By Denis Isbister, Fisherman and TV Personality on Wild Fish Wild Places
The southernmost reaches of the Patagonia region in Argentina boasts some of the most unexplored and rich fisheries in the world. Producing television shows for the last 12 years I have been to some of the most remote and wild places on earth but this area of the world is without a doubt, one of the best.
Our good friends at Estancia Laguna Verde aka Jurassic Lake, invited the crew back to fish, film and explore some new waters on the big lake that they had just opened up by building an outpost camp. This massive lake is famous for producing some of the biggest rainbow trout in the world with many rainbows in the 15/16 pound range and a good handful over 20 pounds.
Jessica and myself launching luggage
The goal for this trip was to fly the Sea Eagle Packfish 7 boats with us as luggage! This would give us the advantage to explore some of the off shore reefs and shelfs that are out of casting distance from the shore. We wanted to figure out what the fishing was all about and for a few key reasons, the Packfish 7 boat was the perfect fit. Here’s why:
Approximately 20 pounds and comes with a bag! When checking luggage you can take 50 pounds so the extra room in the Sea Eagle bag allowed us to pack waders, boots and other essentials so we didn’t waste any space!
Safe and Stable! Jurassic Lake is a big windblown body of water so safety is the number one concern. Two air chambers and tough construction make this boat the right tool for the job.
Fishes great! When you are planning on being on the water for hours on end comfort and maneuverability are huge. We fished with sinking lines moving very slow and precisely to get these fish to eat a streamer and spent 10 hours a day in them! The PackFish inflatable boats have a 4-keel system on the bottom that keeps this boat tracking perfectly at all times. You don’t get the annoying kick off from side to side you get with regular pontoons and the boat does not spin around in circle in a high wind.
Rows great! A big difference between the PackFish and a traditional float tube is the fact that you can row it really long distances and cover a lot of fishing ground. That was particularly important in Patagonia where we were fishing a very large body of water and where the wind can come up bigtime in a heartbeat.
Jessica and me rowing luggage (aka 2 PackFish 7s)
When we first arrived at the outpost camp side of Jurassic Lake we were looking at a giant bay with steep drop offs and some off shore weed beds that had to be holding fish. In a matter of minutes the boats were ready to go and we were in the process of figuring out what these fish were after. Brian Oakland from Gotfishing.com started one direction with a sinking line and black streamer while Jessica and I worked olive buggers on floating lines. It didn’t take long and Brian had a pattern figured out, black streamer on the ledge and real slow! We all started changing lines and streamers to match and making a very slow and subtle presentation that the big fish could not refuse. Brian landed over 20 fish with most of them double digits and one 18 pound giant. The boats gave us the advantage of presenting a fly in a unique way as well as in the place they were holding. Unfortunately the guys on shore had a very slow day (for them, that is).
Out fishing with Jessica
Over the next couple days we explored a big area of this side of the lake that had never been fished from a boat….Ever! Due to the Packfish 7 size and design we were able to unlock the true potential that this fishery has to offer, as well as having a great time ripping fish!
Two boats along the shore
Big Rainbow, Little Boat with Fisherman
Luggage catching fish or the PackFish strikes again!
At first glimpse of the chocolate powerhouse, I knew we were in for an epic river run. I hadn’t seen water this powerful in person since running the Lions Head section of the Matanuska River in Alaska. The difference was that I had taken that current in a huge raft; I’d be taking on this challenge in a Sea Eagle Explorer 380x. Seeing others at the Big Eddy put-in quickly dispelled any apprehensions, and I began suiting up.
The Upper Salt River — a true Arizona classic, and one I had run before at low flows. At lower flows the river manifests as a technical bump-and-grind with crystal clear water. Surrounded by a beautiful landscape of towering canyon walls in a unique Sonoran riparian ecosystem, Cottonwoods and the mighty Saguaro guide you down the river in the heart of White Mountain Apache country. At lower flows the major danger is drowning from foot entrapment on one of the many boulders or ledges throughout the river requiring prior knowledge and experience with “defensive swimming”.
Originally, I ran this river in the Sea Eagle 330with great success. Looking forward to what the river would become with a little more power. The Salt River was running at ~3750 CFS. (CFS or Cubic Feet per Second is the rate of the flow, in streams and rivers. 1 “CFS” is equal to 7.48 gallon of water per second). At this level the dangers change from foot entrapment by boulders and ledges to flipping and flushing down river unable to retrieve equipment or worse, drowning unable to swim to shore because of the powerful torrent. Self-Rescue becomes difficult at these levels and should only be attempted by competent teams of at least two but preferably three Class III to IV boaters or better in separate white-water crafts. Bailing early is made difficult by the remote and steep Salt River Canyon. So
I knew we had to be careful on this trip and take every prudent
The plan was to kayak from Big Eddy off of Highway 60 to Cibicue takeout. This is the same stretch we had done before, approximately 4 miles and about 10 marked rapids ranging from Class II-IV Leading through the first drop (Kiss and Tell) and our first taste of the power and just how different this river trip would be. I charged through to the eddy on river right. It was a huge, pushy tongue above 3k. When paddling out of the eddy (eddies are sections of water that flow upstream when an obstruction blocks the main flow of water) the eddy line where the downstream current meets the upstream current caught one of my inflated tubes and tried to flip me out. Ready for the pull, I quickly counter-balanced the high side of the boat and rode it out. I was using an older model Sea Eagle Explorer 380x that I had used on many previous river trips. It was incredibly forgiving when boating off axis. My paddling partner using the Sea Eagle 300xwhich, being lighter, shorter and more nimble,had no problem making a clean line down the middle.
Next, we faced a true test of what the Big Salt would have in store for the rest of our paddling trip. We crashed through “haystacks”, a series of waves found on a rapid often referred to as a wave train. Haystacks tend to occur after a drop or on high volume or flooded rivers. Charging full speed, the river was big, splashy, fun and fast! That was the tale of Tailings and Bump and Grind. Where once we were carving around boulders and shooting lines, those boulders were replaced by holes and waves to punch. Holes are features on a river where the surface water is actually moving upstream creating a hydraulic. A big enough hole can flip a boater and keep them recirculating within the hydraulic. After a short break from the action, we met at a fork in the river. Trying to remember what we did last time, we discussed and then headed to the right, entering MayTag. The river split and narrowed then chewed us up in holes and wave trains and spit us out the other side! The Sea Eagle Explorer 380x took everything the river could throw at it, charging through in high-flying wheelie fashion! The whooping was in full force, and we knew we were in for an epic ride! The SeaEagle 300x handled everything just as well but I was glad to have a bigger boat in the bigger water.
We opted to pull out above Grummins and sit on a large, fallen cottonwood, arguing over whether or not we were seeing elk hoof prints or those of the bovine variety. We hung out for a bit and talked safety when we spied another raft coming up from behind. Not wanting to miss this chance, we quickly hopped back in our Sea Eagles to chat about the upcoming rapids, attempting to leach some information. Fellow paddlers graciously told us their lines and offered to let us follow. We swallowed our pride and did just that — no room for egos on the Big Salt!
Following river right we threaded small trees, avoiding massive holes river left and in the middle, while launching off haystacks until we made our way around the bend, continuing to stay hard right to avoid becoming a tribute to the Mother Rock. You know it when you see it! What followed was a short break and quick discussion about the next rapid, Eaglesnest/ Overboard, this proving to be the most intricate and beta-intensive rapid. Right and through the willows, we punched holes, back ferry (a maneuver where you turn to paddle upstream) to river left, just skirting the hole at the bottom of the rapid. After a short conversation about the rest of the river, we parted ways and were once again left to our own devices. The rapids ahead were, in comparison to what we had already done, much simpler — that is until Exhibition.
We heard the thunderous power of this rapid far before we saw it. I stood in my Sea Eagle Explorer 380 in hopes to scout out a line with the least mayhem. I didn’t see one. I only saw a huge diagonal wave that I knew I wanted to miss if I could. I picked a line and began charging ahead. The drums of war beat in my ears. The paddle and boat were now just an extension of my body as I smashed through holes and plunged through waves. I saw the wall of water. The massive wave I knew I wanted to avoid. I no longer had time to maneuver away and would have to hit the wave straight on. I took one final stroke, launching myself off of the massive beast and saw nothing but blue sky. My Sea Eagle had learned to fly! In that moment, it all occurred in slow motion. Like a car wreck. I knew I was going into the water and that I was about to flip, but lo-and-behold I came crashing down still in my boat! Hitting that next paddle stroke in auto-pilot, I turned to watch my paddling buddy make his way through the Exhibition. I let out one battle cry and then another. Those incredibly testing and triumphant moments are the ones you know you’re truly alive!
I Laughed out loud at nothing, throwing my hands up in exclamation at the canyon walls. I was “right here, right now”, running a river through your nat’ geo. There’s no place I’d rather be.
splashed our way through the last rapids, joyfully floating over wave
trains backwards with child-like grins from ear-to-ear. After 2
hours, we had our first site of the shuttle parked beside Cibecue
rapid. I found a nice eddy and took out halfway through the rapid to
run to my friends, whooping and giving out high fives and sharing in
“WE MADE IT!” I exclaimed.
After an epic, exhausting run, the small mining town of Globe and a huge Roberto’s burrito couldn’t come soon enough.
Warren Maddox is a long time white water enthusiast and has been using different Sea Eagle models for many years.