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Casting Call

Sublime Trout Fishing Draws Hollywood Heavyweights, Power Brokers and Ted Turner to Patagonia's Traful River
Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

The sun burns off the morning mist and slowly unveils the Andes, first the tan, crenellated foothills, then the purple, majestically craggy peaks. A red stag bellows and bolts away as a duo of horseback gauchos canter through a prairie of yellow forsythia, blue lupine and gray-green sagebrush. A gentle wind carries off the whistles of low-lying quail. I can feel the bracing coolness of the Traful River through my rubber waders as I follow Marcos, my fishing guide, upstream against the strong, shallow current. All that's missing is the thrill of hooking a giant trout.

It's not for lack of effort. For two days, we have worked this temperamental river, and come up with fish no larger than a foot. Fine for a Catskills stream, maybe, but not reason enough to travel almost 6,000 miles south of New York to what is reputed to be the best fishing lodge in the world. I'm determined to stay until I reel in a trout closer to two feet, no matter how long it takes. It isn't exactly a vow of penitence, I admit, considering the breathtaking scenery.

The name of this legendary place is Arroyo Verde, and it's located in Patagonia, a 300,000-square-mile plateau in southern Argentina. Over the years, the monster trout and landlocked salmon in the Traful River here have drawn some of the most renowned anglers, including President Eisenhower and Belgium's King Baudoin. Lately, Patagonia, whose landscape bears remarkable resemblance to Wyoming and Montana, has lured a more acquisitive generation of the rich and famous. George Soros and Italy's Benettons have bought huge estancias, as ranches in Argentina are called. Sylvester Stallone has reportedly closed a deal for several thousand acres, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is rumored to be on the verge. * But the most talked about new Patagonian rancher

is Ted Turner, who in 1996 purchased the 10,000 acres that border the southern bank of the Traful River. Arroyo Verde, with its 12,500 acres, lies on the north side, and has thus far eluded Turner. "Of course, he wants it--he's asked several times," says Meme Larivière, wife of Arroyo Verde's owner, Mauricio Larivière.

Turner spent $6 million for his side of the Traful Valley, about as much as he pays the number four starting pitcher on his Atlanta Braves for a single season. Presumably, he would be willing to spend even more to enjoy Arroyo Verde for many seasons. "We're not selling," Meme says resolutely. "Arroyo Verde has been in my husband's family for generations. It is an extraordinary place--a place of great privilege."

The Larivières know something about privilege. Mauricio's French-born father, Felipe, was one of the largest landowners in Argentina. He spent half the year in Paris, a few months in Buenos Aires looking over his cattle and grain accounts, and the southern hemisphere's summer (December through February) in the Traful Valley, which he bought in its entirety during the 1930s to entertain family and friends with fishing, boating, hunting and horseback riding.

Over the years, the Larivières have parted with a good deal of their properties. But they still enjoy an enviable lifestyle, dividing their time between their Patagonian estancia and fishing lodge, and Buenos Aires. Their ample apartment in the Argentine capital is decorated with Impressionist paintings and overlooks Avenida Libertador, the local equivalent of the Champs-Elysées. Meme, an attractive woman of late middle age, uses the residence as a reservations office for Arroyo Verde and to pore over the texts of coffee-table books she publishes on such subjects as Argentine estancias, gardens and polo.

In addition to operating the lodge in Patagonia, Mauricio, a tall, slender septuagenarian, is a breeder of thoroughbreds who spends a good deal of time in Buenos Aires at the San Isidro Racetrack, where he is a member of the Jockey Club; it is there that we agree to meet for our first conversation. This particular Saturday happens to be the most memorable event of the season--the Copa Latinoamericana--when the best three-year-olds in South America run for the continent's bragging rights.

Built in the Art Deco style of the 1930s, the racetrack's clubhouse displays the elegance of a charity ball on this occasion. Diplomats and socialites from all over the continent congregate in the upper-story dining room and bar for an unimpeded view of the track. I locate Mauricio, suavely dressed in a gray suit and brown suede shoes, in deep discussion at the bar with some horse breeders about the colts running in the preliminaries. Over a lunch of grilled chicken and chilled Chardonnay, we watch the races, getting up periodically to place our bets. I keep my decades-long losing streak intact. "Better luck with the trout," says Mauricio, who will accompany me the next day to Arroyo Verde.

To get to his Patagonian estate, Mauricio's father and his entourage used to take an overnight train from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, where a convoy of chauffeured cars took them the last 50 miles of the journey. Like most people nowadays, we make it to Bariloche in two hours on a scheduled airline. We are met at the airport by Magdalena Bustillo, who at the time acted as the unofficial overseer at Arroyo Verde, ensuring that the lodge operated smoothly. Tall, tan and athletically trim, she is wearing a fleece vest, an Australian bush hat, jeans and cowboy boots.

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