No beef with a lunch of trout in Patag­o­nia

Feast­ing on fish from the world’s short­est river

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - ROBIN POW­ELL

THE lake district of Ar­gen­tinian Patag­o­nia is not short of panoramic post­card views. The jagged, snowy peaks of the An­des, some days glar­ingly white, oth­ers fore­bod­ingly misted in cloud, back great ex­panses of wa­ter.

A vi­brant yel­low bor­der of broom scram­bles along the shore­line in early spring and is re­placed later in the sea­son by a vi­sion in pas­tel as pink and pur­ple lupins and shrubby li­lac come into flower. But even by the area’s high stan­dard for vis­tas, the view from our ta­ble at the Cor­ren­toso Lake and River Ho­tel is a beauty.

We are perched on a bluff over Lake Nahuel Huapi and to­day clouds and rain-squalls al­ter­nately re­veal and hide the moun­tains as if in a grand magic show. The yel­low broom lights up the rocky shore­line.

So far, so beau­ti­ful. The ex­tra draw­card is that the ho­tel looks down on the spot where the Cor­ren­toso River rushes into the lake and fly fish­er­men try their luck for brown and rain­bow trout.

The Cor­ren­toso has the hon­our of be­ing the world’s short­est river. It’s a 165m rush­ing tor­rent that con­nects Cor­ren­toso Lake to the larger body of wa­ter that is Nahuel Huapi, and is world-fa­mous for its fish.

It’s early Novem­ber and the sea­son has just be­gun; there is only one fish­er­man brav­ing the melted snow waters. Judg­ing by the num­ber of tackle shops in the pretty lit­tle nearby vil­lage of Villa la An­gos­tura, high sea­son must be stand­ing room only. With a hat pulled low over his ears and his col­lar up against the misty rain, the fish­er­man casts from the rocky shore then wades into the cur­rent, fol­low­ing the pull of his lure into the lake.

He’s up to his armpits in the freez­ing depths, j ust his head vis­i­ble in the swirling waters be­fore he backs out, un­suc­cess­ful this time, and tramps back up the river to start again. It’s mes­meris­ing.

But we tear our gaze away to ad­dress the menu and wine list, rav­en­ous af­ter a wet walk through the nearby na­tional park. Eat­ing in Ar­gentina is gen­er­ally a car­niv­o­rous af­fair, and the choice is not whether to have beef but which cut of beef to choose and which sauce to eat it with. How­ever, here there is, of course, trout. We opt for carpac­cio of trout and trout-stuffed ravi­oli with a cou­ple of glasses of Ru­tini chardon­nay from a list fea­tur­ing the best of Ar­gentina’s very good wines.

The room is el­e­gant but not stuffy and on the walls are framed posters from the ho­tel’s past, fea­tur­ing line draw­ings of well­dressed, pre-war couples loung­ing lan­guorously in front of that fa­mous view. At the time the only way to get to the Cor­ren­toso Lake and River Ho­tel was by a steamer called the Con­dor that was car­ried into Ar­gentina in pieces over a moun­tain track from Chile. Days ear­lier, we had walked part of the same track.

Our waitress Flavia and her col­league Flavio are a serene and help­ful pres­ence and no one seems to mind that we are dressed not at all like those chic couples in the posters but in damp walk­ing gear. The food is el­e­gant, too: the trout carpac­cio a pretty peach colour, served with warm con­fit toma­toes and tiny fresh mi­cro­greens; and the pasta silkys­mooth over a del­i­cately flavoured stuff­ing.

On our sec­ond glass of wine, there’s a buzz in the room — the lone fish­er­man has been suc­cess­ful. The fish darts through the shal­lows and leaps to es­cape but he lifts it to his face and kisses it be­fore re­leas­ing it to the river and walk­ing back to do it all over again. We or­der more food — what else but pan-fried trout — and set­tle in for more of the show.

When the chill gets too much for him, the fish­er­man’s place is taken by an­other, whose bor­der col­lie ea­gerly tracks him from the bank while madly at­tempt­ing to catch the tiny birds buzzing over the sur­face of the wa­ter. The dog is such great en­ter­tain­ment, we de­cide to linger and have dessert — chocolate mousse in a sea of creme anglaise, and a par­fait of dried sum­mer fruit.

When we fi­nally leave there is just enough light left to look for the fish. From a lit­tle wooden bridge that spans the mid­dle of the world’s small­est river, we spot a brown trout hold­ing its own against the cur­rent, and dis­tin­guish­able from the rocks un­der the wind-blown wa­ter only when it twists and catches the light in a flash of sil­ver.

A fly fish­er­man gets lucky

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