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Jimmy Carter’s Giant Tierra del Fuego Trout


Former President Jimmy Carter catches the fish of a lifetime on an Argentine dream journey.


This text was initially titled “The Large Trout of Tierra del Fuego” within the December 2000 challenge of Fly Fisherman journal. Click on right here for the PDF of the print version of Jimmy Carter’s “The Giant Trout of Tierra del Fuego.” 

Having grown up in Southern Georgia, the place the water in all of the streams and ponds is heat, I had by no means fished for trout till I served as governor of Georgia and lived in Atlanta, only a quick distance from the Chattahoochee River. That is the place I realized the rudiments of fly fishing, and since then, my spouse, Rosalynn, and I’ve taken each alternative to be taught the finer factors of the game, or artwork, from high-quality anglers and fly tiers who had been type sufficient to share their information and expertise with us.

Along with a few of our favourite streams in Pennsylvania, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alaska, we’ve got additionally fished in Canada, England, Wales, Eire, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan, Chile, and some different locations the place our travels have taken us. We have caught and launched trout, grayling, Arctic char, steelhead, bonefish, and Atlantic and Pacific salmon. However I used to be not ready for the brown trout of Tierra del Fuego in one of many southernmost rivers of the Western Hemisphere.

Jimmy Carter’s Fly Fishing Journey

After we had fished for a day on Montana’s Ruby River final summer season, information Chris Francis informed me that he was reserving journeys to the Rio Grande River in southern Argentina. The fishing season there’s throughout their summer season, from early January to mid-April. On the time, I had no intention of touring that far for an additional fishing journey, however later a few of my mates and I made a decision to make the journey.

Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin informed me that he had assortment of comparatively unused fly rods that he needed to train when he retired from authorities service, and Wayne Harpster, my annual host at Spruce Creek in Pennsylvania, stated that he wish to be part of us. Even at a late date, we had been in a position to e book our celebration (together with John Moores and Bob Wilson) late in March, close to the onslaught of winter.



From the airport in Buenos Aires, our smaller industrial aircraft flew first to Ushuaia, the farthest level south on the earth that’s accessible by land autos. Explorer Ferdinand Magellan named the archipelago in 1520 when he noticed many fires on the shore maintained by aborigines who had sighted the unusual Portuguese ship. The Beagle Channel, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, was named for the ship on which Charles Darwin made his historic voyage. We then flew again north to the city of Rio Grande; the river of that title flows for about 60 miles, from the snow-covered Chilean mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. From there we drove westward about 35 miles to Estancia San Jose to spend 5 days in a newly transformed and comfy lodge.

Throughout the lengthy journey south, I had learn Tierra del Fuego, a high-quality journey information written 20 years in the past by Rae Natalie Prosser Goodall that included descriptions of the land, historical past, geology, flora, and fauna and had detailed maps of the world. After I arrived on the San Jose lodge, I requested our hostess, Cristina Azyera, if she was acquainted with the e book. She smiled and stated, “The creator is my aunt, a biologist, and I nonetheless stay the place she did a lot of the writing.” I expressed hope that I’d see some guanacos, a cousin of the llama and alpaca that lived farther north. I additionally stated that I used to be particularly involved in including to my life birding checklist, and appreciated her aunt’s descriptions of some endemic species that I’d see whereas on the river.

Rosalynn and I are avid birdwatchers, having taken up this new pursuit in Tanzanian recreation parks after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 1988. Since then, we’ve got made appointments with educated chook­watchers in lots of the international locations we go to in our work for The Carter Heart, and we’ve got loved largely early morning visits to promising habitats, usually in or close to massive cities.

Chris Francis had suggested us to deliver 8- or 9-weight rods, with each floating and sinking-tip traces, and flies which can be generally used for big trout within the Northern Hemisphere. I additionally had a 6-weight outfit simply in case he was exaggerating the dimensions of our quarry. However, Wayne Harpster introduced a 14-foot Euro-Spey rod, for use when fishing a dry fly within the robust winds. That is the commonest sort out for a lot of the lodge’s European visitors.



On the primary evening there I met information Justin McCarthy, who informed me that he had been on the estancia every season for seven years and had seen some outstanding enhancements within the lodgings and the countryside. He spends components of his 12 months guiding on the Kola Peninsula of Russia, Northeast Iceland, and Los Roques, a bunch of islands simply north of the mainland in Venezuela. I used to be happy to be taught that he was acquainted with chook species of the world. He promised to assist me sight one of many large Andean condors through the week, however he stated the Chilean flamingos had already moved north to hotter locations.

The solar was shining brightly the following morning, and I used to be relieved that I did not need to burden myself with the numerous layers of clothes I had introduced. On the way in which to the stream with Justin, I used to be shocked and happy to see dozens of guanacos, a big group of cautious wild horses with their foals, a number of grey foxes, and all kinds of hawks, eagles, caracaras, ibis, and geese. We stopped the Land Rover so I may have take a look at every new chook. The hilltops had been lined with timber, largely beech, however there was little foliage within the decrease plains besides some tree clumps alongside the streams.

Justin identified that each one the sheep had been faraway from the 24,000-acre estancia, and the pure grasslands had been returning quickly. The whole space would now be a everlasting wildlife refuge, with all birds and indigenous wildlife protected. The exceptions had been the feral grey foxes and the big beavers, twice as massive as these I knew in Georgia, which had been severely damaging the scattered woodland areas that border the river.

One of many good options of the San Jose lodge is that its land lies alongside the comparatively impassable border of Chile, in order that visitor fishermen are virtually fully remoted aside from a number of poachers from Chile which can be apprehended and turned over to the authorities. A useful and unobtrusive exception to the isolation is a excessive antenna that gives phone and web connections from San Jose via Rio Grande to the remainder of the world.

We drove in a basic northwestward route to achieve the river the place it serves because the border with Chile. Justin defined that with the clear skies we had, he would advocate a floating line and light-colored flies, both hitched with tippet to skitter throughout the floor or permitted to run at a depth of an inch or two. This was the identical approach that Rosalynn and I had used for Atlantic salmon. On cloudy days or at evening, we’d even be attempting darker flies fished deep, maybe utilizing stacked upstream mends to let the sinking-tip sweep the fly alongside the underside.

Argentine Trout and Condors

After we arrived on the river, I used to be delighted to discover a easy gravel backside, excellent for wading even with no employees. Many of the selection fishing locations had been alongside steep beneath­lower banks that could possibly be approached by wading out on sloping bottoms from the alternative aspect. The one significant issue was the robust chilly west wind, which different from 20 to 45 miles per hour. In most locations, an extended double­haul forged was useful in protecting my physique nicely away from the deeper swimming pools that held the shy sea-­run browns. Thankfully, we had been often dealing with northward, in order that, with the wind coming from my left, as a right-hander I used to be not compelled to roll-cast consistently nor was I threatened with a fly line being wrapped round my neck. Regardless of the sunshine and what appeared on the lodge to be a reasonable day, I used to be quickly trembling throughout and attempting to maintain the uncovered suggestions of my fingers from freezing.

I had been casting a dry fly shut beneath the far financial institution and letting it dance throughout the floor for about an hour when there was a strong swirl and I had a pleasant feminine brown trout on my line. She leaped a number of instances as I fastidiously backed into shallow water and Justin shouted, “Look behind you!” I twisted round far sufficient to see an amazingly massive chook gliding down from the Darwin Mountain vary in Chile, its flight path virtually instantly over us and towards a steep hill throughout the river.

Jimmy Carter's Giant Tierra del Fuego Trout
Former President Jimmy Carter performs his first Rio Grande sea-run brown trout on the San Jose water close to the Argentine/Chilean border.

“It’s one of many condors and it’s coming to soar the updraft from the hill. They’ve a wingspan of greater than 10 ft, and that’s a giant male,” Justin stated. He took some photographs of me, the fish, and maybe the condor, and we launched a 27-inch sea-run brown trout, its robust coloring displaying that it had been within the river for a number of weeks. It was one of many largest trout I had ever caught: I’ve taken an 8-pound rainbow in New Zealand, a number of steelhead within the 12-pound vary on the west coast of Canada, and a 12-pound rainbow from the Copper River close to Lake lliamna in Alaska. By the point I forged once more, there have been three condors hovering above the close by hill.

Between lunch and afternoon tea again on the lodge, we had the primary snow flurries of the approaching winter, so I placed on all the garments I had introduced and in addition borrowed an additional jacket. We went again to the river at about 4:30 p.m., planning to fish for about 5 hours till nicely after darkish. Nonetheless utilizing a floating line, we tried totally different flies together with Silver Blues, Golden Stones, Salk River Shrimp, Teeny Leeches, Woolly Buggers, and a small fly with rubber legs just like considered one of my favorites for bluegill bream in my farm pond. All of us caught “small” browns and rainbows within the 16- to 26-inch vary, a few of them year-round residents and others having returned to their house stream from a keep within the ocean.

Simply earlier than sunset, I had a ferocious strike. An clearly highly effective fish went to the underside and resisted the drive of my doubled rod and most reel stress for quarter-hour. I lastly beached him in shallow water and Justin tailed him. It was a hook-jawed male brown, strongly coloured, that I measured at 36 inches and the information estimated to weigh 17 kilos.

Bob Rubin, on his first day, fished the higher reaches of the Menendez River, a tributary of the Rio Grande. He was searching for resident trout, however hooked and landed a 16-pound sea-run brown on his comparatively gentle sort out. After that, he determined to hitch us on the bigger river.

Jimmy Carter's Giant Tierra del Fuego Trout
Carter measured this hook-jawed male Argentine brown trout at 36 inches and the information estimated it to weigh 17 kilos.

Trophy Brown Trout within the Run

The mud holes within the street had been frozen strong every morning, and we generally fished in driving rain or snow, however nobody was ever tempted to remain within the lodge when fishing was obtainable. Due to the chilly, I had an issue, often after darkish, with ice filling the guides on my rod, although dipping the rod within the water would give non permanent aid. We rotated stretches of the stream every half-day throughout the remainder of the week, and all of us caught no less than one brown trout that exceeded ten kilos. They had been progeny of fish from Europe that had been first launched into the Tierra del Fuego streams a couple of century in the past.

With restricted pure meals however excellent spawning situations within the chilly, swift, gravel-bottom streams, a portion of the browns started spending their rising seasons within the sea, and so they developed into the attractive specimens of at the moment. There’s additionally inhabitants of resident trout, each brown and rainbows, that we may see rising within the shallower water and sometimes swimming round our legs as we stood nonetheless and forged our traces.

A few of them had been massive sufficient to offer a surprising thrill in most trout streams I had fished.

On the third morning, I landed a 13-pound feminine brown on a small, sparsely dressed Silver Blue fly, and on the way in which downstream towards one other pool I regarded as much as see a pair of long-necked birds. As they handed overhead, we may see that they had been Chilean flamingos. This was the fifteenth of the Tierra del Fuego chook species that I may add to my life checklist. That afternoon we rotated as much as the pinnacle of the estancia’s stretch of water. We stopped lengthy sufficient to climb a hill adjoining to the stream that gave a wide ranging panoramic view up and down the river and throughout of the Chilean mountain vary.

After making a number of casts in a big stretch named Humphrey’s Pool, we walked upstream to the narrowest run the place the river rushed via a deep channel. As I started to make quick casts into the turbulent water, I used to be startled by a high-pitched tinny sound, and regarded up throughout the alternative financial institution to see a big male guanaco, protesting as a result of I used to be encroaching on his territory. I used to be utilizing a Salk River Shrimp sample on a #14 hook when a big fish took my fly and commenced swimming slowly and majestically downstream. I moved in the identical route, sustaining as a lot stress as I felt the 1X tippet may take, thrilled and alarmed every time the silver-sided feminine leaped into the air. Justin ran down the financial institution about 75 yards to indicate me {a partially} uncovered go online which the fish may turn into entangled, however the fish lastly turned and moved again towards me and I took in line as quickly as potential.

After I lastly pulled the trout up on the gravel, we measured her to be 39 inches lengthy. Justin estimated that she was 9 or ten years outdated and weighed 22 kilos. After taking some images, we watched the fish disappear into the stream, and I sat on the financial institution till I may get better my energy and wits sufficient to fish once more.

That night, the guides and lodge supervisor honored me by naming the positioning “Carter’s Run,” a spot I will always remember. In one of many toasts, I promised that the following time I come to fish the Rio Grande, I will not trouble to deliver my smaller rod.

Jimmy Carter's Giant Tierra del Fuego Trout
“I used to be utilizing a Salk River Shrimp sample on a #14 hook when a big fish took my fly and commenced swimming slowly and majestically downstream… After I lastly pulled the trout up on the gravel, we measured her to be 39 inches lengthy … That night the guides and lodge supervisor honored me by naming the positioning ‘Carter’s Run.’ I virtually dropped my trophy fish earlier than we launch her.”

It was a thrill for me to catch some huge trout, however I may even always remember how all of us forgot our rods momentarily as we watched the Andean condors glide overhead after which soar excessive above a close-by hill. One of many guides stated, “That largest male has a wingspan of about 11 ft. Apart from the wandering albatross, that is the best of all.”

Throughout our final meal collectively, all of us agreed that we had by no means had a fishing expertise like this one. The virtually fixed wind and growing chilly had light into relative insignificance as every of us landed trout that will have been actually unbelievable in most locations on earth. The great thing about the unusual panorama would by no means be forgotten, and the crystal-clear river with its gravel backside was a delight for wading and casting.

Every day, we had seen extra wildlife than in most nationwide recreation parks, and it was thrilling to know that the pure habitat was being restored to its unique state­ related, maybe, to what it was when the indigenous individuals first sighted the Portuguese ships 460 years in the past. We had been all glad that Magellan had made the invention.

Jimmy Carter, an avid fly fisher, was president of the USA from 1976 to 1980. He has written dozens of books, together with An Outside Journal (1988), and based The Carter Center, a non­revenue group that works to forestall and resolve conflicts, improve freedom and democracy, and enhance well being globally.

Different Fly Fisherman articles by former President Jimmy Carter: 

Spruce Creek Diary

On Fly Fishing For Taimen

Guanaja Bonefish



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