La Zona Golden Dorado - TRIP REPORT
by Brad Staples
Trip Date: February 15-21, 2023
I just returned last Wednesday from another fantastic golden dorado trip. I hosted three anglers at La Zona Lodge in Concordia, Argentina. For four days, we fished the renowned tailwaters of the Uruguay River—the Restricted Zone—known as La Zona, "The Zone."
The Restricted Zone: Year-round, from Friday through Monday, the Restricted Zone below the Grande Salto Dam allows four guided boats daily, two from La Zona Lodge—the Lodge on the Argentina side of the Uruguay River—and two from a lodge on the Uruguay side. Both governments require approval for the Lodges to operate in this area.
The deadline—a red marker on each side of the river—is approximately 1,000 meters downstream from the Grande Salto Dam. Other boats or bank anglers cannot fish or access the Restricted Zone.
Baitfish and eels flourish in the large reservoir upstream from the Dam. As the baitfish/eels pass through the turbines, aggressive dorados wait for them. This abundant food source is why La Zona has claimed over ten golden dorado world records, one from our client Mike Sadar in 2012.
At La Zona, if four anglers book a package, there will be two anglers per 21-ft. boat and guide. A group of six anglers has three anglers per boat and guide. I do not recommend this option, as fishing three anglers in a 21-ft. boat is tight. With two anglers per boat, one fishes from the bow, one from the stern. Both anglers are fishing at the same time. We could freely move from the front or the back of the boat to make sure that our lines were fishing correctly.
Our group of four rotated between our two guides, Alejandro and Elbio, and we also rotated anglers. We opted for the eight-hour guided day package, where anglers return to the Lodge for lunch each day.
Fishing Equipment: At La Zona, you need to bring your own fishing equipment. Rods and reel rentals are available in case you have an issue. We brought large lures like Super Shad Raps, Rapala CD18s, large Doctor spoons in gold, large spinnerbaits, and 12-inch long top water poppers. We mostly fished with 6-oz lead head jigs. We used soft plastic paddle tails that were white, black, chartreuse, plus some other colors and 10-inch long black worms that are similar to the eels that the Dorado enjoy eating. You can also fish with large flies designed for Dorado using sinking lines. Our group did not fly fish on this trip, but it is an option, and guides are well-versed in both methods.
Be prepared for different fishing situations. The water levels fluctuate depending on the electrical demand. When water flow increased, it stimulated the dorado to become more active. Water levels determine where the dorado are holding.
La Zona Dorado ranged in size from about 15 pounds on the low end, with many that were much larger. Our group had multiple fish over 30 pounds; a few large dorados that weighed 38, 42, 44, 48, and one that was 50 pounds. Each boat hooked about 8 to 15 dorados per session. They were a challenge to land.
Golden dorado have extremely tough mouths with razor-sharp teeth that require wire leaders. We were fishing with 65 to 100-pound braided line on the reels with about a 7-ft. section of 80-pound fluorocarbon tied to a 12-inch section of 100-pound titanium wire leader. The fluorocarbon worked as a buffer against the sharp rocks beneath the surface. The dorado would often try to get into the rocks when hooked.
Each angler had two rods and reels rigged, so we were ready for varying conditions or equipment failure. These fish are powerful—each one jumped multiple times, and we had a tough time landing them. When using 6-oz jigs, we had difficulty keeping them hooked when they jumped.
I started fishing for Chinook salmon as a teen, and for seven years, I guided on Alaska's Kenai River. La Zona's large dorado are similar to Chinook but don't make as long of runs. But man, do they jump! (See the short video clip "Golden Dorado Acrobatics" in this report.) The dorados explosive acrobatics make them one of my favorite freshwater fish.
La Zona's new Lodge, completed in 2019, sits on a large estancia, ten miles from Concordia, a city with a population of 150,000. The air-conditioned Lodge is very clean and comfortable, with six huge bedrooms. Each bedroom has three single beds and a private bathroom. The Lodge also caters to tourists exploring the area.
Two of the three anglers in my hosted group—Russ and Bruce got up early several mornings and walked the trails around the Lodge, catching glimpses of birds and wildlife such as viracho deer, capybara, foxes, and more. Russ is a fantastic photographer.
See Russ DeFusco's Photos from his 2023 Argentina Trip.
Capybaras - photo by Russ DeFusco
White-Eyed Parakeet - photo by Russ DeFusco
Peak golden dorado season is December through April when the weather and water are warmer. (Argentina's seasons are reversed to ours in the U.S.) The Lodge operates year-round, with reduced pricing during mid and low seasons.
A Typical Fishing Day: Each morning, we enjoyed a cooked-to-order breakfast at 7:00 a.m. Then, at about 8:00 a.m., Hernan, a staff member, would drive our group from the Lodge to the boat moorage in a canal off the main river, a 10-minute drive. The boat ride upstream to the Restricted Zone took about 15 minutes. We'd fish until about 12:30 p.m. each day, then boat back to the moorage. Hernan would drive us back to the Lodge for a fabulous lunch and a one-hour siesta before returning to the river. Our second fishing session ran from about 3:00 p.m. until roughly 6:30 p.m.
Dinner started between 7:30-8:00 p.m. Santiago, the chef, prepared excellent hearty meals—beef, chicken, fish, lamb, or pasta, with fresh salads and delicious desserts. The hostess, Giuliana, ensured our trip was going well, and we were having fun.
Getting Here: You'll fly to Buenos Aires, as all the international flights arrive there. Most of the flights from the U.S. arrive in B.A. in the morning. The five-hour ground transfer from Buenos Aires to Lodge is included in the package. For an added fee, a charter flight can be arranged from B.A. to Concordia, a 90-minute flight; the price is divided between the group.
Guy Schoenborn and I have both been to La Zona Lodge. We can help answer any of the questions that you may have regarding this exceptional destination.
Farris Elnasser and Host Brad Staples
Bruce Burnham with Golden Dorado
Farris Elassner with a Monster Dorado
Russ DeFusco - His Fourth Trip to La Zona
Russ DeFusco with a dorado and a catfish (surubi).
Bruce Burnham (and Brad) - La Zona Dorado
Golden Dorado Acrobatics on Farris's Fish
Photo Credit: Russ DeFusco
Photo Credit: Russ DeFusco
Three Anglers Per Room at La Zona Lodge
Santiago, the Lodge Chef, at the Grill.
Host and Agent Brad Staples
This one was about 32 pounds. I had two other dorados bite my line, and the wire sleeve came undone on another. We hooked fish on spoons, mostly on jigs, which I did not bring enough soft plastics. 😢 Also, at the end of the session, Russ hooked a couple on spinnerbaits.