Sitting in the rain shadow of the mighty Andes, the Patagonian steppe is a beautiful but austere landscape. Due to low amounts of precipitation and frequent high winds, it is hard to find any vegetation much taller than your knee. Seedsnipe call from the scattered boulder outcroppings and Black Chested Buzzard Eagles patrol overhead. Winding through this remote country is the Barrancoso River, a small river fed from the snow on far distant peaks. The river's journey ends when it hits an old volcano caldera and forms the miles wide "Jurassic Lake".
Photo Credit Jurassic Lake Lodge
Technically Lago Strobel by name, it is our understanding that the lake was coined "Jurassic Lake" by some of the first fishermen to discover its rainbow trout treasures so they could talk about it without giving away its location. This has become a moot point, as the lake is fortunately or unfortunately entirely on private land and not accessible to DIY anglers. However, there are a couple of established fishing lodges that provide access to the lucky and adventurous anglers who make the trip. Corinne and I have stayed at Jurassic Lake Lodge twice over the past few years and it is a place that has become a home away from home. It sits exactly where you want to be, right above the river mouth overlooking where the river joins the lake, and the wine and food are excellent to boot.
The evaporation off of the lake is so constant and so intense that there is no river outflow, creating a "terminal lake" that is one of the most productive trout fisheries in the world. Why? Well of course a productive fishery starts at the very bottom and works up - the alkaline water creates a nutrient balance that supports a massive scud (freshwater shrimp) population. These scuds are so plentiful and such a rich diet for the trout that the growth rates of fish in the lake seem to be astronomical. It is not uncommon to catch a smaller individual (small in this piece of water becomes relative very fast), that has a tiny head and tiny fins in relation to its body size due to these growth rates. I also think there has to be some limitation to the fish spawning success in the river as the average size of the fish in the lake does not seem to be decreasing over time. In any other large body of water with a huge food source where non-native salmonids were introduced, eventually the numbers of fish go up and the average size goes down. Think of lake Taupo on the North Island of New Zealand for example... But I digress here and I am not a fish biologist, so that remains pure conjecture on my part.
As you walk down to the lake, a very crisp breeze on your face, the sound of waves breaking gets louder and louder. When you hit the shoreline and look out for cruisers the water is a crystalline, almost unnatural looking shade of turquoise blue. You wade into the cold water off of the rock pebble beach, strip off some floating line and send a bugger out past the line of turbid water created by the shoreline chop. Let it sit for a slow count of two and then start a slow, methodical retrieve. Eight feet later you feel a subtle double tick come through the fly line to your fingertips. Instinctually you set hard and immediately feel the explosive power of a chrome fish that will easily clear 12lbs. This is when you need to clear line as the first hot run takes your slack line and the fish jumps repeatedly heading offshore. If all goes well, and you are on a solid hook, minutes later you will be looking at one of the fattest, cleanest, healthiest looking trout you have ever seen.
The river offers a whole different experience all its own. The opportunity to sight fish to a 6lb fish in small pocket water is pretty unique. Dry fly fishing can also be fantastic on the lake and the river. When the wind does die down and slicks out the lake, the fishing can become a bit more technical and dry flies are often the best play...
In my estimation, if you factor in numbers of fish, and average size of fish (the 20lb mark is not uncommon), there is not a better trout fishery in the world right now. I would love to hear of a better one, so please feel free to give me a heads up if you have a good lead. In the meantime, when we can once again travel you may find us back down at Jurassic Lake Lodge sipping a glass of malbec and watching the moon rise over the lake in a star leaden southern sky.