Fishing on a Million Acres of Wild Rivers in Argentine Patagonia

Casting in the rain. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Jones
Traveling alone and following the river in search of perfect spots to cast for rainbow and brown trout, twenty-year-old Emma Yardley was down to her last $4 when she got the email.

The Vermonter was traveling 1,000 miles through New Zealand (from Auckland to Queenstown) with her five-weight fly rod, practicing the art that her father had exposed her to since she was a child. She was “hunting stealthily,” she says, sight fishing in riverbanks slow and steady in the clear-blue waters.

She’d bought a one-way ticket to New Zealand — one of the prime fishing destinations in the world — and had stretched her $1,000 savings for three months. As her money dwindled, she never considered feasting on the fish she’d bring in on her line. It was all catch and release — this was her expression, not angling for sustenance.

Unlike anywhere else. Photo: Courtesy of Matt Jones

The message was from the owners and operators of Patagonia River Guides (PRG) in central Argentina based in the town of Trevelin. This wasn’t just any outfitter, but a $7,000-a-week service drawing CEOs and other big-business well-to-dos to their dream vacations.

When she first asked PRG for a gig, six months prior, she expected her email to be lost in cyberspace or to get a quick rejection. “No, lady, we’re a five-star lodge,” she recalled of her first interaction with the company. They weren’t looking for a college-aged kid to suck up their time. After all, the company hired many of the finest Argentine anglers in the business, those who had more years’ experience on the line than she did on Earth. So she tried again, this time saying she would do whatever it took: wash boats, help take care of the place, maintain their blog and assist the guides.

Best friends and owners of PRG, Rance Rathie and Travis Smith, from Sheridan, Montana, thought over Yardley’s second offer and decided to start a program for young anglers based on what she wrote. She would be the first in the pilot program.

They told her about a wood cabin they had begun erecting in anticipation of her and others’ arrival. The bunkhouse would have a kitchenette, bathroom and shower. She would share the space with friends of the business and their adult children.

Though Yardley would reside at the company’s central headquarters, PRG works with a dozen estancias and lodges throughout Argentina. In the mornings the guides arrive at the lodges, pick up the clients and head to various waters. Since Yardley would be at their home base, this would mean streams weaving through desert, mountains and valleys would surround her. A twenty-minute walk from the lodge would bring her to a rodeo maintained by gauchos.

Before opening PRG in 2000, third generation angler, and father of four, Rathie fished in Mongolia, the Bahamas and Chile. Today he resides full time in Argentine Patagonia.

Smith, a lifetime angler, husband and father of two children, is “One of the most well-known and most respected guides in all of the American West,” states his bio. It continues: “If you drop his name in a fly shop or a fishing bar, most will know him or of his reputation that is larger than life.”

Smith splits his time between Patagonia and Bozeman, Montana.

“This is our eighteenth season that we’ve had our business,” Smith says. “But I’ve been coming down here 21 years.”

Running a business in Patagonia is not easy for outsiders. Rathie and Smith bring in everything they need from up north, including flies. “The people here are so nice, but they are also laid back. That is one of the greatest and hardest things about being here,” Smith says.

“There’s not many places like it in the world,” their website says of the fishing surrounding Trevelin. “Patagonia is what the west was like in the late 1800s. Expansive mountain ranges, untouched rivers and valleys where cowboys roamed on horseback.”

Here, anglers bring in wild rainbows, hook jaw browns and brook trout. It’s not uncommon to reel in 20-inch fish and fish up to 20 pounds. PRG has access to millions of acres of some of the best trout fishing in the world.

The peaceful serenity of this place is next level. Photo: courtesy of Matt Jones

Yardley worked for Rathie and Smith from late November through early April, during the austral summer.

“She had a unique resume of outdoor stuff, with writing and blogging. Her resume was different than most people we get who just want to be fly fishing guides,” Smith says. “For us, it was beneficial that she could to do things that can help our business. And she’s very sweet.”

She recalls of her time there: “Windy! When there wasn’t wind there were bugs. The sun pounded you because the ozone is so thin down there. The intense sun bleached my hair. But there was never a complaint because the fishing made it all worth it.”

Yardley fished from near-transparent blue lakes and eight-foot wide rivers. And just like in New Zealand, she’d find time to be alone, to simply bathe in her surroundings and enjoy the quiet stillness or loud, blowing gusts. She’d wander off into the wild, pull out her Vermont wool fly wallet, select a fly from her collection of 25, tie it to her tippet and cast out. She could clearly see the fish swimming in the water.

Time and time again she brought in fish so big they blew her mind. Since she grew up fishing little brooks in Vermont, she was used to bringing in fish the size of her pointer finger. The first fish she brought in in Patagonia was an XXL brook trout — before then she didn’t know fish that big even existed. That’s when it hit her, “They’re the real deal down here!”

“The river’s my oldest friend,” she tells the Adventure Sports Network. “It takes you to the most beautiful places. That’s why I’m so grateful that fly fishing has come into my life.”

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