Without even thinking about it I was back at the Jurassic Lake plateau. By observing the lava surroundings of the green pond I had a strong feeling that in this basaltic plateau, deeply eroded by the winds, there is something that we cannot see. It transports you to the remote past of Patagonia. Civilization has robbed us things in many ways, some of which strongly come back in lost sites like the Strobel Lake, where past and present join in one dimension.
Nicolás Schwint was with me this time, and he immediately felt the same energy as he stood in front of the wind and admired the strong volcanic character of the region. A landscape he did not expect caught him from the first moment, completely changing the idea that he previously had. The isolated and windy moor he was expecting came with a primitive force of such magnitude that every cell of his body reacted to it.
For a sensible fisherman, everything that surrounds the Strobel Lake has the power to affect the soul in some inexplicable and captivating way that forces us to go back again and again, looking for sensations that are completely independent from the incredible fishing that we will find in these waters.
Our fly-fishing tradition from almost a century has left us stories of rivers and fishermen who walked its waters. Our lakes have been largely ignored, until the Strobel Lake changed the story with its huge rainbow trout that seemed to belong to fiction. The big rainbows that we used to fish at the Boca of the Chimehuín River have fallen short in time. In the Limay River and its inlet from the lake these fish still appear, the same happens at the Corcovado River inlet from the Vintter Lake, but in decreasing numbers. Then, some few years ago the Strobel Lake appeared, it immediately acquired mythical character and generated in many fly-fishermen a renewed interest for the so-called still waters.
I was surprised from the start how the roads have improved in the Laguna Verde Lodge. What once demanded hours of rattling at a wagon speed, now takes a few minutes; tracks have really improved. The climate of the plateau, very rough during winter, tries to remove the human changes, but I noticed that without harming the landscape they provide a break to our not so young bones. The possibility of reaching the most hidden bays or the more windswept, which previously were avoided, allows us to find places where the trout have hardly seen flies yet, and the amount of large fish is remarkably high.
The Strobel Lake is exceptionally rich when it comes to trout food. The most abundant food source is represented by scuds (Hyallela sp.), although you can see other organisms like partially or fully aquatic insects, countless small snails and dirt insects like large moths that appear in the afternoon. Trout seem to feed almost exclusively on amphipods, this is why scud patterns are so effective, but they do not refuse other fly patterns worked slowly.
For thousands of years the residents of the plateau lived near the lake and the ponds where hunting guanacos surely was simpler for these were abundant at this dashing geography, which allowed them to hide and go unnoticed by its predators. These old residents became extinct a long time ago, but their marks in petro glyphs flourish through the Strobel Plateau, and clearly tell us about their nomadic way of life.
Sheep and cattle farming boomed, and collapsed in the end, at this time due to the changes on the price of wool. Then the rainbow trout appeared. They arrived in a place were no other fish existed and they found such abundance of food that they grew above the standard for the species. What we know now is that trout are getting bigger by the day.
Of all the modern lakes, none has achieved legendary fame so fast like the Strobel, and the quality of its fishing brings the ideal atmosphere for beginners but also for the advanced fishermen who want to try out new things. It is a place where if one technique fails it is not because of the lack of trout. This allows us to try more effectively different fly models or stripping techniques. At Strobel, the amount of trout is amazing, but they do not take any fly, as we could quickly confirm. They did not react well to a quick stripping speed when we fished it in mid February (2013).
We arrived in a pick-up truck from El Calafate airport. It was too late to go to the Strobel Lake so we grabbed some essential stuff and went down to Laguna Verde, which is right near the lodge. The warm evening light illuminated the rocky lake shore emphasizing the colors of the different weed banks. Plenty brilliant green grass with violet stems grew in the less rocky edge. Here and there some big and forgotten bones spoke about old settlers and how tough their life must have been. The way in which the remains were scattered around is clear evidence about the harsh and borderline situations they must have experienced, especially during winter.
I sat on the grass watching the surface of the lake through the lens of my camera while Nico fished. The light was perfect to try to retain in pictures the feeling that the lake transmitted: being totally isolated from the world. From time to time a wake or boil showed that rainbow trout swam there, and in spite of the wind, it did not take long before they took the flies that Nico was casting with a floating line on his 5 weight rod. A big one walked on its tail a pair of meters, reflecting its image in the glassy surface of the water.
As the light went down, the wind kept pulverizing the water surface. A fake and cold steam invaded most of the lake forming rolls before joining the wind. I did not take out my rod that afternoon; saving all my energy for the next day, and I found myself taking good pictures of the lake and its surroundings.
Each afternoon, when we arrived from the lake, we dedicated the last moments of light to fish the green lake with light gear that we could not use at Jurassic and finished the day enjoying another of the possibilities of the location.
The lodge is very cozy with its leather sofas, chimney and bar. Not long ago they added a bow window which looks directly to the lake with a fly-tying table and more sofas which invite to a smooth nap while hearing the fireplace sounds. After a day at the lake, jumping over stones and with lots of activity, we had no problem in falling asleep. We would have slept in a cave, but luckily the rooms are really comfy and well heated.
The first day we fished at the end of the lake, passing “El Puesto”. It is an area where the wind directly hits you but we got there when it was still a slight breeze that only made smooth and rhythmic waves. Nico had never fished the Strobel, just in a while his opinion about fishing this lake went from having reasonable doubts to total euphoria. Big silver trout with turquoise blue backs and steel-colored heads took his scud before jetting towards the center of the lake, jumping in every way in order to set themselves free from the fly.
The Strobel bays, especially the ones in the end of the lake, resemble a sea environment like the ones of the Indian Ocean. Beaches and rocks of a pure white color that hurts the eyes when the sun warms up, all bathed by waters that take every possible shade of blue. The rocky formations look like a coral reef and are just as rough and sharp. The atmosphere that surrounds the lake seems to be from another world, it is hostile when the primitive elements mix and take over the whole scene.
Lots of big trout got their freedom back when the leaders got cut by the freshwater corals that emerge from the bottom. Others ran, unstoppable, into the lake until the line got cut or the hook could not resist and opened up. There is nothing one could do when these monsters bite, it forced us to accept the idea that those trout had won the match. We were fishing with floating lines, fine tippets and small flies and the hooks sometimes did not make the cut. The trip was programmed with short notice, from one day to the other, and there had been no time to sit down and tie flies in stronger hooks, especially considering that we were going to have the lake for ourselves because a big group had had to cancel their trip.
The scud and shrimp imitations did well in almost every cast. The strike was fast and subtle, a mere “tic” in the tense line. Sometimes so soft, that, before feeling anything, a silver figure had already passed through the surface telling us that our fly was no longer in the water. There are shores with large stone balconies directly over very deep waters. The trout come and go slowly and do not get too scared when they see us. The bigger ones patrol further away, just over the drop-off towards the waters where the depth could only be imagined.
In a river, the food moves towards the trout while these choose a position to wait for it. In a lake, currents also exist but are much more subtle and trout have to move in order to eat. In the river we can read, quite easily, the structures that will lead us to the location of the trout. In a lake, the differences in structure are less evident but are still there; discovering them helps us to locate the places where fish gather.
At times we fished trout as if they were bonefish. We watched the trout come and we made the cast before them like at the sea, letting the fly sink and waiting for the precise moment to move it. The bite was delicate, nearly unnoticeable and unless we were very concentrated in the signs that the line transmitted we lost them. While resting, watching the lake and the cliffs I thought that lake fishing should not be the last resource for a fly-fisherman, but an important choice, like choosing a river.
The charm of fishing in a lake is not as obvious as the charm of a river, which is seen immediately. The lake has infinite ways compared to a river. We have to learn to watch what appears to be invisible. It is what we cannot see that makes it so fascinating, its capacity to awake the imagination once our fly sinks under the surface.
Properly fishing a lake requires dedication and faith in what we are doing but a lot has to do with our imagination, to visualize without seeing really what our fly is doing under the surface. We have to make up an image of that submerged universe and the bottom, so the fly looks natural in it. Each lake has its own identity and the Strobel, being a deep depression in the volcanic basalt cannot get more personal.
After fishing the “El Puesto” zone during the morning, we ended in a beach which we would later baptize as “Hot Beach”. The wind whipped us in our faces, curling the water and producing a heavy swell which broke down on a large platform of whitish and flat stone. The white crests of the waves collapsed at a precise point lifting a large amount of food from the depth. In each wave, before it broke, we saw lots of trout, an image that surprised us because it could only happen in such a unique environment like the Strobel. It was curious how they grouped as if they were fish in the sea. They did not all faced in the same direction, a very interesting behavior.
Martin Robino, who guided us, commented that the movement of the water gave away many scuds from the bottom and the trout crowded at that point, one theory that was quite solid; when we came back to the same place but with less wind, there were less fish.
The wind made us taste the lake water in between casts but we managed to cast motivated by the huge silhouettes that appeared through the light of the swell. I saw a huge trout swimming towards my right, almost out of reach, but my cast was fortunate and before I knew it, I had it hooked. Without pulling too much so it did not panic, I managed the runs so it did not get too much out of control and helping me with the waves I brought it closer to Martin´s net, and he got it right at the first attempt. It was a long time since I caught such a big rainbow; actually, the last big one was twenty years ago when my eldest son was a baby. During the morning we had missed two fish that we never saw, so this one was the first truly big one. Then another one strike and Nico soon got two more.
At times the scene was somehow primitive because we became frenzy, like the one the trout exhibited in the waves. Quickly we let go each trout to cast again and the madness kept going for a while until the takes started to space out, and then disappeared. We had forgotten about the wind in our faces and the cold water that strained inside the waders each time that a wave hit us in the chest, making us take a step back. When returning to the lodge by a cliff footprint, scaring guanaco herds, the lake beneath had become a roaring living being with bristly foam back and extremities that, like waves, pulverized against the rocky points.
Monster Bay, near the lodge, had not lost its usual calm and from above you could see trout patrolling between seaweed areas. A melted glass monster of changing colors furiously tried to get in. Our position allowed us to see how the weeds formed dense areas interrupted by clear and narrow corridors with no vegetation. A weighed nymph, a long and fine leader, and a floating line could give great results if we cast in a way that the line falls over the seaweed and only the leader and the nymph get to the water in the clear areas. We should let the nymph sink while the sound of the line hitting the water fades away. Then, with a continuous movement of the rod we should make the fly swim upwards gently, as if the nymph had noticed that it is in dangerous waters and has to escape without being noticed.
At Strobel we found all kinds of structures. As we got to know these, we developed a sense of perception that then replaced intuition, the only thing we had when we arrived.
I have always thought that lakes are far from being still waters. There are currents, sometimes strong, waves where the particles move vertically, water turbulence that plays with our flies, wind that drags our lines and we can make use of to move the flies, layers of water with different temperatures that go up and down during a single fishing day, slopes of cold waters that we cannot always see as some of them are underground but cool specific zones on the coast of a lake, where trout concentrate during summer. There are too many variations and movements that do not allow us to go on thinking about lakes as simple still waters.
At Strobel the movements of water columns are prominent and do not go unnoticed. Waves produce vertical movements in the floating line and horizontal movements where the wave breaks. This can impede the fly from moving correctly. I think that if we would have had a Hoover sinking line, with a slower sinking line than the Clear or Intermediates, we would have discovered more things in regard of how to work flies just below the surface at a very slow speed. One gets so many strikes here that you tend to think you are using the best technique, but in reality it is nothing like that.
This time, the lines that sunk fast and forced us to strip the fly quickly so it did not get stuck did not give good results. Trout simply ignored the flies that swam faster than the rest. In some bays of the Strobel Lake even an intermediate line can sink faster than desirable and if at that moment the trout prefer something that moves slowly, our chances are seriously affected. Of course, everything is relative in fishing, and I´m describing what happened to us specifically in February. However, I dare to say that in Strobel, getting to strip slowly is something important and we should not forget a couple of lines that allow us to fish our flies in a slow, soft and drowsy way.
We did not fish the Barrancoso River because it ran very low and there were hardly any good trout. The fish that take the river upstream in March were not there yet, so we chose to keep on treating ourselves with the silver trout from the lake, which seemed to be more common in the summer months.
One can feel the heat in the low areas of this land, at this place the transition between the water and the ground is never smooth. The absolute whiteness of the big extensions of calcified rocks is like a natural screen that reflects solar energy; however the water warms up with apparent slowness. In the cold months it is a liquid iceberg and the trout move very slowly feeding on scuds from the lake that is full of volcanic nutrients. These nutrients feed different kind of weeds that densely cover the rocks; therefore there is a great quantity of scuds that are capable of supporting a great quantity of trout.
Each lake has its particular scent, the Strobel has a spicy and astringent smell that comes from the type of weed that we see in great amounts in the beaches, where the waves compact them.
It would not be cautious to predict how the lake will become stable in the future; after all I am not a biologist. Nature always finds its way and at a cosmic scale I firmly believe that what we do does not have that much importance, except for ourselves. For the moment, the only problem that I can see in the short term is that the popularity of the lake grows exponentially. This happens in a world that has great difficulty in taking care of natural resources, especially once the moment of glory reaches these places.
Modern men gave a name to this jewel located in the rocky plateau and it is them who have the responsibility of maintaining it in the best possible way, even taking into account the changes that have already been made. The new pulse of life that the Strobel trout represent, make me think in how new stars appear in the Universe that is not finite but prone to sudden and violent changes.
Lake fly-fishing is far from being a sacrilege for fly fishing tradition; it requires great faith and discipline fed by a growing imagination. When we cast our fly as far as possible and watch it sink below the surface, we force ourselves to imagine a submerged world where the fly has to find its way around predators that watch it from the very same moment it enters the water.
I think that lake fishing is a challenge for imagination, without it the angler becomes an empty artist.