dropped through mountains, pausing in deep green pools. Above our camp at Pichi
Traful, where the river eddied among mossy boulders, large trout rose softly
beneath the trees. The fish I had fought was done in, writhing and rolling,
bright silver above the bottom gravel. One last, violent splash and it was
shimmering in my net. My shout echoed far down the river: "Rainbow!
Flocks of geese
rose startled from the shallows. I shouted again, a tribute to the first trout
we had taken from the white-water rivers of Patagonia. It weighed six pounds.
Nothing special for these waters.
Lying in both
Argentina and Chile, Patagonia is the trunk of the elephant head which is South
America. It is a vast anachronism of feudal ranches, remote cavalry posts and
hill bandits; partially wild sheep and range cattle outnumber its people
50-fold. The landscape varies from saline wastes to broad meadows to alpine
lakes reminiscent of Switzerland; and occasionally the pampas are coned with
volcanoes as symmetrical as Fujiyama. Although no game fish were known to exist
there until fingerlings were introduced in 1904, the tumbling glacial rivers
that drop from the Andean forests into the barren foothills now abound with
several kinds of trout and salmon.
discovered in the 16th century by Vespucci and Magellan, but its interior was
largely unexplored until Darwin probed inland with whaleboats in the early
1800s. It remains a land of paradox and promise. The Patagonian Andes are among
the few uninhabited temperate regions left on earth, and in their lakes and
rivers is some of the finest fishing in the world.
Not long ago I
visited Patagonia at the invitation of Bob Zwirz, who was evaluating the area's
fishing opportunities for the Argentine government. Accompanying us was Berni
Schoenfield. It was the fish that lured us there, absurd as it may seem to
travel such a distance for rainbow trout. We flew to Buenos Aires and drove
about 1,100 miles to the Andes in a pick-up truck.
Our month was a
bright, wet Baedeker of peerless trout and salmon rivers. We restlessly
traveled and camped and fished across the Andes. Our odyssey was filled with
rumors of rivers bottomed with salmon and of enormous trout that gathered under
glacier-fed waterfalls. We even heard that some Patagonians considered rainbows
trash fish because they were so large and numerous.
One day we
reached a remote trading post near the Chilean border. We purchased ponchos and
Patagonian berets for fishing in the fierce winds and silver-ornamented gourds
for yerba mat�, the potent herb tea.
Zwirz bought two
kilos of mat� herbs. "We'll make some," he said, "and check the
"Legend?" we asked.
Zwirz explained. "The Indians believe that mat� will bring you back to