The wind pumps but so do the fish!
Stark, barren & snarling, Tierra del Fuego & the Rio Grande should come with a warning label not dissimilar to that of habanero chilies! Warning: this place is not for the sissies or those with a weak disposition for harsh fly fishing conditions. EXTRA WARNING: Euphoria awaits those who dare to chase the Rio Grande’s sea run inhabitants; Sea Run Brown Trout are addictive & proper care should be taken to avoid withdrawals. We know, we were still suffering night shivers long past returning from our trip.
Villa Maria Lodge is a haven within the wind swept & aggressive landscape of Tierra del Fuego. The lodge is perfectly situated 20-minutes drive from the Rio Grande Airport & established on the Jose Menendez Estancia, which plays host as the first stretch of private water in the Rio Grande. This means the freshest, most silver & wildest Sea Run Brown Trout charging upstream toward their spawning grounds… but that’s not the half of it. Villa Maria is also a private & exclusive six-rod oasis where the attention to the finest of detail is the norm.
Fishing new waters
The fishing day is broken into two very distinct sessions. A bright early start has the guides collecting you at 9am for a 20-minute drive to the river. We are fans of the preparation time a short drive gives you before fishing begins. Under these windswept conditions it is important to bring your A-Game, & arranging your fly box in preparation for battle that day is an excellent way to prepare for what is to come; and that is pure carnage of the Sea Run Brown variety!
The morning session lasts until 1pm, at which point guests are whisked away to the Day House, a splendid purpose built three-bedroom house perched overlooking the home pool on the estancia‘s section of the Rio Grande. A 3-course meal & a bottle of wine or two do magnificently well to ease the wind chill & lubricate the morning stories before retiring for a well-deserved siesta. (After all, between 1pm & early evening the wind really picks up!)
At 6pm the evening session begins. As dusk approaches the wind does somewhat drop off to provide some welcome relief from the buffeting & you get to experiment with casts, drifts & mends all the while targeting rolling fish, fishing pool to pool.
The sunset takes an age. The vast desert like tundra that is Tierra del Fuego glows fiery red & pastel purple, with smears of hot orange for hours until last light is reached at approximately 11pm, & with that lines up for the 20-minute return leg to the Villa Maria Lodge.
The Fish & the Fishing
It is estimated that 85000 sea run brown trout return annually to the Rio Grande to spawn. Moving from pool to pool you hunt them using the wind as your ally, swinging streamers, leeches & nymphs – some flies as small as #12, for fish mostly exceeding the 12lb mark. Yes, we did land a few 2lb & 3lb fish plus the odd buttery yellow resident fish, but for the most part each fish we connected with bent our 9ft 8wt Loop Cast Fast rods to the cork and put a bounce into the 12-foot Scott Spey rods too.
We knew the wind would blow, we also knew that temperatures would drop close to freezing & combined with the wind chill we would need to layer up & make every effort to stay dry. We were prepared! What we did get wrong however was the quantity of fish we would set into.
Each session produced fish! Yes, some more than others & like any fishing ecosystem these fish seemed to turn on & off at will, often leaving us scratching our heads as to why a drift produced nothing when we’d gone three-for-three 10 minutes earlier. We did have sessions of epic proportions too.
Three double up’s in the space of 15-minutes as we tore through a pod of Sea Run Browns frolicking in a slow eddy, and they all tipped toward the 16lb mark. This is what fly fishing dreams are made of.
A far cry from the two or three fish per day we predicted! Boy, are we glad we miscalculated on that front.
If we could scream above the wind one single message it would be: the conditions are tough but the fishing rewards are so worth it. We can see why so many anglers return year on year. Sea Run Brown Trout addiction is real!
What can we tell you about the sheer brute force of a fresh & meaty Sea Run Brown Trout? As with all salmonoids, eats vary but there is no mistaking that first run! Hello backing! You lift into a lighting shiver as the fish realizes its been hooked, followed by a head shake & as you feel the mass for the first time you are immensely grateful for the 8wt or 9wt rod in your hand.. you often feel outgunned, most times your are, but with some finesse & a little luck you lay your hands on what pound-for-pound must rank up there as the hardest fighting fish on the planet. What joy!
The size of the nets the guides carry should give an indication of the potential in the area but nothing will prepare you for your first Rio Grande Sea Run Brown! Nothing. Each fish is a slab of muscle, fresh from the ocean that maintains its perfect form as you lift it for the camera. There is an electricity in these fish that twitches excitedly in your fingers when you get your hands on them and it took us an age to identify these fish as brown trout; they are a species all on their own!
Supporting six anglers, a guide team of three & a full complement of staff including 5-star quality chefs & a pastry chef Villa Maria Lodge could easily be mistaken as Nervous Waters flagship Sea Run Brown Trout Lodge. This is standard within the Nervous Waters Group of lodges.
As a group of anglers you share beats & bounce between guides to ensure you experience each & every pool on this 20-mile stretch of river and do so with every opportunity to learn from guides oozing with knowledge & experience. But after a long, long day on the water you feel absolutely blessed to step through the lodge front door & into an insulated and heated guest suite.
The day, however, is not yet done after the fishing has ceased. A refreshing shower & a healthy dose of moisturizing cream to fill cracked hands & lips, is enough to brighten your eyes for a pre-dinner drink in the lounge before adjourning to the dining room at about midnight.
It is scarcely believable but even in the remote Tierra del Fuego the hospitality team at Villa Maria provide a culinary selection most popular restaurants would drool over. A 5-star plated meal is served each night with a choice of mains & dessert; these options are presented to you with a daily unique welcome home drink even before you’ve peeled out of your waders. Trust us: order the meat dish & the dessert options were always too good to shy away from.
We cannot be more complementary of the people that surround Nervous Waters & Villa Maria. Our guides Alejandro Martello (Head Guide), Jason Jagger & Alejandro Bianchetti each bring their own personality to the role of guide. They boast more experience than guide teams twice or triple their size & we had a barrel of laughs with each of them while still focusing on the fishing, learning new techniques & discussing the merits of different fly selections.
How can you critique a guide who has just put you into more fish in a session than you expected to catch in a week & whose eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas each time we went tight. This is no easy fishery, and these are no easy conditions but the Villa Maria guide team will go out of their way to ensure you are catching fish, keeping warm and drinking cold beers… Just remember though to take their advice about taking a leak behind the vehicles. (Private joke for those caught in the vortex of gale force winds)
Claudio Barry the lodge manager is attentive & creates an atmosphere that makes you feel perfectly at home. We enjoyed his company & as is the case on most fishing trips shared a little banter with us often taking the brunt but never wavering from his professionalism. We must make a special mention of head chef Agustin Salomon & pastry chef Maria Belen Rodriquez… they say hunger is the best chef, but well we’d follow them to any fine dining experience they had on offer. We pray they are still at Villa Maria when we make our return trip.
The last cast
With six full days under our belts & a schedule unlike any other we’d ever fished in before you’d think we’d have had enough of the wind, the cold & the driving rain that sweeps through unannounced… you’d be wrong. On the final evening we were still trying new techniques & high-fiving like we’d just won the world cup each time a fish fell for our latest scheme. We can probably remember our last fish of the trip more intensely than the first, not because they were bigger, better, faster or stronger, but more because by our last night we had finally learned to absolutely appreciate the fish we were catching & the glorious wild place in which we were catching them. Villa Maria offers something truly unique; it offers a new world & fish we never thought existed!