By Eric Ladd
As a blood-orange sun rises over the Iberá Wetlands, northern Argentina’s landscape comes alive. A family of capybara emerges from the reed cover and the young ones play in the water like kids at recess. A five-foot caiman slides onto a neighboring mud bank and appears to drift off to sleep as a flock of bright green parakeets roost in a tree by the boat dock. Pirá Lodge guides carry YETI coolers to the boats and begin rigging a series of rods as the faint crow of a rooster from the nearby village frames the setting for a perfect fish story.
For over 20 years, fishing guide José Insaurralde has called these waters his backyard. A man of few words, José’s distinct mid-cheek sunglass tan and worn, callused hands are evidence of his time stalking fish in the marsh. Other guides call him “fishy,” the ultimate compliment for a guide who hunts golden dorado.
Argentina’s Iberá marsh is the second largest wetland complex in the world where even park rangers get lost in the nearly 3.2 million-acre maze of channels and lagoons. José has a plan today to visit a hidden lagoon filled with monster dorado ranging upwards of 20 pounds. We are rigged for battle with 8-weight fly rods with steel leaders, dark purple and red streamers and a standby rod with a golf ball-sized mouse fly should the mood strike.
Last night a full moon rose above the wetland, in many circles an urban-legend kiss of death for fishing. Anglers theorize that fish feed all night and in turn avoid feeding during the day. Could this be our luck? The morning started slow. Fish ignored the flies and José slowly poled through the lagoon pointing: “Really big fish”, he’d hiss. “Another really big fish.” But we had no takes, no looks, no bites. Damned moon.
A few location adjustments, fly and technique tinkering, and our guide put us in the sweet spot. A sight cast to a 10-pound golden dorado and the powerful fish leaps from the water after hitting the fly on a full-speed sprint. Another fish! A third, fourth, fifth, a double hook-up (when two anglers hook a fish at the same time). Never mind the 8-foot caiman—a sort of hybrid between an alligator and a crocodile—swimming toward the boat and looking for an easy snack as we release fish.
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