I had no reason for my eye to wander. The fishing in Patagonia had been everything promised: the trout wily and strong, the Malbecs big, the afternoon asados under the reaching willows a perfect ease into siesta. But place a rod in a fly fisherman’s hand and his feet get itchy and his attentions soon stray. He is forever looking just beyond the bend to the next river, the next fish; where moving water is concerned, monogamy does not suit him. So at trip’s end I sidled up to my guide and asked him where else he’d recommend.
“Well,” he replied slowly, “there’s a river where a lot of guides go when they have a few days off.” The Río Limay. The trout are legendary, he said. But the access? Difficult. The river? Tough. The lodging? Nonexistent. Outsiders don’t often venture there.
All this was about to change, the guide continued. The godfather of Patagonian fly-fishing now had turned his attentions to the Limay. Jorge Trucco was building the only lodge, a beautiful lodge, on the best stretch of one of the premier rivers in all Patagonia.
He was a good fisherman, that guide. He had set the hook, and I was on it.
In Argentina, a country lousy with world-class trout waters, the Limay (pronounced Lee-MY) may be the most remarkable. The river begins at Lago Nahuel Huapi, in northwest Patagonia’s famed Lake District, a three-hour drive from Bariloche, and uncoils through dry country for some 270 miles until it joins another river to become the Río Negro. Gifted, obsessed fishermen have long come to the boca, the mouth, to hunt the aggressive brown trout—river monsters that can embarrass a yardstick—that every fall migrate into the river from the big lake to spawn.
But the rest of the river, the rest of the season? That had been nearly an afterthought.
In late March, Trucco and I bounced down an axle-bending ranch road in a pickup truck. I’d come to see Trucco’s newest venture, Limay River Lodge, which he and partners opened last November. Trucco is a smart, garrulous 64-year-old Argentine who speaks flawless English. He has done more to popularize fly-fishing in Patagonia than perhaps any other person. Since 1978 he has opened or helped establish 17 of the top fly-fishing operations here. His gift is an ability to sniff out the fishing opportunity where others see none.
Limay River Lodge is the latest. Out the truck’s windows scrolled a low, thirsty scrubland, a landscape that recalled eastern Oregon: pretty, in a grudging way. A flock of rheas (think ostriches) fled before us. Trucco explained that as the Limay pushes out of the Andes and into the desert, it’s pinched by four hydroelectric dams. But it’s after the second one, the Pichi Picún Leufú Dam, where things get interesting. For about 60 miles the river transforms into the region’s only tailwater. That means there’s a constant spill of cold, clear water that’s ideal for insect hatches. As a result, the Limay Medio, as the stretch is called, is home to rainbow trout that average 18 to 24 inches—gorgeous fish grown fat on grasshoppers and other bugs, and hard fighting, too, thanks to their training-table diet and the strong current. The upshot? Big, less-savvy fish that are catchable even by novice fishermen, often with dry flies, the ne plus ultra of fly fishing.
The problem with this Brigadoon has been access; most of the land is in the hands of a few estancias, so few could fish it. But Trucco and partners have bought more than 500 riverfront acres in a central location along the Limay Medio. They’ve built the only lodge and struck deals to access much of its length.
A twisting ribbon of blue appeared in the dusty scene. At first look, the Limay intimidates. It’s massive, almost a half mile across at its widest. Great trout rivers of the American West—the Snake, the Madison—seem a trickle by comparison. “Like all large, fast rivers, the Limay reads like a closed book,” Cameron Chambers writes in the new book Chasing Rumor. But we had Pablo. Pablo Viñaras, 40, is the lodge’s lead guide. Before we pushed off in the drift boat, Pablo tied a Fat Albert fly—a chunk of foam with eight legs that resembles both everything and nothing—to the end of my tippet.
It was Trucco who started hot. One trout slammed his fly, then another—fat, handsome, high-leaping rainbows with bellies as chrome bright as a Thunderbird’s bumper. We dropped anchor and Viñaras bid me to follow him. This big river braids, and braids again, creating more-manageable channels that are rivers unto themselves. (Two drift boats can push off together, take different channels, and not see each other again for hours; you can fish here for a week and never flog the same water.) A guide like Viñaras knows the Limay’s ledges, drop-offs, rock piles, riffles, and cut banks where trout hold—its “sexy water,” in guiding argot. “Cast here,” he said, pointing to a skinny seam of water. I was dubious—but I obeyed...and soon was coaxing an 18-inch fish out from the kiddie-pool shallows.
At lunchtime Viñaras dropped anchor at the base of a handsome vermilion cliff and produced a table and chairs. He whipped up a salad and popped the cork on a nice Malbec. Trucco, who’s fished for nearly a half century, told fishing stories as the river silently pushed past, over cobbles the color of church stones. Limay means “limpid” in the native Mapuche tongue, and this river is so clear you can read a newspaper headline on the bottom.
After lunch Pablo and I stalked a feeding 19-inch rainbow in the current that rippled off the red cliff. When we turned around, we found a gallery of white vicuñas watching from the crimson rocks.
Trucco caught many fish that day; I caught several—and missed many more. Not one of them was small. Several of Trucco’s measured longer than 20 inches. Three minutes after stepping off the river we were at the new lodge. Chef Juan Cruz Moy Peña waited at the truck’s door with a tray of guacamole tarts. Willow logs burned in the courtyard’s fire pit, beside a tray of cocktail fixings and the first of many bottles of Mendoza wines.
Surrounded by the green of willows and exclamatory poplars, Limay River Lodge is an intimate seven-room lodge made doubly cozy by its low horseshoe shape. It rather resembles a Southwest home. The rooms are dressed in an uncluttered, almost Nordic spareness. The lodge’s central area continues the mood of attentive casualness. The dining room table is six planks wide, so all the lodge guests can sit together for dinner at once, swapping lies about their fish and enjoying Moy Peña’s very Patagonian meals of pejerrey, a local fish, followed by house-made venison ravioli.
Days here take on an agreeable predictability: up in the cool desert morning; fish until the moon is on the water; shower and dinner and more Malbec; sleep hard; repeat.
By my fourth day on the Limay, my Fat Albert had been chomped so much it looked like it had gone to war. I’d seen more gauchos in berets, and their sheep and horses, along the river than other fishermen. As I packed up, I realized my eye hadn’t wandered to the next river. Instead I was already plotting my return to the Limay.