World End Lodge sea trout fishing Argentina, Rio Irigoyen
It was 2009 when I last visited the Irigoyen. The operation ran successfully for five seasons before the lease price increased to a level that made operating a profitable business unfeasible. The river lay dormant for the following few seasons and one of the greatest sea trout rivers in the world – my favourite in the Southern Hemisphere – went unfished. It was tragic and a huge blow – the river reached cult status in its short life in the crosshairs. It was never an easy river, but those that understood the Irigoyen saw it as having no equal. They held it in such high regard that their annual pilgrimage was not swayed by the neighbouring Rio Grande.
It was a rejoiceful day when word arrived that the river would be open once more to visiting anglers. I could not wait to set eyes on the river, let alone cast a line. 2016 was a soft opening to allow the lodge to find its feet once more and it will now be back in full swing for 2017. During my annual trip to Tierra del Fuego in February I welcomed the opportunity to visit the lodge to see if everything was as I recalled and what future anglers and guests could look forward to.
The nearest town to the Irigoyen is Tolhuin, which is located almost equidistance between the towns of Ushuaia and Rio Grande. It is accessed through Ushuaia, which is great news as there are several daily flights from Buenos Aires and even from the likes of Calafate. Both LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas operate through Ushuaia. From Ushuaia you have a fairly long drive that will take approximately 4-5 hours. It is very pleasant as the drive North through the mountains is beautiful. The first couple of hours is on a paved highway but you then start weaving through the forest and down towards the toe of Tierra del Fuego on gravel roads. These take some time to navigate. Again, the journey is beautiful and you have plenty of wildlife and views of the Atlantic Ocean to keep you occupied.
When you lay eyes on the Irigoyen the journey is soon forgotten. All of your worries are soon given a pass and you feel a great release. That’s the power of the Irigoyen. The river is captivating and a joy to look at – it largely optimises the saying ‘there’s more to fishing than catching fish’. Thankfully there is just reward below the water’s surface to help remind us why we made the journey.
The dining room and building is perched on a bluff some 50 metres above the river, overlooking a lovely pool with the Atlantic Ocean also visible a short distance downstream. The lodge is located within easy walking distance of some fantastic holding pools and then to the sea pools and the estuary in the other direction. The accommodation building is located alongside the dining building and the whole set-up is of wooden construction, which is really in-keeping with the natural and raw environment in which you find yourself. There is no need for anything better or fancier. It’s perfect. It’s clean, comfortable and to a very high standard – especially when the extremely remote location is considered. There is Wi-Fi both in the accommodation and the dining buildings – two separate hubs; not sure if this is a good or a bad thing as it’s always nice to switch off in such surroundings.
There are no competing lodges on the river, which means that you have complete and unbridled access to the entire length of the Irigoyen – well, certainly what runs within the Estancia anyway, which takes you from the sea to above where the main tributary enters some 20km upstream. Above that the river becomes small and largely inferior. Needless to say there’s more than enough water to the four rods the lodge caters for. Beyond the main river you have the estuary and the sea pools, which is home to the robalo that enter on the flooding tide. They are a peculiar fish that take the fly readily and are the only fish within their genus and family. Looking like a cross between a mullet/bass they are very strong fish with fins running almost the entire length of their body. Robalo primarily eat weed, worms and crustaceans and big catches of them can be made, especially when the water is warm and have been caught in excess of 15 lbs.
The main river meanders gently through lenga and Antarctic beech trees. These trees are very old and provide a fantastic habitat for wildlife. The trees also provide excellent protection from the wind that the island is synonymous for and rarely will it hamper your efforts. Whilst the path of the Irigoyen is one of a lowland river it retains a gradient anglers adore. Every corner is a holding pool and every meander holds that classical ‘pool-run-riffle’ combination. Wherever a logjam or a deep undercut bank is found rest assured a sea trout is not far away and every pocket must be picked to find a willing participant. The fishing style is more akin to high-sticking for trout. Short, accurate casts are needed, followed by good line control to achieve the perfect depth. Misjudge the cast and you either fall short, lose a fly or your fly passes over the taking spot before the fish has a chance to intercept your offering. It is technical, thought inducing, but manageable and ultimately rewarding.
If you are looking for easy fishing then this is not for you. You really need to think in order to succeed on the Irigoyen. However, this is what makes it special and why those that truly understand it would never trade in the experience.
The run is substantial and they start to enter the system in good numbers from December. Indeed, January is definitely a prime month and the river will often produce long before the Rio Grande does. Steelhead are often reported in the early weeks too, but these should never be expected or counted on. You will get the occasional rainbow and brown trout in the river, but not big numbers and the star of the show is definitely the sea trout. You will find some small sea trout – 1-3 lbs – but these are very rare and the main run size starts at around 4 lbs with an average weight of around 8 lbs. There’s a fantastic head of double figure sea trout in the Irigoyen and each and every week someone will at least hook a fish of around 20 lbs, but landing them on such a small river is certainly another matter! In recent years sea trout to 117cm have been landed. My first afternoon on my first visit to the river resulted in two fish; one was 16 lbs and the other 20 lbs. I’m sure you can now gather why I have a deep connection with the river ever since – I was in awe.
During my visit this year the river was low and clear. When the sun was at its highest you would be forgiven for thinking the river was devoid of all life. The sea trout sulk under the logjams and in the deep pools, sometimes tempted out with a well presented nymph or leech. However, as the sun started to hide behind the trees and hills the river soon came to life with fish venturing from their daytime lairs. This really opens your eyes to the number of fish present and how a river can soon be written off, but conditions were solely to blame.
The guides are fantastic. They know the river and they know the fish. Knowing just one element just won’t do on the Irigoyen. They bounce you from spot to spot looking for a contender and will do everything in their box of tricks to make things happen – it’s a tough life being a guide on the Irigoyen and there’s a lot more work involved than on most rivers. However, like the anglers that understand the Irigoyen these guides too understand what a special place it is to work and would not have it any other way. They are also immensely realistic and will tell you if it’s better to go and chase the robalo for a while rather than wasting energy on the sea trout, returning later in the day when conditions would be more favourable.
Another great aspect of the Irigoyen is its size. The river is some 10-20 metres wide over majority of its course, which means that only single handed rods are needed. Think more trout fishing than salmon fishing in the fishing style. It is all about line control, depth and speed. These are the key factors that will produce the fish, especially in the daylight hours. In the evening and as the sunsets it is more about swinging sunrays and leeches, but these are again easily managed on a single hander.
Hooking a fish is never a guarantee of landing it and this rule is exacerbated on the Irigoyen. You will never fish with anything lighter than 15 lbs leader and 20 lbs is often better in the daytime stepping up to 25 lbs in the evening. The fish are rarely leader shy – as long as you have presented the fly well and with stealth then you are in with a shot. Before the fish is hooked or even cast to you must study your surroundings and work out an exit strategy for the fish. What do you need to avoid? What could lose you the fish? Where do you really need to clamp down on the fish? Some pools are blissfully obstruction free, others are a tackle graveyard! If it’s the latter then it can often be a case of hit and hold until the fish is away from any impending snags – hence the strong leader as this is easier said than done with a double figure sea trout. In other pools you can fight the fish at your leisure and these are often the pools that are targeted under low light conditions as discerning obstructions under such light levels is all but impossible.
The fishing is accessed by foot, truck and argos – amphibious six wheel vehicles. The argos were left from the original operation and work perfectly. They are relatively comfortable and enable you to access the remotest sections of the river. Indeed, very little walking between pools is needed with the aid of the argos. When you do need to walk then the walking and wading is very easy – bar the occasional fallen tree or branch. The riverbed is mainly fine gravel and there are few wading challenges; care should be taken on drop-offs etc. though, of course.
This is an overview of the Irigoyen and what you may expect to face when visiting the river. There are easier rivers on which to catch sea trout but none or few that would ever give greater enjoyment. If the river sounds like fun and if you would like to consider fishing it then please do get in contact and we’d be delighted to assist with your booking. The river can easily be combined with a stay on the Rio Grande and can also be combined with a stay at Estancia Laguna Verde on Jurassic Lake due to the direct flight from Ushuaia to Calafate. You can also fly from Calafate to Bariloche, should you want further trout fishing options.
World End Lodge sea trout fishing Argentina, Rio Irigoyen
Aardvark McLeod have the worldwide exclusive on the Irigoyen at World End Lodge. If you would like to visit the please do make contact – space is already filling up fast for the 2017 season. If you would like more information then please do not hesitate to contact Steffan Jones or call our office on +44(0)1980 847389.