LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 43
Page. 32 - 43
By: Rossana Acquasanta
Pictures: Federico Quintana
Goya and Esquina offer excellent fishing in the waters of the Paraná. Two spots in the province of Corrientes to try fly fishing, following the tracks of the fabulous pirayú.
It was 6.30am when, still submerged in the night, we arrived in Goya. Carlos Scheller, together with his son Alejandro and his partner Mario, welcomed us. An invincible trio of Goyense fly fishing experts. We headed to the hotel, dropped our luggage, had a quick shower and breakfast and, at 8 o'clock sharp, our hosts picked us up to go to the Club Náutico. There we embarked. Both Federicos -the photographer and the fly fisherman-with Alejandro in one boat, Carlos, Mario and I in another.
The day promised to be glorious. The riverbanks were in shadow, lined with humble houses built only a few centimeters above the water level. We travelled from the Goya River to the much larger Paraná. We were thankful for the chill wind that served to wake us up. Minute by minute the water became calmer and clearer. In the meantime Carlos Scheller and I chatted amicably. Carlos was born in Goya and has an almost imperceptible local accent. He speaks passionately of his work. He began fly-fishing many years ago, having been taught by a porteño, Daniel Colnaghi. Firstly, he learned everything the body needs to know then he began to learn how to differentiate between the various flies, how to dress them and their different uses. After that he became a convert and dedicated himself exclusively to fly-fishing.
The morning cleared and our souls rejoiced in the immensity of the Paraná, which in Guaraní means "relative of the sea". The river became wider the further we went.
After an hour the air was filled with winged hordes, which put an end to the calm we had so far enjoyed; caracara, crows, herons, wild chickens (pacaá) and cormorants. The morning took flight. As we approached a group of small islands, Mario slowed the engine and expectancy overtook us - "Here they are, lets drop anchor".
Father and son exchanged signals to stop and feverish activity preparing rods, reels and choosing the flies began. Alejandro surveyed the water and told Federico where to cast his fly. He got into position, cast his line in the direction indicated and the fly landed on the precise spot. The minute it landed on the water there was a strike. Federico was speechless. The tug-of-war began. The fish jumped out of the water, shaking and trying to free itself from the hook. The rod flexed but the fisherman, with the serenity of a monk, let his prey run, then reeled in the line very slowly. This same procedure took place once and again until finally, exhausted, the dorado gave in.
Mother Nature endowed the "Tiger of the Paraná" with certain resources to eat the yellow catfish, a hard, spiny fish. If the dorado is not careful where he bites the spines will hurt his mouth and the dorado will then shake his head and spit out his prey. With the yellow catfish this defence mechanism has worked for millions of years; not so with the fly-fisherman. Federico proudly poses for the cameras then carefully removes the hook and almost unwillingly releases his catch again. Carlos and I enjoyed a maté for a while. The school of fish quickly dispersed and we continued our way to Itá Isiri, our next destination, well known for its good fishing. The engines began and we must have been sailing for at least half an hour when we started to be able to smell the slime and fish on the riverbanks.
"Can you see the herons pecking on the banks? They are trying to catch the fish escaping from the dorado". The herons work in teams; when the groups find a school of fish they surround it and shepherd it towards the banks until the fish have no escape. The dorado then move in and, flapping their tails violently to stun the smaller fish, begin a feeding frenzy, attacking indiscriminately sometimes even attacking one another. Everybody takes advantage of the feast, even man who, with his skills, turns the predator into the victim.
We were below a deep blue sky and the fishermen continually cast and reeled in their catch. I tried my luck with a spinning rod, which I had previously used to fish for dolphin and tuna in Mexico. To be honest I stopped trying to fly-fish for dorado as it is a much less subtle art than trout fishing.
After two hours hunger overcame us and we took a break on a small island of sands and shadows. While some laid the table others cleaned the lines and the flies. Over our meal we swapped stories and then returned to the river. We stopped occasionally as we headed home and watched the sun put on a beautiful sunset show. The stars were out when we reached home. Back at the Club Náutico, Sylvia, Carlos' wife, welcomed us with drinks and warm nibbles, a perfect end to a day's fishing.
A couple of hours later, on the way to Santa Lucia, we stopped at the house of the Mayor of Goya and joined a party being held there. The open-air tables were laden with local delicacies and the wine flowed freely. This was all accompanied by folk music until the early hours of the morning.
Monkeys on the Coast
Another day dawned calmly. Once more we headed to the Club Náutico, where Jorge Ledesma, our guide for the day, planned to take us exploring to the islands toward the kingdom of the carayá monkeys. We headed west and entered the El Calzoncillo and then the Guaycurú streams. We travelled the silent network of islands and aquatic pathways filled with water lilies. We could feel the presence of the alligators watching us as we passed by. Here, only 700kms from Buenos Aires, there is one. Ledesma knows every inch of this secret land and, after almost an hour, the carayás began to appear in the groves. We disembarked close to the largest colony. Although we saw the tracks of several capybaras (large rodents) we did not sec the animals themselves. Instead we were treated to a grandstand display of the carayás "at home"; large family groups playing, screaming, squabbling and as equally interested in us as were in them. An unforgettable sight.
We headed south from Goya along country roads. We passed adobe houses and palm groves and, after 110kms, we reached our destination. We had arrived at the first Correntino soil settled by the Spaniards on their trek south along the Paraná River. Twice destroyed, the town was re-built in 1846 slightly to the north-east of its original site, on the banks of the river. The town took its name from its protecting saint and was originally christened Santa Rita de la Esquina de Corriente. It is now known simply as Esquina (Corner). Towards the end of the last century, and until a couple of decades ago, it was a vitally important port as there were no roads then to connect it to the outside world -and all its provisions had to be brought by water. Famous for its hapless history, the bones of Santa Rita in the church that bears her name, and for its annual carnival, Esquina is also well known amongst duck hunters and fishermen. Of all the species of fish found in the waters of the Paraná, the pacú is the star. A true omnivore, it eats fruit! It also has the had luck of being very tasty and is the victim of the annual (and very non-ecological) Pacú Festival, during which enormous quantities of this poor creature are consumed.
We reached Esquina at noon and headed directly to the Posada Hambaré, where Arnoldo Rohner and his wife María de las Mercedes Perlender, were expecting us for lunch. This couple has lived in Hambaré for the past 24 years, the last 9 of which they have been receiving paying guests. We shared a very pleasant meal, well presented, delicious and authentic.
Although it was not pacú season in Esquina, there were still dorado to he had. In order to go fishing we went to the Posada Casablanca painted, as its name suggests, an immaculate snowy white. Its location is delightful, on the outskirts of the city and on the banks of the river, practically next door to the Rohner's house. All the rooms are large, comfortable and well equipped and each named in the local vernacular -pira guazú, carú curá, largüí etc. Each room has a balcony overlooking spacious parkland with neatly cut grass that disappears from sight down towards the river.
Here you can enjoy caring attention from the staff and, when the time comes to go fishing, the guides are as patient as they are tenacious; no one returns empty handed. The Casablanca offers live bait fishing rather than fly-fishing.
A fishing expedition will last all day and is well thought out. After negotiating the labyrinthine delta, which begins in front of the Posada, one can hunt for the many types of fish that abound there. A picnic on an island is then provided, either with food brought from the Posada or utilising the morning's catch. The guide is in charge of turning the catch into lunch, improvising an open fire, throwing oil in the pan and frying the freshly caught fish in seconds. The Delta around Esquina has a serene beauty. We were able to appreciate it after exploring the islands before our departure, Sadly some visitors leave an unpleasant detritus of litter. Bottles and plastic bags ruin the very countryside where traces of the original indigenous cultures flourished and can still be found. It is no exaggeration to say that, by simply removing the top layer of sand, one can find pottery, utensils, dried in the sun by the region's first inhabitants.
Despite the grey skies, we decided to continue with our fishing expedition, which initially did not look promising because the dorado adore the sun and the wannth. Thus, in these conditions, we encountered only the terrible and vicious piraña, which will even attack its own shadow. It was very disappointing, but Oscar Alfredo Freita, our guide, didn't give in. When we thought that all was lost, the skies opened and the light of hope shone on us. The last hour of the morning, with its midday warmth, brought the dorado to the surface. Hallelujah!