December 11, 2013
Flyfishing Travel: The Next Best Trout Lodge in Patagonia
By Kirk Deeter
If you want to catch astoundingly large rainbow trout—sometimes several in one day—and you're willing to travel (almost literally) to the end of the earth to do so, there's a new lodge operation worth putting on your bucket list. It's called Kooi Noom, which loosely translates to, "the fish path," and it is located in one of the most remote places in Argentina. Mark my words: This place is going to generate plenty of buzz (and plenty of impressive photographs) in the coming months. I am the first writer to visit this lodge and experience the fishing here. And what I have seen so far is remarkable.
But first, some context: Several years ago American anglers started getting wind of a place in southern Patagonia dubbed Jurassic Lake. Rainbow trout fry were planted in this lake in the 1990s—originally with the intent of being harvested for food production. But because the waters here were so rich with aquatic scuds, the rainbows ballooned to massive sizes in a short time, and soon the powers-that-be realized that a sport fishery revolving around catching double-digit (pounds, not inches) rainbows eclipsed the value of the commercial operation. Thus, a legend was born, and people ventured from all over the world to catch the Jurassic rainbows.
What few knew was that another nearby lake (Lago Quiroga) was also initially stocked years ago, and that lake (as well as a series of lagunas, the inlet and outlet to that lake on Rio Capitan, the river itself, and a nearby spring creek) also burgeoned with populations of rainbows eating aquatic-insect steroids and exploding in size as a result. That fishery has been under wraps. I first got wind of what was happening here in 2008, when I fished with brothers Alex and Nico Trochine on the Rio Irigoyen. It's been in development since then, but now, the brothers Trochine and their company, Faraway Flyfishing, have teamed with Untamed Angling (which runs the fabled Tsimane Lodge for dorado in Bolivia) to open Kooi Noom. And I'm here now.
Here's what I can report so far:
The fishing can be absurdly productive and mind-blowing. It can also be extremely challenging. You can do it all here; it all depends on what flips your switch. If you're into big fish (10-plus-pound rainbows), they're here. But you can also fish a small spring creek and rack up sheer numbers of smaller fish. Anglers who come to fish here should consider bringing anything from a 2-weight fiberglass hopper-flinging stick, to an 8-weight saltwater rod with sink tips and a good supply of steelhead flies. If you're looking for a cookie-cutter situation where you expect to show up and do the same thing, day after day, this isn't the place. On the other hand, if you want to experience a best-of-Patagonia fishing sampler—where you see all facets of flyfishing that will entertain and excite you, yet also test your skills as an angler—I have never seen any place quite like this.
Mind you, this is no small place. The estancia (cattle ranch) where the lodge is encompasses 50,000 acres by itself. It's kind of like having your own private county to fish in.
There are some drawbacks worth mentioning: First, getting to Kooi Noom, for the American angler is a major chore, no matter how you slice it. After your 10-hour flight to Buenos Aires (plus some, depending where you're starting from), you need to make a 3 1/2-hour flight to El Calafate. After that, it's a six-hour drive to the lodge. No matter how you slice it, a smart person would take two or three days just to get here, and break up the trips with stops in Buenos Aires and El Calafate.
Second, the wind screams here, all the time, as it does on the Rio Grande. If you don't know how to cast a fly rod in the wind, it would be a very bad call to spend your time and money to try to figure that out down here. That's not to say that this is an advanced-only fishery, because you don't have to cast far—and the fish are eager, especially the smaller fish in smaller waters. But if you're going to freak when the wind blows over 20 mph, don't do it. It's also cold.
If you're a native fish person and you get hung up about fish that were planted at some point, well, you shouldn't trout fish in South America in the first place (or New Zealand, for that matter), because all of the trout here were all planted (generationally speaking) at some point. The fish you catch here are full-finned and often bright and hot. Most often, you are catching wild descendants of the originally stocked fish.
All of that having been said, I'll add that the guides here are great. The speak English and are world-experienced—and they're 99.99 percent more likely to be a better caster and angler than you are. The food is great. The lodge is great. The comforts are great. The scenery is absolutely amazing. This is one of the last truly wild fishing places on the planet.
At dinner the other night, I polled the other five guests (the lodge only takes six anglers a week) about how they felt about the experience, and without naming names, I will say that the unanimous consensus was that everyone would come back. Most of these folks have fished the best established lodges in the world. That wasn't a lightweight endorsement.
If you have interest in checking this out, the American travel company with the most insight, and has been most supportive of the project, is Flywater Travel. Trust me, this is going to be the most hyped, most intriguing new flyfishing destination in the world for 2014.
More to come, but for now, I think this photo of Alex Trochine and me says what's left to be said.