Tierra Del Fuego

A remote archipelago situated quite literary at the end of the earth, Tierra del Fuego has long held a powerful allure over travelers, navigators and explorers alike. Prominent historical figures such as Ferdinand Magellan, Charles Darwin and Captain Fitz Roy sit at the forefront of this land’s rich history of exploration and adventure, and many prominent landmarks still bear their names. Somewhat of a misnomer given its harsh climate, the “Land of Fire” actually derives its name from the numerous native Yamana campfires Magellan spotted in 1520 upon his discovery of la Isla Grande (the largest island in South America), and the strait that would later bear his name. Then, as now, Tierra del Fuego is characterized by long winters, short summers, intemperate weather and indefatigable winds. But this hasn’t deterred modern day travelers either, who continue to visit Tierra del Fuego for the simple novelty of seeing the “end of the earth”, or to follow in the footsteps of these great explorers. Fishermen, however, have different motives – chasing the southernmost salmonids in the world.

Trout are also the primary gamefish in Tierra del Fuego, but unique conditions here have transformed many of their populations into anadromous runs. Instead of clear streams pouring over stony bottoms, the waterways in southern Patagonia are heavily influenced by glacial runoff and soil tannins. The result is cold, cloudy, and nutrient-poor water that usually cannot sustain healthy resident trout.  As a response, both rainbow and brown trout have developed sea-run behavior, and the rich waters of the South Atlantic allow these fish to grow to record-breaking proportions. When these monsters return to the shallow coastal rivers to spawn, they produce angling opportunities that are unrivaled throughout the world. An average brown here is quite probably a fish of a lifetime most anywhere else, a fact which draws discerning fishermen from around the world, and has won the best rivers international fame (the Rio Grande and Irigoyen). Not surprisingly, access to these rivers is mostly controlled by private fishing lodges. While certainly worth the money, most anglers intent on doing it themselves best look elsewhere.

Upon entering the city of Río Grande and gazing up at the15ft statue of a giant sea trout proclaiming the area as the ¨Trout Capital of the World”, it becomes immediately apparent that fishing is pretty damn important in Tierra del Fuego. Indeed, fishermen from all over the globe are drawn to this remote corner of the world, mostly for a chance at the monster sea-run brown trout that make the island famous. When an English settler by the name of John Goodall fortuitously brought 100,000 sea trout eggs to the island in the 1930’s with hopes of establishing a South American equivalent of his beloved English pastime, he sowed the seeds for what has arguably grown into some of the finest fly fishing on earth. Because of his foresight, TDF has made an international name for itself within fly fishing circles for the trophy sea trout which have since propagated in varying degrees to nearly every Atlantic drainage on the island.

The foremost of these is of course the Río Grande, a sea trout river without peer and one of the most famous and coveted fly fishing waters on the planet. An average sea-run brown on the Grande is the fish of a lifetime most anywhere else, and while the attention it receives is certainly well-deserved, the Grande’s reputation overshadows many other excellent fishing opportunities on the island. Fishing some of the lesser-known Fuegian waterways is also different experience than anglers often imagine. Owing to the predominance of images from the Río Grande, some fishermen are under the impression that all of Tierra del Fuego’s landscape is nothing more than a rolling windswept prairie. TDF is much more dynamic, however, and offers some truly spectacular and unique scenery, consisting of beaver ponds, lichen-covered beech forests and austral tundra, among other things.

The world-class sea trout fishing is certainly what draws the vast majority of fishermen to this part of the world, but that’s not to say that quality resident trout fishing doesn’t exist. To the contrary, but it can often be more challenging compared to northern Patagonia for a number of reasons. While some of the region’s fisheries may yield world-class trout fishing, others may prove to be quite uninspiring, yielding disappointingly small fish, or even none at all. Compound this hit-or-miss fishing with poor road conditions, vast distances between drainages, and a harsh climate, and it’s little wonder this portion of Patagonia is categorically the least-known and visited among anglers. Unlike the north, DIY trips are less feasible here, so hiring a capable and well-equipped guide is often crucial to success. Unless, of course, you opt for one of the premier lodges catering to sea-trout, which are on par with luxury resorts the world over.

Luxurious Kau Tapen Lodge on the Rio Grande

The Upside: Unparalleled sea-run brown trout fishing, some surprisingly good resident trout fishing; world-class lodges;
The Downside: high winds; public access restricted on many sea-trout rivers, expensive to get to.
When to Go: Sea Trout begin entering the Rio Grande in (Dec – Feb) and continue to be fishable through fall (Mar-Apr). Resident trout can be pursued all season long.
Primary towns:  Rio Grande, Ushuaia

And that’s Patagonia in a nutshell. In part 6 we’ll discuss of the other fishing zone in Argentina – the domain of the golden dorado.