31 of December 2013-11of January 2014
9pm, Concorde Lounge, terminal 5, Heathrow, London; Splash Morrison and I are relaxing having been wined and dined courtesy of BAs finest, waiting for a call from our 2 fellow adventurers. We are about to board our 15 hour jaunt down to Buenos Aries. I have worked hard to persuade Alan to join me on this trip for some years, and now we are finally due for take off. Our companions have beaten the Scottish weather to escape South, and even though Nigel and Donny have been down to Tierra del Fuego a number of times, I think we are just as excited as Alan on his first trip. The reports from the river are encouraging, good water heights and a decent head of fish, with our guides having been at the lodge for some weeks, plotting the changes in the river and gently tutoring the new boys.
It is an undefinable magic that keeps us going back. Sure, they are without doubt the biggest sea trout in the world, but it is more than that. Tierra del Fuego is a special land, huge , never ending skies, weather that is dramatic in both its intensity and its capacity to change in an instant. Nature that still feels raw and untamed, a way of life that seems to date back many years, characterised by the gauchos and their dogs rounding up the thousands of sheep and cattle that roam the vast expanse of Estancia Maria Behety. 2 beautiful lodges with the finest food and wine, and delightful staff who make you so welcome. It is also a trip to meet our friends, the guides; it always seems to me an accurate reflection of a great lodge when you find that the bulk of the guides have been there for 10 years or even more; something must be right, and these guys are the best of the best.
After a comfortable journey, we arrive to find Buenos Aries sweltering in its hottest summer for years. We take the obligatory city tour and see protests on the streets in La Boca, with the natives restless due to the power cuts that the city is suffering. After 2 nights in a comfortable city centre hotel, several hours sampling cafe life on the streets, adjusting to the local Quilmes and a couple of gentle breaking in steaks, the team are assembled again under the leadership of the Big Viking. Apart from Alan, we are a seasoned crew, who have all sampled the thrill of the Rio Grande before. The 3am alarm call for the flight down to Rio Grande is a shock to the system; it’s rumoured that certain members of the party have not made their beds at all, but we are soon airborne and heading south. We are travelling on New Years Eve and the plane is only half full, giving us space to stretch and catch up on some sleep.
3 hours later, we are greeted by familiar faces, smiles and hugs and soon the gear is loaded into the trucks for the 45 minute road trip to the lodge. On arrival, bliss, single rooms; I don’t have to contend with Splash’s snoring or Nigel’s infernal machine humming away through the night. The girls are as pretty as ever and pleased to see us again, (I think?). We are soon settling down for our first lunch, having sampled the aperitifs and the bar, and the first straffes are already being handed out to the dim witted and unwary! The daily routine is simple; breakfast at 7, guides arrive at 8, and then a morning session, 2 rods per guide until 12, then back to the lodge for drinks, lunch and then siesta. After well earned rest, tea and cake at 5.30, guides arrive at 6 and then back to the river until dark. Yes, I know, its damned hard work but someone has to do it and we have been privileged enough to have had to do it for some years.
Once we had recovered from seeing in the New Year in the BarBQ hut, complete with wine, women, song and silly hats, it was down to the serious business of catching some fish. It turned out to be another great year; we averaged over 30 fish per rod, with Donny and Nigel managing over 40 each. Lars, our inestimable Swede, still managing to outcast us all with his legendary single-handed back casting. Looking back at my catch returns over the years, the average weight was pretty much as before at around 9lbs. Perhaps this year, there were not so many big fish successfully landed, but we felt that was partly due to the cold weather that we seemed to have to endure most evenings, which was unusual, as normally the fading of day is the magic hour when the pools come alive with crashing fish. Several fish over 20lbs were hooked but not landed, and I think with better weather, results might have been exceptional, even by the legendary standards of the Rio Grande.
It seemed incredible when it was suddenly all over and we were winging our way back over the South Atlantic towards home, but so many more happy memories successfully banked, which can never be taken away. This is, for sure, one of the legendary world wide destinations that everyone who can, should do, even if you can only do it once. You will not regret it!!
Compiled by Dr Philip Fairchild