Trip Report

TRIP REPORT - Fall in Argentina with El Encuentro Fly Fishing

This year, during the last week in March, I was lucky enough to travel with my amigo, and super-talented photographer, Chris Daniel to Argentina where we visited our dear friends at El Encuentro Fly Fishing for some fall fishing in Patagonia.

It was the first trip back to Argentina since the Covid Blip for both Chris and I. After a long history of working with El Encuentro, we were anxious to see old friends, re-connect with Patagonia, and check out the many improvements that Benjamin and his industrious crew had undertaken during the shut down.

We were joined by more great friends, Dale and Bobby from the Tuck Fly Shop in North Carolina, as well as Buck and Justin from Texas. Our guides for this trip were Gregory, Nikki, Roberto, and Kevin with Rolo, Leo, Seba, and Hernan handling the support staff duties. As always, El Encuentro owner, Benjamin Beale, and manager extraordinaire, Ceci Harrington were our gracious host and hostess.

The Fall Season is an exciting time to fish in Patagonia. As the days grow shorter, and the nights get cooler Patagonia’s brook trout and brown trout begin to migrate and become aggressive in anticipation of the spawning season, and rainbow trout feed actively ahead of a long cold winter. Late-March is the equivalent of late-September in the north, and just like we see in Big Sky Country, the fishing revolves around streamers and fall hatches, both of which are better when weather conditions are unsettled. Stormy weather gives migratory fish a sense of security increasing fish activity and aggressiveness. This is the time of year to embrace foul weather, and come prepared with the gear required to endure everything Patagonia can throw your way, from wind and rain, to snow and cold, and bright blue-bird sun.

We experienced a bit of everything on this trip, covered a bunch of beautiful country, reconnected with our friends in Patagonia, and experienced some terrific fishing. Follow along on a day-by-day recap of our journey and enjoy some of Chris’ beautiful images of Patagonia.

day 1

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Chris and I are met by Benjamin at the Chilean / Argentine border crossing outside the small town of Futaleufu, Chile. We just finished a terrific week in Chile fishing with Martin Pescador Lodge (Stay Tuned for another Trip Report on this adventure), and this crossing is a convenient connection being just a short 10 minute drive from the El Encuentro Lodge. 

The Argentine side of this border crossing consists simply of an old rickety gate, manually operated by a young soldier who is gruff beyond his years, a collection of dusty, quasi-official buildings, flags, and a few stray dogs.  It’s a fairly painless process, and after a short wait in line and the usual forms and stamps we are on our way down a bumpy dirt road framed by the towering Andes, heading East into the stunning Futaleufu river valley. 

We make a quick stop at El Encuentro Lodge to say hello to the gang, and catch up briefly after a few years away. Then it's on to the airport in Esquel to meet up with the rest of the group who were arriving directly from the States. The group arrives on time, and in good spirits. In short order gear is packed in the back of trucks, which were already loaded with rafts, and we are heading south through the wide open Patagonia Steppe on our way to the Brook Trout Basecamp. 

It's dark by the time we roll into camp, and the cozy main dining tent is illuminated under an overwhelming number of stars. After a quick tour of camp, gear is stashed, and we are together in the main tent enjoying a glass of Malbec in front of the fire. 

Our time at the Camp overlapped briefly with another BSA client, Stu who was in the middle of an ultimately enviable, 44 day adventure in Argentina. Stu entertained us with stories of his great fishing during the previous few days, and after a wonderful meal together, we all retired to our cozy quarters flush with excitement for the week to come. 

Day 2

Sunday March 26, 2023

Wood stoves are cracking and coffee is on before the sun begins to light up our remote corner of Patagonia giving everyone their first view of the camp in the daylight. The Brook Trout Base Camp sits at the apex of a bend in the Rio Corcovado just under 4 miles downstream from Lago Vinter. Steam is rolling off the river this morning surrounding camp on all three sides like a curtain. On the opposite side of the river, a large hillside rises gently above the camp covered in low lying desert shrubs which are just starting to show rusty orange hints of fall colors. 

After some time spent drinking coffee, and gawking at our recently unveiled surroundings we gather in the main tent. Breakfast is served, rods are rigged, and we roll out of camp for a short 5-10 minute drive to the river.

Our first day fishing at the Camp is focused on the Rio Corcovado. The "Corco" is famous for its fall run of brookies and rainbows that migrate from nearby Lago Vinter. It’s a river reminiscent of the the size and structure of the Madison in Yellowstone Park, and the fishing at this time of year (Fall) is very similar to how we fish for the browns and rainbows that migrate out of Hebgen Lake into the Madison. The biggest difference in Patagonia, aside from the mind-blowing surroundings, is the opportunity to catch truly large Brook Trout. 

Just like at home on the Madison in the Park, these migratory fish love to eat streamers, and Chris and I are anxious to swing for these fish with two-handed Trout Spey rods. Water levels are naturally low by this point in the season, but this year saw lower than normal levels, which restricts our Spey sessions to all but the largest runs. Nevertheless, we have plenty of water to fish, and find success by covering a run initially with a skated dry fly, and then following through with a streamer. Stripping streamers with single-hand rods is the move in more compact runs, with everyone in the group finding some beautiful fish. 

We brake for lunch at mid-day, return to camp, shed waders, and relax in the sun. Fishing is best for these migratory fish when light levels are low - skuzzy weather days, or mornings and evenings on sunny days. So, we take some time to soak up the Patagonia sun, and re-group before another session later in the afternoon and evening when light levels are lower. Cool, cloudy weather may be preferred for fishing during the fall, but no one is complaining about dining alfresco in 65 degree sunny weather, especially after the morning of great fishing we just had. 

Our afternoon/evening session is slower than the previous morning activity, most likely due to the brilliant weather, but we still manage to find a couple of nice fish. We finish the day with the whole group, guides and all, taking turns working through the run right in front of camp. Camp chairs, cigars, and cervezas turn up, and we have a grand time until the sun disappears behind the Andes, and it’s time for another wonderful dinner. 

Day 3

Monday March 27, 2023

We wake to unusually warm, windy conditions and ominous skies, which can only mean one thing; a front is approaching with our first sampling of fall weather in Patagonia. 

Today’s plan is to head south from the camp towards Río Pico to fish one of the famous Lagos in that area, Lago 2. This legendary lake has a reputation for growing tremendous Rainbow Trout, as well as impressive Brookies, and the drive there from camp is a true taste of rugged Patagonia. 

We arrive, assemble rafts, and rig rods under dark, cloudy skies. Before long, we’ve all motored to different corners of the lake. It’s windy and cool, but dry and more than comfortable. The morning is productive with several great fish landed, including one standout Rainbow taken by Dale, with sinking lines and streamers, or Balanced Leeches under indicator rigs.

The sun pokes out just long enough to sneak in a comfortable shore lunch, complete with vino, tapas, and a great meal assembled by the chef back at camp. 

The afternoon continues to be productive with several more impressive Brook Trout landed before the wind and impending weather drive us off the lake. Climbing out of Río Pico on our drive back to Brook Trout Basecamp the landscape slowly turns from brown and gold to solid white as snow begins to accumulate in the higher elevations. We pass through the deepest snow (less than 6 inches) before dropping back down in elevation at the camp where the ground is just wet. 

Back at camp we are greeted by blazing wood stoves, hot showers, and a cozy dining tent where we enjoy more delicious Argentine cuisine and warm Patagonia hospitality. 

Day 4

Tuesday March 28, 2023

Clear skies and a cold Patagonia wind blowing off the Andes this morning. Today’s plan is to take advantage of the diversity in El Encuentro’s fishing program and their abundance of private access by fishing a small, remote Spring Creek with large dry flies for more impressive Rainbows and Brookies. 

The drive takes us further East away from the Andes into the steppe, where the landscape is vast, and wild. The spring creek is small, but deep with rich weed mats and undercut banks. The ever-present wind is cool and brisk, making for challenging shots in tight quarters with a large dry fly. Challenging or not, this gem of a creek produces some thrilling action as big and little fish alike appear from the depths to inhale large flies at the surface. 

We see a similar break in the weather around lunch time as the day before. The wind doesn’t relent, but the sun comes out and makes for a pleasant lunch break. 

Afternoon yields more great fishing until weather arrives late in the day and forces us to pack it in. It’s another snowy drive back to camp where there is now a skiff of white on the ground, and another fun night recounting the days’ adventures around a roaring wood stove. 

Day 5

Wednesday March 29, 2023

Clear and cold with a fresh blanket of snow this morning. It’s our last day at the camp, and our plan is to fish the Corco before transitioning north to the El Encuentro Lodge for our final two days of fishing. Cold temps and fresh snow result in a leisurely pace, and a few more cups of coffee. By the time we are loaded and heading out of camp at 9:00am the snow has already melted from the high sun, and it’s shaping up to be a beautiful fall day. 

We head to the Boca (mouth) of the Rio Corcovado where it drains from Lago Vinter, an awe-inspiring, dramatic scene with the Chilean Andes looming over the western shores of the lake. Every fish that migrates into the Rio Corcovado has to swim through this boca on its journey, and the sense that a fish of a lifetime could be nearby hangs over every cast. 

This is an exciting time of year to be waist-deep in the boca, as it is the one time when the truly giant fish who spend their whole lives hiding in the depths of Lago Vinter appear, and you have a legitimate chance at putting a fly in front of one. 

As it turns out, today is not our day for the boca. Low water and bright sun have most likely forced  the bulk of big fish activity into the night time hours. We come up empty in the boca, but manage to find some great Brookies downstream in the Corco’s deeper runs and pools. 

We have a late lunch back at camp, and pack our gear. What started as a cold, snowy day has turned into a glorious autumn afternoon, and the boys enjoy a cigar in the warm sun before we start the trip north to El Encuentro Lodge. 

This is an epic drive through the mountains where the true essence of Patagonia is around every corner. We are treated to a couple of Condor sightings along the way, and stop several times to get out and soak it all in. 

When we arrive at the lodge, we are welcomed by Benjamin, Ceci and the rest of the staff. We settle in with a glass of wine, and a wonderful meal around the stately dinner table, where Benjamin shares the history of his family and El Encuentro Lodge with the group. 

Day 6

Day Six

Thursday March 30, 2023

Waking up at El Encuentro lodge you are immediately greeted by the Rio Futaleufu just outside the window, with the Throne of the Clouds, a towering Andean peak, in the background. The smell of fresh coffee and breakfast fills the lodge, and a warm fire is already rolling in the main room overlooking the river. 

Guides arrive at breakfast, and we discuss the day’s plan. We’ll be floating the Rio Futaleufu, stripping streamers, and hunting for rising fish. The group will split up with most starting upstream of the lodge, taking a break at the lodge for lunch, and then continuing downstream in the afternoon. 

I’ll be heading further downstream to scout out a section of the Futa just across the border into Chile with El Encuentro guide, Roberto, and Martin Pescador Guide (also a Big Sky Anglers Guide), Miles Marquez. This is a beautiful stretch of river which sees little angling pressure due to its unique location sandwiched between the border and a long section of extreme class IV and V rapids famously known in the whitewater world as “El Macal”. Despite being on the Argentine side of the border, El Encuentro Lodge is the only fishing lodge with close access to this special stretch of the Futa, as it’s only a short 20 minute drive to the put in. Miles has been working in Chile with Martin Pescador for the past two seasons, and has spent some time figuring out this section of river. We’re anxious to see if the border crossing is smooth, and the logistics work out to possibly add this unique trip to El Enquentro’s already diverse angling program. 

So, it’s back down the bumpy dirt road through the Futaleafu Valley towards Chile, and after a quick ten minute drive, we roll into the same dusty border crossing, same gate, same gruff soldier, same stray dogs. We cruise through with minimal delay, repeat the procedure on the Chilean side, and we are on our way to the river. 

The Futa is a spectacular river to fish. In some ways it resembles elements of Montana’s Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers with large, sweeping runs that pour over gravel bars creating productive seams. In other ways the Futa can feel like the South Fork of the Snake in Idaho, with deep sections of conflicting currents flowing into massive riffles. 

We have a beautiful fall day with bright sun and temps in the 60’s. Not text book weather for a fall streamer mission, but we soldier on nevertheless, and find consistent action throughout the day with respectable 16-18” brown trout, and a couple around the 20” mark. Upstream in Argentina, the rest of the group has a great day with similar results - lots of sun, lots of brown trout, and lots of laughs in the middle of a jaw-dropping Patagonia landscape. 

Tonight is Asado Night at the lodge! Argentine traditions are important to Benjamin and the rest of the El Encuentro family. It’s evident throughout their entire operation. Guests always leave feeling like they have experienced a sample of rich Patagonian culture, and Asados (BBQ) are an essential part of that experience. Asados are as much about the gathering of people, and the time to connect with one another as they are about the savory meat, empanadas, and veggies. Traditional Asados are centered around an outdoor fire or in a quincho, and date back to the time when cattle and gauchos roamed freely across the pampas (in many parts of Patagonia they still do). We eat, we drink, we visit, and before we know it, another day is done in Patagonia. 

Day 7

Day Seven

Friday March 31, 2023

It’s our final morning in Patagonia, and we are treated to a sunrise to rival all sunrises. We will fish the Futa again today to find a few more nice browns on streamers until early afternoon when we return to the lodge for a late lunch and transfer to the Esquel airport to begin the journey back to the States. 

We have another beautiful, sunny day for our last fishing day, and despite the bright conditions, the group finds plenty of rambunctious brown trout willing to chase and eat a streamer. Back at the lodge, our gear is packed and we have some time to enjoy the idyllic conditions on the back porch of the lodge overlooking the Futa. After one last fabulous meal, it’s time to say our good byes, and make our way to the airport to begin the trip home. 

It’s always hard to head home at the end of a great fishing trip, but it’s especially hard to leave El Encuentro as the people make you feel like family, and the place feels like home. 


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