Fishing: Uncharted Argentina

Virgin fish in unexplored waters are any angler’s dream. Kate Fensterstock fly-fishes golden dorado in northern Argentina.

As any angler will attest, the most coveted landscape is one that is untouched, untainted, and full of fish who are foreign to the bits of fluff we put in front of them. This concept does not just apply to fishing: a passionate traveller yearns for the wild and remote, far from the reaches of technology and everyday distractions. Falling into both categories of adventurer and fly angler, an opportunity to fish untouched waters in the Ibera Marshland of Argentina, where the team at Pirá Lodge were working on carving out new locations for guests who crave expedition and, hopefully, lucrative fishing, was irresistible.

Many experts liken golden dorado to pike or bass. The aggressive take, the importance of the retrieve and the imperative sharp set are all akin to those aggressive freshwater fish, and they offer incredible acrobatics. The aggression, hard fights and powerful jumps are what draw anglers to chase dorado in the first place. It is the unexpected, however, that keeps us coming back. Golden dorado anglers are faced with scenarios where it’s key to fish the species in ways you don’t anticipate. The diversity of their habitat means they behave in all sorts of ways. A new species is exciting enough, but paired with an unfamiliar environment, especially one that has never been fished before, is an opportunity most dream of.

To warm up ahead of the exploratory trip, we started at a special spot that one of our guides, Francois, had explored earlier in the season and was confident held results. We travelled for miles over diverse marshland, with pockets of overgrown brush and leaves teaming with wildlife, our boat navigating nimbly through the roughage.

Francois had his work cut out to reach the unexplored region he was keen to try, and he polled hard to get us through the toughest bits. We finally came upon a series of channels deep in the marshland, with water smooth and quiet as glass. As we polled through a channel barely wide enough to fit the skiff, I wasn’t sure I’d heard right when Francois asked me to get out of the boat and stand bankside. Fishing for golden dorado from the bank? My chalkstream brain switched on and my trout-stalking instincts came alive. I was amazed at how clear the water was, being able to make out the distinct flash of gold with a black stripe. I had barely started my fishing adventure and had been thrown in headfirst, kept nimbly on my toes from the word go.

I focused on a gentle roll cast to maintain the glassy, undisturbed water in order to lift my fly and haul for distance, but similar to shallow-water salt pursuit and dealing with picky species akin to permit, it was hard to land the heavy streamer delicately. Our target took one look at the fly and was off without a trace. Without a hint of dejection, Francois brought me back to the boat and we motored to the main channel. The sun was sinking and I stopped for a moment to admire the rosy glow. Argentina was just as wild and remote as I imagined, and the only sounds were the zipping of fly line, the pole in the water and native birds chirping nearby.

I started to cast again, working a double haul as Francois instructed, stripping long and fast in this slightly deeper, more complex water. We were racing against time, as we were miles from the lodge and had to beat the light. Just as I thought I would have to wait another day before meeting my first golden dorado, I felt the distinctive jerk on the line. Without a moment to spare I kept stripping mechanically, desperate to hold that line tight. “Wait for the jump!” Francois called, as giddy with excitement as I was. Somewhat overdramatically, I bowed as I had watched anglers do with leaping tarpon, but despite my theatrical flair, the line held and I had my first golden dorado in the boat for a quick picture. Just in time as well, as the sun was disappearing behind the horizon. We enjoyed a celebratory beer and sped back to the lodge to share the exciting news.

Having tasted success, I was eager for more. I was now desperate to witness pristine landscape never tainted by the human hand. We embarked the following day for a spot so remote that we had to navigate by drone, and get out and push the skiffs to traverse the channels. About three hours in, during a particularly challenging obstacle, each team member simultaneously fell through the floating marsh into chest deep water (thankfully managing to salvage any valuables). As we polled through a series of lagoons, we jumped as we spotted a golden dorado that could have easily weighed 22lb. Buzzing from this encounter, we quietly moved into a pool that we instinctively felt would be healthy. Sure enough, we had a fish every cast.

I had never experienced sight fishing like this before. The visibility allowed the anglers to really take in the bizarre nature of the golden dorado. Some takes were sudden and out of nowhere, and some takes the fish were absurdly close, having followed all the way in. I was thankful for our warm-up trip yesterday and Francois’ advice, which prepared me as much as I could have been for this funny fish. Frustratingly, I still lost two over 10lb which would have been my record to date, and I was taught to not let my strip set get lazy! I felt annoyed that I couldn’t connect into the big ones, but experiencing such intricate sight fishing was just as exciting. I had never seen such detail. And I did manage to land some beautiful fish over the course of the day.

These fish (and the surrounding wildlife) had never seen our boats, our flies, or us, which meant the fishing was as fresh and organic as it would ever be. As I stood at the front of the skiff, drinking in the diverse biota of wildlife before me, I tried to log the picture into my memory. In addition to virgin water and fish, the novice angler must do everything they can to appreciate first-time experiences. Although a lack of experience can be frustrating, success at the beginning of your career can be some of the most elating moments of your angling life.

For more information, see www.piralodge.com