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“NEVER LET A FEW FACTS get in the way of a good story” are dic- tum trout fishermen swear by. In fact, most fish stories contain a certain amount of bullshit. The embellishment is often what makes them interesting.
Unfortunately for fishermen lucky enough to wet a fly line in Tierra del Fuego’s fabulous Rio Grande, most of the guesswork and a great deal of the skepticism surrounding their South American tales was resolved in 2009 by a three-year study conducted by the University of Montana Flathead Research Team, on what is commonly regarded as the numero uno trophy brown trout river on Earth.
Statistically significant? You bet. During one season there were some 5,039 sea-trout caught, weighed, measured, and tagged by anglers participating in the study.
Though there are differences from fish to fish, independent analysis of the data completed by the University of Montana and Argentina Fisheries indicate the sea trout of the Rio Grande are 14% to 21% heavier than steelhead or Atlantic salmon of the same length. Together the UM study and a thesis completed by their lead scientist answers questions, lends
credibility and verifies what many of us have thought for years:
 Scale and tissue samples were also collected from all those (5,039) sea-trout before they were tagged and released, unharmed.
 290 had been previously tagged. This represents a less than 6% recapture rate, and indicates a very healthy, thriving population.  In 3 seasons there was little fluctuation in the number of returning fish, some of which are an astounding 12 years old!
 UM scientists estimate (with 95% accuracy) there are 75,500 adult sea trout in the river. At full escapement, that means hundreds and sometimes thousands of sea trout in every pool of Estancia Maria Behety and it’s no wonder some are occasionally foul- hooked – they must be stacked in some runs like cordwood.
Justin Miller photo
A by-product of that fact gather- ing mission (at a cost approaching $250,000 in just three years) is some fascinating information which puts to rest other amateur conjecture regarding the health of the run, the exact population of the fish in the river, how many are caught “over and over”, angling related mortality, as well as an answer to whether or not there’s a significant annual fluctuation in the number of sea trout that return to the Rio Grande.
While angling success has some correlation with skills and fishing conditions, most fly rodders on the Rio Grande land between 3 and 6 fish every day, and many hook twice that many. Consider then, the odds are extremely high that most guests at one of our lodges will land a trophy fish over 20 pounds during their stay!
Of course, that’s assuming that the average 9 and 10 pounders aren’t thought of as trophies. What makes this marvelous river different from all others on Earth is that every cast has the poten- tial to entice a strike from what would be the fish of a lifetime on any other river.
If you’re thinking about going, here’s some advice:
Time your trip for January, February, March, or the first two weeks of April. Fish begin entering the river in significant numbers in November and by the New Year, more than 80% of the escapement is in the Rio Grande.
Don’t let the tiered pricing schedule mislead you. Some of the best weeks in lodge history have come in early and late season. Early season fish are aggressive, full of fight, and acrobatic. They move readily to dries, and three of the largest sea trout recorded were caught and released in January. The most productive weeks of the season shifts each year and can’t be consistently predicted. Fishing is consistent all season, and world- class nearly every day of the short Tierra del Fuego summer. The only bad decision would be to delay an opportunity to fish the Rio Grande!
Winston Rod Company photo

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