IN SEARCH OF EL DORADO:
Following an overnight flight from London that had included a brief stop at Sao Paulo in neighbouring Brazil, finally our plane started its descent over the broad expanse of the River Platte in preparation for landing at Buenos Aries. We were going fishing, of course, but first we had arranged for a couple of nights stay in Buenos Aries, a city I had last visited on a merchant ship in 1980. Back then I had found ‘BA’ a dour place to be, a grey city firmly under the grip of the oppressive Junta regime, that ultimately lead Argentina to war with Britain following their invasion of The Falkland Islands.
Today Buenos Aries is bright and lively, a city that is well worth a visit in its own right. It is a city that is remarkably European in appearance and character, clearly reflecting its rich Spanish heritage. There is plenty to do and see and you’ll find many fine restaurants, notably along a smart new waterfront development at the old docks, where I had berthed aboard the ‘Wild Flamingo’ all of those years ago.
Be sure to take in some Tango, either at one of the many clubs in the evening or during the day at the historic La Boca district, home of the famous Boca Stadium and Boca Juniors football club that has produced many foot balling legends, including Maradona. Go and visit the cemetery where Eva Peròn, Evita, is buried, the architecture and shear size of some of the individual tombs you’ll find there is amazing.
Full of steak and good Argentinian wine, our small group travelled north to Corrientes on the overnight sleeper bus from Buenos Aries. At first I was a little dubious when I was told I was going on a ten hour bus ride, but I assure you this is no ordinary bus ride. The trip is a very comfortable and surprisingly pleasant experience, thanks to first class airline style seating plus a hostess supplying hot food and drinks.
We left the organised chaos of Buenos Aries central bus terminal around eight in the evening and arrived at our destination, San Isidro, at around six in the morning. It was still dark as we were deposited along with our luggage at the dusty roadside in the middle of nowhere and with a twinge of concern watched the bus drive off, but just as promised our hosts were there, and after brief introductions we were driven a short distance to their lodge for a sumptuous breakfast.
Located in the Corrientes Province in the far north of Argentina, ‘Gaucho country’, Dorado Cua Lodge has been built on the banks of a narrow channel that after forcing its way through thick rafts of reed and weed for a couple of hundred yards eventually slinks its way into the Rio Isoro. A tributary of the mighty Rio Parana, the Isoro is a tranquil and constantly meandering ribbon of water that flows sedately through the southern fringes of the Iberian marshlands. It is an area that is both stunningly beautiful and phenomenally rich in wildlife, especially fish, and notably the ferocious Dorado I recently travelled half way around the world to catch.
For years the fresh water dorado of South America, that continents version of Africa’s fabled tigerfish, had been high up on my fish species bucket list. As this much anticipated trip drew closer I spent many hours glued in front of my computer researching all I could about the fish locals call the ‘Tiger of the River.’ My research revealed that while dorado can be caught on a wide range of different types lures and bait, they are regarded very much as a fly rod species. Consequently I decided I would fly fish for Dorado, and in most areas of the Parana drainage system it seemed fishing fast sinking lines in deep, often heavily coloured and invariably swift flowing water was the way to go.
The various Internet pages I viewed had been illustrated with many fine fish, fish that had averaged well in excess of 10lb with, or so it seemed, 20 pounder’s being very much the norm in some rivers, notably the Parana. Whenever possible I love to fly fish but I am not what you would call a fly fishing purist; I will happily catch fish using whichever method the prevailing conditions dictate. That is why about three quarters of the mountain of fishing tackle I had arrived in Argentina with was geared towards lure and bait fishing; but thank goodness I had included a couple 8 and 9wt fly outfits. As things turned out, these were the rods I would use almost exclusively once I had had a few days to explore this truly amazing fishery.
Gliding out into the main river that first morning, I could see that for the most part the water was extremely clear. In many areas we fished the bottom was clearly visible, as indeed were the fish in some of the most productive areas we worked. Discussing this with our guides and lodge owner Mario Battiston everything quickly became clear, if you’ll pardon the pun! The vast expanse of the Iberian Wetlands serves as an enormous silt and sediment removing filtration system, feeding a plethora of pampas lined creeks, hyacinth choked lagoons and countless hidden backwaters before eventually entering the main river and the result; fly fishing heaven!
Fuelled by those images I had seen of huge rod bending double figure dorado, that first morning I decided to spin. My guide indicated I should cast near a sunken log sticking out into and deflecting the main flow of the section of river we were fishing; a classic fish holding spot. I started to cast, working the lure seductively around the main structure of the log, full of the enthusiasm and raw excitement that comes with those first few casts of a new trip in a new destination, and on about the third cast I hooked my first dorado.
As the lure fluttered back towards me I saw a disturbance beneath the log, followed by a golden flash as a chunky five or six pounder slammed the metal spinner and exploded through the surface film the second it felt the hooks. Immediately the fish tried to swim back beneath its sanctuary under the log, and I had exert absolute maximum pressure on my tackle in order to turn it the other way. I was just feeling I was getting the upper hand when the fish took off on several powerful runs punctuated by frequent frequent gill rattling, head shaking, airborne acrobatics, cross a tarpon with a tiger fish and the result will be a dorado, I thought to myself, when eventually I managed to bring the fish to boat for a quick photograph and release.
I caught plenty more fish that morning before we headed back to the lodge for lunch, but most were smaller weighing between 1-4lb. The afternoon session produced lots more fish with others lost, including one or two that just might have weighed better than10lb. These we caught on pretty much any type of lure we threw at them, and even on the medium weight spinning tackle we were using the only real challenge once hooked was to bully the fish clear of any structure in the vicinity, then provided the fish never threw the hooks when they jumped they could be played reasonably quickly towards the guides waiting Boga Grip.
On the morning of the third day I decided to fly fish. Having now become familiar with the topography of the area we were fishing I correctly guessed that a sinking would not be necessary, and that a floating line would be perfectly adequate to present the fly. I set up an 8wt, the reel loaded with a standard weight forward tropical saltwater line to which I tied a 9ft 12lb test leader that terminated in six inches of fine wire, necessary insurance given the Dorado’s serious array of dentistry.
I tied on one of the lodges $7-a-time ‘special Dorado flies’; a chunky, heavily dressed creation that featured an intriguing mix of trailing black cock hackles to form a tail, a bulky body built of black and red buck tail, a few strands of peacock herl lying across the top, along with some gold Flashabou running through the middle. The head consisted of a pair of lead eyes around which the tier had built a substantial head formed from black deer hair, certainly as I examined by new purchase over dinner the previous evening it had looked the part, and it was!
The lodge guides adopt one of two tactics when the anglers want to fly fish; both are exciting and both invariably are immensely productive. The first approach is to silently drift parallel to the edges of the main channel, a comfortable cast away from the edge of hyacinth or reeds. The guide uses a short paddle to control the drift, while the angler casts as close as possible to the waters edge or any visible structure. Accuracy is important; you need to place the fly as close as possible to whichever feature you are fishing.
You cast, let the fly sink a few moments, then steadily strip it back with long slow pulls. Takes are explosive, arm wrenching affairs and you should attempt to set the hook by firmly strip striking. The instant the fish feels the resistance of your line and the hook it will jump, giving you a glorious display and visual confirmation as to exactly what you are attached to. Even run-of-the- mill though plentiful two to three-pounder’s provide fantastic sport on a fly rod.
The second technique was to anchor the boat at the head of one of the main feeder channels that drain either away from or into the main river, or at the head of any of the gentle sets of rapids or swifter flowing channels. The angler stands at the stern then casts down and across the current, again fishing the fly with a steady stripping action. After a couple of casts, the guide releases a few extra yards of anchor rope allowing the boat to drop back and for the fly to cover new water. In these areas, which invariably were shallow and with a light sandy coloured bottom, often we could watch as as many as a dozen fish would charge from cover to attack the fly.
Towards the end of our week long visit I was using my fly rod pretty much exclusively, though with flies costing seven bucks a throw and only lasting for maybe half a dozen strikes before they were stripped back to almost a bare hook by the fishes razor sharp teeth, it was starting to get expensive! I decided to fish a fly of my own creation, a crudely tied, heavily dressed black and yellow Clouser Minnow that I had tied on a super sharp, super strong Owner Aki hook, a fly tied originally with thoughts of trevally in The Indian Ocean in mind.
Initially my handiwork was given the thumbs down by our guide, though this fly and a selection of other similar patterns in varying colours I had with me all produced plenty of fish, indeed by now it was apparent that here fly fishing really was considerably more productive than spinning. We were averaging around a dozen fish in the morning session along with a similar number in the afternoon, while on one magical afternoon when conditions were just right I personally landed around two dozen fish to my own rod, all on flies I had tied myself.
In addition to Dorado, most sessions we fished produced a few ‘Pira Pita’, again especially on fly. Never heard of a Pira Pita; nor me, just think of a roach with teeth and a bad attitude and you’ll get the picture! Piranha are present though were not abundant during our trip, I caught one on bait. I also caught a weird looking fish on fly the guide called a San Antonio Bass, and have since learned is actually a rarely seen Pike Cichlid, ‘crenicicha vittata’. The river system also holds several large species of catfish including the red tailed and surubi, and enormous great freshwater stingrays.
During the week we never actually caught a double figure fish, my best was a little over 9lb, but we hooked and lost several fish that might have gone twice that. Reflecting on that trip I have find that actually it’s the prospects of catching plenty of more modest specimens on fly that I is drawing me back to fish again at Dorado Cua Lodge, though of course I would like to catch a truly large Dorado.
Fishing aside, I’ll also be relishing the opportunity to again tackle what must truly be the most amazing, biggest, juiciest steaks in the world, and, of course, those fine Argentinean wines. Throw in a perfect climate with hot days, cool evenings and clear star filled skies, surprisingly few biting insects, and some of the most gorgeous sunsets I have seen anywhere in the world, and its not hard to understand the attraction of fly fishing for Dorado on the Rio Isoro.
The absolute peak time to fish the Rio Isoro is from January through until April, when the water level is at its lowest and clearest, making this a perfect add on to those of you fishing further south in Tierra Del Fuego and Patagonia for trout and sea trout.
Next trip I’ll again take both an 8wt and 9wt which given the size of fish I now know prevail will be perfect, while still being able to handle any of the bigger fish should I hook one. These bigger fish are undoubtedly present, I lost one estimated at 15lb plus, and we were told that at times they are caught with some degree of regularity. Floating lines are ideal but I will also carry a few lines incorporating an intermediate and a sink tip next trip, specifically to fish some of the deeper stretches of the river, again with better fish in mind.
For more information contact Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717