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In Patagonia

Adrian Latimer
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In Patagonia

Adrian Latimer

When I was a kid I can remember being taken by my grandmother to the Hurlingham Club in London. It was all very posh; the sort of place where one ate genteel (but tasteless) cucumber sandwiches and sipped tea from porcelain cups whilst watching croquet.Well believe it or not, in 1893, the English were doing just the same in Buenos Aires, at their Hurlingham.The only difference was that polo replaced croquet and cricket. In the grounds wound the little Arroyo Moron, and rainbow trout were stocked.The stream was too slow and warm for the fish to survive, but the idea was there.When Francisco ‘Perito’ Moreno was sent by the Argentine government to explore Patagonia and, especially, the frontier with Chile, he saw the possibilities and reported back in 1875. By 1892 a Frenchman, Ferdinand Lahille, was commissioned by the Museo de la Plata to undertake a study of the underwater fauna of the lakes and rivers. He found perch (known as ‘criolla trout’), pejerrey (Argentine Silverside), peladilla and puyen. Italian and American fishery scientists followed and by 1903 an American, John Titcomb took a nineteen-day trek to get to Nahuel Huapi (‘Puma Island’), sent by the Argentine government to set up the first hatchery. He chose a small stream that drained into the rio Limay.

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A 26" brown trout from the rio Limay.
The result was a slightly over-zealous importation of fish of all sorts, and in 1904 fish roe were shipped by Eugene Tulien from the US via Southampton in England to Buenos Aires (as the only boats that had big enough refrigeration units were in the UK - but the initial fish actually came from the US, a million whitefish eggs, a hundred thousand brook trout and fifty thousand landlocked salmon, though he also picked up fifty thousand brown trout eggs in Germany). The boxes arrived, pretty much safely, on 25th April, a day that surely goes down in angling history.The whitefish were all put into Lago Nahuel Huapi and disappeared for ever, no doubt to the relief of modern fly fishers (they are, unfairly in my opinion, treated almost as vermin on the blue ribbon trout streams of the Rockies and some guides toss them up on to the banks to die, a revolting way to behave). Stranger things followed - rainbow trout arrived a month later, but so did freshwater cod (burbot) and several species of Pacific salmon.They were planted any and everywhere. The cod also vanished, and the Pacific salmon could not cope with heading east to the wrong ocean and never returned from the Atlantic. From 1904 to 1910 eight shipments of salmonidae roe came from the US, and, later, from Europe. Hatcheries were set up and in 1930 the Argentine government received 175,000 brown trout roe from Chile.

And thus was created perhaps the world’s largest and finest wild trout region as the introduced fish adapted to the area and spread like wildfire. Sport fishing, a novel idea, began to take off, the first trout from Lago Nahuel Huapi weighing over seven pounds and falling to Ernesto Riketts (another American) in 1915. By 1952 the best fish (caught trolling) weighed in at over thirty-five pounds, the cast still visible at the Club de Caza y Pesca in Bariloche.What is amazing is that what we now take for granted did not exist a mere century ago . . .
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Fly Fishing in Argentine Patagonia
by Adrian latimer