Patagonia Expedition 2010: Memories to Last a Lifetime!
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. & Four Wounded Warriors Fish Rivers of Patagonia, Argentina
Monday, February 8th, 2010 | South America Patagonia, Argentina On January 21, 2010, four wounded warriors embarked on what is now Project Healing Waters’ longest foray afield.
U.S. Army CSM Patrick Valdez, SFC Brian Mancini, SPC Josh Cadenbach and U.S Air Force SSGT Shaun Meadows joined PHWFF President Ed Nicholson, Board Chairman Douglas Dear, and volunteers Jerry Nonnemacher and Cleve Van Haasteren on a fly-fishing expedition to Patagonia, Argentina to test their skills on some of the world’s most famous trout waters.
This wonderful expedition was made possible through the generosity of Fly Fishing Patagonia’s co-owners Oscar Dono and Justinano Campa, who offered to host four PHWFF participants on a two-for-one basis, with the PHWFF escorts paying their own way. Finding four willing escorts was not a problem, and after a year of planning, eight fishermen from all corners of the United States boarded jets for the long flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Upon arrival at the Buenos Aires International Airport, the group was met by Fly Fishing Patagonia’s representative, Monica Ferrari, who provided ground transportation and other logistics services. That evening, the group dined at the famous La Cabana restaurant accompanied by renowned Argentine bamboo rod maker Marcello Calviello, who shared his vast knowledge of fly fishing in Patagonia. Mr. Calviello recently donated one of his beautiful rods to Project Healing Waters for auction at the PHWFF 2010 2-Fly Tournament.
The next morning, all hands hit the deck early for a short ride to the Buenos Aires Jorge Newberry Airport for a two-hour flight to San Carlos de Bariloche, a lovely resort city on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Upon arrival, the fishermen were greeted by Fly Fishing Patagonia’s Oscar Dono, who accompanied the group throughout their stay. After a great dinner and good night’s sleep at a Bariloche Hotel, the group loaded their gear aboard a bus and headed north for a two-hour ride over dirt roads in the Patagonian back country. At mid-day, the bus arrived at the put-in for the four day, 46-mile float on the Rio Caleufu, which flows through an uninhabited and inaccessible region.
At 1100 hours, all fly lines were in the water and the expedition was underway! Guiding eight fly fishermen on a four-day trip is a daunting task, but Oscar Dono and his staff of seven professional guides and camp hands made it look easy. Rio Caleufu is a fly fisherman’s dream river. With long runs, deep pools and undercut banks, the gin clear water contains an abundant population of wild rainbow and brown trout, which rose readily to hopper and attractor patterns. These are extremely strong and healthy and average about 16 inches. Fish of this size hit hard and can take a lot of line with them. Larger fish in the 18 to 20+ range were also caught and released. One rainbow, measuring a full 27 inches, was caught by SSGT Shaun Meadows, who also claims to have landed the largest brown, of the trip as well (a claim hotly disputed by Ed Nicholson).
Camp life along the Caleufu was very comfortable and the excellent Argentine cuisine prepared by the Fly Fishing Patagonia staff was what one would expect to find in a top restaurant in Buenos Aires. Each day after breakfast, the PHWFF group boarded the 16- foot catarafts and fired their first casts into the stiff Patagonian wind. Casting into the wind for 10 hours is hard work, but no one complained because the rewards were plenty of wild trout, breathtaking scenery and memories to last a life time.
On the fourth day, the six-boat flotilla landed at the take-out and boarded a waiting bus for a two-hour journey to the town of Junin de Los Andes, the unofficial trout capital of Argentina. At Junin, the group settled in at the lovely Rio Dorado Lodge, their base camp for the remainder of the trip. The very next morning, Oscar Dono divided the group in two, with half floating on the Rio Colon Cura and the other half wading the Rio Malleo. The following day, four fishermen floated the famous Rio Chimehuin (which runs through Junin) and the other four returned to the Malleo. It was during these two days that some of the largest fish of the caught and released, despite constant wind sometimes gusting to 30+ knots.
On the last night before traveling home, the PHWFF fishermen, the Fly Fishing Patagonia staff and others gathered for a group dinner prepared over an open fire by the Rio Dorado Lodge staff. At the dinner table, the fishermen, guides and lodge staff bonded as good friends, with plenty of compliments and laughter. The staff of Fly Fishing Patagonia also had the unique experience of fishing with men close to their own age, who had been to war and found recovery through fly fishing.
In keeping with the PHWFF mission, the Patagonian trip provided our wounded warriors with a first-rate, on-stream classroom, where every conceivable fly-fishing challenge was encountered and overcome. By the journey’s end, all hands had greatly benefited from the experience.
CDR Cleve Van Haasteren, U.S. Navy (Ret) - Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc.