Limay River guides
Home to the largest brown trout in Patagonia
Make the tourist hub of San Carlos de Bariloche your basecamp to fish one of Patagonia’s premier rivers on daily float trips with local guides. Great for the visiting angler who would like to squeeze in a few days of fishing while exploring many of the area’s tourist activities.
One of the most important, dynamic and challenging rivers in all of Patagonia, the Limay drains the immense Lago Nahuel Huapi near Bariloche, flowing some 430km northeast through increasingly dry steppe until its confluence with Río Neuquén to form the Río Negro. Although it has decent populations of resident rainbow and brown trout (a few surprisingly large), it is the migratory brown trout, both from Lago Nahuel Huapi and the reservoirs below, that are the Limay’s main attraction. Surrendering more than its fair share of behemoths, the Limay is arguably one of most productive fisheries for trophy-sized non-anadromous brown trout in the world today. Superbly conditioned on a diet of pancoras and baitfish, these migratory browns average 4-7 lbs, although fish over 10 pounds are relatively common and every year fish over 15 lbs are landed. This certainly doesn’t mean the fishing is easy, however. The Limay’s secrets are hard-earned and closely guarded, and as with most migratory fisheries, patience, determination and time are all requirements for success.
Except for the uppermost section, the Limay is a system of interconnected dams and reservoirs. Beginning from the boca, it flows freely some 40km before entering the backwaters of embalse (reservoir) Alicura near Confluencia. From Alicura dam, the Limay makes its way to embalse Piedra de Aguila, which in turn flows into embalses Pichi Picun Léufu, Ramos Mexia, Chocón and lastly Arroyito before its tortured course finally ends with the confluence of Río Neuquén. This may sound complicated, but from a fisherman’s perspective the Limay can easily be broken down into three distinct segments – Upper (including the famous boca), Middle and Lower.
Meaning “limpid” or “transparent” in the Mapuche tongue, the gin-clear waters of the upper Limay often belie its size, power and depth. Even in its upper reaches, this is a large river with deceptively powerful currents that are often much deeper than they appear, and we’re not above admitting that our first steps into the river resulted in an unexpected dunking. However, its boulder-laden bottom is mostly free of moss and algae, so you can usually find good traction with felt soles – assuming your feet touch the bottom. Untamed by dams, the river here has a diverse structure, characterized by intermittent islands, side channels, large bends, deep pools and shallow riffles. Fishermen usually divide the upper Limay into two basic parts – the Boca and the rest of the river.
Only 16km east of Bariloche is the legendary boca of the Limay. With public access on both sides of the stony shoreline where the water abruptly plunges from Nahuel Haupi to form the river channel, it has a popular following of dedicated anglers. In the fall when the migratory browns are entering, it’s almost a certainty that you won’t be alone, and for good reason. During peak season it’s sometimes possible to look down from the Ruta 237 bridge and see schools of dozens of jaw-droppingly large browns from the lake. Many of these fish are fresh from the lake, completely chrome, and very hot – more akin to salmon than salmo trutta.
Most serious fishermen come to the Limay in search of large migratory brown trout, making fishing here a primarily big fish/big tackle affair. Although a few savvy anglers are able to catch these oversized fish on dry flies, unless you’re fishing for resident trout, you can probably leave the five weight and #12 Adams at home. Sink-tips and large streamers are the best way to coax one of these bruisers into biting, and most anglers use 7-8 wt rods that can handle long casts, sink-tips, wind and large flies. A bigger rod also comes in handy if you’re lucky enough to hook into one of these submarines.
As with migratory fish everywhere, timing is of critical importance. Although they can be found in the Limay throughout the entire season, some months are decidedly better than others. The very beginning of the season (November to early December) is often marked by excellent fishing, but high water and cold, wet weather can make conditions unpredictable. January and February typically see the lowest concentration of migratory fish in the river, and due to summer vacations, also suffer the most fishing pressure. Even though the summer months may be slow in this regard, fishing for resident fish can still be productive and the odd pig down from the lake is always a possibility. March and April provide the most consistent fishing, for sometime during this period fish begin preparing for their spawning run, moving down from the lake en masse. When exactly the run will begin or how many fish it will constitute is anybody’s guess, though.
The tailwater conditions along the middle Limay has proven to be excellent habitat for indigenous species such as perca and pejerrey, providing an ample food source for large, piscivorous brown trout. Much of what used to be excellent spawning grounds for the trout, however, has been lost to inundation. This has vastly increased the competition for suitable spawning territory, upsetting the natural balance of the fishery and favoring the development of larger, more aggressive migratory fish over smaller resident fish. Indeed, the middle Limay is a big fish river suitable for fishermen searching for a trophy migratory brown, not for those hoping to enjoy the day with consistent action on smaller resident fish, though the resident rainbow fishing for 12-18inch fish can be outstanding.
While definitions vary, for all practical purposes the middle Limay is all the water between the Piedra del Aguila dam and the tail end of Ezequiel Ramos Mexía reservoir (roughly 70km in total). Because river flows are dependent on releases from the dams, water levels can oscillate wildly throughout this stretch, routinely sending surprised fishermen and campers running for safety, so keep this in mind while wading or before setting up camp near the river. Compared to the upper Limay, the middle stretch is somewhat wider, windier, and more homogenous with less-obvious structure, although it does occasionally branch into various side channels and take on a more dynamic character.
All access to the Middle Limay is via Ruta 237, but except near the outflows of Piedra del Aguila and Pichi Picun Léufu dams, the majority of access is private. Some of these private access points will grant permission for a small fee or to those who simply ask politely, though floating this river is by far the preferred method.