A Week in the Corrientes Marshland Hunting Golden Dorado at Pira Lodge
Pursuing the elusive salminus brasiliensis, the golden dorado, at Pira Lodge in Northern Argentina is an experience that expertly blends unapologetically wild environments with a level of luxury and comfort that is near impossible to find at a fishing lodge
Article by Kathryn Fensterstock
Pira Lodge is one of the world’s most esteemed destinations for chasing the Argentinian golden dorado. Located in the middle of 1,300,000 hectares of natural reserve, the diversity of the dorado habitat is on the visiting angler’s doorstep. The lodge is ultra-traditional in style, built in the Corrientes aesthetic which has a heavy emphasis on beautiful earth tones and textured material including terracotta and treated wood. The sprawling series of buildings blend in beautifully with the raw, unkept backdrop of the river system, which features winding channels of this rich marshland, pockets of overgrown brush and leaves teaming with wildlife. In addition to world-class fishing, Pira Lodge offers non-angling clients horseback riding, birdwatching, river safaris and of course the comfort of the lodge and swimming pool for rest and relaxation.
The lush landscape of the Ibera Marsh is certainly wild, located 10 hours from Buenos Aires by bus, and features nearly three million acres of pure and natural landscape. The Marsh ecosystem has without a doubt one of Argentina’s most impressive biota, composed of an extensive system of wetlands. With a remarkable diversity of plant and animal species, the Ibera Marsh constitutes a substantial part of the natural heritage of Corrientes Province. Among the most distinctive animal species in the system are caimans (small alligators), southern river otters, capybaras, marsh deer, armadillos, and various species of lizard.
It is quite remarkable how superior the food and drink offering is at Pira Lodge given that the lodge is in the middle of the jungle. The team worked with fresh local produce, yet with a creativity and flair that only the most talented culinary teams could supply. Every morning, a fresh buffet of cold meats, cheese, pastries and fruit adorned the buffet table, and a kind and professional staff member was present to offer an extensive hot menu of more delights. Lunch and dinner consisted of three delectable courses, including ceviche made from the local catch, the famous Argentinian steak that melted like butter, and for the more adventurous palette, lightly pan-fried caiman. Paired with unparalleled local wines from the region, the dining and hospitality was of another level, and a welcome luxury after a full day chasing the elusive fish.
After our elegant breakfast, the lodge guides would collect the anglers and head off into the jungle. The boat navigated nimbly through the roughage, but in order to get to the unexplored regions that our guides were keen to try, he would poll hard to get us through the toughest bits. Our first day, we finally came upon our destination deep in the marshland, where the water was as smooth and quiet as glass. As we polled through a channel barely wide enough to fit the boat, our guide asked me to get out of the boat and stand bankside. My chalkstream brain switched on and my trout-stalking instincts came alive. I was amazed at how crystal clear the water was, able to make out the distinct flash of gold with a black stripe. I had barely started my fishing adventure and had been thrown in headfirst, kept nimbly on my toes from the word go.
In such calm water, it was hard to land the heavy fly delicately and not spook the fish. When I placed the fly a bit too harshly, our target took one look and was off without a trace. Without a hint of dejection, our guide simply brought me back to the boat and we motored to the main channel. The surroundings reminded me of a recent trip fishing the Zambezi a few years prior, when the early evening sun bathed the river in this distinctive peachy tint. Argentina felt just as wild and remote, where the only sounds to be heard were the zipping of fly line, the pole in the water and the kingfishers and herons chirping nearby.
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My guide advised I fish this water differently, retrieving the fly long and fast in this slightly deeper, more complex water where the fish might have trouble seeing it. We were racing against time, as we were miles from the lodge and had to beat the light. Just as I thought I would have to wait another day before meeting my first golden dorado, I felt the distinctive jerk on the line. Without a moment to spare I kept stripping mechanically, desperate to hold that line tight. The line held and I had my first golden dorado in the boat for a quick picture. Just in time as well, as the sun was disappearing behind the horizon. We enjoyed a celebratory beer and sped back to the lodge to share the news.
My pinnacle moment of fishing resulted a few days later, when we decided to fish the river system that housed faster moving water separate from the marshland. I found myself fishing this water like I would for salmon, casting as far as possible and letting the line sweep across the water. My guide was attentive and focused as he instructed my technique carefully, advising that I wait until the very last minute to retrieve so the fly moved along the bankside where he was confident the fish would sit. Sure enough I was in to a number of smaller dorado, but we wanted a big one landed. It was when I decided to fish deeper, letting my fly sink a bit longer, I felt a jerk on my line that was stronger than anything I had before. Desperate not to lose what felt like the big fish I had been waiting for, I put my head down and put all my focus into strong methodical retrieves that would set the hook. I did not let my team down, and we had an 11lb dorado in the net and submerged in the water so as to protect this beautiful bar of solid gold. Golden dorado grow more and more golden in colour as they grow, and this fish did not disappoint. Sitting there in the water with this gorgeous fish glowing in my arms, it really was a magical moment. After so many encounters where I was forced to learn quickly how my targets were to behave, this achievement felt more well-earned than any other fish I’d ever had. And I had a glass of the finest local red waiting for me at Pira Lodge to celebrate. What more could you want!