Overnight, we went from fishing smallish size 10-12 patterns on floating and intermediate lines to fishing large 3-or-more-inch-long, dark colored string leeches on fast sinking lines. Seeing the river change in such a short time reminded me of the importance of being prepared with a variety of rods, lines, and flies in TDF. The single handed and switch rods that we used earlier in the week were the wrong choice for casting the larger flies and heavy lines required to fish the river swollen with melt water.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call the flyshop at 406-646-7801.
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!