• End of season 2020

    The 2020 Rio Grande season is officially over, and although cut a bit short, it was certainly a season to be remembered! 

    We can say, with confidence, that this has been a very special season. Especially when we compare this year’s river flows to the previous season. 

    December was a very wet month and this January was the wettest on record in the past 30 years. This doesn’t mean that the river was flooded over its banks, but instead, we found a river flowing at a near-perfect level, that allowed us to fish every pool from top to bottom, and made it possible to wade safely as long as you knew where and how to make the crossing.

    Lucky for us these river conditions remained nearly all season, except for one week in February when the river was “low” but it only lasted a few days.

    Another factor that impacted our season was the unstable level of the river. I described its level previously as “higher than usual” but it was never stable. Every other day it seemed the river would drop a few inches, and then quickly rise another few inches, often happening during the same day. Our water temperatures were also volatile, for instance, one day we were measuring it at 13C and the day after it was in the 7-9 C range throughout the day. The same was happening with the water clarity. It was clear and nice one day, and cloudy with a good amount of didymo floating down the next. 

    All this didn’t affect the general shape of the river and was not especially noticeable to the untrained eye, but it affected the behavior of the fish. We all know that the fish don’t care if the water is cool or warm, or has some color to it. But, we did find out that they are very sensitive to unstable and constantly shifting conditions. 

    Higher than usual water means that the fish are more spread out in the pools. This made them less aggressive and less to take flies territorially, as opposed to when they are piled up in deeper pockets. The faster and deeper water also made it difficult to present the fly correctly and at the right depth, if you did not have our guides helping you out along the way.

    Together, these factors made the season a very challenging one.

    Speaking exclusively about Villa Maria Lodge water, we can say it was a fantastic year for those who came to Villa Maria to enjoy swinging flies and fish more traditionally. We were forced to use new techniques like nymphing when the water level and flows dropped, but these techniques were used sparingly and in specific opportunities.

    Due to the previously described conditions, we had to go back to bigger double-handed rods between 13 to 14ft. These larger and heavier rods were more versatile when we had to take the angler’s skills into account as we had to use heavier line and sink tip combinations. 

    This season’s tackle selection:

    This season our go-to rod was a Loop 7X 13’2’’ 8 weight. It proved to be a very reliable tool, able to handle a wide variety of weather conditions (especially wind!) and was strong enough to handle super heavy line/tip combinations in those moments when we needed them.

    Regarding lines, Skagit heads were the most popular option as they are highly adaptive and useful in different fishing situations found along our stretch of water. Aside from the traditional full floating heads, we used, with very good success, sinking Skagit lines like Rio’s GameChangers. They proved to be of great help if we needed to fish flies deeper and keep the length of the sinking tip at a controllable length, or when we wanted to have a slower drift on those windy days where you feel the wind is pushing the floating fly line much faster than needed. Full sinking shooting heads were also used, but only in moments or pools where a much longer sinking head/belly allowed a proper drift & swing. The selection of sinking tips is always very important. Choosing the right length and sinking rate is usually a difficult task and you need a lot of trial and error. But, we can safely say that for most of the places we fished a 12ft T14 or T17 tip worked perfectly. Of course, we used longer or lighter tips but here but those tips worked the best across the board.

    A nice surprise our guiding team found came in the form of Loop’s synchro Skagit tips. They are also T tips (tungsten) but they are mildly tapered and offer a loop-to-loop connection from the factory and feature proper labeling on the loops themselves. They only come in 12 ft segments, but I strongly recommend them, as they are a nice addition to our tackle bag, and are much easier to cast with clean presentations than the traditional T tips.

    I have been always a fan of Rio’s Versitips. They are tapered, color-coded, come in 15ft segments. My favorite feature is the little wallet you can fit all you need to skate a bomber on the surface, fish a sunray shadow just under the surface with a clear intermediate tip or fish a sexy black leech deep. Personally, I like the intermediate and the sinking 8 tips. Both are extremely useful and both fished well. 

    2020’s Fly Selection:

    Let’s talk about flies. Sea trout in the Rio Grande can take a wide variety of flies, from the tiniest of patterns to very large ones if you fish them in the right place, at the right moment and in the right way. But this year was, again, very different. I have never fished so much with articulated leeches. It didn’t matter if the water was very clear or warm or if the sun was shining, a leech was always the solution. Of course, we kept using the more traditional approach with rubber legs and green machines, but leeches were up there in productivity. Colors? Black & silver, chartreuse, and black & purple all took spots atop our top-3 podium. Tubes flies, especially unweighted, like Sunrays were also very productive.

    The flies that didn’t work as good as previous years were smaller nymphs -like the almighty Prince Nymph- and intruders. Of course, intruders were a very good fly on some cold evenings or when the water was murkier, but they were not as reliable as they used to be. 

    Regarding nymphs, the explanation can be easier as they are much more difficult to fish correctly when the pools are big, deep and fast. These factors are probably why our leeches were so productive. 

    In conclusion, we were sad to not be able to fish the last 2 weeks of Villa Maria Lodge’s season. The quick spread of COVID-19 and the fast response from governments around the globe, made us suspend those 2 last weeks, to protect the health of our guests and our staff, as we knew they were going to be safer at home, than half the planet away from their families.

    We all hope this will be solved in the short term and that we will see all of you next year, on the shore of the Grande enjoying a good laugh and some fantastic fishing!


    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

  • Week 10: March 6 – March 12, 2020

    Our last week of the season has just wrapped up. This week’s weather remained warm and dry throughout this week with some mild upstream wind during the first couple of days which always makes casting a little uncomfortable and makes properly placing a fly, a bit more challenging. After those first few days, the wind returned to the usual bearing and all went back to normal.

    Jean-Daniel and Ema had a cracking morning when we visited the famous Herradura pool (Horse Shoe). After checking the conditions and agreeing upon our tactics, we split along the pool. Jean jumped in the top of the pool and within a few minutes, he was into a beautiful 16 lb hen. He kept it up for the full session, hooking 6 fish and landing 4 of them, all within the 10-to-18 lb range. In the meantime, Ema has focused on the lower part of the pool where she hooked 3 fresh fish as well!

    Richard and Patrick joined us for their first visit to our lodge. During their first few sessions, they were getting used to the techniques and learning the tricks that come with any visit to a new piece of water. After a couple of days, and lots of effort, patience, and struggle, Richard connected – landing back-to-back 20-pound sea trout followed by another stunning 19-pounder.

    Peter and George were back again this week and were constantly reminiscing about the phenomenal fishing they experienced during their last visit on the high bank at Primera Vez pool. I cautioned them about how different the conditions were from their last visit during which the river was flooded. As I was trying to keep expectations low, Peter proved me wrong, as he did 3 years ago, landing a 21, and a 16 pound fish on a single-handed rod! Kudos Peter!

    Tackle wise, all things remained the same as the previous weeks’. We decided to choose heavy tips like T-17 or sinking 8 VersiTips to keep the fly at a good depth for as long as possible. Our fly choices were very eclectic and varied from pool-to-pool and on what the fish were interested in hitting. I can safely say that once again, leeches were the most productive flies of the week. But there were many that delivered fantastic fish like the beautiful male trout that Patrick landed at the top of Teresa pool, using a Green Machine. That fish tipped the scales at just shy of 20 lbs. That fish made the trip all the way from New Caledonia well worth it for Patrick. Congrats, Patrick your patience paid off!

    Alejandro Martello – Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide

  • Week 9: February 28 – March 5, 2020

    We started our 9th week of the season with pleasant weather, clear river conditions and winds coming out of the North and NE depending on the day. In some pool, the winds made things a little tougher than usual.

    But that didn’t matter to Ian & Stuart who, in their first session, landed 7 fish including a 21, 18 and 15-pound fish! A fantastic welcome for our Aussie friends who were joining us for the first time. Not to be outdone by their previous day’s performance, Ian landed a beautiful 19 lb hen the next day and Stuart followed him during the last session with another beautiful buck trout just shy of the 20 lb mark.

    Paddy, not wanting to lag behind, landed 7 fish in one insane session and hooked more than he could remember. Kudos Paddy!

    Bruce & Earl, who also were visiting us for the first time, did a great job learning the ropes around here and ended the week landing some beautiful fish in the high-teens.

    Our tackle for the week proved to be the same as the weeks before, and a wide arrange of line-and-tip combinations were used. But, I can say that heavy sink tips were the most successful choice. In the flies department, several different patterns were utilized from tube flies to small Green Machines. Seemingly mirroring the season’s off-and-on pattern of fish activity, there was not a clear winning fly pattern, and we were forced to try several combinations until we found something that the fish liked and took with conviction.

    Thankfully, the weather forecasts were not accurate and the heavy rains that were expected for the last few days of the week didn’t show up, and we expect to have similar, favorable fishing conditions for the upcoming week.

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

  • Week 8: February 21 – 27, 2020

    Week eight at Villa Maria Lodge is in the books with another group of old and new friends.

    Continuing the usual patterns of the 2020 season, this week started with tough conditions due to higher flows coming down from the upstream reaches of the Rio Grande. Our anglers stayed motivated and kept at it, and we still landed good fish in the 15-18 lb range.

    Tough conditions became a “theme” of the week. When the water level stabilized, the wind started to blow at its strongest. Similar to last week, we had some of those “typical” Rio Grande days where the wind blew at 90 km/h (60mph). It might sound unrealistic, but usually in these conditions the worst is not the casting, but the water clarity due to debris and coarse sediment that is stirred up by the waves. After losing a handful of quality size fish, Jamie finally hit the sweet spot in an afternoon session during which he landed 4 very nice fish, capping his day off  with a fresh 16 lb buck.

    Ian and James, a father and son pair, were enjoying each other’s company on the river. Both enjoying a solid week with a good amount of mid-teen fish. James’ highlight of the week was landing a beautiful 20 lb male and a couple of healthy 18 pounders. Congrats James!

    Ashwin, a first time Rio Grande visitor, got tuned into the fishing during the week. Unfortunately he had numerous heartbreaking losses of big fish, but still kept his morale high and did a fantastic job landing several fish and vastly improving his technique.

    Dimitry had a consistent week and came back for our last tapas night with pictures of a beautiful, fresh 18-pound female from his last session of the trip.

    Dictated by the conditions during the week, we used mostly sink tip skagit heads and other heavy tips that helped us cast the larger leeches and big-silhouette rubber legs close to our targets.

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

  • Week 7: February 14 – 20, 2020

    At the midway point of our 12 week season, we were excited to welcome back Henrik, Jonni, Mark, and John along with a few new faces, Dan, Andrew, and Charlie. The first morning we rigged up small flies with long leaders and lighter tips, as the river was getting to its lowest and clearest we’d seen all year. Once we got to the river, we encountered fairly heavy and consistent rain but the fish we active and several nice fish were landed. Over the next two days, the weather stabilized and the fishing was solid. Everyone seemed to be coming back to the dinner table with several fishing tales. On Tuesday, however, the rain we experienced on Saturday started to rise and stir up the river with weeds and debris from the bank. For the remainder of the week, the river continued to rise but with skillful angling and persistence, nice fish were still coming into the net.

    A few highlights of the week included a 17 lb and 14 lb fish landed in the first session by our old friend Marc, followed up by a chromed-out 19 lb fish landed by Andrew on the first evening session alone! Jonni also landed a beautiful 18 and 16 lber on his first day. Our good Danish friends- Henrik and Dan also had consistent fishing throughout the week with several high-teen fish brought to hand. Dan had a great 19 and 16 lber while presenting the fly beautifully with wind and rain blowing right into his face. John had a fantastic session with two 16 lbers and the fish of the week with a beautiful 23 lber. Charlie finished his week on a high note deftly battling a thick 22 lb male trout to the net.

    Due to changing water conditions, it’s difficult to describe what setups were the most productive but, we can briefly say that full sink lines on single-handed rod and intermediate Skagit heads on double-handed rods were, by far, the most used.

    By the end of the week, the river started to drop and clear up slightly, so we are optimistic that next week we will see more stable fishing conditions.

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

  • Week 6: February 7 – 13, 2020

    This week we finally had the blessing of stable river conditions, something that the previous weeks were lacking. For the first time this season, we didn’t have any shift in water coloration or river depth. What was challenging, however, were the winds. This week, they seemed to blow from any imaginable direction, making the fishing a bit tough at moments. We had to be very careful in planning the fishing sessions as there were pools that needed to be fished during the right moments in the day to avoid the windiest conditions.

    This resulted in a couple of challenging days to start out the week but we were still getting big fish to the fly. Nigel started his week with two very nice and fresh fish of 17 and 19 lbs in the first session.

    By the third day, the fishing really picked up and all our returning guests started to get into a groove, all landing fish on various beats around our section of the river. The day was capped-off by Gilbert’s stunning 22-pounder that, of course, required a proper celebration with his favorite Hardy brandy and fantastic Neuhaus Belgian chocolate. Kelly also found his fish of the week, landed after a hard-fought battle on both sides, his fish tipping the scale at an amazing 23 lbs. Aline, Kelly’s fishing partner, followed up the 23 lber with a beautiful 17 lb chromer only minutes after Kelly’s fish was released. David and Joe had a few tough days on the water but landed some solid fish up to 17 lbs and lost a handful of heartbreakers, hopefully, we will see them again next season to get revenge on some of those monsters.

    The last evening the weather was tough and most of our guests decided to return to the lodge early to pack and get ready for our traditional Tapas Night, but Gilbert decided to continue fighting and he got his reward landing four fish, 10,13, 17 & 18 lbs, respectively while fishing in far less than ideal fishing conditions.

    In the tackle department, there were no surprises and the usual skagit+heavy sink tips were the top choices. As far as flies were concerned, the selection was our usual: green machines, leeches, and different sized rubber legged flies being the most productive.

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

  • Week 5: January 31 – February 6, 2020

    For our fifth week of the season, we welcomed back Bruno, Mike, Michael, and Sandee.

    During our warm-up session, as we expected, the river rose from the heavy rain up in the headwaters that hit the region in the previous week. Even with the rising river, we were very optimistic about the week to come because of the steady weather that was forecasted.

    As predicted the first day started with a bang with several nice fish coming to hand from all of our beats. The river was slightly off-color and it seemed that with the right setups, flies, and persistence the fish were more than willing to take a fly. Throughout the week we had a consistent stream of algae floating down the river but with a fresh run of fish in the system, there were still some great fish caught.

    In the middle of the week, we had warm calm days that allowed us to try new methods which included some topwater flies. This resulted in some incredibly exciting action. A few of the week’s highlights included Michael’s first two sessions during which he landed 9 beautiful fish who were all in double-digit territory. He also had an amazing 18-pounder, who rose from the depths to take a skating Bomber.

    Longtime fishing friends Bruno and Michael enjoyed each other’s company, swiss chocolates, and a beautiful 20 lb male. Sandee had consistent action all week and wrapped it up with a great chrome 18 lb from our upper beat. Although he struck out trying to get a fish on a Bomber like Michael, he was lucky enough to hook a couple and rise several other fish when the conditions were right to try them.

    The rods and lines we prefer to use are classics here at Villa Maria Lodge. Two-handed rods from 12’-13’6” were the most comfortable options to fish. Switch or single-handed rods were better suited when fishing on the surface.

    As you can tell from the report above, we were fishing the entire water column this week, from the surface to as deep as we could, dependent on the pool and the conditions, so sink tips of various lengths and weight were used, but we can say that T14 was the best all round.

    The river is dropping and clearing up as I type, so we expect a good week for the upcoming group at Villa Maria Lodge!

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Head Guide

  • Week 4: January 24 – 30, 2020

    This week we welcomed back Gerald, Marc, Gina, Bruno, Jonathan and our new friend Hans. 

    The week started off with a bang. With the river at a near-perfect level, fresh fish in the system and some veteran anglers staying with us we had the “perfect storm”.

    It seemed like every session anglers were coming back with sore arms, grins from cheek-to-cheek and fish stories that will be told for years. Throughout the week, the wind picked up and dropped the water level. The fish seemed to be on the move running upriver and the average fish size decreased to healthy fresh 5-12 lb specimens. Every pool we arrived to seemed to have a few taking fish which made the week fly by. On the final day, the wind picked up to near-impossible speeds for fishing, clocking in at around 60-90 kph. The lack of visibility and cold river temperatures seemed to drive the fish to the bottom with lockjaw. Due to this erratic behavior, we experienced lots of short strikes with the occasional successful hook-up. 

    The week was filled with good company, lots of quality size fish, and as always delicious food and beyond comfortable living conditions. 

    The week seemed to have too many highlights to mention but let’s give it a try. During the first couple of days, Marc, Gina, Gerald, and Jonathan all landed fresh, chromed-up 20-21 lb sea trout. On the third evening, Bruno landed a beautiful 22 lb hen on one of his last casts. Gerald, shortly after losing two “monsters,” got redemption on a marvelous 24 lb buck from an unsuspecting hole using a Leech in slightly off-color, but very fishable, water clarity.

    The top flies for the week were leeches, heavy rubber leg stones and, when the water clarity allowed, the infamous Green-Machine. We were mostly using floating bellies matched with different densities T-tips, based on the flies, pool structure and wind/water conditions. A 12 ft rod was the most useful length as an all-around tip.

    Even with the “slow” last day and a half of fishing, the final tapas night was filled with fun camaraderie and a plethora of fishing stories from the week.

    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide


  • Week 3: January 17-23rd, 2020

    This week we excitedly welcomed back our friend Axel and former veteran guide Ale Bianchetti. 

    When we approached the river during our warm up session, we realized the river was still affected by the previous week’s rain. The river was high and slightly off-color but fortunately, it appeared to be dropping quickly so we were optimistic for the week to come.

    During the next two days, we experienced a strong down-river wind, which helped to push a lot of water out of the system and bring the river to a very “fishy” level. 

    Many fish have moved into the river system, but with the unstable weather and river conditions, getting fish to move on a fly proved difficult. Our anglers stayed motivated and continued fishing through difficult conditions. When the proper conditions aligned, and our guests flies were in the water there were some beautiful fish landed.

    By the tail end of the week ,the new moon we were looking forward to, brought in a fresh run of fish. Who began to settle into their pools up and down our beats. Even the odd pools we rarely fished in the past seemed to be loaded. Needless to say the week ended on a high note.

    Axel and Ale were using different sink lines and the new game changer lines matched with “T-tips” of different density to slow down our drifts and get down to the fish in the high water we experienced early in the week. When the river dropped, we were able to properly fish the river with lighter sinking heads and lines as we normally do. The top flies for the week were the classics: leeches during high water and the evening, and green machines and rubber legs when the river cleared.

    Highlights from the week included Ale Bianchetti’s picture-perfect chrome 20 pounder he landed on the second to last evening, that must have been in the river for no more than a few hours. Axel’s banner last two sessions featured 7 fish between 15-19 lbs.


    Congrats guys! We’re already looking forward to seeing you next year.


    Alejandro Martello – Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide


  • Week 2: January 10 – 16th, 2020

    We just finished our second week at Villa Maria Lodge. Once again, the week was dominated by challenging weather, strong storms, and changing river conditions.

    Our opening week concluded with heavy rains along the Rio Grande’s valley, all the way up to the Andes. This resulted in higher water levels and murky visibility. The low visibility seriously affected our first couple of sessions, and as a result, they were slow and difficult. The river began to show improving conditions during the second fishing day and the catch-rate started to pick up.

    The weather was still a challenge during the week, with some daily showers that turned into some serious rain as the week went on. But, our anglers stayed on the river and gave it their all! 

    As the heavy rains subsided, the river level raised 20 cm and the visibility dropped to unfishable levels, mainly due to high levels of runoff entering the river via the Ona and Menendez Rivers. 

    I would like to thank all of the Kau Tapen crew and guides who received us and let us fish part of their water so Villa Maria guests didn’t lose a fishing session even with the complicated conditions.

    With regards to the fishing, the tackle we used was the same as the opening week. Rods between 13 to 14ft were the best choice matched with intermediate Skagit heads. The sink tips of choice were around 10 to 12 ft and with fast sink rates like the T-14 or even the T-18. Again, the selection of flies varied greatly, depending on the pool and the angler. 

    Didrik caught several fish up to 18 pounds using small rubber legs, while Mark had most of his success on leeches. Speaking of Mark, he starred in one of the highlights of the week breaking his all-time personal record twice in the same day. Mark started the day off with a 21 lb female in the morning, and capped off the day by releasing a whopping 24 lb male!

    Oliver took a short cut to a different area of the river, and landed another 24 lb male in his first trip to the Rio Grande. Hooking his fish at almost the same moment Mark landed his! Congratulations guys!

    Finally, from all of our Villa Maria team, we would like to thank Mark, Louis, Lars, Didrik and Oliver for their great attitude, flexibility and patience, allowing us to adapt our schedules and fishing plans to combat the challenging fishing conditions.

    By Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide

  • Week 1: January 3-9, 2020

    We are back for a new season at Villa Maria Lodge! We just finished up our opening week and it was really exciting for several reasons.

    The river conditions we encountered in the River were phenomenal. The water level is the highest we have seen since 2014. This is a great thing to see after several years of really low levels and a drought during most of the 2019 season. 

    The river looked beautiful! Its level was low enough to cross the river – in selected places – to fish. Fishing-wise, that means the pools were long and have consistent flow throughout them.

    The water was slightly colored and murky but was perfectly fishable even with small flies. 

    For these conditions, we chose to go with heavier than usual setups. Rods between 13-14 ft were the best choice, even though in some places we used slightly shorter ones. My personal choice was a Loop 7x 13’2” #8.

    Selecting a line and sink tip is more complicated than ever due to the endless combinations available nowadays in fly shops and online. 

    Due to the conditions and that the fast-flowing pools, the best move was to fish partly sinking Skagit heads. A good example of those is the Rio Game Changer which comes in a combination of F/H/Intermediate sink rate through the head of the line, which makes it a really handy option if you need to fish deeper and slow down the drift of the fly. 

    The sink-tips of choice were around 10 to 12 ft and with fast sink-rates like the T14 or even T18.

    The selection of flies was vastly eclectic and the final fly decisions were made specifically according to which pool we were fishing and the time of day. For example, one morning our group was fishing the lower stretch of our section. Florian was catching double-digit fish in Herradura with a green machine. Tom was hooking them with massive intruders, just around the corner in Cormorant! Meanwhile, Alex, Tom & Stephan had back to back 17, 20 & 20-pound fish fishing small traditional leeches, and Bernhard was catching them on rubber legged flies, especially at the beginning of the week. The best move is to be ready to change strategies and flies quickly and adapt your game to the conditions. 

    We closed the week with some very heavy rain that lasted a full day. The precipitation raised the water level by 30cm and stained the water. But, by the next day, it was already lowering back to normal levels and clarity, so we expect great conditions going into our second week!


    Alejandro Martello. Villa Maria Lodge Head Guide.

2020 Fishing Reports

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