Casting Call Argentina: Anglers who didn't get enough trout this season should head south -- far south -- to Patagonia, where summer is ready to peek around the corner and the streams are still pristine.

November 09, 1997|By Joe Doggett | Joe Doggett,HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Trevelin, Argentina -- Visionary Jules Verne had his time machine and surfer Bruce Brown his endless summer. Anglers traveling to Argentina can experience the best of both concepts.

Patagonia represents a return to the Rocky Mountains of 50 years ago.

The ice-clear streams are a time warp, a throwback to an era of dusty roads and uncluttered vistas, where the next pool around the bend always seems to sparkle with open water and rising trout. You can fish all day without seeing a fast-food wrapper. There may not be one for a thousand miles.

And, snug in the Southern Hemisphere, Patagonia's summer is our winter. When the Rockies are frozen in snow during January and February, the rainbows and browns of Argentina are rising to dry flies in shirt-sleeve weather.

It would be misleading to suggest that the entire region is uncrowded.

The word on Patagonia's excellent fishing has been out for years. (The trout were stocked from the United States and Europe during the early 1900s, and the resource has flourished in an ideal habitat.) Certain rivers during peak weeks will experience pressure, but Patagonia is not exactly around the corner, and the overall traffic during the summer season is a trickle compared with the upscale onslaught that invades Montana and Colorado each summer.

The farther south you travel, the more competition you leave behind. The town of Esquel in the province of Chubut sees a fraction of the angling tourism in Bariloche, the primary jump-off about 200 miles to the north.

The village of Trevelin is 25 miles from Esquel. The winding drive through the pastoral valley to Trevelin reaffirms that fly-fishing can carry you to some of the most pleasant and picturesque destinations. The mountain air after a quick summer shower is so bright that the light seems to snap between land and sky.

Trevelin was settled by a Welsh colony during the 1890s. It has quaint charm -- what else can you say about a village with a narrow-gauge railroad, ancestral teahouses and water-wheel flour mills instead of rush-hour lanes and corner convenience stores?

Trevelin is surrounded by fly-fishing water, with several major rivers and numerous small streams and lakes within a reasonable drive. The village has for some years enjoyed regional popularity as a ski resort, but the summer options of fishing, hiking and camping may soon surpass the snow season.

Fishing lodge

A front-runner in the angling enterprise is O'Farrell's Trevelin Lodge. The mountain-style lodge, built of wood and stone, was completed in 1996.

It sits alone on a scenic ridge and overlooks the Rio Percy, a small stream that cuts through the edge of town. The family-owned lodge includes six double bedrooms and, according to manager Martin O'Farrell, can tailor fishing packages to suit individual timetables and tastes.

The O'Farrell family has several generations in Trevelin, and Martin's parents, Hubert and Eleanor, have been operating O'Farrell Safaris for 13 years. The company specializes in fishing and hunting excursions throughout the vast Patagonia region. The new lodge serves as the home base, and family pride seems to warm each room: It's more like an Old World inn than a trendy fly-fishing resort.

The lodge is a full-service fishing facility. Three guides plus Martin worked during the 1996-1997 season. The angling is fly-fishing only, and all fish are released. Senior guide Caleb Gates, and Jeremy Freymoyer and Mikey Langford, all of Telluride, Colo., are American "trout bums" who follow the summer and serve on either side of the equator.

Fine dining

All meals are prepared by the lodge's kitchen, and Martin's brother, Lio, is the resident chef. Lio trained in fine restaurants in Europe and Buenos Aires as well as New York's Waldorf.

Many of Argentina's residents draw from European traditions, and nobody gets excited about eating until 9: 30 or 10 p.m. This "fashionably late" dining is balanced by a 7: 30 or 8 a.m. wake-up.

The morning meal is light: a scant bowl of fruit, perhaps a piece of toast or two.

Most noon meals are taken streamside (fishing is, after all, the priority), and Lio loads down the Land Rover with coolers of groceries and vintages for the sumptuous midday feasts.

The afternoons are long, with anglers often remaining on the water until 6 or 7 p.m. This late schedule coincides with various aquatic insect hatches, bringing forth rising trout and renewed enthusiasm for the "mosca seca," or dry fly. No small consideration, the extra hours provide ample time to recharge appetites. Sleep comes easily -- if not in a crash -- in the cool night air.

Each day can bring new fishing water as Martin and the guides confer to juggle the various options based on water conditions and angling preferences.

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