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Articles: Dorados en Salta

by: Daniel Beilinson

I had been thinking about going to Salta to fish the great dorado in Bermejo river for a long time. Despite the interest we take in certain projects, they appear to work on their own accord. In the end, the Bermejo project was never carried out. My friend from Salta, Baltazar Saravia, who was in charge of arranging a package tour in the area for me, invited me to stay in the country house of a cousin of his for a couple of days, 18 km from Juramento river, just downstream from El Tunal dam.
On November 8th I set out on my journey to Salta in an early flight. It was a pleasant 2-hour flight. Balta was waiting for me when I arrived. We loaded the necessary equipment on the four-wheel-drive vehicle and headed towards Finca San Rafael, together with other two travelling companions, Alejandro and Ezequiel. Juan, Balta’s cousin, was driving. We arrived at the ranch by midday. I am not going to give many details about the attention I received or the quality of my hosts, but I will summarize it: excellent, considering their hospitality, cordiality and full disposition, as well as patience because I was the only fly-fisherman!!
They were all attentive to the way I was feeling and how I would manage to flyfish dorados, which are hooked with live bait in Salta.
After lunch that Friday I went to the river, just 150 meters from the house. Juramento river carries a constant amount of water, controlled by El Tunal dam. The water was quite clear that day, olive green. Stones and sand could be seen at the bottom. One bank is lined by 2-meter mounds; in other stretches, the river widens leaving areas of easy accessibility and good to wade. It was very hot and windy, more than usual. I was surprised at seeing anglers bait-fishing in the opposite side of the river. There were also three local fishermen throwing nets to catch whatever came into them, with the water up to their waists. The river is not very wide; it may reach 30 or 40 meters in some places or 15 in others, so these fishermen were trying to catch as much as they could up to where the depth let them. Despite my indignation and uneasiness, I looked for an appropriate spot to start casting. I found a place with some fallen trunks, a strong current and some whirlpools forming like an elbow where the river got narrower. Shads were very active and could be seen everywhere. My tackle consisted of a three-pieces Sage SP+ rod #8, Bonefish Billy Pate reel and some flies tied in hook Owner 3/0, typical for dorados, weighted, with muddler head in black, black and orange, and black and yellow. All of them had some flashabou.
I didn’t hook anything during the first hour. I kept moving to new spots and casting to the area where the trunks were. While I was retrieving the fly I saw a flutter of color that came up from the depths abruptly and charged the fly confidently. I hooked; the dorado started leaping and tried to go back to the current, looking for deep waters. After some minutes of fight I pulled the fish to the shore to have a look. As I was on the mound I tried to get to the water to be able to get the leader and land the dorado. I had such bad luck that I slipped just as I was holding the leader in my hand. I made a sudden move to avoid falling into the water which resulted in breaking my rod. Luckily (despite my bad luck), I always carry a spare rod, in this case it was a Sage RPLXi. I removed the hook from the dorado, which happened to weigh over 7.5 pounds, and returned to the house to change the rod. When I got to the river again, there were more fishermen throwing their nets! I started to search for new places to cast and after about half an hour another strong dorado charged the fly violently, made some leaps and abandoned it. I didn’t have more hookups for the day. In the evening, asado (grilled meat), wine and interesting talks about the region, height wines and fishing, obviously.
I left for the river at 6.30 the next morning. When I got there, I realized that two other fishermen had already arrived, but fortunately they didn’t have nets this time. I insisted on the idea of catching a large dorado in the Juramento. I was out of luck that day, just one strike without hooking and nothing else. Anyway, we had already decided to go to another ranch near El Rey National Reserve. A river called El Dorado runs through it; it is difficult to reach and according to what I was told, dorado fishing has proved to be very profitable.
After a long journey, stopping at J.V.Gonzalez for some paperwork and some sandwiches, we passed through Las Lajitas and we arrived at the ranch which covers 23000 hectares. We opened and closed a dozen gates; in the end, we got to the river by midday. Nestled by the sierras ( hills ), the ranch is surrounded by dense vegetation. It was very hot and wet, and I was told that it is impossible to go through it when it is raining. We headed downstream of the area known as the “cajones”, the most productive, because the road to go upstream to fish there was destroyed. Previous cuts caused by the heavy rains had ruined it (during the rainy season that starts in December and runs through March the average rainfall is 1,200mm). According to what I was told there are unexplored places, toucans, monkeys, Jesuitic ruins, tapirs, jaguars and a wide range of birds, reptiles, mammals, insects and, above all, mosquitoes in that ranch!! A lot of mosquitoes!! The dorado spawns upstream of El Dorado river.
When we got to the river, I was impressed by its color and its surroundings. It reminded me of the rivers in the south of Argentina, with its pristine waters, transparent and greenish, white sand and rolling stones on the bottom, sandy beaches, huge trees along the different stretches. Its width ranges from 6 to 10 metres. The river is quite deep in some places; it widens in others and you can wade from one side to the other without any trouble. I felt as if I were in a “tropical” Los Alerces National Park. The water was quite warm (24 or 25°, I guess) and there was a great number of shads and breams, many of them in schools. As soon as we got to the bank of the river, and after getting my rod ready, I started making short casts in front of where we had left our bags and were preparing some sandwiches. In the third or fourth cast a huge dorado lunged up and took the fly violently. When I hooked firmly, it started to give spectacular leaps (it was a shame I was the only one carrying a camera, which I had left in my backpack). It was a great scene, which left my companions gaping in complete astonishment until I managed to bring it closer and landed it. It was a well-built dorado of about 7.5 pounds. From that moment to 4 pm I got a good number of hookups and a couple of dorados really made my day. The mosquitoes really gave us some trouble and from 4pm the dorados stopped taking our flies, as if they had been called by somebody! We were exhausted when we went back that evening, but a young goat on the grill was waiting for us when we arrived. We had dinner at about 12. The young goat was delicious, served with an exquisite height wine from Salta of 15,6% called San Pedro de Yacochuya. We all had a good night’s sleep.
The next morning was the last day of our trip. I left for Juramento river very early. The river was quite turbid and there was no hookup. It’s worth mentioning that on Saturday (the day we went to El Dorado) some French had been fly-fishing in the area, with the permission of the ranch owner, and caught 4 dorados. One of them weighed around 17.5 pounds.
On Sunday morning, we left for the source of the Juramento, downstream of El Tunal dam, on the 4-wheel-drive vehicle to try another section of the river. There were such a lot of fishermen and the place was so neglected that we decided to return to the ranch. I kept trying, wade-fishing and from the mounds but there was no sign of the dorados.
After lunch and some talk where the good wine was not absent, we went back to the city of Salta to take my flight back to Buenos Aires. We promised to organize an expedition to El Dorado river for next April to get to know the “cajones”. We might organize adventure-fishing packages apart from the ones offered in the rainy season.
Our concern for the neglected condition of Juramento river is on the increase. In a few years someone will surely say, “ Do you remember the time dorados were fished in this river?”
I firmly believe the authorities must intervene in the situation, ban the indiscriminate catch of fish, take care of a resource that gives work to the community and encourage tourism taking measures to protect the environment, considering particularly the fishermen looking for new destinations to fly-fish dorados!
Fishing with nets and trammel nets without considering place, variety or size, not following catch-and-release ethics, apart from commercial catch during the close season are threatening the future of a fantastic sport fish, which isn’t called the “Tiger of the Parana” in vain.
Once again I wish to thank Balta, Juan, Alejandro and Ezequiel for the good moments we spent together.

Daniel Beilinson
November 2002

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