We returned recently from fly fishing in Argentina with SET Fly Fishing, after spending 7 nights and 6 days fly fishing on the eastern side of the Andes Mountain range in the Patagonia region.
Fishing is still fishing, whether here in North America or in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile. Rainbows are still rainbows and browns are still browns. We are blessed to be able to fly fish on our home waters of the Metolius as well as our fly fishing road trips. What makes this trip memorable are the people of Argentina and SET Fly Fishing in particular. There are so many things to say about our trip, but in today’s post, I’ll concentrate on our overall experience and the people who made it so unique and special.
You’ll find a few fish pictures below, but I’ll write more about the different water available and the fish next week.
One major benefit for us is to experience summer for a week during our normal winter. We left freezing temperatures and were dumped into 80 to 90 degree heat. Talk about a shock to the body!
Patagonia is known for its amazing landscapes, both the mountain views and rivers flowing through its canyons and open fields. These rivers offer world-class fly fishing and the remoteness not often seen.
We fished the Chilean side of Patagonia back in 2007 and talked about returning this year.
Instead, we found a unique experience with SET Fly Fishing and Estancia Chochoy Mallin Lodge, located in the northwest corner of Argentine Patagonia. In fact, we were only a few miles from the border with Chile.
Here are a couple maps I created showing our flights.
And a close-up of our travel in Argentina.
Yes, it takes a while to get to Patagonia.
- Portland to Atlanta – 4 1/2 hour flight
- Atlanta to Buenos Aires – 10 hour flight
- Buenos Aires to San Martin de los Andes – approximately 2 hour flight
- San Martin de Andres to Loncopué – 3 1/2 hour drive
- Loncopué to Estancia Chochoy Mallin – 20 minute helicopter flight
The lodge at Estancia Chochoy Mallin is very remote. Our 20 minute, 50 mile helicopter flight from Loncopué saved us another 3 hour drive.
Which brings me to the helicopter.
Our unique experience included heli fly fishing with SET Fly Fishing.
A typical day found us loading our rods, reels, packs, boots and waders into the exterior basket of the helicopter. Departure was around 9 am for the 8 to 15 minute flight to the water we’d fish for the day.
There’s room for 5 passengers plus the co-pilot seat, which makes 6. Three fly fishers and their guides ride to their beat for the day.
I should mention, there were only 3 of the 8 fly fishing slots filled during our week…and we were 2 of the 3!
Each of us had our own fly fishing guide, which is standard for the SET Fly Fishing program at Chochoy Mallin Lodge.
Most days, we’d drop off the other guest, Bill, with his guide and equipment and then fly to a different river for our full day on the water.
The helicopter would usually land on a grassy spot to minimize the rocks and dust stirred up by the rotors. We’d come to a stop and wait 2 minutes for the engine to cool before Pablo or Tomy (our pilots) would pull the brakes to stop the rotor and kill the engine.
The door would open, and a guide would help us out. We’d walk to the other side where the external basket carried our gear.
We’d pull out our rods, attach reels and hand them to our guides. They’d string the rods and tie on a hopper/dropper fly setup. On some days, they’d carry packs with water and our shore lunch and off to the river we’d go. The image below shows Danny and Juan setting up our rods and Pablo, our pilot, attaching a cover to the Bell 407 helicopter.
It wasn’t a long walk to the water!
It may not be obvious, but Pajarito Spring Creek is just in front of the rock pile we’re walking to.
We’d fish the morning and walk back to the helicopter for lunch some days. Turns out we walked and fished less than 3/4 of a mile on this day. After lunch, we’d return to the river where we last fished and continued walking and fishing upstream. Shortly before 5 pm, we’d return to the helicopter for the trip back to retrieve the other client and guide and fly back to the lodge.
It’s difficult to describe the “birds’ eye” view of the terrain. We’d fly close to the mountain tops and fly over a valley with water flowing through it and reach the next range and find another valley. The water looked small, but our viewpoint was deceiving.
The image below is our arrival to our first fishing location, Pajarito Spring Creek.
More Argentina from above.
When approaching our water for the day, Pablo or Tomy would find a landing spot and gently settle. If we got off first, we’d duck under the rotors, quickly get our equipment and move to a safe location.
The helicopter would spin up again and take off. We had a great view!
The helicopter didn’t land far from the Lodge.
The area is remote, but access by helicopter is a game changer. Many of the rivers we fished would require several hours of driving…one way. There is no way I’d fish these rivers without a helicopter.
Hopefully, this short video explains why the helicopter was so important.
Lorena Nicolas Creide, the owner of Chochoy Mallin Lodge, surprised us with a ride in the helicopter to 8,400 ft to enjoy the sunset over the Andes Mountains while sipping champagne and munching on hors d’oeuvres.
This is our second trip to Patagonia. One of the reasons we chose to fish with SET Fly Fishing is because they use local people as guides and staff.
I can’t speak highly enough about all the people we were fortunate to meet who helped us plan our trip, arrange lodging and transfers, lodge staff, and guides. They are truly a remarkable team whose only goal is to ensure you have a terrific time!
It all began with Kevin Landon. While his title is Sales, he spoke with confidence how our trip to Argentina would be a wonderful experience for us. He relayed what to expect at the lodge and the daily fishing experience. In addition, he helped with hotels to stay in Buenos Aires and San Martin de los Andes, airport transfers, and restaurants in both cities.
Next was Florencia Obara. While I never spoke with her directly, her emails were a source of valuable information. She provided itineraries and revisions when plans changed. She’d remind us about travel insurance, ask for copies of passports, obtain fishing licenses, and ensure we completed their personal information form. I don’t know what her title is, but I’ll call her our Travel Advisor. She too, helped with transfers from airports to hotels and back. Both she and Kevin stated there was nothing they wouldn’t do to make our trip enjoyable.
While in Argentina, Florencia was available to us 24/7. I clarified a few items, she made a restaurant reservation, and contacted us with a revised pick-up time from the hotel.
SET’s association with Q2 Travel was equally professional and efficient. They were able to book all of our flights. We had a last minute glitch a week before departure and they were able to rebook our first leg, allowing additional time in Atlanta to make our international flight.
One item I appreciated so much was we pre-paid all our transfers and hotels. We mailed a check to SET Fly Fishing about 90 days in advance of our trip. We didn’t have to worry about whether to pay in US dollars or Argentine pesos.
All of this helped eliminate much of the anxiety I had about international travel.
Nacho picked us up from the San Martin de los Andes airport and took us to Le Village Hotel, picked us up again a couple of days later and drove us 3 1/2 hours to Loncopué to meet the helicopter. He was able to tell us about the area and suggest a hiking trail next to Lácar Lake in San Martin and recommended his favorite pizza place – Pizza Cale.
Upon our arrival at Estancia Chochoy Lodge, the staff greeted us with a glass of champaine. They showed us to our room and helped with luggage.
Images of the guest hallway and guest room.
Lodge seating area.
Bar and entry.
The all-important fly tying desk.
These staff members are what made our trip so memorable. They made us feel like family.
The Lodge setup encouraged you to relax and enjoy the laid back, slow pace. Staff were thoughtful and engaging, which is why our trip was so memorable.
Here is an image of Karen with the Lodge owner, Lorena.
Alexander, our chef, on the left with Phil who served us at every meal and cocktails after our daily fly fishing.
Every night, Alexander would arrive at the table for each of the three courses to proudly tell us about the dish we were about to enjoy. Of course, it was in Espanol. Our head guide Danny, who is fluently bilingual, would translate for us before we’d begin to enjoy each course. Here are a couple of the local dishes we enjoyed.
The last evening, they prepared a traditional Osada of goat. While I tried it, I preferred the large beef steak.
They surprised us one evening by flying us to the top of an 8,400 foot mountain to watch the sunset.
Champaine and appetizers were served as we watched the sun set over the Andes.
Views from the top of the world.
Here are a couple shore lunches our guides Danny and Juan would carry for us each day.
One afternoon when I was finished for the day, I gave Juan my rod. He walked upstream about 20 yards and cast…and caught this beauty! Danny was there for him with the net.
It truly was a highlight of the many fly fishing adventures and one of the most unique experiences we’ve experienced. Perhaps we’ll return one day to experience it again.
Next week I’ll talk more about the diversity of the water we fished, and the little green worms known in Patagonia, but here are a few images of the water and fish.
Here are our first Argentina fish…
And a teaser for next week…
Till next time Chochoy Mallin…
Simply wow! Thank you for sharing what looks to be a fantastic adventure. If I can keep my wife away from Europe next year, I’d like to have us head south somewhere like this.
Outstanding trip and thanks for sharing. I’ve been to Chilean Patagonia and had a great experience there with amazing people. Your trip to Argentina is epic and when I win the lottery I plan to sign up for the next time.
Thank you so much. Moved up on my bucket list for sure. Did you use a digital language translator? If so, did that help? Weather looks like it was great, is there a prime time to travel to get the good weather?
Wow! Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to what you will show is about the fishing next week.
Wow once in a lifetime kind of trip – your blog made it seem like I was there. Thanks for sharing out your usual stunning photography and oh yes, some teasers of the piscicolas too!
Wow, trip of a lifetime!
Fantastic blog John. What a wonderful trip that must have been. Thank you so much for sharing your adventures with us. Can’t wait for next week.