A sea trout adventure to the end of the world…
Tierra del Fuego has long been known for the world-class sea trout fishing it offers the travelling fly fisher. The famous Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos are surely the region’s best-known river systems and each year many of our clients make the long journey south to these rivers to experience sea trout paradise.
There are other rivers too though, such as the mysterious, intimate and lesser-known Rio Irigoyen, the chosen destination for our most recent exploratory trip. The Rio Irigoyen is regarded as one of the finest sea trout rivers on earth by those truly obsessed with chasing sea-run brown trout, but in the wider world of sea trout fishing it has been a well-kept secret. We decided to go and experience this river for ourselves and it didn’t disappoint…
The clue is in the name – It isn’t called World’s End Lodge for no reason! The remoteness of this destination can’t be emphasised enough and, like most great overseas fly fishing destinations, the journey there is an adventure in itself!
After an overnight flight into Buenos Aires from London, we jumped in a taxi and checked into one of our preferred hotels in the district of Recoleta to enjoy a couple of days’ sight-seeing before the next leg of the journey. It’s well worth adding a day or two as a ‘buffer’ before the next flight south, giving you the opportunity to rest after a long flight, as well the chance to sample some Buenos Aires cuisine and culture.
London – Buenos Aires – Ushuaia – World’s End Lodge
Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city and, along with Rio Grande, one of the gateways to fishing in Tierra del Fuego. We took a morning flight from Buenos Aires down to Ushuaia, a pleasant flight over some remarkable scenery with a flight time of approximately three and a half hours.
Coming in over snow-capped mountains is a stark contrast to the tropical heat of Buenos Aires – now you’re in sea trout territory!
We collected our luggage and were met in arrivals by one of the World’s End Lodge guides who loaded us and our gear into a pickup truck for the final stage of the journey, a road transfer to World’s End Lodge which typically takes around four and a half hours. We stopped several times along the way to stretch our legs and take in the breathtaking scenery, our excitement building with each passing river and lake.
Our driver, Toby, gave us a full report on the recent fishing and the conditions we could expect. The river was reported to be full of fish, with good numbers dispersed around the system after the previous week’s snowfall and subsequent melt. A few days of high, dirty water the previous week had allowed the sea trout to take up new lies in the river and catches had been excellent as the river dropped back and began to clear. Prospects were good and everything was crossed in our hope for a good week.
When we finally made it to the lodge, we were treated to our first views of the river and she looked simply glorious. The Irigoyen tantalisingly winds its way through ancient woodlands as it flows down to the South Atlantic. In most stretches its width is comparable to that of a small highland salmon river and its flow rate just screams ‘fly fishing’! The river and landscape looked magical. We gazed out from the dining room window as we enjoyed our first dinner and a well-earned beer, excited for the following morning’s prospects…
The Rio Irigoyen demands a totally different approach to fishing than the likes of the Rio Grande and Rio Gallegos. The Irigoyen is intimate and narrow, so leave your double-handed rods at home! A 9 or 10-foot rod (or a switch rod at the most) with a floating line and selection of sinking tips will do the job perfectly.
We first headed out with our guide to the stretch of river closest to the lodge to hone our casting before heading upriver. The number of fish in the river was immediately apparent as we soon pulled and lost a couple of fish in this spot before we had really zoned-in!
Before long it was time to head upriver to our beat for the day and see what the Irigoyen really had in store for us.
Armed with a variety of leeches and rubber-legged nymphs, we experimented with different depths by varying our sink-tip densities, allowing our flies to explore the deeper channels in which the sea trout like to hide. It wasn’t long before we were rewarded with the first sea trout of the trip – a chrome-fresh fish straight in from the sea. This fish wasn’t a record-breaker, but it was great to get off the mark so soon into the trip.
By the afternoon we had a glimpse of what the Irigoyen is capable of, finishing the first day with 6 fish landed between us, including a 10-pounder and a 14-pounder, in addition to a few fish in the 7-8 pounds range. We celebrated our first-day success, but greater rewards were to come…
We hit the river full of confidence after our opening day success and continued to hook fish in almost every pool, though getting them to stay hooked was the challenge of the day! The water level had continued to drop overnight which, coupled with bright sunny weather, seemed to lead to more tentative takes. We had plenty of interest but lots of fish came un-stuck. It was evident that the fish were a little unsettled with the changing conditions, but we nevertheless managed to get a couple of fish to the bank during the morning session, both around the 8-pound mark. It’s remarkable that an 8-pound sea trout could be regarded as an ‘average’ fish, but this is the case in Tierra del Fuego. Later that day, as the light began to fade, my fishing partner’s line went tight, and all hell broke loose as a truly trophy-sized sea trout leaped into the air. This fish was every bit of 15 pounds, possibly more, and its body was gleaming silver – sea trout perfection! After a few more frantic leaps the fish threw the hook, the line whizzed back towards us and that was that. Fish gone. My fishing partner was disappointed to have lost such a great prize, but we celebrated that evening regardless. We knew the big fish were here and we had 4 more days to catch them…
By day 3 the river level had settled, the air felt fresh and the overhead conditions were good – a pleasant mixture of sun and clouds. We plucked away during the morning session, landing a couple of small fresh sea trout in the 4-6lbs category, but memories of the previous day’s lost fish were still fresh in our minds. We knew we would be heading back to the same pool in the afternoon, perhaps a cruel reminder, perhaps redemption…
Given the clarity of the water and lower overall level, we decided that a change of tactics was in order. Fast-sink tips and streamers were swapped out for clear intermediate tips and nymphs. That was the plan.
After the customary siesta to recharge, it was soon time to revisit the scene of the crime…
My fishing partner made his way to the top of the pool, this time armed with a small, inconspicuous, home-tied rubber-legged Prince Nymph. As the line swung through the same likely looking spot, everything went tight and we had a fish on again! This time, the fish stayed deep and it was immediately clear that this was a very large resident sea trout. The hook-hold this time was good and, after a dogged fight, the monster fish was brought into the shallows. What lay at our feet was a leviathan of a fish! Knees were still shaking, high-fives were flying and, as we took some measurements, we discovered that this was one of the largest fish of the season. We estimated the fish to be 17-18 pounds and took a few quick snaps before he powered off back into the pool. Trophy sea trout – mission accomplished!
Once we had recovered from all the excitement, we headed upstream and landed two more fish to complete the evening, including a stunning 10-pounder.
Day 4 was a perfect fishing day with light winds and overcast skies. Fishing as a team, one of us set up with a nymph and one with a streamer, we took turns going through pools with different flies and retrieve speeds. This is an approach that the guides recommend, allowing time to rest pools between fishers. Rather than thrashing the water for every second of the day, this approach really paid off and proved to be effective as we notched up 6 fish for the day. By now we were really zoned-in, quicker on the strike and landing more fish than we were losing.
By lunchtime on day 5 we had once again brought several fish to the bank in pools that we were becoming increasingly familiar with. Head guide, Diego, made the suggestion that we use the afternoon session to head far upriver and explore some of the more remote areas of the Irigoyen that hadn’t yet seen a fly. We agreed to the mission.
After a drive upriver in the pickup as far as we could get, we climbed aboard World’s End Lodge’s ATV, hidden away in the forest for those anglers venturing out further into the backcountry. We thought the lodge itself was remote, but this place was remoter than remote!
After a bumpy drive through the forest and after making several river crossings, we eventually reached our target pools, just below the confluence with one of the Irigoyen’s main tributaries. Before us lay virgin water which we were certain contained sea trout!
This session turned out to be one of the most memorable, with both my partner and myself landing double-figure fish. A 13-pounder and a 15-pounder made our mission into the wilderness all worthwhile. We stayed until dark, landing a smaller fish and losing a couple more before heading back to the lodge, head torches guiding the way. It was a remarkable fishing experience in every way. Everything about that session screamed ‘adventure’. We came, we saw and we conquered!
As we awoke for our final day of fishing, an eerie mist hung over the river and we looked forward to seeing how yet another change in the atmospherics would affect the sea trout. Our guide for the day suggested we head to a pool named ‘Big Fish Pool’. We jokingly asked why is was called ‘Big Fish Pool’, you can probably guess the response!
Within 10 minutes the name made perfect sense. My fishing partner was quickly into a huge sea trout, bringing to land another 15-pounder. This is possibly the best example of the amazing condition of these sea trout, each of them built like rugby balls after gorging themselves on the rich feeding in the South Atlantic.
We caught a few more fish during the day before it was time to hang up our waders for the final time. As we cracked open the last beer of the week, we reflected on the remarkable adventure we had experienced, how sea trout personal bests had been smashed to pieces and immediately started planning for our return! Between the two of us we had brought 30 sea trout to the bank, averaging 7-8 pounds and racking up a respectable number of fish in the 10 – 17lb range.
During our week, the quality of food and drink in the lodge was superb and we were incredibly well looked-after by the team of lodge staff. No detail is missed, despite the remoteness of the location, ensuring that your home-away-from-home is the always the perfect refuge.
On the final morning, we said our goodbyes and headed back to Ushuaia, tired, sun-tanned and over-indulged, with a camera full of trophy fish shots and a head full of memories!