Discovering Friendship on Patagonia’s Chimehuin River
After a year of driving through central and South America with Patagonia as the ultimate destination, the author found more than he was seeking. The Chimehuin River lives up to it’s famous reputation for world class trout fishing in the shadow of a giant volcano.
I’d been on the road for a year, crossing through all of Central America and a good portion of South America. The drive down was an adventure in itself but reaching Patagonia was always the goal. When I pulled into San Martin de Los Andes and caught my first glimpse of the snow-capped Volcan Lanin and the Andes mountains, I felt like I’d reached home. I was also a good 10 days without a shower and my van was in shambles, needing a major cleaning, mechanical checkup, and reorganizing.
I’d met Ron very briefly on a boat ramp in Montana and knew he owned and built RO Drift boats in Argentina and owned Chocolate Lab Expeditions, a well known fly fishing outfit. I shot him an email on a whim, mostly looking for advice on places to fish. He invited me to the boat shop for a shower and the shop ended up serving as my basecamp for a month of fishing.
The season opens on November 1st, and we kicked it off with a two-day float down the renowned Chimehuin River. The river begins at the outflow of Lago Hequelfen in National Parque Lanin. Despite being spring, the waters remain perfectly clear because snowmelt and runoff conditions are filtered through the lake system, where all sediment is settled out and never enters the river system.
Although clear, the river was high and moving quickly. We shoved off at a dirt launch, myself in a RO drift boat with Ron and his teenage son Benito. The other boat was an old Aire cataraft, proven durable and still functioning perfectly after several decades of hard use as the gear boat. Guides Facundo and Diego ran the cataraft, loaded with our food and camp supplies. A durable travel pack is the perfect companion for a river camping trip of this nature, especially one with the reflective features to keep it visible around camp at night, and the ability to easily organize gear.
I felt immediately at home with Ron and Benito. They were both laid back, grateful for the river, and Ron was incredibly adept at rowing and fishing this river. “Cast right up against the bank,” he said. I wasn’t so sure considering the water clarity and my experience at spotting fish. “Trust me, they will blend in and sit in that skinny water.” I cast my fly tight to the bank, a rubber legged wooly bugger, and after only a few minutes, a shadow moved toward the fly until it disappeared. I set the hook and a big brown trout erupted from the water. “The fish don’t have predators like osprey here, so they are comfortable in that type of water,” Ron shared.
This routine continued all day, with fish appearing like ghosts to chase and eat streamers right off the boat. After fishing hard all day, we landed at a campsite for an Asado. Normally, on guided trips, they set up numerous tables and tents to create a plush campsite. We kept it comfortable but simple, focusing on cooking a hearty supply of incredible Argentine beef and sleeping in a big cook tent on cots that we hauled in with our versatile travel packs, which could handle bulky camping gear while also cinching down into an airport-ready pack for world travel. Sitting around a campfire with new friends while working through conversations in English and Spanish was the perfect way to wind down after an evening of fishing.
We pushed forward the next day and I rode the cataraft with Diego, easily making friendly conversation to pass the time. We continued the fish catching routine and watched Ron and Benito land two big browns from the drift boat. I moved one big one and just missed on the hook set, but still landed a dozen nice fish in the morning alone. The clear waters continued until the wind pushed us into the confluence with the Collon Cura river and the takeout.
After loading up the boats, we were all happy and tired. It was a long drive back, but one made shorter with the easy comradery of new friendships—something so easily born from long travel days spent trading cultures and conversations.
By Zach Lazzari on January 16, 2020
Zach Lazzari is a freelance writer, fly fisherman and explorer. He
is currently driving the Pan American highway in an old Astro Van with
his dog Shale. Follow his journey at bustedoarlock.com and @zachlazzari on Instagram.