Women Outside, Fall 1998
Adeventure Classics: Fly-Fishing
I'm a rank beginner and easily charmed, but everything they say is true: Fly-fishing joy is caught in small moments, not in big trout. Like when you feel river water swishing inside your felt-soled boots and know your waders are keeping your feet dry.
This is what I learned to appreciate during a weeklong stay at Hosterìa San Huberto, 40 miles northwest of San Martìn de los Andes in northern Argentinean Patagonia. If you drove only the main routes through the agricultural province of Neuquën, you might never know that the dry-fly fishing here is world-famous. The region's prime lodges are tucked away on graveled roads, hidden behind thick stands of poplars. Hosterìa San Huberto is just such a place: a cluster of modest-looking buildings, surrounded in all directions by grassy ranchland and mountains and split down the middle by the icy Malleo River. Ten miles to the northwest is Lanìn, a snow-smeared volcano on the border with Chile.
Ronnie Olsen, a fifth-generation Argentinean of Swedish descent, is the head outfitter at San Huberto and in charge of organizing a small army of guides; he quickly determined who among our group of 14 guests were neophytes and who were the next Nick Lyonses, and paired us accordingly. I was assigned to Thomas Maybank, an amiable 25-year-old guide from Georgia with a slow drawl and hair cut in the shape of a cereal bowl, who ushered me out to the front lawn, handed me a rod, and stood back while I scared the ranch dogs with my casts.
Late that afternoon, I graduated to the river and fished until dark, with Thomas watching me deliver one ugly throw after another and offering only the gentlest of suggestions. When I'd come close to executing, he'd flash a toothy grin and deliver his highest praise: "Heck of a deal." By the time we headed back for dinner, I was ecstatic. I could cast, albeit poorly. I had stayed in the water until the sun went down.
For the rest of the week, I fished almost every day under clear fall skies and the watchful eye of Thomas. And I got better, if only by a little. On several occasions, our long days on the river were punctuated by less ethereal but no less enticing ranch activities: horseback riding in the mountain foothills with our gaucho guide, Orlando Arriagada; hunkering down with binoculars on a high, windy ridge to watch herds of deer descend into the valley for the night; and gorging ourselves on beef empanadas and the sweetest raspberry torte I've ever tasted.
Neuquën is still relatively untrampled by all but the most fanatical anglers and a small but growing clique of wealthy Americans (think Ted Turner). In other words, go soon. The lodge gears up for trout season in November and is open through mid-April. Fishing packages cost $520 per person per day, based on double occupancy (there are eight full-service doubles, each with private bath, as well as a three-bedroom cabin). Included in the cost are all meals and cocktails and guide service provided by Ronnie Olsen's company, Safaris Outfitters. San Huberto's nonanglers pay $250 per person per day.
In addition, Olsen will organize day trips to the mouth of the Chimehuin, revered for its big, land-locked Atlantic salmon, and trips on trout-laden Lake Tromen, just east of the Chilean border. Call 011-54-972-28437, fax 011-54-972-27572, or book your stay at San Huberto through the Detail Company, specializing in far-flung angling trips (800-292-2213).
Olsen also guides trips on the Traful River, three hours south of Hosterìa San Huberto. There, the base camp is Arroyo Verde Lodge (four doubles, each with private bath, $680-$750 per person per day, including all meals and guide service), and the fish are 20-inch rainbow and brown trout.
Fly nonstop from New York or Miami to Buenos Aires's Pistarini Airport on United or American ($659-$979 round-trip); then transfer to the city's domestic airport for a two-hour nonstop flight on Air Austral to San Martìn de los Andes (three times a week, $236 round-trip; 011-59-772-27003). Aerolìneas Argentinas flies nonstop from Buenos Aires to the nearby town of San Carlos de Bariloche 10 times weekly ($234; 011-59-772-23091).