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Great Trout Rivers of Argentina - the River Limay in Patagonia
The Limay River flows northeast out of the large Nahuel Huapí lake, over 500 square kilometers at 41º05' S, 71º20' W and 780 meters above sea level in the Provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquen, close to the city of Bariloche in northwest Patagonia up against the Andes Mountain Range.
500 kilometers north, near the city of Neuquén, it meets the Neuquén River at 270 meters above sea level, to become the Rio Negro, which in turn flows east into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Limay is a big freestone river, so much so that there are five hydroelectric and irrigation dams on its way north. The largest of these is the Chocón dam, which generates 1200 MWH.
The average water flow of the Limay is about 230 cubic meters per second varying according to the time of the year and snow and rainfall in the Andes Mountains.
Trout are not indigenous to Argentina, they were introduced by settlers in the late 19th and early 20th century and have adapted magnificently all over the country, especially in Patagonia.
The Limay River and the reservoirs of its dams are home to several native fish, amongst them the Patagonian Silverside (Odontesthis hatchery), Zebra Trout (Aplochiton zebra jenyns), Spotted Minnow (Galaxias maculatus), Large Mouth Perch (Percichthys trucha) and the Patagonian Catfish (Hatcheria macraei) on which the big brown and rainbow trout of the Limay feed.
They also eat Páncora, fresh water crustacean (Aegla spp), strong swimmers propelling themselves with their tail in up and down movements exposing belly and eggs which are salmon pink; Crayfish (Samastacus spinifrons); amphibious and terrestrial insects and in sandy bottoms freshwater clams (Diplodon chilensis), the latter of not much interest to us fly-fishermen except as a source of protein and calcium for the trout.
From an anglers point of view, the Limay can be split in three sectors, upper Limay (Limay Superior) with a length of about 60 kilometers from Lake Nahuel Huapí to the Alicurá Dam reservoir (about 70 square kilometers); Mid Limay (Limay Medio), about 80 kilometers long, from the Piedra del Aguila dam to the gigantic Chocón reservoir (about 900 square kilometers or 350 square miles) and the lower Limay (Limay Inferior) from the Chocón Dam to the Rio Negro.
I have fished the banks and floated the upper Limay, the prettiest part of this river as it flows through mountainous and wooded areas, including the "Valle Encantado" where wind and water have eroded the mountains to form gigantic statuesque rock formations. Good to fish as it has resident trout as well as migrants from the Nahuel Huapí Lake, the Alicurá reservoir and the Traful and Collón Curá rivers. It is not far from the city of Bariloche, thereby has many more anglers wetting their lines in its waters.
This section of the river is typically Patagonian, flowing through steppes with sparse vegetation on its banks.
In the fall (March to June) trout start leaving the Chocón reservoir to swim up the Limay to their spawning waters. About 80 kilometers up-stream the Limay is interrupted by a dam close to the town of Piedra del Aguila about half way between the cities of Neuquen and Bariloche.
The fishing season in this area closes at the end of May, later than in most Patagonia, to be able to take advantage of this run.
Limay means whispering waters in the indigenous Mapuche language
Nahuel Huapí means lake of the jaguar in Mapuche
Neuquen means strong current in Mapuche
Bariloche is named after the long lost Vuriloche tribe from Chile that crossed the Andes through an undiscovered secret pass. It was said they were cannibals
Chocón is an extinct plant. Its edible roots were part of the Mapuches staple diet
Alicurá means milk-white stone in Mapuche
Valle Encantado means enchanted valley in Spanish
Traful means union in Mapuche, perhaps referring to where the Traful and Limay rivers meet
Collón Curá means stone mask in Mapuche
Though not as abundant or as large as the browns, rainbow trout of good sizes can also be caught. As with the browns, they spend most of their lives in the deep waters of the reservoir and only acquire their usual coloring during their travels up stream.
This is definitely trophy trout fishing as 15 pound browns and 10 pound rainbows are not unusual. Although they can be caught with a dry fly at select places in the right weather conditions, most fishing is done with streamers, large ones, fished in the deep channels of the river. Muddlers, the hall of fame Wooly Bugger and lightly dressed streamers such as the Mickey Finn and the Clouser Deep Minnow as well as tube flies and articulated streamers tied on Waddington shanks can tempt the fish.
Large, heavy and bulky flies are harder to cast and take longer to go deep which must be considered when selecting a fly. The smaller rubber leg Bitch Creek variations such as those popular on the Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego are also an option as they sink fast. I presume their attraction radius is smaller than that of a big streamer, but then each pattern has its drawbacks and advantages.
Wading is limited as the channels are deep and the river is wide so, when walking the river, two handed rods come into their own.
On several occasions, late in the season, I have fished about 30 kilometers of the Limay Medio with guide and friend Diego Buzzurro, floating in Diego's catarafts downstream from the town of Piedra del Aguila, where we stayed in one of the several "Bed and Breakfast" motels. As in Diego's other programs we were up at 7 am and on the river by 8 to 8:30 depending on the section we were floating. A picnic lunch by the river at noon and we would wind up just before nightfall. On the times I have fished this river did not notice any difference in the activity at dusk, magic time on some waters. Though renowned in local angling circles, I have never encountered other rafts during my time on the water. Some anglers are seen casting from the banks, but they are few and far between and only close to where there is access to the river from the roads.
I use my #9 weight 14 foot two handed rod here with a Skagit 650 grain head with interchangeable floating or sinking tips as I find it less tiring and easier to handle in the wind than a single handed rod. When very long casts are needed I cast overhand, and am always amazed at the distances that can be achieved with a long rod and these lines. I make a big mend or two to help my fly go deep and some twitches while the fly swings around and start stripping when the line straightens into the current. Though easier to do standing up, it can be done sitting in the comfortable seats on the raft. When fishing streamers I use long sinking tips with a 7 to 9 foot leader and tippets of up to 2X tied to the fly with non slip loops.