A typical day at Pira Lodge is a feast of sights, sounds and culinary delights with some damn good fishing thrown in just for good measure. At dawn, as you throw open the curtains and gaze upon the vast wilderness that is the Ibera Marsh, you are struck by he incredible beauty that surrounds you.
A short walk on the natural stone patios of the covered galleries brings you to the spacious dining room where tall doors open to a wide verandah. While you enjoy breakfast and gaze out at the marsh, you see an amazing array of birds... from parrots and rails to herons and kites. Even though their warbles and squawks fill the morning air, you are viewing only a small percentage of over 350 species of birds that inhabit this extensive wilderness. While you're enjoying a cup of strong Argentinian coffee, the guides are cleaning the morning dew off the Hell's Bay skiffs and gassing up their Yamaha motors. By the time you walk the 200 paces from your air-conditioned room to the dock, the guides are ready and only a faint hint of the morning chill remains.
The guides quickly stow your gear and you're off. You may go left downstream to the Corrientes River or motor right into the labyrinth that is the marsh proper. Whichever direction you choose, the views are stunning. Birds, startled by the boat, spring up like popcorn from the water's edge, while capybara and caiman sneak back into the water ending, at least temporarily, their morning bask. These capybara (the world's largest rodent and perhaps also the cutest) and caiman (a crocodilian growing up to 10 feet) are just 2 of the 85 mammals and 70 reptiles (including anaconda, otters and howler monkeys) that inhabit the marsh.
Ibera in Guarani (the local Indian dialect) means shining water and these waters do seem to glow as they snake through fields of papyrus and around rafts of purple-flowered hyacinth. The Ibera Marshland is a vast wetland system of crystal-clear creeks, natural canals and shallow lakes. The Ibera covers some 5,000 square miles and is considered the largest body of pristine, totally uncontaminated water in all of the Americas. As such, the Ibera is more than twice the size of Everglades National Park.
If luck shines upon you this morning, you will catch a dorado, certainly one of the world's great game fish. Savage takes and relentless runs followed by a series of explosive jumps puts this fish among the world's elite piscatorial performers. The dorado's iridescent gold body is flecked with black and encases a fish that is a cross between a dyspeptic rottweiller and a tarpon (with a bit of a big brown trout thrown in). This radiant characin is known locally as the "tiger of the river". With a mouth like a vice jam-packed with a ripsaw's teeth, this exceptional sport fish averages around 4lbs and can get up to 20lbs in the Ibera. A 10lb dorado is a true trophy and is considered one of South America's greatest freshwater challenges.
At noon, just as the heat of the day begins to settle in, you decide to motor back to the lodge for lunch. Fresh lemonade and a few preliminary treats on the shaded verandah quickly take any wilt out of your attitude.
"Lunch" follows, but this seems too plebeian a term for these truly 5-star mid-day repasts. Expertly prepared soups, salads, meats and pastas are followed by sumptuous homemade desserts and could only be described as gourmet. All is accompanied by excellent Argentinian wines. Sated by perhaps the finest "lunch" you've ever had while fishing, you retire for a siesta during this, the hottest part of the day.
At around 3:00, you head out for the afternoon "session" (as the guides call it). You will not return until the sun has set. Fishing in the marshland while watching your shadow stretch into dusk is a magical experience. To hook a dorado at this late hour is a sight you will not soon forget. Their frenzied jumps splash molten gold light into the dark evening waters.
As the sun sets, you buzz home using the Ibera's many pools, channels and secret passages to find Pira and the hot showers, cold libations and fresh hors d'oeuvres that await your return. Refreshed, maybe you tie a fly or two in the bar before strolling to the dining room for a late (around 9:00 P.M.) Argentinian-style dinner. The evening meal is as incredible as lunch and no one walks away from the massive wood table without commenting on the wonderful meal they have just experienced. Sated, and with the Milky Way shining brilliantly over the marsh, you stroll to your room to the sound of crickets and bell frogs. The best part is that you get to do it all again tomorrow!
An adventure at Pira Lodge is truly one of the great experiences in the angling world. A week at Pira has been described as more of a "sensory experience" than a pure fishing trip. Indeed, when you combine the varied wildlife and the awesome natural beauty of the marsh with the sumptuous meals and the aerial antics of "El Tigre" (please remember you are, afterall, here to fish), your senses will have received, at the very least, a good "spring cleaning".
For South American adventurers, the freshwater dorado is the marquee player, but there are a few things you should know before you venture south. Dorado have an extremely strong jaw that is lined with very sharp teeth. This makes wire leaders and care when removing hooks absolutely essential. Dorado like big flies (4-5" is best), fast retrieves and an aggressive""grit your teeth" attitude. Your attitude must match theirs. If you hope to latch on to this bony-mouthed predator, you must cast well, retrieve fast and strip-strike with power. Use a delicate trout hook-set and the brute will jump once and be gone, leaving you with but a brief flash of gold and an open mouth.
The best months for dorado at Pira are December through early April. By the time fall arrives in May, the water is too cool and the fish are less active. You can still catch a few fish in May... we have averaged 2-6 per day up to 10lbs in early May, but as April stretches on, the more common top water action of the peak season (January through March) gives way to sink tip lines and less active fish. In the fall, you can expect much less than the usual 10-20 strikes per day (with 5-15 fish boated depending on skill level) of the peak season. During the peak season, it is often possible to sight fish for dorado (with floating lines and top-water flies) either by following wakes, spotting layed-up fish or seeing fish that are moving on lighter bottoms.
Dark purple or black streamers 2/0 to 4/0 are de rigeur at Pira. Dorado want a big meal and, in our experience, 5 inch flies tied with marabou, bunny and water pushing, spun deer hair heads seem to work best. Think saltwater streamers and you've got the idea. An average Ibera dorado is 4-5lbs. A 6lb dorado is twice as strong as a 4lb fish and a 10lb "El Tigre" is twice as strong as one that goes 7lbs. Every inch, every added pound, registers as a major seismic advance.
The guides at Pira are terrific. Head guide Noel Pollak is entertaining, professional, energetic and devoted to his sport. Noel is so dedicated that he fishes the Argentine/Bolivia border for dorado after the season ends at Pira! Another guide, Ramiro Badesich, performs like a seasoned expert. His knowledge of the area, his boat handling skills and his quiet, dignified advice make him seem wise beyond his years. Pira lodge also employs a talented group of American guides each year. Pira manager Sergio (Lillo) Fava will make your trip a true pleasure. Your wish is Lillo's command and he orchestrates a flawless operation.
Pira is located 400 miles north of BA and can be reached by car (7 hours), commercial flight into Corrientes (1 1/2) hours followed by 3 1/2 hours by car), or by chartered flight from BA directly to Pira's private airstrip.
Pira accommodates up to 10 guests in 5 large air-conditioned rooms each with private baths, two double beds and a verandah facing the marsh. A separate building, attached by covered gallery, accommodates the spacious living room, bar and dining room. A large 20m pool adjoins this area. Non-anglers can enjoy horseback riding, wildlife viewing and exploring the marsh and river.