December 6-16 2018 A year in the planning, I finally made it to Jurassic Lake lodge this December and it was worth the wait. Perhaps the best trout fishing in the world, I had heard from some that it was too easy. My fishing buddy for this trip was Steve Sakamaki who has been to Jurassic Lake five times. Of the two lodges on the lake- Estancia Laguna Verde Lodge and Jurassic Lake Lodge– we decided to fish Jurassic Lake lodge for its close proximity to the Barrancoso River inlet. This strategic walking distance location is especially productive during the trout spawn that peaks in December. Also within walking distance to the famous “Bay of Pigs” , Jurassic Lake Lodge offers a wonderful variety of “Beats” to fish in stream, estuary and open water.
Jurassic Lake Lodge is located on the east side of the Patagonian Andes right at the mouth of Barrancoso River where it enters Strobel Lake. The alkaline, scud filled lake lies in a desert sink hole at 3000 feet above sea level. The Wind around Patagonia is notorious for being so strong that you can’t stand in it let alone cast a fly line in it. The legendary winds at Lake Strobel are strongest in the summer months. When the warm air from the equator meets cold air traveling north from Antarctica it creates violent westerly gales which swirl across the southern hemisphere to the east. With no large land masses to slow them down the zone across the 40th and 50th parallels are known as the the Roaring 40’s and the Furious 50s for its fierce winds. Strobel Lake sits on the 48th Latitude.
McCloud River Rainbows from Northern Califronia were planted in the Barrancoso river approximately 20 years ago. These fish migrated to the lake which was originally barren. The trout in the lake gorged on the scuds in the lake and the rest is history. The lake was discovered approximately 17 years ago and since then, fly fishermen from all over the world have pilgrimaged to the holy water that is Jurassic Lake.
There is a price to pay for fishing trout fishing paradise however and that is getting there and getting out. In the old days, caravans of anxious flyfishermen had only one option to get to the Lake –the 7 hour jeep ride from Calafate know as the “Drive from Hell” The last four hours of the Hell Drive is slow and arduous over lava rocks and uneven terrain. God help you if you where prone to getting car sick or had a bad back. Now there is a new 3000ft Airstrip that brings anglers within a 15 minute drive to the lodge. But, if the winds are high and the planes can’t land safely, the drive from Hell is still your only option in or out. It took me nearly two days to travel there from California and 30 hours of hell to get back home.
Trout fishing Paradise means different things to different anglers. If you like indicator fishing, it is one of the most popular ways to catch fish in the lake and river. If you like Dry Fly fishing and Mousing, huge rainbows can be caught in the lake and river on dead drifted drys or swinging mouse patterns but don’t expect hatches of bugs. If you like high sticking or Czech nymphing trout as long as your arm, the Barrancoso has that. If you like the physical challenge of site fishing in gale force winds, the lake has that . If you like surf fishing for perch in Monterey, you can land ten pound rainbows all day long in wind waves you can surf on casting a spey rod overhead. For this trip I was able to procure a 6 piece Loop Cross S1 travel Spey rod that I was able to pack with my 9 footers. Casting a 350 grain Skagit with a 10 ft T-11 was the ticket in the lake for me when the wind got fierce. The streamer fishing in the river and lake is amazing.
At times, unusual fly patterns and beads highly outperformed other patterns making a large Fly assortment an advantage. If your flies are not tied on the best hooks, you are destined for lost fish due to straitened or broken hooks. The Rainbows are brutal on flies and Jurassic lake poses a special challenge to fly tiers. The true draw for me to Jurassic Lake is that it is as easy or hard as you want it to be. I can only take a certain amount of easy which means 30-40 ten pounds and over rainbows in one day. To make it interesting, I spent days fishing with Juan’s (our guide) three weight working my leader down to 5x, to practice my small rod, light leader skills on large fish. I can’t think of any where else in the world more ideally suited for that kind of practice. Finally, if you are a photographer\videographer, The lake and rivers offer a special opportunity to film large wild trout in their environment and a uniquely beautiful unspoiled environment it is.
The fishing protocol at Jurassic Lake Lodge consist of four “Beats” which helps keep the ten flyfishermen at the lodge spread out. The Beats consist of the River Inlet on the left, the River Inlet on the right, the Bay of Pigs and the first hole on the river known as the Aquarium. The River and Lake holes also consist of small stretches of river above each and come in handy if a beat becomes unfishable in the gail winds that sometimes whip up. Each beat is assigned a half day and the timing of the Beats are arranged so anglers experience both morning and evening bites at the same place. You get a second shot at every beat during the week. Breakfast is served at 8 and the first session is from 9-noon. The guides take a siesta from 1 -4 after lunch but you are free to fish your assigned beat earlier after lunch and the guides just meet you out there after siesta. The afternoon session goes from 4-8pm and dinner is served at 9pm. The accommodations and quality of food are top notch. I especially enjoy the full lunches that are cooked and served vs the make a sandwich style lunch. Rooms are heated by gas that is trucked in from Calafate , and electricity is 220 volts, slanted European plugs twenty four seven by solar system. There is plenty of drink selection with a large variety of wine, beer and soda. I especially enjoyed the hot coffee and tea available in the dinning room at all times.
The meals at the lodge had the best meats Ive ever had at a lodge. They even have an ample supply of Tabasco Sauce which I usually pack. Cooking and smoking meats over hard wood fires made me look forward to the meals all day. We had some perfect steaks, lamb, and pork meals during the week with generous portions at every meal. The chef was outstanding and meals came with beautiful deserts. I did not loose weight on the trip.
The people in our group were some fine fishermen from all over the world. Kurt from Wyoming who is a practicing ER Physician, Bruce from Corona Del Mar a retired Vegas Lawyer, Brothers Herb and Gary who seemed to be the first ones out and the last ones to leave the beats – superb flyfishermen. Sam the Judge from Montana, Moose (Milt) who help build the Alaska Pipeline – you could always tell where he was fishing by following scent of fine cigars. Joe the pilot who flew with the Flying Tigers and finally Ronnie Butler. Ronnie was especially interesting to me. He was the caricature of an old Scottish Chalk Stream Guide from his tweed hat to his old school british rods and reels. Ronnie has several beats on the famous Itchen River and owns a mile section of the River Piddle. I dreamed of these rivers as a kid after reading F.M. Halford’s Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice which was one of my inspirations to learn fly fishing. Ronnie is featured on the “Hatch” film by Gin Clear Film Productions.
Adventures in Traveling – We booked the trip a year ago through Guy Schoenborn Fishing with Larry. Steve arranged our transportation six months ago. We would fly out of San Francisco to Miami where we would layover 6 hours and then fly a Redeye to Buenos Aires. In Bueno Aires, we would take a safe Cab over to the domestic airport (2 hours) and then fly a domestic flight to Comodoro Rividavia where we would check into a hotel and leave the next morning on a charter to Jurassic Lake Lodge. The Domestic flights charged us extra for our cumulative carry and check in luggage exceeding 45 lbs but the peso to US exchange made it a minor inconvenience and minimal charge. At 60 lbs it only cost me $35 US . They didn’t check us going home though which seemed pretty arbitrary.
Coming home was a nightmare. High winds made it impossible for the plane to land to take us out of Lake Strobel. We took the 5 hour Hell Ride out to Calafate and from there flew to Buenos Aires(AEP). After making the 2 hour cab ride to the International Airport (EZE) we boarded the plane to Miami that was 3 hours late. In Miami we zoomed thought customs but got delayed half an hour at TSA because the bag checkers couldn’t figure out what backpack pocket Steves IPAD was in. We missed our direct flight to SF by three minutes and quickly booked an alternative flight to SFO through Dallas that was also boarding. Halfway to Dallas, we found out our connection in Dallas had been cancelled and as soon as we got off the plane we hustled for an alternative flight home to SF. After three unsuccessful standby attempts to board a SF bound plane, we finally got on our third try 6 hours later. Of course we got crappy seats and I ended up squished between two large people and to make matters worse, it was delayed on the tarmac for an hour before taking off. Finally around midnight we made it to SF after nearly 30 hours of continuous traveling. South American airlines are notoriously unreliable and Miami TSA get the award for slowest and most incompetent. In the end, its still was worth it to catch monster trout.
There is alot of talk about the “20lb Rainbow” that accompanies talk about Jurassic Lake. Very noticeable was the absence of weight scales carried by the guides. Lou (Llewellyn Claven), the manager of the lodge and well traveled guide has managed Jurassic Lake lodge for the last 8 years. He is an amazing photographer who has guided from Tismani Bolivia to the Seychelles in East Africa. We talked about how some anglers that come to Jurassic are obsessed with the goal of catching a 20 lb trout so much so that they loose there perspective on the fishery. I tend to agree with him that the quality of a trip is what you make it and don’t try to base it on someone other persons idea of success– “social media can be lying bitch”. I didn’t weigh a single fish on the trip. There is a rhythm that one develops when fishing this lake that is mesmerizing. You see huge quantities of really large fish (over 20lbs) every where you fish but you seldom catch what you see and are statistically blind casting to the cloud. Jurassic Lake trout are on the Obesity Diet. They are so full of scuds that they don’t work (swim) for food and they don’t compete with each other for food. They do however eat trout eggs, nymphs and streamers that are moving slow and withing a certain distance of there mouths. These are couch potato trout and pretty much the opposite of Striper fishing at San Luis Reservoir. Catching trout over 20 lbs is more statistics than skill using 20lb leaders. The best site fishing is in the faster water where you can actually target a single large fish with a higher probability of an eat. Otherwise its cast into the school, hook, release and repeat for 6 days! As Ronnie said to me one evening, I think I caught at least 200 fish over ten pounds this week but only 8 are really memorable. This week was full of firsts for me, I caught my personal best trout on a three weight rod and reel, my personal best largest trout on 5X, my personal best trout on a spey rod, my personal best on a mouse pattern, and my personal best on a bead, and my personal best on quantity of large trout in one day. Yes I did get some quasi 20 lb fish but without a scale who really knows and there are 30 lbrs still to be caught out of Strobel. The fish in Jurassic are so fat and wide, that it becomes hard to guess just how heavy they are when shorter fish can outweigh longer ones.
I had a chance to fish with Guy Shoenborn this trip and getting to know him was a highlight of the trip. Guy has fished all over the world since the 70s and is one of the most skilled fisherman I have met. Guy is President of Fishing with Larry International Travel and I booked the Amazon and Brazil through him. His father was Fishing the West TV host, Larry Schoenborn. We spent a couple days fishing with each other and I learned some new tricks from him. In particular, there was a fly that he had tied for Strobel that just seemed to work much better than most. Guy generously donated his stash of these flies to nearly everyone in the group. Without the White Mop fly, I for one would have caught half as much fish. Guy has been all over the world more than once. He’s been to Christmas Island 17 times. I hope to fish again with him in the near future.
Finally, a word to self about next time.
Bring more split shot, more underwear, Repair Hand Cream, smaller Orange Beads with bead hooks, Large San Juan Worms in ORANGE. White Mop Flies, More 3/4 indicators, 5x, 6x, 15 and 20 lb leader. Tenkara?, 4 wgt fly rod. 7 wgt Six Piece Spey was perfect, Thermos was perfect, Bar Soap and Shampoo, Wet Wipes, One set of Fleece wading pants was adequate. Bose sleep buds, Waterproof Olympus camera. Insulated neoprene gloves. Mice patterns. Guitar Strings. Dome for half and half. Voice controlled GOPRO Remote. Sand Spike instead of tripod. time Lapse equipment. Prescription Polarized sunglasses. warm sleep wear. buffs to keep hats on.