking outside the box, bringing in new types of gear including modern fly lines and fly tying techniques, and truly studying the migratory habits of these amazing fish, they began to unravel a few patterns.  “Lucky catches” slowly became more common over time.  More than a decade of experimentation later, Justin and our team of guides in Argentina now feel that they truly understand what it takes to give visiting anglers a legitimate chance at hooking and landing  a double-digit fish.

This is streamer fishing to the max.  Boats are critical to the approach on much of the river, offering transportation as well as aiding in the presentation of flies in the best holding water.  We generally fish seven or eight weight rods with 250-350 grain, super fast sinking lines for presenting the truly large streamers that move these big fish.  In many ways, the angling approach is more similar to saltwater fishing than classic trout fishing.  Long days and lots of long casts, sometimes in difficult conditions, are what it takes when looking for “El Uno”.  But landing the fish of a lifetime is not just a matter of luck and time.  Your chances greatly increase by investing your efforts intelligently, by fishing the right methods and flies in the very specific areas of the river that these migratory giants congregate.  If you have ever tried steelhead fishing and like its mental and physical challenges, you will love the pursuit of migratory trophies on the Limay!

We are super excited to offer guided trips on the Limay to those who love chasing trophy browns on big streamers.  This is not an all inclusive lodge trip, as there are no lodges that are located in the right location to fish the specific sections of the river where we find larger concentrations of trophy fish.  Rather, we arrange lodging at a variety of small local hotels and cabins, and eat at local restaurants, which allows us the best opportunity to be on the best water at the right times.  In other words, the fish dictate everything about this trip.  We are currently booking limited slots for the Fall 2020 (Late April – May) season.  If this sounds like an experience for you, please contact Justin Spence for more information and details at jspence@bigskyanglers.com or call the flyshop at 406-646-7801.

Exmouth, Western Australia Trip Report

Exmouth, Western Australia Trip Report

Exmouth, Western Australia:  The final stop on the adventure that my good friend Dan Vogel and I shared this winter.

The two incredible weeks fishing with Jono Shales of Exmouth Fly Fishing, not only taught us a lot about saltwater fly fishing, but also left Dan and I wanting more. We were super excited to make it to Western Australia because of the stories that Matt shared with us about his time there. I told Jono early in our trip that Dan and I both had limited saltwater experience and that my own personal goal for the trip was to become a more complete angler. Like any type of fishing there are subtleties that one can only learn by spending lots of time on the water. It also helps to fish with people like Jono who have dedicated thousands of hours to learning these little difference makers.  

The fishery surrounding Exmouth is so diverse that it is nearly indescribable.  One day we would fish the flats and target permit, golden trevally, GTs, and bonefish.   The next day we would be offshore on the Indian Ocean chasing marlin and sailfish.  Occasionally, on our way to a flat or the blue water we would see birds busting bait fish and we would race over and cast into slashing schools of tuna, mackerel, and trevally. The diversity in Exmouth is very unique and allows us anglers to play so many different and interesting games!  Even after two weeks, Dan and I felt like we were barely scratching the surface of the fishery.

Like any top-notch guide, Jono is a great teacher and a very passionate angler. His life is built around fishing and sharing his experiences with others, and he is an absolutely gracious host and a true ambassador for Australian fly fishing. Dan and I learned more about saltwater fly fishing than we ever expected thanks to Jono.  My own expectations were exceeded as I left with a better understanding of tides and how they influence fish behavior, different types of retrieves, strong saltwater knots, how to make quick, long, accurate casts, and most importantly, how to keep calm during the chaos. I highly recommend Jono as a guide and Exmouth as a fishery. I can’t wait to make it back!

Tasmania Trip Report

Tasmania Trip Report

Dan and I just finished a week of fishing Tasmania. What a beautiful place! While staying in the little town of Miena, middle Tasmania, I felt like we were on top of the world. 

Loads of lakes and smaller rivers cover the Tasmanian landscape, making for many many fishing opportunities. Our guide, Craig Coltman, has spent a good part of his life exploring island waters. He had us fish a variety of lakes and rivers, and his intimate knowledge of the area really helped us find success through some rather adverse weather. Craig spent years fishing with the Australian Fly Fishing team and happily shared his knowledge about lake fishing with a drogue (wind anchor) and Euro Nymphing. We learned a lot about those two techniques and are excited to try drogue fishing in Montana. It can be a very effective way to fish, and something new to bring back to our home waters. 

Many of Tasmania’s lakes are shallow and offer consistent mayfly hatches making for interesting sight fishing. They use the term “sharking” to describe hunting for risers, and we spent plenty of time doing just that. 

The birds and wildlife were really great, too. We saw wedge tail eagles, little kangaroos, Tasmanian devils, and little ant eaters that looked like porcupines. The old growth forests were beautiful, making Tassy a hikers paradise. 

Now we are in Sydney for a couple of days, resting up a bit before heading to Exmouth, Western Australia to fish the saltwater. 

All the best, Justin 

South Island New Zealand Trip Report

South Island New Zealand Trip Report

I have wanted to fish New Zealand for a long time. It was one of those places on my list, if you know what I mean. I have heard stories about the beautiful brown and rainbow trout, the crystal clear rivers, big mountains, and friendly people. This last week on the South Island exceeded all of my expectations.

South Island New Zealand was the first stop in an incredible adventure that my good friend Dan Vogel and I are still in the middle of. We arrived via air to Queenstown, and took the bus up to Cromwell where we met up with our guide, Ronan Creane of Ronan’s Fishing Missions, for a week long road trip. Ronan grew up in Ireland fishing for sea trout, Atlantic salmon, and trout in rivers and lakes. In 2002 he started exploring New Zealand trout rivers and today he is a full time fishing guide on the South Island. I have always felt that the guide makes the difference between a good and a great trip and Ronan was phenomenal, getting us on the fish, arranging a number of critical local details, and also making us feel right at home. He certainly made the trip very special for Dan and me.

In a week of fishing, we only scratched the surface of fishing in New Zealand, but we did get to sample a wide variety of waters. We fished lakes, backwaters, spring creeks, and rivers. We did a lot of sight fishing, which NZ is known for, but did some blind casting too. We took fish on dries, nymphs, and streamers. All of these techniques proved to work in certain situations.

I have always loved walking and looking for targets (fish) and NZ offers a ton of this type of water. We fished both backcountry waters and more road accessible places as well. It turns out that not every fishery is a 10 mile hike, and Ronan shared with us a few “secrets” that were hidden in plain sight, allowing us to spend a lot of time fishing on days where walking into spots wasn’t the order of business. We also were treated to a couple of helicopter rides deep into the wilderness, which was a new experience for Dan and I.

Something that really stood out was that big fish were willing to hold in very visible places, completely exposed. Matt, who fished NZ a few years ago, had “warned” me of this, but it still came as a bit of a surprise. The first time I saw a 5-pound brown trout sitting in a foot of crystal clear water over sand, on a sunny day, swinging gently to pick off drifting nymphs, I had to readjust my entire way of thinking about trout. The lack of predators in New Zealand means very large trout will be very comfortable holding out in the open. This is important for anglers to know because it helps you understand where to look as you scan the water for a target. In Montana and Argentina birds of prey like osprey, king fishers, eagles make large fish take much different lies.

The fish, brown and rainbow trout, were gorgeous and very well conditioned – spectacular, really. I was very impressed by the average size. Trout from 3-6 pounds and 20-24 inches are what we saw during our trip. There are certainly larger (and smaller) fish about, as well. I will definitely visit New Zealand again as it is a beautifully unique place to fish for trout.

For those interested in doing a road trip that takes you to mountain rivers and lakes with a very fishy competent guide I highly recommend you contact Ronan, or give us a shoult and we’d be happy to get you in touch with him and help you sort out the details of a trip to the South Island!

Best,

Justin

PS – It turns out that fly fishing is indeed a small world. Over a decade ago I met some guys named Paul Arden, founder of Sexyloops.com, and Stu Tripney, of Stu’s flies. They were in West Yellowstone hanging out and fishing and they were the ones that first told me stories about New Zealand and its fish, and planted the seed in my brain to go there one day. Finding myself all these years later hanging out with Ronan, who it turns out is a close friend of theirs, was a real surprise, and goes to show you that some trips are just meant to be. As we talked, it became more and more clear that there was a great community connection that centered around Sexyloops.com that was bringing together some incredibly fishy and wonderful people. BSA’s own Matt Klara has been a contributor on Sexyloops over the last 12 years, alongside, you guessed it, Ronan.

BC Steelhead – Fall 2019 Opportunities

BC Steelhead – Fall 2019 Opportunities

Hi folks.  As you may know, I’ve been travelling to BC to steelhead fish and hosting trips for a number of years now.  Without questions, BC is one of my favorite destinations.  A unique place with wild rivers, big wild fish, and wonderful people and accommodations.  I just got word from a couple of lodges about open dates for fall 2019.  This past season was one for the record books, so most of the 2019 dates filled up immediately with return visitors.  That said, there are still some openings available on the Sustut and Bulkley Rivers, but we expect them to fill up fast.  If you have any interest in BC steelhead, feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email, and I’d be happy to discuss these and other opportunities with you.

Justin

jspence@bigskyanglers.com

 

Steelhead Valhalla Lodge – Sustut River
  • October 14-21: Two boats, Six rods, 6 days guided fishing on Sustut. Price $7300 per rod.
Trout Creek Lodge  – Bulkey River
  • Aug 24-Sept 1: One boat, fishing two per boat, 7 guided days fishing, Price $8300 per rod.
  • Oct 20-27: One boat, Three rods, 6 guided days fishing. Price $7100 per rod.
  • Oct 27-Nov2: One boat, Three rods, 6 guided days fishing. Price $7100 per rod.