Putting some urgency into my bucket list paid dividends recently in South America. Nice to know there are still some fish that can make me jump...
Start making up your ’bucket list’ because life’s too short not to
I’M sure you saw the recent feature by Dave Lewis which described his adventure to South America and fishing for the exotic golden dorado ( TF issue 502). It was a timely read for me, as it coincided with my return from roughly the same area, and like him, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Yet despite organising trips for 28 years, I never had much interest in this particular fish. Finally, it hit me that I was behaving like too many people I talk to, and keeping too many things permanently on the ‘back burner’. It was the loss of a friend, who had talked adventure without ever going on one, which made me actively plan a new experience. The outcome saw my wife and I making the long-haul flight down to Argentina in October, for a few days in bustling Buenos Aires, before heading north to the Parana region, which is a truly vast waterway. It’s hard to comprehend the sheer size of this fascinating marshland area, which has a water flow exceeding the combined rivers of Europe, and is home to a bewildering variety of birdlife. The trip involved a meeting of old friends and the chance for us all to try a whole new approach to fishing holidays. Over the decades we had each fished from various lodges and comfortable tented camps, through to more basic outpost camps, and some of us had really roughed it with pup tents in extreme wildernesses, but this was altogether different.
The mother ship
It took the genius of Luciano and Roberto Alba to oversee the conversion of a large boat into a floating hotel/lodge which can move around the complex waterways of the Parana to wherever is fishing best. This father/son combination operate the hugely successful Laguna Verde lodge on lake Strobel in southern Argentina and their latest venture is sheer genius. The boat proved to be so comfortable, with superb dining, that any misgivings I might have had about taking my wife along, were very quickly dispelled. This lovely lady is well accustomed to being a fly-fisher’s wife and has many times been to Alaska with me, so this style of holiday proved to be a winner and we now have yet another fabulous memory. But what of the fishing? Well, I have to say that dorado are possibly the most aggressive freshwater species I have ever fished for. They don’t ‘take’ a fly, they attack it! They will gang together and ambush their prey or launch unexpected assaults while lurking near cover. Searching for those concealed individuals demands accurate casting into the bank or around snags, with bulky, weighted flies which then need a strip retrieve. When the attack comes you have to strip-strike instantly and then repeat: all this to set the hook into a mouth of teeth and steel, which you must hope won’t reject the hook during the series of explosive jumps that you are about to witness. It’s exciting, demanding and very different. Would I do it again? Emphatically yes. I loved the remoteness, the company, the luxury of the ‘mother ship’ and above it all – the fish themselves.
Hooked fish get attacked!
Dorado are pretty, they are tough and they come in all sizes from a pound to 20lb. I didn’t personally net anything over 5lb but then it was unseasonably cool and windy: at least that’s my excuse. However, there were fish to 8lb caught and much better trophies are there for the taking. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate as a hooked dorado, chances are you will also have to contend with your bigger relatives, who think it’s perfectly fair to bite chunks out of a struggling fish. We all like full-tailed, full-finned catches but in this context, it’s a bonus one learns to treasure even more than usual. Their main prey species – the sabalito – can get to about 7lb but it must be a fraught existence for them, never knowing when you are next going to be attacked. Apart from this toothless, baitfish species, everything else seems to have teeth, and more terrifying than others. I’m sure there will be more species to come on my next trip, but I did enjoy fishing for the traira, or wolf fish. This tough predator likes to be stationary in slack water areas and ambush anything unwary, whether it’s a baitfish, a frog, a baby duck or just anything edible. It was fun to cruise the guide boat into a shallow, weedy backwater and smack a floating, popper onto the weeds and then twitch it back. My goodness the take was so sudden that I literally jumped. Then, a bit of a thrash, and this toothy wolf fish was ready to photograph. Okay, it wasn’t too clever to drop it in the boat next to my wife’s feet as she was taking the pictures, but I hope that the few days in the Buenos Aires shops were compensation! I reckon that this ‘mother ship’ style of fishing in the Parana is a major hit, and it’s going to be another ‘highly recommended’ addition to my escorted trips. Easily reached the same day that you land in Buenos Aires, after a road and boat trip, it’s not ridiculously expensive either and an 8wt rod is enough, although you definitely need a wire trace and heavy leaders, with a selection of 4/0 flies. And it really pays to have some casting lessons on how to smack these bulky patterns into the structure.
“Well, I have to say that dorado are possibly the most aggressive freshwater species I have ever fished for. They don’t ‘take’ a fly, they attack it!”
The writer with an Argentinian golden dorado.