Taking big Argentine rainbows underneath on streamers is one thing; hooking 20-pounders on dry flies is something entirely different.
[by Rasmus Ovesen]
AS I CAREFULLY REMOVE A BARBLESS STREAMER FROM THE JAWS OF ANOTHER LAKE STROBEL RAINBOW, the massive fish swings its tail, sends cold water into my face, then heads for a drop-off where a dozen of its equally impressive brothers fin.
Weighing about 11 pounds, this is just one of many fish that hit our flies this April morning at Strobel (also called Jurassic Lake), all while the wind continuously picked up. These are big fish for my 6-weight rod, and as the wind reaches gale force, it’s time to shelve the 6-weight for heavier artillery.
I walk down the beach, stash my 6-weight, and pick up my 8. As I grab the rod, I hear guides giggling somewhere behind me. Those cheeky buggers, now settled behind their truck for shelter and a gulp of warm Argentinean mate, have tied a large, bright red spoon to the end of my leader. I think, Classic guide humor, but act as if nothing is out of kilter and play along.
Their laughter fades as I get the spoon airborne, false-cast it a bit, then send it into deep water. Almost immediately, a huge rainbow smacks the lure, stays tight, and all of us come unglued.
SINCE IT WAS DISCOVERED IN 2005, southern Patagonia’s Jurassic Lake has been ranked as one of fly fishing’s monumental destinations, a tantalizing and remote fishery in a barren, windswept desert with rainbow trout of near-mythical proportions. Each time I heard stories about the lake’s spectacular fishing, or saw pictures of the shapely fish caught there, I felt a pull to visit. But I’ve also been hesitant—when visiting highly marketed locations with big reputations, the fishing hasn’t always been great. But just after my brother and I land on a rudimentary strip at Strobel and make our way to the lake via uneven gravel roads, I’m sensing the hype may be true. There’s still one question to be answered, however: Will the fishing match the immense expectations I’ve managed to build?
It doesn’t take long to find out. On our first day, we get something unexpected—a completely calm day and an opportunity to throw dry flies and sight-fish to these giant trout. Soon we are moving along the beaches and climbing the lunarlike landscape, looking for schools of fish cruising the shore. Strobel’s surface looks like a big, shiny mirror, so we extend our leaders and tie on light tippets. I cast to a few fish circling a drop-off and start my retrieve. One of those fish lazily pursues the fly, then finally grabs, which sets all hell loose. I desperately try to cushion a heavy run, multiple head shakes, and a few meter-high jumps. The fish stops only after taking an entire fly line and 120 feet of backing into the depths. I regain line as the fish tries to cut me off on a jagged reef. Finally, I slide the fish across the frame of my landing net—it’s my first Strobel Lake rainbow and a hulk, weighing about 13 pounds. It’s one of the most flawless fish I’ve ever seen, and I can’t help but holler my approval.
We get two more days of that flat-calm, dry fly medicine— some of the best sight fishing I’ve ever experienced—before the wind kicks in. It’s as if the weather gods have taken a long, deep breath in order to thoroughly blow apart the desert. The howling wind rips at everything that manages to stay erect, and the lake takes on its usual appearance, with rolling waves crashing into shore, blown apart by heavy gusts that create a haze above the lake. This is only the beginning of the wind, but surprisingly, this isn’t the end of our dry fly fishing.
THE NEARBY BARRANCOSO RIVER, which meanders through the surrounding desert and carves through towering canyons, provides some relief from the wind. Here we sight-fish to stationary and migratory rainbows. These rainbows don’t rival Jurassic’s fish in size, but the river offers plenty of shots at trout ranging between 6 and 12 pounds. This is a technical and demanding fishery, where stealth, precise casts, and calm nerves are required.
Armed with light single-hand rods, thin leaders, and small streamers, we share many unforgettable moments on the Barrancoso. The best arrive when we swap out those streamers for drys and mouse imitations and watch spectacular ’bows crush those flies on the surface. We do this for a couple of days while the lake remains a windblown mess. When that wind finally diminishes, we head out of the canyons and back to the lakeshore with big, buoyant drys attached to our tippets.
LAKE STROBEL IS LOCATED INA REMOTE, windswept portion of Argentina’s Santa Cruz Province. Its shoreline resembles a lunar landscape with contorted tufa formations, cliff fragments, and remnants of a petrified forest. It’s a closed sinkhole drainage that lacks an outlet. The lake never held fish until recently, despite a rich food base consisting mostly of scuds. About 20 years ago, local gauchos gathered rainbows from the Santa Cruz River and deposited them in the 24-mile-long Barrancoso. Given a nutrient-rich lake and plenty of great spawning habitat attached to it, the fish thrived. Today, they naturally reproduce and grow to massive proportions, meaning up to 30-some pounds.
It didn’t take long for anglers to discover this fishery. In fact, the lake quickly grew to fame when Christer Sjöberg—founder of Loop Tackle—co-organized an expedition to its shores in 2005. He’d stumbled on a rainbow trout fishery that exceeded his expectations and creatively dubbed it Jurassic Lake. Once a camp was established on its shore, Jurassic gained international attention. The rest is history.
SEEING A 17-POUND TROUT RISE THROUGH CRYSTAL CLEAR WATER TO GULP A DRY FLY, at close range, is indescribably cool. And it happened repeatedly during our last two days at Jurassic, proving these fish, which grow large on a mainstay of scuds, always keep an eye up, too.
We fished for cruisers with high-vis Chernobyl Ants that allowed us to track our flies even when the surface was chopped up by the wind. We landed a dozen or more trout weighing between 10 and 20 pounds. I was so absorbed by the action that I didn’t really consider what I’d experienced until I was riding on the small Twin Otter plane back to Comodoro Rivadavia. During the flight, I considered my high expectations and the marketing material I’d read. And I visualized those massive, chromebright rainbows rising, unexpectedly, to dry flies. No doubt, I declared, Jurassic Lake and its colossal rainbow trout lived up to the hype and even exceeded my lofty expectations.
An Oslo resident, Rasmus Ovesen has spent the past 10 years working as a freelance fly fishing writer and photographer. He loves pursuing finicky fish on the flats, but his heart truly belongs to the soulful realm of trout and salmon fishing (www.instagram.com/rasmus_ovesen).