A TOAST TO JOHN GOODALL
By Douglas Larsen
“December 20th, 1832…. When we reached the hill we found it the highest in the immediate neighbourhood…We obtained a wide view over the surrounding country: to the north a swampy moorland extended, but to the south we had a scene of savage magnificence, well becoming Tierra del Fuego. There was a degree of mysterious grandeur in mountain behind mountain, with the deep intervening valleys, all covered by one thick, dusky mass of forest……the distant channels between the mountains appeared from their gloominess to lead beyond the confines of this world.”
When you read what Darwin wrote about his first visit to Tierra del Fuego, it is not hard to understand how English, Spanish, and Italian settlers were attracted to the opportunity in the region, but also overwhelmed by the immensity of the place. They also likely became a bit homesick, and longed for some of the activities they enjoyed in their native lands, to help them ease the transition to settlement in such a strange and savage place.
So this may be why it was that Englishman John Goodall– who was just looking to do a bit of fishing — stocked the first brown trout in Tierra del Fuego in 1935. To understand how difficult it must have been to accomplish this feat at that time, recall what the world was like in 1935. Franklin Roosevelt was President of the United States. Lou Gehrig was in the prime of his baseball career. In 1935 the country of Iran was still known as Persia. The first nylon material was discovered in 1935; and Bob Hope was first heard on radio. Basic land transportation was a challenge anywhere outside established cities, wheels still had spokes, and tires had tubes. A journey from anywhere in the eastern U.S. to Argentina was a steamship voyage that took weeks.
But despite the challenges in the raw frontier of Tierra del Fuego at that time, Goodall arranged to have one hundred thousand Brown Trout eggs shipped in metal milk cans packed lightly with moss and water from Puerto Montt, Chile to his estancia in Tierra del Fuego. He “planted” his eggs (or perhaps fry?) in the Candelaria and McLennan rivers, two tiny tributaries of the Rio Grande. It is believed that 60,000 Salmo trutta eggs survived from that initial stocking. However it is also believed that those brown trout that did survive found the rivers to be largely void of significant food sources. Over time, the trout found their way to brackish water and eventually to the sea—or more exactly, to the estuary of the Rio Grande, where they thrived on the rich krill and prospered.
Through recent scientific research conducted with the University of Montana, we know that sea-run browns in the Rio Grande remain in the river from one to four years after hatching, before they become smolt and head out to sea. They will feed and grow in the ocean for about 6 months to a year before returning to the Rio Grande for their first spawning run. Upon the first return, the fish will average about 6 pounds in size.
Like their cousins, the Atlantic Salmon, Sea-Run Brown trout often survive the spawn (Pacific Salmon spawn and die) and head back out to sea to feed and grow until it is time to spawn again. A brown on its fourth return can weigh over 20 pounds, and fish in the 20-30 pound range are becoming increasingly common. It is not uncommon for the sea run browns to return to the river as many as six times to spawn. In the Rio Grande, trout have no natural predators, and catch and release laws have been firmly in place to protect this fishery for almost thirty years.
So the next time you find yourself seated by the fire at Kau Tapen or Villa Maria after a fine fishing day (and perhaps after checking your e-mail via wireless internet and enjoying other very modern amenities) raise a glass to John Goodall and toast his pioneering spirit. Without his efforts so many years ago, these great gamefish, and this incredible fishery that we all enjoy, would not exist today.