For more than 20 years anglers have been chasing the mysterious steelhead of southern Argentina’s vast, sweeping, blue-gray Rio Santa Cruz. It has never been an easy, high catch rate proposition but recently the river has entered a new era where it is finally well enough understood to make a dedicated trip here a truly worthy world-class steelhead adventure.
To say that the first ten years of exploring the Santa Cruz were tough would be an understatement. Several outfitters scouted the river and some even set up shop, but it was hard to keep the beds filled as the river hoarded its secrets, making the system far more enigmatic than consistent. Roughly 11 years ago a group of very experienced steelheaders from BC floated the entire 240-mile river and were humbled. The type of water that they had been trained to sniff out was rare at best. The Santa Cruz was simply built from an entirely unique and often confounding template. The experienced sea trout guides from the Rio Grande and Gallegos were also met with very modest results. Accordingly, it earned a reputation as a tough nut, and to some degree, faded from the radar of traveling anglers.
Between 2007 and 2013 Loop Tackle invested considerable time and energy on the most promising section of the river. They enlisted many of their best guides from the Gallegos to learn the most promising section of river 50 to 75 miles upstream of the Atlantic. This was a very fruitful time period and catch rates climbed steeply, but still, the set-up was imperfect with long drives from an awkward estancia to the river. This program was also abandoned, and the river lay fallow except for the continued personal fishing of some dedicated guides like longtime Las Buitreras head guide and manager Claudio Martin. Claudio had seen too much great fishing there to let the dream of the perfect South American steelhead lodge die on the vine. Accordingly, he and his business partners at Tres Amigos Outfitters Juan Manuel Biott and Diego “Pollo” Coscia pushed forward with the building of Los Plateados Lodge; the ultimate four-person mini-lodge. Set in a strategic waterfront location on the lower reaches of the Santa Cruz’s best section, this modest and intimate set up will be the first to stand the test of time on this remarkable river.
A Unique Angling Experience
While there are a great many appealing and productive steelhead rivers in the world, the argument for Argentina’s mighty Rio Santa Cruz being far and away the most unique is near bulletproof. The reasons are many; its massive size, the harsh and surreal Dali-esque landscape through which it flows, the subtlety of its lies and structure and the trump card that it is the only true Atlantic steelhead return in the world. We have no real idea as to how many fish it holds, but what we do know is that it is a consistent and viable system that might possibly be the last major river to be added to the cannon of steelhead classics. Like many steelhead rivers, the fish here average 9 to 10 pounds but there are also plenty of fish in the 15 to 20-pound class. Anglers tend to have several encounters per day and average about one quality fish landed a day. I have often said that all anglers who make the effort to reach the Rio Santa Cruz should get a merit badge. It might be called “Global Steelhead Citizenship,” and it would acknowledge the fact that anglers had traveled far, waded deep, fought the wind and cast long into what is likely the largest and most cryptic steelhead river they have set foot in. The Santa Cruz’s steelhead are clean, heavy-shouldered specimens free of net scars and they are intercepted roughly 50-miles into a 250-mile journey when they are as bright and beautiful as any steelhead in the world. The joy of the Santa Cruz is making it work and feeling the line draw tight in lies that would have literally taken years to find on one’s own.
Los Plateados Lodge fishes four different beats with a total of 30 named pools. Using trucks and zodiac-style boats with outboards, guests will rotate through the different beats to fish the most productive pools and runs. A typical day at Los Plateados starts early and ends late. Anglers head to the river following an early breakfast, fish until mid-day, take in a riverside lunch and fish into the evening hours before returning to the lodge for a late dinner. All guides speak excellent English and are talented instructors, casters and anglers. The core team is known as Tres Amigos (Claudio, Pollo, and Juan Manuel) and they have spent years guiding the Gallegos as well as a host of other systems in the Santa Cruz province, including Jurassic Lake. Guides will rotate among paired anglers, giving guests the opportunity to fish with multiple guides throughout their stay. If you are one who often longs for the old days when there were no crowds and still secrets to uncover in the steelhead world, don’t miss the opportunity to fish this remarkable river… because, as time will prove, today will soon become the good old days of the mighty Rio Santa Cruz.