Fly fishing in Strobel Lake, Patagonia

Patagonia's Strobel Lake (better known as Jurassic Lake) is probably the best place on the planet to catch a massive rainbow trout.

Fly fishing in Strobel Lake, Patagonia
Picture copyright © Mariano Srur
Fly fishing in Strobel Lake, Patagonia
Picture copyright © Mariano Srur
Fly fishing in Strobel Lake, Patagonia
Estimated reading time 7 - 11 minutes

Where is Strobel Lake?

Lake Strobel (or Jurassic Lake as it's more commonly known) lies in the middle of Santa Cruz Province in the southern Patagonia plateau of Argentina, South America.

Nestled among barren scrub and snow capped mountains and glacier, Lake Strobel gets monumentally battered by the elements. But, if you can withstand the weather, you'll find no better place on earth to catch vast numbers of truly massive rainbow trout.

Those who've been say your worst day's fishing on Strobel Lake will still be one of the best day's fishing of your life, so it's little surprise that it tops nearly every fly fisher's bucket list.

How big do Strobel Lake's rainbow trout grow?

Rainbow trout grow to very, very large sizes in Strobel Lake. Fish of 30 pounds aren't uncommon, twenty pounders are caught every day and low double figure fish are considered average. Even 40 pound fish are a possibility.

These rainbow trout grow to the size of steelheads and are said to fight just as hard. They make the lengthy, boneshaking trip and the harsh weather conditions you'll experience in Patagonia totally worthwhile.

Where did the rainbow trout come from?

Rainbow trout aren't native to Patagonia, of course. The ones in Strobel Lake were stocked about 20-30 years ago by a local man who obtained them from a hatchery on the Santa Cruz River.

The rainbows in the Santa Cruz River are thought to be the only Atlantic steelhead in the world, and they originally derived from the McCloud River strain of California rainbow trout.

Where do these rainbow trout breed?

There's only one river entering Strobel Lake and that's the Barancuso River. Rainbows are said to breed in the this tiny river all year round, but experts reckon they might also spawn within the lake itself, which is very unusual.

Why do rainbow trout grow so large in Strobel Lake?

Although there's not a massive variety of food in Strobel Lake, there are gazillions of scuds. These little arthropod crustaceans are like the Gammarus river shrimps that are found under rocks in UK rivers and they form the staple diet of trout in Lake Strobel.

Scuds are high in protein and plentiful, so Strobel Lake rainbows grow quickly and reach very large sizes indeed, without competition from other fish. It's said that the scuds are so prolific that Strobel rainbow trout can pack on two pounds every year!

Another reason they might get really big in Jurassic Lake is because the river they run up to spawn is very short and they don't run up it for long, so they maintain condition better than trout that have longer migrations, and therefore continue to grow.

What can I expect to catch?

On a good day some fly fishers here will land 75-100 fish, with a high average size and numerous fish in the upper double figures and twenties a possibility.

What's the weather like at Strobel Lake?

The weather of the Patagonia plateau can be pretty extreme. Santa Cruz Province is the windiest part of the whole of Argentina and the mean wind speed is 22 mph, and it gets much, much windier.

While the weather is changeable and you might experience the odd flat calm, it's more likely that you'll have to endure gale force winds that create huge waves and make casting a total nightmare.

During the fishing season temperatures range from 20°C to a few degrees above freezing, but the wind and the cold water can make it feel considerably colder. In the often common 40 mph winds the wind chill makes it feel well below freezing, so this is not a place for fair weather anglers.

When is the fishing season?

Since Patagonia is in the lower hemisphere, British winters are their summers. The weather is warmest from November to April, which spans the seasons of late spring, summer and early autumn.

November temperatures can hit up to 15-16 °C during the day, but it can reach 19-20 °C on warm days during the January summer season. It cools down again during April and temperatures drop to around 12 °C. It's typically around 3 °C most nights, but the wind makes it feel colder.

Does it freeze over?

No, despite the nearby glaciers and sub zero temperatures Strobel Lake doesn't freeze over. That's probably down to the high winds that are so common in Santa Cruz, but maybe there are also hot springs in there preventing the water from getting too cold. Whatever the cause, it helps the rainbows here keep growing and feeding all year round.

What clothing will I need to take?

Obviously waders are a must, as well as a good wading jacket. You'll need plenty of insulated layers so you can shed them if it warms up. A good warm hat, a Buff or similar neck gaiter to take the chill off your face and some gloves would be very wise, too.

If you're fishing in the lake, you'll be wading so some really good insulation for your legs is wise, as the water is icy cold. If you're fishing the river, you don't always need to wade and it's often more sheltered so you should be a little warmer.

Is it possible to cast in such strong winds?

Aside from the biting cold, coping with the wind is going to be your greatest battle at Strobel Lake. When it's windy you'll need a heavy line, a powerful rod and you'll need to have perfected the double haul to punch through the wind.

Conditions here can be tough, so it's definitely a fly fishing destination for the more experienced and hardened angler.

What sort of gear will I need for a trip to Strobel Lake?

You won't really need anything particularly unusual for fishing Strobel Lake, but you'll probably need to scale your rod, line, leader, tippet and hook sizes up a tad to cope with the larger size of the trout.

A seven or eight weight single handed fly rods is about the reasonable minimum for coping on the main lake when it's windy, but double handed switch rods are also popular for cutting through the wind and avoiding your backcast being blown straight back at you.

Although you'll need to scale up your leaders and tippets - 20 lb line here will stop you getting broken off - you don't always need to use large flies - although they do work very well. As the rainbow trout of Strobel Lake naturally feed on tiny scuds, they'll happily take small flies if you want to fish imitatively.

When it's less windy, or if you're fishing in the river, you can get away with a five or six weight single handed rod.

Reel wise, you'll need something with a strong drag and room for a good hundred yards of backing as these are big, powerful fish capable of getting you down to the backing with ease.

What flies work on Strobel Lake?

You're going to be throwing flies at naiive trout that probably haven't seen a fly before, so they're not famous for being fussy about what they take. You could have success with almost anything, whether it's a big streamer, a dry fly or even a blob or booby.

Big streamer patterns, like zonkers, muddlers and woolly buggers, are said to be the best flies in virtually any colour. Most fly fishers fish sizes 4-6. Take a good variety of flies and plenty of them, as you don't want to run out while you're there.

Whatever you use though, you'll need to make sure you're using larger and stronger hooks than usual, as these massive trout can straighten anything too light.

How do I get there?

Santa Cruz Province is the second largest province of Argentina but also the least populated, so people are few and far between, especially around Lake Strobel. Even once you're in Santa Cruz it's quite a challenge to get to, so don't be fooled into thinking you can fly there and get a taxi to drop you at the lake.

The "road" to Jurassic Lake has been described as "road to hell". It starts off as a gravel track, turns to rock and then almost completely disappears as you bump your way through Patagonia's barren pampas. It can only be made by four wheel drive and you'll only get to the Lake if you can ford the Barrancosa River...

The journey to Strobel Lake is unlikely to be one you'll enjoy, especially as it takes a massive 10 hours to get there... On the plus side, there's some absolutely incredible fishing waiting for you when you get there, so every cloud...

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