A great trip write up from one of our regular clients who spent some time down at Pira Lodge on the Ibera Marshes in 2018….
Spending too much time on the internet can be an expensive habit. The late friday evening browsing on youtube has led me astray, and this time it lit a slow burning fuse within to catch a golden dorado.
There are many trips for dorado, with some involving an epic quest to the foothills of the Amazon, deep inside the jungle. I decided to cut my teeth on a more accessible adventure. It also helped that my brother in law invited me to his polo estancia just outside Buenos Aires.
The ‘beast from the east’ bared her teeth in early march and the worse of the weather was over a day before my planned departure, but I had spent a nervous few days watching the weather charts, and flight schedules for any changes. I was grateful when the plane took off late that evening, leaving a frozen London behind.
I do recommend booking a room for the day, somewhere to chill after the 14 hour flight. I spent my time in a hotel where the fabled Eva Peron once lived, dined on argentine steak, and quaffed malbec. A very pleasant start to the week.
That evening I took the bus to from the Retiro bus station. A huge busy complex, double decker buses disgorging their passengers and new travellers waiting anxiously for their vehicle to arrive. My scheduled departure time came and went, along with several other buses which were passing close to my destination. But the attendant kept shaking his head when I badgered him about every single bus that pulled into bay 75. Eventually a Flechabus signed ‘Corrientes’ pulled up. I heaved my dusty luggage to the side and this time I was not waved away.
I remember the ski bus down to the alps in the 80s- thankfully this was an improvement. You actually get to lie pretty flat and pull a curtain across. The windows were blacked out, but as it was night time, I did not miss any passing countryside. There were a couple of stops over night, but the effects of red wine and a mild sedative soon had me snoozing away.
We arrived at a much smaller bus terminal early the next morning, where Miguel and his red Hilux were waiting for the last leg of the journey. The vista overnight had changed from grand boulevards and elegant shops to a dusty road, cattle, gauchos and 90 minutes later the fabled Pira lodge in the middle of the Ibera marshes. These wetlands are in the north eastern part of Argentina, with swamps, marshlands, and flowing water. Pieces of the marsh break off every year so the water channels are constantly changing. The reserve teems with wildlife: capybara, alligators, marsh deer, giant spiders, many bird species, and fish you would normally find in the ‘exotic section’ of an pet store.
The Nervous Waters team really do know how to make you feel special. The entire lodge staff was out to welcome you. Maya the lodge hostess walked me around the complex to orientate me, but I just wanted to rig up and fish. I met Jose Caparros – the head guide, who drew the short straw to take the newbie out to get ‘blooded’ So my fishing day started a little later and we sped off to the home pool to see if the dorado would play that morning.
‘Dorado are like a beautiful woman you meet in a club, and imagine a middle aged guy, paunchy, bad suit, and balding, but with a bottle of champagne. Sometimes you might get lucky and you hook up!’ That’s how Francois, one of the visiting guides, summed up dorado fishing.
I am middle aged and I don’t drink much champagne, but as they say unlucky in clubs, lucky on the river. And that was how it was for me that week. I caught every day. Fish between 5-14lb, all beautiful, golden with irregular black dots and dashes on their side, tails banded red and black. Every fish pulled hard, and leaping clear of the water like tumbling gymnasts in their efforts to shed the hook. The flies I bought looked good on eBay , but sadly the hooks were not up to the job. The flies I tied worked well, although it was pretty depressing to see them get shredded after each fish. |f you are going to tie your own, lots of bucktail, big feathers, and Daichi hooks.
It was also tedious to catch the $8 dollar fish – not the ‘palometa’ that saltwater anglers prize above everything else, but the ‘evil fish’ – ‘piranha’, which is what the word means in the local language.
The beer can trick is pretty cool – crush the can, put it in its mouth and see what happens. Just make sure your fingers are out of the way. I have never seen a guide look so nervous when I insisted on having a go. These fish just eat everything – you feel a tap tap and snatch. The rod jags this way and that and you sigh as you realise you have just lost another fly.
You can fish for dorado in many different ways. Cast across the river, mend and let it sink, and then depending on how deep, start stripping. In the middle of the retrieve, there will be a pull and the line will shoot from your fingers. As a ‘salty’, my muscle memory makes me strip set, and then lift into the fish. The slack jumps off the deck, fizzing through the line guides and then the fun starts. Fight one of these against the current, and it will betray any weakness in your tackle. The 8 weight was bent pretty hard. The guides always want you to get the fish in quickly, otherwise a struggling fish soon becomes part of the food chain with so many piranha about.
Skating mouse patterns in tiny side streams as the light goes down was electric. you see a rise, or hear a splash, throw what resembles a small sparrow towards the sound, pray it does not snag on the reeds, let it rest and then start the twitchy retrieve. The water explodes and your 9 foot carbon arm extension sends a jolt to your brain. What ever is on the end of your line is now bouncing around like a ‘jack in a box’, but you eventually boat it. A huge surge of dopamine, another hit of the happy hormone, and you crack a massive grin. This is all in the purple half light of dusk, as you drift down a channel just wide enough for the skiff. And then you throw another cast out, and another and catch 4 more before saying enough and head home for cocktails.
A tip for all the kit buffs out there something that is not mentioned anywhere in any equipment guides: bring a set of night glasses with clear lenses, or even ski goggles for the skiff ride home at the end of the day. The air is thick with insects, and the boat does travel at a rate of knots. Keep your buff up, mouth closed and head down, or you’ll find out what insect protein taste like. After a beer to wash down the grubs, the main courses served at the dining table were remarkable, beautifully prepared and presented, every meal a joy. The meat tender, tasty, oozing with flavour, and melting in your mouth, the asado, an argentinian specialty – salted pork, beef, lamb, sausages, other delicious bits you dare not enquire as to their provenance. As Maya asked at the very start whether I had any dietary requirements: ‘if you put it in front of me, and it does not walk off my plate, I will eat it’. If you suffer from gout, don’t forget your tablets. The alcohol was free flowing and all high quality, essential for celebrating the biggest fish of the day.
There is a tying desk, with plenty of materials to replenish my shrinking fly box, as well as flies that you can buy by the bag full – all effective fish catching patterns, and beautifully tied on dorado proof hooks.
At the end of the week, my shoulder was sore from throwing the lines, especially the fast sinking heavy lines. It made me think whether a switch or trout spey rod might find a tropical application. I have seen a clip where someone does catch dorado on a spey rod so a precedent has already been set, and it would save on physiotherapy fees on my return. It was the first trip when I actually thought it would have been good to have shared a boat.
The Ibera wetland is a stunning part of the world. The never-ending sky, but the closeness of the river and the suffocating heat, making the fishing seem intimate and intense, compared with other days on the main river, where there are no reeds to catch a careless back cast. The contrast adds to the charm of the fishing, but one thing that is constant, the quality of service and hospitality is second to none.
You can see more images from AW travels at his Instagram account @ninjangler. For more information about fly fishing for Golden Dorado or fishing in Argentina please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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