Probably the world's most prolific wild rainbow trout fishery?
by Justin Maxwell Stuart
Although only in my mid 30's I have been an avid fisherman since childhood. During
that time I have spent much time listening to older generations reminiscing about
days gone by when our home rivers teemed with vast quantities of fish. My generation
has, however for the better part seemed to have been blighted by tales that used
to start with 'it used to be' and ended with 'a shadow of its former glory'.
Yet one of the great things about anglers the world over is the ability to hold out
hope that one day one will hit a river or a lake when all the conditions combine
together to give a glimpse of what our forefathers tasted. And so it was that on
a trip fishing for Steelhead in the spring of 2006, on the mighty Santa Cruz river
in Southern Argentina, that I heard my first rumours of a destination so remote and
so wild that maybe it was possible to experience fishing as it should be, undiluted
by the hand of man. The tale that followed was an exploratory trip to a place where
in one day three anglers caught 80 completely wild rainbow trout, all between six
and 20 lbs, caught on conventional flies with conventional fly rods
A memorable journey
Even those who are not versed with the subtle art of the angle are aware that many
a fishing story is subject to 'significant' elaboration. What was five pounds becomes
five kilos and five fish touched becomes five fish on the bank. The tale above seemed
to have been subject not just to an individual's wishful thinking but rather successive
generations of finely crafted tales each one better and bigger than the previous.
However, inquisitive as a cat I resolved to see for myself if this place was simply
folklore or if a place really did exist where the fish took as readily as the greediest
trout in the height of a mayfly hatch and if they really were flawlessly wild, silver
as if they had run from the sea and some so fat they could only resemble rugby balls.
One year later from the small town of Piedra Buena near the mouth of the Santa Cruz
River we embarked on our journey to Jurassic Lake. Now there is a reason behind
most things and the reason why this lake had gone relatively unnoticed is because
it is the route that takes you across some of the most barren wastelands on the planet.
Gravel tracks make up five hours of the journey however after that you leave all
trace of civilisation and jar and jolt your way over a desolate and seemingly unending
lava field. The trip is punctuated by the occasional fox which stares at you incredulously
and certainly fearlessly, wild ponies which roam carelessly amidst the scrub and
even a huge hole gouged in the pancake flat terrain by what can only have been a
meteor impact from another time. Anticipation is a powerful cure for life's hardships
and so despite the jolts time glided by and eventually we were confronted with a
lake so blue that its appearance was akin to the deep blue of the Caribbean Sea.
With just an hour of light, as the sun dipped low and the sky took on a threatening
fire red appearance, we cast our first flies. Prepared and eager I was first in
the water. Second cast, my line hesitated and then… bang, a mighty silver trout broke
the surface of the lake in a clatter of spray and an explosion of sound as my reel
burst into song. The rod arched, my guide Pollo whooped, the others looked on incredulously
and I suddenly started believing. My first fish fought in a manner that those who
are used to catching oversized rainbows in trout farms can only dream of. Long searing
runs and Tarponesque acrobatics. That fish probably weighed 12 lbs and by the time
the others had got their lines in the water I was on my third fish and this must
have weighed 20 lbs.
A typically fat Jurassic Lake Rainbow
After that it was simply a matter of pursuing your favourite technique or style.
We caught fish on size four cone head woolly buggers and size 14 nymphs. We used
floating and intermediate lines. We fished dry flies in the small river that enters
the lake where a single sudden move makes the water quite simply erupt as fish scatter
in all directions. You can fish constantly until your arm aches or you can catch
a couple, stand back and take stock of this truly incredible place and then jump
straight back in where you started.
Hauntingly wild backdrop to fast and furious action
First night under a flame red Patagonian sky
I should at this stage mention that the whole lake does not have quite the same concentrations
of fish as where we were fishing. It would appear that the fish concentrate around
the mouth and the lower reach of the river as they jostle for the opportunity to
spawn. The quantities of fish however mean that they have developed their own unique
spawning habits. Rather than spawning seasonally they do so throughout the year.
Such is the competition they have developed their own unique ecology in this unique
environment. Outside of their individual spawning cycle they roam the lake, which
is absolutely crystal clear, gorging on a type of freshwater krill and growing fat
to an extent that you have to see to imagine.
Is the fishing easy…..the answer is absurdly so. Do you have to be a proficient
and skilled angler……simply the answer is a no. Would you want to spend more than
a couple of days here……probably not. Is it one of the most unbelievably fishing
experiences you are likely ever to come across, an adventure that makes the travel
worth it and an insight into what happens when nature conspires to create perfect
conditions for a particular species…..a resounding yes. It is Jurassic Lake!