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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

(continued from page 1)

While driving us in a minivan, she tells Mauricio the news. Three American couples are staying at the lodge, and her husband, Marcos, is guiding them to choice river spots. Several hunters from Mendoza, a wine-growing province to the north, are poaching deer and wild boar on Mauricio's property even though it is supposed to be under the protection of the nearby national park. "The park rangers are doing nothing," says Magdalena, who leaves no doubt about how she would deal with the trespassers. "Now, now," says Mauricio soothingly. "I'll have a word with them myself."

"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot," adds Magdalena. "Turner called: he wants to have lunch with you on Friday." Using a private jet, Turner and his wife, Jane Fonda, have been flying to Bariloche directly from Atlanta about once a month during the U.S. winter. Mauricio grimaces and says: "Well, I know what he wants."

We speed past a constantly changing landscape, sometimes empty except for sagebrush, sometimes lush with poplars and fir trees, and, always fenced in by the Andes, corrugated and bare as if its vegetation had been scraped away with a dull knife. Closer to the highway, the foothills, eroded by millions of years of storms and tremors, take on fantastic contours. One limestone monolith, called La Ventana (The Window), has a hole near its peak, and at its base lies a boulder shaped exactly like the missing part--as if it had been poked out just weeks before.

On our right, a broad, turquoise river, the Limay, curves like an oxbow and then straightens out for most of the rest of our journey. It is joined by the Traful River, and at this confluence, the road turns to gravel and we enter the valley, entirely owned by Turner and Larivière. Rabbits scamper out of our way, and Hereford cattle stop their grazing to eye us warily. Across the river to the south, Mauricio points out the large estancia house owned successively by his grandfather, father and younger brother, Felipe, who sold it to Turner along with the surrounding acreage. "No, I'm not angry at my brother," says Mauricio. "Just sad. I lived at that house for months at a time during 42 years."

We pass by the green creek that gives Arroyo Verde its name, and the fishing lodge suddenly comes into view. It is a large cottage, built of stone and cedar. On its porch, rubber waders hang from red stag antlers. A 16-pound brown trout (an exception to the strict catch-and-release policy at Arroyo Verde) is mounted over the doorway. The English-style garden has a profusion of roses, lavender, buddleia, petunias, phlox and foxgloves. A pond is framed by firs, plum, ash and maitén, a native species that looks surprisingly like an olive tree. The mountains on the horizon have the same beautifully asymmetrical silhouettes as the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

Inside, there is a cozy elegance to the place. Easy chairs and sofas are upholstered in old paisley fabric. The Persian rugs are fashionably faded. Sepia photos of family and famous guests decorate the living-room walls. On either side of the crackling fireplace, shelves are filled with leather-bound classics and recent bestsellers. The dining room is furnished with turn-of-the-century English sideboards and French tables and chairs. Four double bedrooms, each with a private bathroom, offer spartan but comfortable sleeping quarters.

The best lodging at Arroyo Verde, however, is at a cabin one and a half miles away from the main cottage. It's perched on a shamelessly romantic promontory overlooking Lake Traful. Pintail ducks and Magellan geese ply the placid, deep blue waters below and circle the rocky islands. Thick pine forests sweep up from the lake's shores into snow-flecked mountains, completing one of Patagonia's most gorgeous tableaus.

Trout and salmon were introduced into this pristine wilderness from hatcheries in the United States during the first two decades of the century. The salmon came from Lake Sebago in Maine, one of the few places in the world where they exist with no access to the ocean. In Argentina, these landlocked salmon failed to survive, except in the Traful Valley and one or two other Patagonian locations. Anglers and biologists are at a loss to explain why the Traful River and its lake are so propitious for salmon. They average four pounds and often reach twice that weight.

The salmon make little attempt to hide. Several of them will often float in a school at various shallow depths in the lake or in the stiller stretches of the 10-mile-long Traful River. This doesn't make them easier to catch, as Eisenhower discovered on a brief visit here in 1960. When the salmon paid no attention to his casts, he tried to spear them with his rod in exasperation.

Trout are more plentiful, and likelier to snap at a dry fly. Rainbow, brown and brook trout abound throughout Patagonia. With fewer human predators--Patagonia has less than one inhabitant per square mile--the trout tend to grow a few inches longer and a pound or two heavier than in the American Rockies. They fatten themselves on a steady diet of perch, insects and small freshwater crabs called pancoras.

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