Engaging in any fishing trip is similar to investing in the stock market; you go into every venture with the best of intentions but in the end some stocks are a flying success and others are a complete bust. Wise investors diversify their portfolio with the understanding that there will be both winners and losers, yet the overall expectation is that the collection of companies will result in a net success. In a similar fashion I go into every destination fishing trip expecting a few days to be a bust, most days to produce solid fishing, and hope for one or two transcendent days that will result in special memories to be cherished for years to come.
If the first week of our 2018 December hosted trip to Argentine Patagonia was to be compared to a investing – the only appropriate analogy would be getting in early on Apple, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Google all in the same mutual fund. While I may not be the Warren Buffett of fly fishing, I have experienced enough trips to Patagonia over the past 10 years to appreciate just how good the fishing was on our most recent adventure. Sometimes the chips all stack in your favor; and with a perfect blend of great waters selected by our hosts at El Encuentro Fly Fishing and favorable weather every single day of our diverse fishing experience was a home run.
I apologize in advance for the excessive use of superlatives as this trip report unfolds, but YES it really was that good. Prior to sitting down at my laptop I armed myself with a thesaurus to compose a cheat sheet of synonyms for “awesome”, “superb” and “incredible” to avoid redundancy of word choice. This trip was extra special in the sense that many of the fisheries we visited were a first for me.
The El Encuentro Fishing Program
One of the goals of our December trip was to make a first visit to the El Encuentro Fly Fishing program based in the Chubut Province of Argentina Patagonia. Benjamin Beale owns and operates El Encuentro and I first met Benjamin a few years ago while he was visiting Bozeman. Benjamin was working with a good friend of ours, David Thompson of Brickhouse Media, on updating their website. We already have several great partner programs in both Chile and Argentina and our preference is to select a few great programs in the different trout fishing zones of Patagonia and we are careful of spreading our relationships too thin and thus were hesitant to add a new program. Since our initial introduction to Benjamin a few years ago we watched the program grow and in the summer of 2017 Benjamin made another visit to Montana and we spent a day on Armstrong spring creek together. I was impressed with how hard Benjamin was working to build El Encuentro into a world class program and we set up a first visit for December of 2018. I had been to the Chubut region on several trips in the past and was familiar with many of the marque fisheries but was excited to see the El Encuentro program in person. One of our return guests – Andy Lamb and his sons Chris and Vaughn decided to join me which also produced a helpful perspective from a guests vantage point.
While this was our first foray with Benjamin and El Encuentro, it is actually on of the most established operations in Patagonia. Benjamin’s family owns an estancia near Trevaline and opened one of the first lodges in the Chubut province on the banks of the Futaleaufu River in the early 1980s. Benjamin and his brother were two of the first fly fishing guides in the region. Many guests of the El Encuentro Fly Fishing program still stay at the El Encuentro Lodge. Benjamin has now taken over all fly fishing operations for the family and has expanded the program to incorporate a number of other lodge partners in the Chubut Province as well a remote basecamp operation. The home lodge at El Encuentro is on the banks of the famous Futaleufu River which is a tailwater fishery that is consistent all season. The home lodge is also within striking distance of the famous waters of Los Alerces National Park which includes a network of productive rivers and lakes. Anglers can also wade fish smaller streams in the area. Most El Encuentro guests blend two venues in one week or three venues in an 11 night program. The choice of the other venues depends on the season in an effort to “chase” the best fishing. Regardless of the lodge or camp the El Encuentro team of guides operates the fishing. Options for lodging include the El Encuentro Lodge, Estancia Tecka (a massive 435,000 acre ranch), Carileufu River Lodge (one of our existing partners on the North side of the National Park), the Rio Pico region (2 lodge options 3 hours south of the home lodge) and the Brook Trout Basecamp (a full service wall tent camp with showers, electricity, chef and beds on the Upper Corcovado River). In addition to numerous lodging venues El Encuentro has developed relationships with numerous estancias to gain exclusive fishing access for guests on a wide variety of unique waters. On any given trip with El Encuentro guests can expect to fish new waters nearly every day of the trip with a rich variety that includes floating large rivers, wading mountain streams, stalking spring creek trout and hunting for monsters in productive lakes. The assortment of lodges and private access waters is one of the most diverse in this region of Patagonia.
The El Encuentro program is accessed via a once daily flight from Buenos Aires to the town of Esquel. From Esquel the lodge staff transfers guests to the home lodge which is one hour from the airport. Generally guests can fish the afternoon of arrival after a late lunch. On our hosted trips we generally fly into Buenos Aires the night before to enjoy a night at a classic steak house and break up the travel from the US. On the departure day we take the afternoon flight out of Esquel and then connect home on the international flight back to the US. For anglers interested in visiting any of our Patagonia options you can either to choose to join one of our hosted trips or we can set up all of the travel arrangements for you (including assistance in Buenos Aires or Santiago) based on dates that work best for your schedule.
The first week of our Argentina trip was spent with the El Encuentro program (the second week was to Lago Strobel at Jurrasic Lake Lodge – see part 2 of the trip report). We started with a 4 night stay at the El Encuentro Lodge. The Lodge is strategically located on the productive Futaleufu River which offers classic western style float fishing. The lodge is also a great central location for radiating out to a diverse variety of large lakes, smaller lagunas, medium sized float fishing rivers, spring creeks and freestone wading streams. The second half of our week we traveled to the massive 435,000 acre Estancia Tecka with dozens of miles of private spring creeks as well as 12 different floats on the Corcovado River (all within the Estancia).
Day 1 – arrival day short float on the Futaleufu River
After arriving at the Esquel Airport after a 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires we were met by our guides Julian Gomez Villafane and Martin Majul. “Juli” (pronounced Hooly) and Martin transferred us to El Encuentro Lodge where we settled into our rooms and enjoyed a great lunch. The lodge is perched above the river with sweeping views of the turquois blue river below and snow capped peaks in every direction. After getting settled the guides offered to take us out for a short float before dinner. We drove a few minutes up the road and launched at a private launch with plans to float back to the lodge. Andy and I teamed up with Juli while Chris and Vaughan paired with Martin. For each angler we rigged a streamer rod on a 200 grain sink tip as well as second rod with a dry fly and nymph dropper combo. Shortly after launching we were hooking trout. The productive waters of the Futaleufu (often referred to as the Rio Grande locally) is filled with large trout that average 16-18”. The cold fertile waters produce incredibly strong fish and every trout put a heavy bend in the rod – even with strong tippet it was difficult to force these trout in early in the fight. We had success both on the dry/dropper rig as well as stripping streamers. Although we only spent 3 hours on the river the fishing was outstanding and each of the guys commented that it was some of the best fishing of their lives – a great start to the trip!
After returning to the lodge we were happy to learn it was assado night at the estancia. Assados are traditional barbecues that generally feature a lamb cooked over open coals, chorizo sausage and beef steaks along with homemade empanadas and other traditional sides.
Day 2: Los Alerces National Park: Arrayanes River
On our first full day of fishing the guides opted to venture into Los Alerces National Park. Los Alerces is filled with spectacular mountain scenery, glaciers and some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in Patagonia. Earlier in the month the Chubut province experienced some of the heaviest rains in over 50 years and unprecedented flooding. Normally this region of Argentina is in the rain shadow produced by the mountain peaks in Chile just to the west that help to minimize Pacific storms. Occasionally storms move in from the Atlantic side of the country similar to “Nor’easters” in the Northeastern states of the US. The recent storm was so intense that it flooded the river and lake system and even brought sediment into the lakes. The rivers had been dropping and clearing for about 10 days before our arrival after the storm and were now back to great shape with their aqua blue waters. The river systems of Los Alerces are very unique – essentially it is one river that joins several lakes together. Each time the river exits a different lake it is given a new name. So on the North side of the Park is the Rio Carrileufu, followed by the Rio Rivadavia, Rio Arrayanes, Rio Frey and finally the Futaleufu. Most of the river systems between lakes are short and range from 5-10 miles for each river segment. With slower currents these are each a full day float. Fish move back and forth between the lake and river systems but the early season is often the best on the rivers with high fish counts.
The trip on the Arrayanes is really three trips in one. We start the day by launching on the beautiful Lago Verde which is surrounded by snow capped mountains. The clear waters and surrounding mountains result in breathtaking scenery. We experimented with both large dry flies as well as streamers on the lake. The first hour was slow but resulted in a few large 19” browns that ate a sparkle minnow streamer. As we approached the exit of the lake we switched to dry dropper rigs. As water temps heated up the fishing suddenly turned on and both boats were bending rods left and right as large lake rainbows aggressively attacked both the dry fly and our nymph droppers. December is often when dragon flies hatch in abundance on the lake/river systems and it quickly became apparent that the trout were on the hunt for “dragons”. We switched to large Chernobyl foam dries that suspended olive dragon fly nymphs and the results were nearly instantaneous. The fishing and “catching” was they best I have ever experienced inside the National Park. We lost track of our fish count and enjoyed quality fish the remainder of the day with most trout in the 16-19” range. While healthy rainbows dominated the fish count, we also landed several heavy shouldered browns. The weather cooperated and the high sun allowed first class sight casting in the slower flats as we cast our dry/dropper rigs to slowly cruising trout in the flats and eddies. In the swifter riffles and flats we switched to skating and swinging the rigs which produced some excited surface takes. Late in the day we exited the river and entered the beautiful Lago Futalaquen – one of the largest lakes in the park. At the conclusion of the day I remember thinking this would surely be that special day of the trip that simply couldn’t be topped: catching large trout in high abundance in one of the world’s most spectacular national parks. Although I’m not sure we topped this day – we somehow managed to rival the high caliber of fishing we enjoyed on the Arrayanes on several more days yet to come.
Day 3: Small stream wade fishing on the Nant-Y-Fall and Corinto
With a windy day in the forecast on our 3rd fishing day we opted to get out to wade fish some smaller waters to seek a more protected environment. We split up to visit two different small wade fishing streams where El Encuentro has private access. Vaughan and I traveled with Martin to the Nant-Y-Fall while Chris and Andy fished the Corinto with Julian. The Corinto is a freestone stream in a more arid valley that is reminiscent of New Mexico while the Nant-Y-Fall is a spring creek like meadow stream located in a lush valley. As we traveled to the Nant-Y-Fall we entered a large estancia and traveled down a narrow two-track dirt road through a forest. As we dropped into the valley we exited the forest and entered a stunningly scenic valley filled with lush grass and wild flowers and surrounded in every direction by distant snow-capped peaks. The Nant-Y-Fall is the outlet stream for a lake upriver that holds large rainbows. In the spring the rainbows moved down into the stream to spawn. In the summer a few fish stay behind in the stream. Most of the fish in the Nant-Y-Fall are small to medium sized rainbows, but the lake run fish are much larger with trout up to 28” possible. With such a scenic landscape I opted to spend most of the day behind the camera lens. Vaughn and Juli started with a dry dropper rig; Vaughn was quickly landing fish after fish. The majority of the trout early in the morning were the smaller resident fish when suddenly he hooked up on a large 20” rainbow that screamed up and down the creek. After a quick net job the big bow was released back into the creek carefully by Martin. The El Encuentro guides are great stewards of the fisheries and practice catch and release with barbless hooks. We enjoyed a productive morning of “catching” and photography. The Nant-Y-Fall can often produce outstanding technical dry fly fishing to rising trout but today the stream was still a bit on the high side so most fish attacked the dropper. After a late lunch the fishing slowed and we opted for an “early day” and got back to the lodge at 5:30 with time for a quick nap. In general the fishing day in Argentina starts a little later (often leaving the lodge at 9am) but most days you fish late. Argentine dinners are generally served at around 9:30pm which allows for plenty of fishing late into the day.
When Chris and Andy returned back to the lodge they reported a great day of dry fly action over active trout on the Corinto with a few nice browns to the net. Another great day in Patagonia and a nice call by the guides to avoid the wind on the larger rivers by fishing small streams.
Day 4: Streamer Madness on the Futaleufu
On our final day out of El Encuentro lodge we opted for another float on the Futaleufu. The Futaleufu is often referred to as the Rio Grande on the Argentine side of the boarder (not to be confused with the legendary sea run brown trout Rio Grande in Tierra del Fuego further south). Futaleufu means “big river” in the Native American pronunciation and Rio Grande means the same in Spanish. With so much water in the region we debated on one of the other rivers in Los Alerces but we only had a few hours of fishing on the Futa on arrival day and decided to invest a full day on it. As a tailwater the Futaleufu is one of the most consistent fisheries in the region throughout the season and also exceptionally beautiful. I have fished the Futa extensively on past trips but only on the Chilean side of the border. The Argentine side of the river is closer to the dam and its tailwater effects had a gentler current – very similar to our own Missouri River in Montana.
Andy and I teamed up with Julian again while Chris and Vaughan floated with Martin. With a full day at our disposal Julian spent some time with Andy on the nuances of streamer fishing with a sink tip line which was new for him. Julian is a ski instructor at the local mountain near Esquel in the winter and his penchant for teaching was clearly evident. After an hour of trial and error Andy was throwing articulated streamers like a veteran. The streamer eat was on in full effect. We had truly incredible action all day. With some high cloud cover the brown trout were on the feed and were vigorously following and attacking streamers. Julian has been fishing these waters his entire life and was familiar with each eddy, flat and drop off. With the higher flows his intimate knowledge of the fishery paid off. The big browns were following the flies and often struck on the swing. Julian back rowed throughout the day to slow the boat allowing us to reproduce a wade fishing style of fishing – casting with a slight angle upstream followed by a few seconds to let the line sink and then a slow retrieve as the flies picked up speed on the swing. Only a few trout were oriented on the banks – most of our fish were found on mid river flats just above deeper drop offs.
The trout in the Futa are amazingly strong due to the cold productive waters. Nearly all of our fish to the net were large 16-19” browns with a few rainbows of similar size mixed in. To add a little variety to the day we also stopped in some large recirculating back eddies. These “mega eddies” are often 30-50 meters long and produce strong eddy fences and foam lines that are constantly moving. Large rainbows in the 18-21” range patrol the foam lines and ever changing current seams in search of hatching insects. We switched to our dry fly rods and spent an hour or so sight casting. While larger foam attractors with bead heads are the norm on the rest of the river – in these back eddies the fish are looking for smaller morsels so we switched out to smaller may fly spinner patterns and emergers. This is truly fun fishing and time slips away quickly. The visual aspect in these eddies is very engaging and we each managed to hook some of these big trout.
Vaughan and Chris also reported great fishing with Martin. These stayed with the more traditional dry dropper approach fishing chubby chernobyl’s trailed by bead head attractor nymphs. After another memorable day of fishing we returned to the lodge for one last meal prepared by chef “Pinky”. Pinky is a bit of a mad scientist in the kitchen and has an uncanny knack for blending traditional Argentine cuisine with some insanely creative techniques. We found ourselves always looking forward to Pinky’s next creation. The crew at El Encuentro informed us that Pinky never prepares the exact same meal twice – he is constantly experimenting with different flavors and presentations. One of the pleasures of visiting smaller fishing lodges is that talented chefs have the entire day to prepare for a small group of guests – the outcome often far surpasses dining at even the finest restaurants with the added bonus of a relaxed and authentic atmosphere with friends.
Day 5: Arroyo Pescado spring creek en route to Estancia Tecka
On our transfer day from El Encuentro Lodge to Estancia Tecka we had the pleasant surprise of making a visit to Arroyo Pescado spring creek. Arroyo Pescado (translation – creek of the cooked fish) is one of the most famous spring creeks in the world. I had mentioned to Benjamin early in the week that in my past travels to Patagonia I had not had the opportunity to visit the famous fishery. Benjamin made a few calls to the estancia manager and let us know that he had arranged a day for us before arriving at Estancia Tecka.
Arroyo Pescado is in a remote location in the pampas (the wide open plains east of the Andes mountains). The spring creek is loaded with wild brown and rainbow trout as well as the native perch “perca”. In the morning we spread out on the upper waters where the spring creek is wide and offers slower currents and cruising trout. We had a high overcast cloud cover early in the day and the light was a little flat. After a few minutes the guys were bending rods on numerous medium sized rainbows. Before fishing I decided to fly the drone to get a few still photos of the landscape and spring creek from a higher vantage point. Out of curiosity I hovered the drone just 10 feet over the spring creek and was shocked to see the number of big trout cruising. Schools of trout were patrolling the creek in search of food. Most of the fish were in the 14-17” range but a few much larger trout were also mixed in.
As the morning progressed the sun rose higher and the cloud covered broke up allowing for better site casting. With better visibility we were able to spot the larger fish at a longer distance and intercept a few of the big browns that were on the cruise.
After a long lunch in a protected stand of poplars we set out for the afternoon session. I opted to split from the group and explore the technical lower portion of the creek where it narrows and the current picks up speed. Here the spring creek had the classic glassy currents with subtle channels between weed beds. Unlike the upper waters the trout were not cruising but holding in specific lies. Brown trout were more common in this lower stretch and I slowly crept along the bank searching for feeding fish. These trout were very spooky in this skinny water. Our Montana spring creek tactics proved effective as I switched out to a single dry fly (a smaller fat albert) on a long leader. I worked downstream and after spotting an individual trout planned casts at a downstream angle. This style of presentation hides the tippet and helps to fool fish that are nervous in such shallow waters. Ideally the cast is made to present the fly about 5 feet above the feeding trout so that the fly drifts down to the trout but slightly towards the side the angler is on (so as not to “line” the fish with tippet over his head). If you cast too far upstream the fly begins to swing and drag just as it gets to the trout. If you cast too close to the trout they often spook. When the correct cast was made (not an easy task in the stiff breeze) nearly every fish made a slow but deliberate move to the fly for a take. This wasn’t a high numbers game but it was incredibly rewarding and after a few hours of solitude on the lower water I caught up with the rest of the group. Everyone had ear to ear grins that tends to follow a day of “catching”.
Once back in the trucks we made the drive to the Cardid lodge on Estancia Tecka. We reached the Estancia in about 45 minutes. Estancia Tecka is truly vast with approximately 435,000 acres. To provide a sense of just how much land that is you can fit all 5 boroughs of New York City into Estancia Tecka - twice, and still have a nice 30,000 acres to spare. Once we arrived at the Estancia we had another hour of driving across the sprawling ranch to get to the lodge. The amount of water at Tecka is staggering with about 20 miles of the productive Tecka Spring Creek and about 30 miles of the incredible Corcovado River.
Day 6 – Tecka Spring Creek
After breakfast we set off to fish the famous Tecka spring creek. Even though the fishery is on the property – it still took us 45 minutes to fish our beat due to the vast size of the estancia. The drive felt a bit like a Patagonian safari as we observed herds of llama like guanacos, flocks of rea (a relative of the ostrich), soaring condors, Patagonian parrots and an eagle. Once arriving at the spring creek we split up. Chris and I teamed up with Martin while Andy and Vaughan traveled downstream a bit more with Julian.
We had a perfect day for spring creek fishing with a mild breeze and sunny skies which – ideal conditions for sight fishing. Tecka spring creek is filled with fish due to the numerous spring seeps and creeks that feed it and the subsequent wealth of aquatic insects. Tecka has a bit of a freestone quality as well so it has a gravel bottom with plenty of riffles and deeper pools along with more traditional spring creek like flats filled with weed beds.
The spring creek flows for about 20 miles across the ranch as the crow flies – (even more if you would measure the length of the stream bed and followed its serpentine course). The shear amount of water to choose from is staggering considering that the stream is so prolific (you don’t need to cover a lot of water in a day to find a lot of fish). In the course of a day we probably only fished a few hundred meters of water.
The spring creek can be fished a variety of different ways. The highest concentrations of trout are found in some of the large deeper runs. The fish in these waters feel “safer” and the fishing is less technical – perfect for dry dropper fishing with a few fish on top and more on the nymph. Between each of these deeper trout filled pools are long flats. The spring creek is home to wild brook trout, rainbows and browns. The larger pools are dominated by rainbows while the flats are where some of the larger browns are found. In the morning I moved below Chris and Martin and worked back up towards the truck. The Tecka is a perfect wade fishing stream – relatively open banks make it easy to get up and down the stream, it is just big enough to hold large trout but still small enough to provide an intimate feel. I split my morning between targeting specific trout and blind fishing good looking water. In the skinny flats it paid off to spot trout in advance. Even though these fish see very few flies – they are still wild brown trout that are hard wired to be spooky. Seeing the fish in advance gives you a chance to make the right cast – usually your first cast is your best chance to get a take. The creek is filled with multiple age classes of trout but offers plenty of larger 17-18” fish which seem really big in a smaller stream. The guides mentioned there are a few monster browns in Tecka as well and late in the morning I had an opportunity to try for one. While observing from a high bank I was targeting two nice 17” class rainbows. As I was planning my cast one of these rainbows drifted toward an undercut bank. As the trout approached the shadow of the undercut a huge brown, well over 25” slid out to push the smaller fish out of the way before quickly vanishing into the shadow. This big trout was mostly likely not on the feed so I decided to swap out to a large articulated streamer. My hope was to invade the big trout’s home in hopes of initiating an aggressive territorial strike from the brown. I made a long cast upstream and then mended toward the bank. As the fly drifted down I stripped as fast as I could to bring the big streamer right into the big brown’s protected lie. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing to engage and he quickly shot out from the bank and buried himself in a weed bed – still a cool sight to see such a large trout in a small stream.
After lunch we moved to another stretch of water. In the afternoon I focused completely on the flats with a single dry fly (a small Fat Albert). I searched for larger, active browns on the edge of weed beds and made long downstream casts to them. When the right cast was made the trout nearly always accepted the fly but if the cast was off target they bolted for cover. This is high quality fishing in my book, and the uncertainty of success vs. failure becomes addictive. I enjoyed just enough success to be hopeful that the next cast might be the perfect one but experienced plenty of failed attempts along the way. The magical elixir of hope without guaranteed success makes for the ideal day on a trout stream.
Day 7 – The Grand Finale on the Corcovado River
After so many consecutive days of “home run” fishing I felt like we were due for a lack luster day – at some point the law of averages must apply. There is so much water on the estancia choosing where to spend the final day was not an easy choice: a new part of the Tecka, one of the lakes filled with huge trout or a float on one of the many sections of the Corcovado? After chatting with some of the other guests back at the lodge who had a great day on the Corcovado – we decided we really should sample the other marquee fishery on the ranch. Alas our string of good fishing luck was to continue as we finished with one of our most memorable days of the trip.
The Corcovado starts just outside of Estancia Tecka where it exits Lago Vinter which is home to both huge rainbows and brook trout. The upper river receives lake runs of rainbows up to 15 pounds in the spring and runs of lake run brookies up to 8 pounds in the fall. Some canyons and whitewater break up the river into the upper river, mid section and lower section. We opted for the lower water which has the highest density of big browns. Like many of the rivers that exit large lakes, the Corcovado is crystal clear. The lower water has a smooth glassy surface that subtly hides its swift currents. The river on the lower reaches winds through slow seeping meanders while towering peaks loom in the background. With dozens of miles of water only accessible from the Estancia, the ranch breaks the river up into 15 float beats. A fleet of Clackacraft drift boats that were imported from the states are strategically positioned up and down the river along with trailers. In the guide shack a map and list of where are the boats are located at any given time are listed. So most mornings you just drive to the river to find a drift boat already waiting anchored in the river.
Most days only one boat fishes one beat which is a bit mind boggling when considering this large river which is similar in size to the Madison would handle numerous boats per day back home. Since it was our last day we opted to launch to boats together so we could enjoy one last river lunch before the Lambs headed home.
In the morning Vaughan and I teamed with Juli while Chris and Andy fished with Martin. With some high cloud cover and a cool morning we opted to mix it up with streamers and a dry dropper rig. Within minutes an incredibly strong and heavy shouldered 19” brown struck my articulated streamer with aggression while swinging it across a flat. As the morning progressed we continued to pick fish up on both the nymph dropper and on the streamer rig. Eventually we both switched to streamers and landed numerous large fish with brown trout dominating the catch. The action was similar to our epic day on the Futa earlier in the week although the average size was just a bit larger.
After lunch the mild wind we experienced in the morning eased up and the sun began to shine raising the temperature. Juli spent several years guiding on Estancia Tecka early in his guiding career and had a hunch that the high sun might spur some dry fly activity. We switched out to huge foam and rubber legged single dries to imitate adult dragon flies. These big dries are fished more like a streamer than a traditional dry. Juli slowed the boat with his oar strokes as we cast the big dries down and across and then stripped them across the surface of the water. Periodically large rainbows and browns would rush the dries. Sometimes the bolted out of nowhere in aerial displays with open mouths to assault the fly. Other times they would follow, chase, and then figure eight below the fly. Dragon fly fishing is similar to skating mouse patterns – you need to train yourself to not “trout set” and lift the rod when a fish appears (not easy when these big fish attack your fly in clear waters). The best approach is to carefully watch to see when the fish has actually eaten the fly and then strip set. Due to the aggressive takes even big fish swing and miss at times so a strip set ensures you fly is still in the water for a second or third take. For the big fish that chase and circle the fly it is often best to rapidly strip the fly to peak their excitement and then suddenly stop the retrieve. Often the trout disappears for a few seconds before magically reappearing to confidently slurp the motionless target.
One can make a fairly strong argument that this might just be some of the intoxicating trout fishing on the planet. While our hook up rates were a little better earlier in the morning stripping streamers, we had just as much action twitching the giant dry flies (although our connection rate dropped). The fish eating the dries were also just as big as on the streamer and we had several 20+ browns that launched out of the water, mouths open, while hunting our dragon flies. While we landed several 18-19” trout in the afternoon we continued to strike out on the larger fish. As we approached the takeout a huge brown boiled under Vaughan’s fly, followed by a few figure eights just below the surface. After shouting a few expletives we both started ripping our big dries across the flats in hopes the big fish would resurface. Hope faded after several casts when suddenly the big brown materialized in mid-air with its hooked jaw open and hanging low as it engulfed my fly. After a mile cardiac arrest my rod pretzeled in half as I tried the hold the big fish on 0X tippet in the strong current. After several blistering runs and tail-walking leaps the magnificent fish made its way to the net – the biggest fish of the trip on the last cast of the day. A fitting end to a memorable adventure!
It is the unpredictability and plethora of complicated variables that makes fly fishing for wild trout so intoxicating and addictive. One never knows exactly what the experience will be on a given day on the water. The eternal optimists, fly fishermen are always in search of magical moments when “it all comes together”; while still enjoying the ride on the many days when the wind blows too strong, the river is a little too dirty, the trout are too picky or the moon is too full. Every now and then the stars align and truly special memories are made. Sometimes you just need to keep playing the one-armed bandit long enough and sooner or later your time will come and three cherries will align, whistles blow, and the jack pot flows. Such was the case on our week in mid December in central Patagonia.