Golden Dorado - Pira Lodge - Ibera Wetlands, Agentina Trip

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Posted by Dan Blanton on 2019-02-04 14:21:02

Golden dorado on the fly – Pira Lodge, Ibera Wetlands, Argentina

From the time Cindy and I headed for the San Francisco airport from our home in Morgan Hill, CA. at 4 a.m. it was a sleepless but flawless journey of more than 25 hours before we finally reached our destination and hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Now my long-time travel partner Jay Remley can sleep on a pile of rocks so he was in better shape sleep-wise than me. We had wisely flown in a day early so we had time for a night’s sleep before receiving a text from our group leader, world class fly rod angler, Meredith McCord, about 8 the next morning saying “come on you sleepy heads, get up!” I’m waiting for you in the patio dining room for coffee and breakfast”. We were there in a few minutes and I received a rib-cracking hug from Meredith, meeting in person for the first time, but long-time correspondents and Face Book pals. Later, she took the group to one of her favorite outdoor restaurants for a wonderful lunch. We enjoyed a variety of luscious Argentine meats and salads; and the wine was to die for – we went through 7 bottles in a couple or so hours…

The next move was to board a luxury bus for an all night ride to Mercedes and from there in the morning, about an hour and a half trek by car and truck over a dirt road to the lodge. Thank God we booked the ‘Executive Suite’, sleeper seats! When we got to Pira Lodge we were immediately impressed by all and after breakfast, room assignments and orientations by guides and Staff Manager, Julia, we were on our way to catching golden dorado – a ‘Bucket List’ species for me, Jay and a couple of others – Colton Teichrib and Trey Gurly. Talk about excited! We had all been long looking forward to this adventure and were as excited as the proverbial kid locked in a toy store.

Catching was tough all week; it had rained a few days before our arrival and the Ibera Marsh (Wetlands), a vast labyrinth of grass and reed-lined channels, creeks and lakes and the main river, were over the banks scattering the dorado and baitfish making finding and catching them tough; forget about the full moon… The elements were against us.

The fishing was quite technical, requiring good casts and fly placement, especially in the tight creeks and narrow channels. Dorado love current and they especially like it (at least in this marsh) pushing against the banks, below or in front of points and where currents merged. Occasionally they would hold mid river or channel and while our guide would most often direct our casts tight to the grass-lined banks, he would also have us cast to center-river swinging the fly almost like in steelhead fishing and then strip it back up current tight to the bank.

These fish were like big brown trout laying in wait under the cut banks or bank-weeds, waiting for the current to sweep bait past them. Occasionally you’d get blasted on the swing. A species locally called ‘sabalo’, which looks much like our own American shad, is a primary food source. Minnow-sized sabalo were swarming in the flooded shallows and we often saw dorado busting the schools in less than two feet of water. Colton Teichrib, a fantastic young fly-angler and guide from British Columbia, hooked several nice dorado casting from the dock at lunch time. He lost a nice one to a big caiman after a 30-minute tug-of-war. Colton, age 23, reminded me of myself at that age – couldn’t get enough fishing.

Another of our wonderful group and certainly not a kid, was Bill Cowin, a peripatetic, story-telling, angling and hunting traveler equaling the likes of my departed pal, Del Brown. Bill couldn’t stand watching those fish tailing in the shallows and had to give them a try, wading up to his knees, ignoring the fact that some pretty big caiman lurked in those same shallows. He never hooked one though. I had to give him the proverbial ‘A’ for trying though. You wouldn’t have gotten me wading in croc-infested water…

It was Loads of fun despite tough conditions. Running the narrow creeks and channels was like being on an amusement park wild ride. You had to hold on to your seat on the hairpin turns or you’d end up in the Saw Grass. Actually, it was a lot of fun and those little flats skiffs were perfect for the waters we fished. Good skiffs, good motors and excellent guides, all.

The day went like this: Breakfast around 8 a.m.; fish till noon; back in for a magnificent lunch; siesta until 4 p.m.; fish till dark; fabulous dinner around 9 p.m. – typical Central and South American style. Considering all, this was a perfect fishing program.

Flies: Both golden dorado and piranha are fly destroyers. You were lucky to score two fish on a fly before you retired it to the junk fly box. Actually catching a big, fat piranha was fun, but that’s not what I came for and I hated it when they destroyed one of my carefully tied Whistlers. Actually, I caught my largest fish on my Dragon Tail Whistler - brown and black; the one with the quick-change tail which was demolished on that fish; but I was able to clip on a new tail. Of course they ate everything else, reducing them to rubble in short order.

Top-water flies drew horrific surface explosions and one fly that worked extremely well for me drawing those exciting busts from both dorado and piranha, was a fly tied by Carl Blackledge, he has dubbed the ‘Belly Dancer’ using a foam head he obtained from Cascade Crest Tools, called a ‘DC Dodger Head’. Carl wanted me to be sure to credit fly designer extraordinaire, Charlie Bisharat, for originating this style of darting surface fly. Carl’s Belly Dancer has nearly the same action as Charlie’s Pole Dancer. This said, I never hooked a dorado on the Belly Dancer – my fault by reacting too quickly pulling the bug from the fish; and when I finally calmed down and waited, I only scored big piranha which gave the fly a seriously short hair cut… I can’t wait to give the BD a try for our delta stripers this spring.

If you had a favorite fly, so long as it was dark – it worked if placed in the right place. There was lots of casting, some long but mostly short, with extreme accuracy, required. Hook sizes ranged from 1/0 to 3/0 with 2/0 about average although I stuck with 3/0. Since we were required to fish barbless, I was glad I had tied all my flies on the Umpqua U506, 60 degree-bend jig hook, one of the best jig hooks I’ve tried. Jig hooks hold so much better than J hooks, especially when de-barbed.

Speaking of barbless hooks, the only bitch I had was regarding a regulation that EVERY fly you had in the boat had to be de-barbed. That first morning we had to bring our fly boxes/fly-binders to the head guide so he could select a few, de-barb them and you took the rest back to your room – re-supplying as necessary. I wanted my entire, well-organized fly selection in RIO Head Case fly binders with me in the boat in my dry bag. That said I like everyone else adjusted to the regulation, re-supplying as needed.

In all my exotic angling travels to dozens of lodges, world-wide, I had never run into this before. Only flies on leaders on rigged rods in the boat were required to be barbless. I don’t know if this reg applied to others waters in Argentina or just to the Ibera Marsh. Just keep this in mind when organizing you flies if you fish the Ibera Marsh.

Gear: both fast-sinking and WF ‘Tropical’ floating lines were the lines of choice being highly recommended. Both Jay and I brought our travel-size foam stripping buckets (I don’t travel to fishing destinations without one), however, which held water and our cold-water lines worked perfectly well because they stayed cool and lubed. I used RIO’s Outbound custom cut, T-11 (30-foot head) sinker on a TFO Axiom II 7-weight, and TFO Power reel which I loved; and both a RIO ‘Summer’ Red Fish WF-9-F and a RIO 9-wt. Outbound Short floater on a TFO Axiom II, 8-weight, same reel. For top-water I my hands down favorite rod is the Orvis Helios (original) 9-weight lined with A RIO Outbound Short 9-wt. floater. With this line I could work tight or long effortlessly. Jay used shooting heads joined to an intermediate running line. Others used primarily a fast-sinker of some type and a good tropical WF floating line matched to their rods of choice – up-lined by one size for a quick load with big flies. Tropical lines are encouraged to beat the heat.

Most used 7- and 8-weight sticks with good reels, although these dorado never made long runs, spending most of their energy jumping. Jay and I hand-stripped our fish to hand just like most of us do with most of our delta stripers. I just didn’t want to risk dropping a good fish trying to put it on the reel. My philosophy is that if the fish wants to be on the reel it’ll put itself on the reel… Keeping a tight line when fishing barbless is important; dorado have tough mouths with lots of teeth. Again, in my experience, jig hooks take a superb purchase and hold better than J hooks. Having snag guards, although not always required, is a good idea. Make them out of wire though since the piranha will shear right through mono snag guards.

Leaders were simple: a 3-foot or so length of 30- or 40-pound mono to which a short-length bite trace of 40-pound, knotable wire was attached. I used John Quigley’s 6-foot twisted mono leaders with an 80-pound Spros swivel on the end which made it very easy to knot a wire bite too. I just used a figure 8 knot at the swivel and a two-wrap, non-slip loop knot at the fly. Simple. Any good, coated, knotable wire sufficed. Head guide, Jose, showed me a really good but simple loop knot to use in wire, a knot I’d never seen before. I’ll explain it later with photos.

Every one of us caught fish though and, on our favorite flies; we all met our goals and we each left happy and a little chubbier from all the fabulous food and libations. My goal of losing 10-pounds vanished the moment I tasted the first dish our wonderful chef cooked for us. I didn’t stand a chance. No one did.

I want to personally thank all for doing such a great job for Jay and me; and for everyone in our wonderful group of anglers – not one ass pain among them – what a blessing… All went perfectly with transfers, charter plane, hotels – Everything! Each in our group commented on the wonderful job Pira Lodge and its staff did for us. Meredith was an excellent group leader making sure we were taken good care of. She was a delight to fish with and of course she was one of the best fly-anglers I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a skiff with. She too, was a photographers dream. Fishing that day with Meredith was the highlight of my trip. I hope to fish with her again someday. I scored my largest fish of the trip with her, a 9-1/2-pounder and she did likewise with a 13-pounder, both very decent fish for the Marsh. Most fish there range from dinks to 10 or so pounds, although a 28-pounder was taken the week before. I never made it into the 10-pounder club but I was happy getting that close. The largest fish taken was by veteran fly-angler, Bill Cowin on the last day – a gorgeous 18-pounder. Nice way to end the trip, eh, bill.

Again, everything went extremely well at Pira. Lodge manager Julia and her staff; Guide manager Jose and his team of guides outdid themselves; superb service and attentiveness. All but one spoke perfect English and all were very literate, able to provide excellent advice, including the history of the Marsh and its fish and wild life. Again I must note that the chef was stellar as was his food dishes. And I did gain weight…

Anyone wishing to book at trip to Pira Lodge to fish the amazing Ibera Wetlands for golden dorado should contact:
Laura Vecchiarelli | Logistics & Payments Coordinator
Nervous Waters | “A higher form of fishing”
David Denies | “Home to hunters who expect perfection”
Red Stag Patagonia | “The chase is fair, everything else is excellent”
Prana Turismo | “Travel in style”
T +54 (11) 4801-1008 / 4809-3002 | Toll Free from USA 800-530-6928

You can also follow Nervous Waters on Instagram and on Face Book.

Thanks again Meredith for your insatiable desire for adventure and for including Jay and me in your wonderful group of fly-anglers all wanting to tangle with those incredible, hard-hitting, high jumping Ibera Marsh, golden dorado. Long travel time notwithstanding – it was a blast on all counts and I’d love to do it again!

Dan – still tired but happy…

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