Fishing for Golden Dorado

By Scott Mitchell

Many of you will know we founded & operated "The Alpine Angler" specialist fresh water & fly fishing tackle store in Cooma, NSW from 1991 to 2006. I have always had a passion for fly fishing and travel and have been fortunate to have fished some of our world’s greatest fisheries – but I still have a long list of species and locations to tick off!

Salminus brasiliensis or “Golden Dorado” are native to central and east-central South America. Despite having Salminus in its name, the Golden Dorado is not related to any species of salmon, nor to the saltwater Dolphin fish also commonly referred to as Dorado.

"Dorado", both in the name of the fish and other uses such as the “El Dorado legend”, originates from the Latin word for gold, The Portuguese word Dourado also means "golden" and is applied to the Golden Dorado due to its brilliant golden colours.

In 1976 the late Billy Pate participated in an expedition to the Bermejo River in the Salta Province in northern Argentina together with Mono Villa (who filmed the expedition), to explore the possibilities of fishing for golden freshwater dorado on fly. Billy caught several Golden Dorado, his biggest was 15 kilos (33 pounds) the biggest that trip (and maybe a world record on fly at that time, who knows ...), while Bill Barnes also landed Golden Dorado up to 12 kilos. Billy Pate has been accredited for many 1sts in fly fishing and is regarded as a pioneer of fly fishing in Argentina and was most likely the first fly angler to catch Golden Dorado on a fly!

Good mate and previously store manager of The Alpine Angler Tom “Tommo” Baxter has been fuelling my desire to fish for Golden Dorado since moving to Northern Argentina some 8 years ago and now guides for Juramento Fly Fishing. 

Founder and owner of Juramento Fly Fishing, Alejandro Haro is one of the pioneers of fly fishing for Golden Dorado in Argentina, a passion that led him to create Juramento Fly Fishing in 1994. A tireless protector of the native Golden Dorado, Alejandro was the first fly fishing guide authorized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Salta Province or Argentina. Based in the small town of El Tunal, Alejandro was the first to offer fly fishing float trips on the Rio Juramento.

With 20+ years of experience, Juramento Fly Fishing is the longest serving outfitter for Golden Dorado in Salta, Argentina, and is the exclusive operator on the Rio Dorado. And in addition to the monsters of the Rio Dorado, Juramento Fly Fishing accesses the Rio Juramento. Golden Dorado in these areas have exceeded 40 pounds on the fly.

(image) Juramento Drift Rafts ready to go

With Air New Zealand now offering super competitive flights to Buenos Aires from Brisbane I committed to booking flights with some advice on dates from Tommo booking a week’s fishing with him in early October 2017.

Preparation is always an important & exciting part of any trip and flying half way around the world to catch a fish may seem a little extreme to some – but it couldn’t come quickly enough once I had locked our travel plans in!

Tommo suggest that #7wht outfits would suffice on both the Juramento & Dorado Rivers as a lot of casting is generally required and the lighter weight helps with fatigue. I have always been a dyed-in-the-wool G.Loomis owner and quickly ordered two new Asquith 9ft #7 wht 4 piece fly rods.

The Asquith series is the culmination of global cooperation in design, materials, and manufacturing techniques. Built on Shimano’s proprietary Spiral X platform, the Asquith fly rod series boasts superb power transfer from tip to hand, quick recovery, and increased sensitivity. 

Designed by world casting champion Steve Rajeff, the Asquith series is an exploratory step into the future of rod manufacturing technology. With fast actions, generous power levels, titanium guides, and exceptionally light swing weight, they generate high line speed with ease and make casting a fighting a large fish a pleasure. 

I coupled my new Loomis Asquith’s with Abel fly reels, ordering a new SDS 7/8 (Sealed Drag Series) for the trip to compliment my favourite Super Series 7/8 in Aussie Green & Gold Camo finish. You need a couple of different fly lines for each river based on the casting with Scientific Anglers Mastery Redfish & Grand Slam tapers being ideal on the Juramento river where you make a lot of short accurate casts with weighted 5”inch deceivers. I then matched up the Scientific Anglers Mastery Titan Long taper for more accurate distance casting on the Rio Dorado where softer presentations were important.

Golden Dorado have serious teeth so you need wire bite tippets with Tommo’s preference being RIO Wire Bite tippet in 30lb & 40lbs. These are tired to the end of 25lb monofilament tapered leaders using an Albright knot.    

Flies where mostly a mix of deceivers tied from natural materials all around 5 inches in length both weighted and un-weighted depending on the water being fished. We also did some dry fly fishing on the Rio Dorado which was just like dry fly fishing you would expect on a trout stream only with larger deer hair mouse patterns. That was the only time a “trout strike” was deemed appropriate as well!

Tommo explained our 7 day program would start with floating the Juramento River out from the small village of El Tunal for 3 days covering approx. 20kms of river each day before driving two hours to the second lodge on the beautiful Rio Dorado River.

Each days starts around 8am with breakfast before heading off to the river with our first day starting just below a large dam wall on the Juramento River. We fished from new fibreglass drift boats which comfortably allow two fly fishers to cast from each end. You do make a lot of casts on the Juramento as you need to cover as much water and structure as possible. Strikes generally come as soon as the fly lands or within the first few strips – so if you don’t get a strike in the first half a dozen strips you pick up and cast again. Sometime mending to allow you fly to sink a little also helps with attracting a strike.

We raised around 6 fish a day on average and managed to bring two Golden Dorado to hand each day on Juramento River. The fish ranged in size from 1.5kgs to 5 kgs although I did miss a couple that where in excess of 6kgs! They truly are stunning fish and fight is similar to that of a barramundi with gill rattling leaps and short powerful dogged runs.

The Rio Dorado is completely different to the larger Juramento River and looks more like a freestone trout stream with crystal clear water running through a lush jungle. It is around a 40 minute drive to the river from the lodge each day with three separate sections being readily accessed on foot. You do need to have a reasonable fitness level for this trip as you will walk 5-15 kms a day in wading boots and with a back pack. The fishing is also quite challenging and technical – which I really enjoyed.

You will mostly cast to sighted fish and that is easier said than done as despite their bright colouration they are quite challenging to spot in the clear water. Their backs actually look more lime green in the water and you need to approach the river with care so as to not spook the sabalo – which are another local fish which look similar to a silver perch or carp that the Golden Dorado will happily swim with until they want to eat one. If the Sabalo are alerted to your presence they will nervously start swimming upstream and alert any Golden Dorado also to your position.

We saw plenty of Golden Dorado each day but getting into position to get the best shot proved challenging – but rewarding when it all came together. I managed to land two Golden Dorado again each day to 5ks on the Rio Dorado, with opportunities at fish over 8kgs on a number of occasions.  Any fly angler who enjoys stalking their fish will love fishing the Rio Dorado as it is a stunning & unique bit of water where you will sight fish to Golden Dorado in pristine surroundings with fish landed in excess of 10kgs from this river!

Our weeks fly fishing ended as quickly as it had begun and I am still reliving it as I write this piece and reflect on the photos & video footage we shot. Golden Dorado are truly a special fish and I am already planning a return visit – let me know if you would like to join us in 2019!