Jurassic Lake - The Lake of Giants
Stephan Gian Dombaj travels the world fly fishing and taking photographs that capture both the spirit of the destinations he visits and also the species of fish he seeks there. In his second feature for Fish&Fly he takes us to a remote corner of Patagonia where the rainbow trout reach truly epic proportions.
In these times when associated issues such as cormorant problems, pollutant and hormone infused water, hydro-energy dams and stocking policies are often uttered in the same breath as the review of the previous day on the water, what follows might sounds almost heretical. The thought of escaping for a brief dip in a time, where the fishing could be enjoyed without remorse as all these issues mentioned upon were trivial or as yet undeveloped. The days when fields were fertilized with grayling corpses and the staff complained of having to eat salmon again - what a paradise for fly fishermen this world must have been.
In fact, this is still possible but it needs a decent journey to get a taste of these good old days once again. In the world of fly fishermen one doesn’t need many words to communicate, but there is one notion that causes a decent smile on a fishermen’s face – regardless of where he is from: “Patagonia” – addiction and alleviation all at once. Mecca for fly fishermen from all over the world and not least, the location that unites contradictions alike of anglers and of trout, since the seemingly endless Pampas with its sparseness hides the greatest treasure for us fly fishers.
Howling reels, rods bent down to the grip, singing leaders, overstretched lines and broken hooks for the price of multiple herniated vertebral discs, De Quervain syndrome (caster's wrist) and insomnia – all dug into the sparse landscape of southern Patagonia located in the extension of the Andes that is formed by wind and fire. If you just add the element “Jurassic Lake” or Lago Strobl, the official name of the lake, you’ll have fly fishing for wild gigantic rainbow trouts high on your own personl 'bucket list'. The first information we found about the lake was available on the internet, but in reality we were literally on a long stony path, For after this vertebral disc crushing ride on some of the world’s worst roads, we were able to relax 3 ½ days while fishing for sea trout on the banks of Rio Gallegos before and were now looking forward to two full days on the lake with great expectation.
No one out of our mixed group really knew what to expect, as the information we received was sparse and it was hard to tell the difference between reality and fiction. The numbers of fish and their average sizes was tremendous. Quiet signs of doubt disappeared instantly as we reached the lake lying about 1000 meters above sea level, marking the majestic landscape with a size of 50km². This sight made the last few meters to the tent camp at the rivermouth of the only tributary of the lake, the Rio Barancuso, more bearable.
We were standing on the banks and felt the tremendous power of the wind, the gravel under our wading boots, an endless prickling in the stomach and a bursting amount of curiosity as to what was waiting ahead. The nighttime temperature drop did not detract from the scene. Loro, one of the guides of the Rio Gallegos Lodge, knew how to interpret the animated look on our faces. His question of how many fish we would be willing to catch, led us to reply with an uncertain shrug. He gave such a laugh that it even resounded to the opposite side of the lake! In silence rods were assembled, leaders knotted and designated patterns chosen – tension in the air! While one part of the group marched up the estuary, I decided to fish the Rio Barancuso – the Jurassic Stream, which had little water for April conditions, it seemed more like a creek. But once I saw a dozen gigantic shadows moving slightly in the current I felt better.
A Green Machine tied to my leader seemed to be the appropriate provocation. The first cast towards a feeding fish was blown by the wind so that I had to recast. While retrieving my fly a V-shaped wave formed behind it, obviously wanting to punish the intruding green thing on the surface. The howling of the wind had, for some time faded away. In the middle of this endless range, all I heard was my pumping heartbeat. I applied the next cast and just as my fly hit the surface; it disappeared in a huge splash. The line tightened and the rod action followed the direction of the fish down to the handle - a great feeling. Two pools and nine jumps later I was holding my first Argentinean rainbow trout in my hands. It had a length of 69cm, a Body-Mass-Index of a medicine ball and the rich colouring of a rainbow. While the fish vanished into the depth of the river, the wind carried excited calls towards me. Three dancing silhouettes, with bent rods standing where casting was almost impossible.
The harsh winds and waves were obviously eager to preserve the lakes mystery. Every single fish caught defined a new personal best. Each of us cracked the 80cm mark on this day, some of us even more than once. The biggest fish of the day landed on Loro’s tab: A 94cm male weighing a good 20 pounds caught in the tributary pool on a Globug – a nice and neat game on a 7 weight. Bulky silver coloured bodies, dancing to the beat of howling drag systems, in inflamed whitecaps left an indelible impression on us. Two days of collective madness were etched in the faces of all involved, not even the local red wine for dinner was able to dampen our spirits. Under the endless canopy of a starry night I slept with aching wrists, fingers cut open by the backing and the sureness to have found the epicentre of trout fishing. Time to review the experience.
The Jurassic Lake – A biological sensation
Geothermal activities are one of the main reasons why the fish grow to be such monsters. The average water temperature never drops lower than 8° Celsius, which means the fish hardly reduce their feeding activity. In short, they fatten themselves throughout the year. But it is not just the water temperature that lets the fish grow into giants like they do in some areas. The secret lies in the food - Protein-rich small crustaceans such as krill and Gammariedea populate the shore region with incredible density.
It is not unusual to see these prey-masses blown together by offshore winds and a couple of hundred trout feeding on them. The result is kind of a “feeding-frenzy” – maybe the most spectacular feeding behaviour ever seen. The Rio Barancuso’s estuary which is the only tributary and spawning river is the reason for the enormous number of fish in the shore area around the LOOP Jurassic Lake Camp throughout the year. Unlike our native species, the spawning migration takes place in four main runs, which means that there are always fresh and migrating fish close to the bank at the rivermouth. These migrating runs are visibly distinguishable since the fish in the lake are usually bright silver while the spawning fish impress with their colourful dress.
To our surprise, there’s no obvious outflow of the lake into another system, which means the fish aren’t able to migrate and are totally isolated. Because of the extreme wind conditions the lake is rarely fished by boat or pontoon boat. If you are pinched by fortune, the chances of catching a world record fish are very good. Considering the records of the last two years with two giants of 122cm (2007) and 130cm (2008) with an estimated weight of just under 30 pounds, it is obvious that this goal is far more than just speculation. If size matters you have got to fish the rivermouth in the evening with big streamers, like Lucky Divers, String Leeches or big tube flies to attract the bigger single fish with an average size far over 70cm. Selective anglers will experience world class dryfly and nymph fishing in the deep cliffed valley of the tributary since we are talking about sightfishing for 6-8pound average bows. The 4 – 12 meter wide tributary offers the best opportunity to hunt for larger single fish with a dry fly. Considering the dimensions, it could mean that a Mink Mouse would be exactly the right fly.
Both the size and amount of fish as well as the rough terrain will be a harsh test for your equipment – you've got to make sure that it keeps on going for at least 7 days. Good news, you don’t need any fancy additional stuff since we are talking about strong 9ft. – 10ft. long 8wt. rods, like every pike and sea trout fisher has at home. Talking about the tributary the use of a classic 9 foot 5/6 is recommended. It is a misconception that the use of a drag system and backing, when it comes to troutfishing, is just simply a ploy of the manufacturers. Reels with a drag system which is encased to protect it from volcanic dust and sand will survive the conditions and still run smoothly when it is needed.
Due to the windy conditions it is recommended to use quite short but heavy tapers filled up with at least 100yds of backing (floating to sinking III for the lake and floaters for rivers). A 9 to 12 foot long leader with a 0,25 – 0,20mm tippet and a stiff butt section will work out well. These Trout are not very selective when it comes to the choice of pattern. A wide range of flies, from a very large dark streamers like Lucky Diver or String Leeches up to tiny dryflies and nymphs will be willingly accepted. Far more important than the pattern is the retrieve speed. Since these fish are not used to chasing their prey a quite slow retrieve will trigger by far more reflex strikes than a steady and fast one. Just take a few patterns but in a huge amount of each, since they will last just a couple of fish before being shredded… like so many other flies before they will be found on the equipment graveyard very soon!
The Discovery of a Legend
Shortly after exploration, some Patagonian rivers such as the Rio Grande, the Rio Gallegos and also the Santa Cruz River got listed as unique top waters. This reputation placed Argentina and Chile in the forefront of world’s most renowned and desired fishing places. It was not only the river fishing which was surprising. The potential for good fishing in the large placid water systems round the Largo Argentina was recognised quite early on. Commercial fishermen were shocked due to the large amounts of trout available there. Due to limited warehouse facilities, they were not fished and exploited. Local guides and fisherman that weren’t scared to drive on the world’s worst “roads” experienced some magic moments at these waters. The Jurassic Lake otherwise known as Lago Strobl, kept it’s secret till winter 2006. Locked away in the true sense of the word... LOOP Tackle has sealed the exclusive rights to enter the land where the tributaries and the source which feeds the estuaries of the Rio Barancuso are. This land is a private estate of an old landowner for many years, making it unavailable to the general public.
Jurassic Lake Expedition
The flight to Jurassic Lake from Europe to Buenos Aires International Airport takes approximately 16 hours excluding stopovers. A connecting flight can be taken to either Rio Gallegos (Estancia Las Buitreras – for seatrout) or El Calafate (Jurassic Lake Camp) which is an additional 4 hours of travelling. One has hardly stepped out of the aircraft, when you are scooped up by the camp manager and transported to the Lodge or Camp. It’s up to you whether you use the first afternoon to acclimatise, or, and this is surely more preferable, blast your first cast. All tourists should be aware of the fact that Jurassic Lake Camp is located far away from civilisation and only reachable with off-road vehicles, or alternatively fly-in on a private helicopter, which is the exception to the rule.
The Tent camp at the estuary comprises of spacious tents pitched on solid ground. Excellent bathroom facilities are also available. Solid Adventures provides 3 full meals of local specialities. Be prepared to discover the Argentinean form of a typical barbeque – the finger licking good Asado. The season begins at the end of October and continues through until late March. The main spawning run from October to January marks the high season where the rivermouth is the most productive place. During the high season there’s a lot more water in the River Barancuso and the fish move far into the hinterland. With the rising summer temperatures in Argentina, the water levels in the tributary drops and thereby the fish numbers – the low season has officially started. On demand you can book an additional half a week of Sea trout fishing at one of the world’s most productive Rivers; the Rio Gallegos.
You can also check out more of my photographs on my Instagram site called TheFlyFishingNation by clicking here!
Booking Agent: Solid Adventures AB (Sweden) offers limited spaces/rods for 2013.
Images: Stephan Gian Dombaj - www.flyfishingnation.de
Further information (Jurassic Lake): www.solidadventures.com