Outside magazine, October 1994
Mythologized by Magellan, Darwin, and Bruce Chatwin, among others, the barren grasslands, wild rivers, and towering glaciers of Tierra del Fuego represent some of the planet's most unforgiving and ferociously beautiful real estate. And if you're a fisher of trout, so much the better. In a land once rumored to be the home of giants, the mightiest brown trout here can weigh upward of 15 pounds.
American Airlines and Aerolíneas Argentinas fly from Miami to Buenos Aires, with round-trip fares starting at $1,115. Once in Argentina, fly Aerolíneas Argentinas, Líneas Aéreas del Estado (LADE), or Austral to either Río Grande or Ushuaia, your jumping-off points in the north and south respectively. A "Visit Argentina" pass, available for as little as $345 through your U.S. travel agent, is good for four flights on any Argentine airline.
Where to Go
The bleak but well-kept town of Río Grande is not a popular tourist destination, but with a rod in hand it's heaven. Sitting at the mouth of its namesake river, the city is also within 75 miles of several smaller rivers, including the Irigoyen, the Ewan, the San Pablo, and the Fuego, known for its abundant wildlife--guanacos, flamingos, and otters--as well as its fishing.
A four-hour drive south from Río Grande (rent a car, or take a bus for $19), Ushuaia sits on the Beagle Channel, just east of the range called the Andean Cordillera Darwin. For fishing, your best bets here are Río Pipo and the icy Río Lapataia--where trout wriggle their way through the gorges of Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Because access to the water can be tricky--many rivers wend through large, privately owned estancias, or ranches--it's a good idea to have a guide. Make arrangements through the local tourist offices (Río Grande, 011-54-964-21917; Ushuaia, 901-23304), fishing clubs (Río Grande, 964-24218; Ushuaia, 901-23168), or your hotel. Doug Stanton's guide, Danny LaJous, can be reached at 964-22723. Remember to get a fishing license (about $20) from the local fishing club or at the government building (Gobernación) in Ushuaia. Count on your guide charging between $150 and $350 a day.
Lodging options range from $50-$100 hotel rooms with private baths (Posada de los Sauces in Río Grande, 964-30868; the waterfront Hotel Albatros in Ushuaia, 901-22504) to $8 dorm-style accommodations (Hospedaje Argentina in Río Grande, 964-22365; Hospedaje Cesar in Ushuaia, 901-214-60). Río Grande's Hospedaje Miramar (964-22462) has clean, well-heated rooms with shared or private baths for $10-$15. The Ushuaia tourist office can arrange stays in private homes for as little as $10. Outside the cities, however, you should plan on roughing it. A scarcity of public land makes camping difficult anywhere but in Tierra del Fuego's national parks. Call 131-18853 for more information.
The Kau-Tapen Lodge on the Estancia Despidida offers weeklong vacation packages, including accommodations, meals, fishing licenses, guides, and on-site access to 15 miles of the Río Grande, starting at $4,590 (not including airfare). Talk to Doug Larsen at Frontiers (800-245-1950) for details.
While temperatures during the November-to-March fishing season average around 70 degrees, nonstop 60 mph westerlies make it seem much cooler. Layered clothing and a waterproof, wind-proof outer garment are essential. Also, with the rivers running frigid, neoprene waders are a must. You'll need a sturdy rod--a six- to eight-weight is recommended. As for flies, woolly buggers, muddlers, fuzzy-wuzzies, and Montana nymphs are said to work wonders.
Argentine Trout Fishing--A Fly Fisherman's Guide to Patagonia, by William C. Leitch (Frank Amato Publications, $24.95), is the most comprehensive book on fishing in Tierra del Fuego. For a history of the area, try Darwin's journals or W. H. Hudson's Idle Days in Patagonia (Denta Press, $5.95). Once in Argentina, look for Natalie Goodall's bilingual guidebook Tierra del Fuego (Ediciones Shanamaiim, $22). Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (Penguin, $10) is required reading, bringing a literary sensibility to this wind-whipped land.