Northern Patagonia

Home to some of the most famous rivers in Patagonia, Northern Patagonia, also commonly known as the “Lake District”, boasts a rich fly fishing history and culture, making it a veritable “Trout Mecca” among Argentine fisheries. At roughly 40 degrees south, it holds the northernmost of Patagonia’s trout waters and is one of the most popular destinations among both Argentine and foreign fishermen. With a compact network of crystalline streams and rivers pouring freely from large Andean lakes, this area has drawn anglers from around the world for well over half a century, and for good reason. Offering unrivaled opportunities for rainbow, brown, and brook trout in pristine watersheds surrounded by a relatively hospitable landscape and good infrastructure (by Patagonian standards), no other region caters so well to the various needs of visiting anglers.

Although Northern Patagonia itself is quite large, its trout waters are mostly confined to its western margins which hug the eastern slopes of the Andes. The entire system straddles a distinct climatic transition zone, where temperate rainforests in the Andean cordillera abruptly give way to the increasingly parched steppe to the east. As such, many of the best trout rivers in this zone originate in forested mountain lakes and then flow mostly through arid, treeless valleys contrasted by verdant riparian vegetation clinging to the river banks.

Much of the scenery is dominated by the lush temperate rainforests of Lanín National or Nahuel Huapi National Parks, which encompass nearly every headwater lake in the system. Snow-capped peaks such as Mt. Tronador or Volcan Lanin rise prominently over the surrounding landscape, with permanent glaciers clinging to their steep slopes extending nearly to the dense forests below and are visible above the arid terrain to the east for many miles, providing a dramatic backdrop when fishing some of the region’s most popular rivers. The prehistoric Araucaria, or Monkey Puzzle tree, is also one of the area’s most defining characteristics and is unique to this part of the world. An ancient vestige from when dinosaurs still ruled the earth, it has endured since the Mesozoic Era and is one of the world’s oldest living tree species “ engendering much of the land with an exotic air, at once primordial and otherworldly. Gauchos, or Argentine cowboys, on horseback and native Mapuches with ox-driven carts are also regular sights, and it’s not at all uncommon to see these antiquated modes of transportation unhurriedly passing through downtown Junín or Alumine. Taken together, all of these aspects quickly establish Northern Patagonia as the setting for a truly unique fly fishing experience.

Fly fishing the Malleo River

Bariloche on the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi

Trout are the main angling quarry in northern Patagonia, and can be found in nearly every waterway in the region after their wildly successful introduction over a century ago. Many the area’s lakes also happen to contain significant numbers of trophy-sized trout, some of which exceed 20lbs. While they can be difficult to pursue in the lakes, seasonal migrations to nearby rivers can produce some unforgettable encounters. Suffice to say that anglers could spend a lifetime exploring the region and still not see it all.

Migratory brown trout on the Limay

The best and the worst part of fishing in northern Patagonia will likely stem from the same factor of generous public access. On the upside, tourist services, fishing guides, car rentals, etc. are easy to find here, and a short jaunt out of town will often bring you to any number of outstanding waterways, making busses, taxis, or even bikes viable transportation options. Combine this with typically good road conditions, and northern Patagonia is clearly the most feasible choice for the do-it-yourself fisherman.

On the other hand, all of those same factors make this one of Argentina’s most popular and accessible areas, visited by thousands of tourists each season. In this respect, the northern region can feel somewhat less “Patagonian” and adventurous than the more remote regions to the south. Since most of the fishing is located relatively close to several small population centers, some stretches do receive a modest amount of pressure. It’s still comparatively light by North American standards, however, and it’s entirely possible to spend a day without encountering another angler.

Spring Creek near San Martin de los Andes

The Upside: Many waterways to choose from; good dry fly fishing, abundant access & tourist services.
The Downside: More fishermen; average fish is somewhat smaller.
What to bring: a fast-action 4-7 weight rod with a floating line is ideal for most situations. Lake fishing & larger rivers may require heavier rods and heavy sinking lines.
When to go: Trout fishing is good all season long. Early season (Nov-Dec) brings good lake fishing but is more prone to high water and erratic weather. Many smaller tributaries fish best in with high water, however. Summer (Jan-Feb) means good hatches and easy wading, but is the height of tourist season. Fall (Mar-Apr) brings brown trout migrations from lakes, but low water and cold weather can make things challenging.
Primary Towns: Alumine, Juni­n de los Andes, San Marti­n de los Andes, Bariloche.

In Part 3, we’ll continue our journey south to the next fishing region: Central Patagonia.