Parana on the Fly
I have been trying to come up with the words over the past few weeks to describe the jaw dropping experience at Parana on the Fly in Itati (Corrientes region), Argentina. It has been harder than I figured it would be to find the right words. I traveled to Parana on the Fly with Ed McCoy and a group of anglers including Jerome, Kean, Robert, John and Paul. We spent a week chasing one of the ultimate predators, “The Golden Dorado”. What a ferocious and unforgiving species, this fish is unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered!! Now pair the Dorado along with an impressive Parana River system that left me speechless due to it’s pure size, flow, and the amount of baitfish it holds. Words can’t describe the overall experience and lasting impression that was left upon all of us who travelled there to fish, truly amazing!!
Michigan Anglers Travel Well
I have always said and believe whole heartedly that if you can fish in Michigan you can fish anywhere in the world and this held especially true on this trip. If you put your time in and train in Michigan you will develop a formidable skill set that will travel well anywhere in the world. I couldn’t have been more
proud of Kean, Jerome, and Robert with how they handled themselves mentally and opportunistically by using the skills that they have honed on Michigan waters. Dorado are not easy to catch by any means and they will test your moxy as an angler.
Golden Dorado require that you have the physical and mental capacity to remain in the game throughout the day. You need a good understanding of gamefish behavior and how they want to kill their prey. Fishing with big streamer patterns was our normal daily tactic. The flies weren’t huge like some that we fish for muskie, but good sized trout streamer patterns tied on 3/0 hooks. While fishing for Dorado you have to be willing to make a lot of casts and believe in every cast. Most importantly when you get that opportunity you need to have the mental fortitude to strip set, “DO NOT TROUT SET”, when the bite occurs. Be AGGRESSIVE on the strip set and be ready to rumble as these fish are as strong as any fish I have experienced, there were some broken rods on this trip!
It did not take long for Dorado to teach me a very valuable lesson. Having arrived at the Lodge on the banks of the Parana River, the guides gave us some bonus fishing time our first afternoon. Everybody quickly put a rod together, mine being a 9foot 9wt Scott Meridian. I knew we would be stripping streamers so I was rigged with a Scientific Anglers Jungle Titan Clear Tip Fly Line. Our terminal tackle was a 5 foot leader of 40 pound fluorocarbon and the tippet was about 18-24” of AFW 7×7 50 pound wire. This set up could turn over any fly that I was required to throw.
As we set out for the afternoon of bonus time on our 3rd spot we pulled into what is best to describe as a Dorado kill hole, meaning a big piece of structure in the middle of the Parana River. The Parana river is massive system that dwarfs anything we fish here in Michigan, average flows are reading around 150,000 CFS. To put this into perspective the biggest flows I’ve ever guided the Big
Manistee River was around 6000 CFS. Flood stage on the Parana is somewhere in the millions of CFS, this River is beyond big!! So the structure that these Dorado are going to use to ambush prey is going to have to match this trend. On the first afternoon of fishing we pull up next to a rock structure in the middle of the river and you see this big seam kicking off of the rocks and it looks fishy! Lucas, my guide for the afternoon, wants us to throw the fly next to the rocks and slowly strip the weighted deceiver pattern through the fast water along the rocks.
After a few casts and working down this rock structure I have my first encounter with a Golden Dorado. Let’s just say I set the hook hard, but not correctly. If you have ever fished with me you know I’m not afraid to do most things aggressively. Well, this Dorado made me pay as I was setting the hook as if I was smallmouth fishing, but, I was confident I could generate enough power using my hips to turn into the hook set. The 12-14 pound Dorado crumbled my rod, blowing up my brand new 9′ 9wt Meridan.
If you don’t strip set, keeping the rod straight and pulling hard on the line, these fish just have too much power and your equipment will not handle it. The tone had been set and I had a new respect as I was immediately in love and the Dorado had me at Hello. Let the record state, I did land that Dorado. I love 40 pound fluorocarbon. With my rod in pieces I just simply used my hands by hand-lining the dorado to the boat. Both my guide Lucas and my customer Kean were in awe of what just happened. Me personally, I was laughing hysterically as I can’t believe my 1st rod of the trip lasted a total of 20 Min.
To explain what Golden Dorado resemble, well there isn’t really one comparative species I can think of to describe their makeup. They remind me of at least three of my favorite Michigan gamefish. First of all what stood out about Golden Dorado is their kill speed, or burst speed. Ed McCoy will back me up on this as we both agreed that they are faster than a Fall Steelhead. The initial take is more like an explosion on the fly as they are so fast, it’s literally startling!! Like Smallmouth Bass, after you hook a Dorado the battle begins! Jumps, runs, and an endless fight all the way to the net. These fish don’t really make a long run, but, they have just tremendous straight pulling power all the while testing your equipment to it’s breaking point. A battle of tug of war is how I can best describe it.
Finally, the attitude of a Golden Dorado is a mix of a Muskie and a very wise old Brown Trout, moody isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe it. You want to insert improper language here, because that is what their temperament can be like. But I happen to be drawn to fish with this type of attitude. I love that challenge as I often remind myself, if it was easy everybody would do it.
Golden Dorado are known as the “River Wolf” , this name depicts them perfectly. Dorado do seem to have a pack like mentality. Hunting the sheep of the river, or other wise known as the Sabalo. Sabalo are the preferred meal of the Golden Dorado. The Parana River system is full of them. We would fish runs that would seem to have a couple million Sabalo in them. Now you probably think I’m exaggerating, but, as your stripping your fly through these runs your fly is bouncing off the backs, fins, tails, and what ever other body part is in the way. With the amount of baitfish in the Parana River it was ever a wonder that we hooked any Dorado at all as food was clearly not a limiting factor to their survival.
One of the OMG occurrences of the trip happened to Ed McCoy as he was fishing the “bead rig” for Pacu on day one along with Robert. The bead rig is supposed to represent a nut or fruit that falls into the water from overhanging trees which is a very common food source for a variety of species. On this trip we caught Sabalo, Boga, Pacu, and Pirapita (pizza pizza – another story for another
time). Anyway while Ed was fishing the bead, he hooked a Pirapita and while bringing in his catch three different double digit sized Dorado emerged and tried to eat the Pirapita. This feeding frenzy went on for over a minute and needless to say that Pirapita had to be glad Ed was able to bring him into the boat. It was a sight to behold and this showed us that Dorado can and will hunt anywhere and are fearless predators with an unparalleled killing instinct. Welcome to the Jungle!!
Besides the bead rig we also would throw some of the biggest Chernobyl Ants that I’ve ever seen tied. Foam grasshopper buggy looking things on 1/0 sized hooks. Compared to what we throw here in Michigan for hopper patterns,
these foam creatures would eat our own patterns for lunch.
Throwing a foam Chernobyl Ant on 6 and 7 weight rods was a welcomed relief and lots of fun, especially during the middle of the day. We had lots of explosive action and most importantly you would try and get these hopper patterns way up under the trees and overhanging limbs. Dorado are less active in the middle of the day so Pirapita and small Dorado (1-3 pounds) were the main focus.
The lodge at Parana on the Fly was A+ on every account. Rooms had plenty of room for two anglers, comfortable beds, nice bathrooms, Flat screen TV (that I never turned on) and AC for a comfortable nights sleep. The staff at the Lodge did our laundry so it was easy to pack for this trip. You didn’t need to bring much to begin with. The food was perfect, we always had plenty to eat at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you haven’t traveled to Argentina yet and your a red wine fan, the Malbec they serve is worth the price of admission.
The guides on the trip spoke enough English to understand any questions that we might have and did an amazing job running the boats in such a fast river. The 17 foot boats they run are made out of fiberglass. They were super quiet, controlled nicely with the 55 pound thrust of the Minn Kota trolling motors making it easy to retrieve flies that were thrown errantly into a few trees. I can’t thank enough Lucas, Lucas, Carlos, and Marcelo for everything that you did. You guys are true professionals.
If you are a streamer fisherman then the Parana on the Fly is a dream destination. The amount of “fishy” looking Golden Dorado water is endless. The fact that you can throw big streamers on Intermediate lines and big fish with pile drive them and test your physical ability makes this an absolute dream trip. Along with great guides, good food, and a comfortable Lodge this destination is a must do on everyone’s bucket list. I can’t wait to go back as the Golden Dorado exceeded all of my expectations.