Fly Fishing Patagonia
The Andes around Baroliche have innumerable hike-to fishing opportunities. But most require some local knowledge and most commonly a guide. We prefer to travel alone and find our own way even if it means less fish. (See our story on Northeast Brazil). The beauty for us is in the search. Our MO in Patagonia is to rent a car and travel the Pan-American highway finding spots along the many rivers and streams that border this long road. We stop and ask at most towns and look for the telltale signs of others fishing an area.
The road itself can be a worthy adventure. While most of it is paved now, there are still large unpaved sections that traverse some truly inspiring places.
Stories Told While Fishing
Late in our trip, after about a week driving trying to find slower waters we broke down and hired a guide. .Thomas, an east German ex-pat come fishing guide, had moved to the area in the late 80’s. He was a nice enough guy, a little ragged with his garb, wearing a woolen sweater that had seen better days, but oddly composed. He spoke Argentinian-accented spanish with a german undertone – something new to us.
We talked about the winter melt and the fast moving rivers everywhere and he recommended an area north of Bariloche close to the Swiss Colony. This has access to many smaller rivers and large creeks that run into one of the larger lakes. An easy hike with clean river-banks that required little wading in the cold water to cast.
A Biblical Style Plague Story
The hike in was about a mile and a half long. It took us about 45 minutes through a combination of alpine forest and rocky outcroppings overlooking the lake. Throughout our hike, a local bamboo seemed to be overrunning every inch of the forest floors.
We had noticed this plant previously on our drives, on our hikes, and on the road – it was everywhere. Low to the ground and looking like a tropical plant, this seemingly invasive species was growing all around especially under large eucalyptus and the Arayanes trees that are endemic to the area. In between, large swathes of these bamboo groves seemed to have died/dried out with only old limbs with prickly stems visible. It was curious to us as they seemed out of place in a northern alpine setting such as this. Thomas noticed our curiosity, and as we hiked to our spot he shared his experience with the Caña.
40 Years in the Making
The locals call the bamboo species: Caña – a common name in Latin countries for a “feathery” grass. This native species chokes anything on the forest floor that is not tall-old-growth trees. It also is an important food source for many small animals as its seeds are resistant to freezing and can be counted on for sustenance long after their bloom. Their most interesting fact, and one that is little understood, is that the flowering of Caña happens about every 40 years. During these periods of intense transformation, the forest becomes engulfed in the feathery flowers of this widespread grass.
The 40-year bloom provides an abundance of seed for the local rat population – the primary consumer of the plant. This in turn creates the perfect conditions for a rat plague of biblical proportions – and an increase in the hantavirus cases in the area (the last major bloom happened in 2011 – link in Spanish) but there is one going on right now (January 2019).
As hundreds of the local field rats (Lauchas) breed to thousand, and thousands become millions, they decimate what’s left of the Caña’s bloom. Because of this temporary over population, the rats embark on a free-for-all to survive- driving them to forge streams and rivers and invade towns and villages. The story goes that rats in numbers large enough to dam a stream, thousands upon thousands, create a hairy rodent bridge, that once the pressure from the water reaches too much for them, to hold, the rats are washed away and inevitably drown.
Coastal communities deal with the bodies of these rats on the shorelines for weeks are a problem for these communities (link in Spanish). After the bloom, nature returns to balance, while waiting for the next 20 or 40 years until the Caña blooms again.
We finally reached the stream but it was running too fast to fish well. We cast for a while but only for kicks. The only animal we saw was a hawk looking down from his perch, but we couldn’t stop thinking about the rats.