Argentina: land of endless empanadas, impressive scenery, excellent wines, too much steak (Argentinians eat steak like Americans drink water), beautiful people and of course Patagonian Fly Fishing! I’m about as green as gringo gets in the world of Argentinian Fly Fishing. I’m not an expert fly fisherman and my Spanish could use several more decades of practice. As Kooi Noom guide Juan Manuel Oroná put it, “tienes mucho la cara de gringo” which roughly means “you’re definitely not local”. Despite being an obvious fish out of water, I visited the ranch nestled in the Andean foothills of Argentine Patagonia to see how the season is going and discover what makes Kooi Noom such a popular Fly Fishing destination worldwide.
I found that fishing at Kooi Noom is well under way in the 2016-2017 season! Since November every week has been filled with fishermen from around the world, some fulfilling lifelong dreams of angling in Patagonia while others are returning for a second or even a third time! With the exception of low water levels on the Rio Capitan, this season has consistently produced sight fishing for both large quantities of rainbows and giant fish on multiple different types of water…and there is no one around except you.
Kooi Noom Water Types
With only 6 anglers max a week on a 40,000 acre working ranch, Kooi Noom has been a trout fisherman’s buffet of options. Anglers can choose from many different types of trout angling, from lake fishing for monster rainbows (Lago Quiroga and Lago Toro) to river fishing (Rio Capitan) to spring creek fishing (the creek here is adeptly named “spring creek”). Some menu items are served daily and fish consistently, such as lake fishing and spring creek fishing.
Hows the Fishing Been?
Some menu items are more seasonal and may change, similarly in fashion to your New Year’s resolution or dating (as guide Diego Domingues explained to me). In the 2016-2017 season, water levels on the Rio Capitan have been lower due to low snow pack the past winter. As a result, the larger lake fish literally cannot fit from Lago Quiroga into the Rio Capitan to spawn as they normally can in November and December. Although fishing on Rio Capitan is still excellent with resident fish, the river has not surrendered the main course of giant transient lake fish that it usually does.
Fortunately, no angler ever goes hungry at Kooi Noom. Little to no fishing pressure has created the perfect environment to catch fish. Lago Toro and the spring creek are always productive and have been yielding large quantities of bright rainbows with the occasional behemoth. If you are confident in your wind casting abilities, Lago Quiroga is an option when your goal is to pursue the giant of a lifetime. A couple anglers have accomplished the feat this season…please see the below photos if you have doubts. As guide Diego said “catching fish here is 100% guaranteed”, yet anglers have to be flexible with the season’s changes and manage expectations accordingly. It will be hard to expect Thanksgiving Turkey on Cinco de Mayo, yet that still doesn’t mean you can’t fill up on tequila and guacamole (ok I’m done with food metaphors). This means that monster fish are still here, just not as many in the Rio Capitan this year.
On any given metaphorical holiday, trout enthusiasts have left Kooi Noom satisfied from both a production and terrain diversity standpoint. I was surprised to see clients pulling 10 lb. trout regularly from Lago Toro. A guide educated me upon seeing my astonishment. He informed me that these trout were average for Kooi Noom while in other years anglers could pull 20 or 30 lb.+ fish from the Rio Capitan and/or Lago Quiroga when water levels were higher. Holy guacamole I wonder what a “normal” year looks like here!
If you are wondering what flies to use at Kooi Noom, bringing your entire trout collection is encouraged as these fish are hyper aggressive. Streamers of all kinds are highly effective in the lake environments, with black and olive wooly buggers producing well this season. For the Fly Fishing purist, only dry flies are recommended on the river and spring creek. Elk hair caddis, grasshoppers and any other big floating bug will entice a strike. Dries in colors white and yellow have seen quite a bit of success this year. As these fish rarely see flies, most well-presented flies are going to be eaten quickly!
Despite year to year changes in water levels or fly selection, I asked head guide Alex Trochine what’s making the Kooi Noom season memorable this year. His answer to me is simple: the fishery is growing. Not only are fish populations sustaining themselves and adding even more big fish, they are also expanding into peripheral streams and lakes here in the system. Every year offers a new place to catch Rainbows and a new chance to land a bigger fish than last year. To keep Alex’s message simple, every year seems to have been better than the last.
And the Food?
I found that anglers may unexpectedly eat more than the fish here at Kooi Noom. While you are out fishing all day, professionally trained Chef Luciano Levay and brother Gabriel are spending their entire day crafting food for clients. From midday picnics or lunches at refuges throughout the estancia, or breakfast to dinner, the menu they have created is as delicious, varietal and Argentinian (a mix of Spanish and Italian influences) as the styles of fishing here this season!
Once you’ve exhausted your morning fishing abilities, one can expect a lunch of Argentinian Tortillas, Sandwiches, Ensaladas, Empanadas, Milanesa and many others. Appetizers and dinner are always served in the cozy setting of the Estancia’s casita. Appetizers include Argentinian Charcuterie (meats and cheeses), Spanish Croquetas, Canapes, Escabeche or delicious soups. Dinner here has become a trademark of the Kooi Noom experience. Ribeye, pastas, vvok (pronounced guac) and pork tenderloin make regular appearances on the menu. However, the most famous dinner occurs on the last night of every angler’s week: Patagonian Cordero (lamb) cooked over an open flame grill. As Kooi Noom shares land with a working ranch, a lamb is donated by the ranch owner the day of dinner so guests are guaranteed fresh food! As always wine from Mendoza, beer and spirits can accompany appetizers and dinner. I strongly recommend trying the Fernet, a liquor of Italian descent which is quite famous and tasty here in Argentina.
Overall, the 2016-2017 Kooi Noom season has been exciting and memorable. This year offers a new and growing angling experience for those that come. Whether you are seeking a trophy of a lifetime, trying to catch as many fish as possible or simply trying to revel in the culture of Argentine Patagonia, Kooi Noom may be the place for you (it has been for me at least). There are still some spaces available for the rest of 2017 and more available for the 2017/2018 season…contact us if you would like to explore potential dates!
– John Duchardt