Summer Well Under Way, and Under Way Well

Hello everyone! Long, long time – no update; my apologies. But the trout have been keeping me occupied, to say the least.  First up on the list here though, is the video we shot last fall on our end of season wind-down trip, edited at last and ready for your viewing pleasure.  Check it out!

When November 1st rolled around I had the family down which was wonderful, and we spent a very nice two weeks out on the water and in the surrounding area seeing the sites and bothering the fish. It has been a beautiful spring (now summer) and between the hiking, fishing, and mushroom hunting, a good time was had by all to say the least. Our last day on the water we did a float on the Rio Corcovado and at the takeout enjoyed the first total solar eclipse I have ever seen. What a treat.

In local news we’ve got much better water levels than we had last year due to heavier snowfall through the winter up high and a decent amount of rain throughout the spring, and November boca-time with Paulino, Raul, and Pedro was a blast. I had a group of Germans down then who were very good fishermen and showed me that the spey rod was an excellent tool not just for the boca of that river, but for all the excellent water down below there as well, leaving me all the more excited about the possibilities presented by this still relatively new (to me) tool of my life’s chosen work. Luckily Alex Miller of Red Truck sent me a brand new #7 Diesel which Tweed was nice enough to carry down when he came at the season’s start, and I am in Love with it beyond description. Learning to cast these things and getting accustomed to all the details of Skagit techniques is a whole new chapter in the book of my fly fishing life, but it is coming along, and the physics involved are just mind blowing.

After that it was back out on the water with my next group, a lovely couple from Vermont who split their time with us between fishing and birding, observing a whopping sixty six species of Patagonia’s avian residents and bringing some very nice trout to hand in the meantime as well. I want to say thanks here also to my good friend Pocho Hann of Rio Pico, for allowing us access to show these folks around the first European settlement of the area, his family property, originally established as a wheat producing farm back in 1890, complete with working mill and grain separator, a general store, early German style architecture houses, and the hundreds of fruit trees that still make the now abandoned valley a beautiful place to spend the day. This is not a site that is open to the general public, and it was a treat to be able to see and photograph the virtual museum of wonderfully preserved relics, and to hike up to the falls that Pocho’s grandfather first arrived at via ox cart so long ago. Also on the property are the graves of two Yankee “banditos”, chased down into the Rio Pico border country and shot after having held up and kidnapped the manager of Estancia Tecka back in the early 1900’s. The real names of these men were never known, but more than one book has been published which suggests they may have in fact been none other than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid themselves (see link for more information), making a list ditch attempt to raise some travelling money in the wake of having been run out of their own estancia up in Cholila some months before after their presence there had become known to the Pinkerton organization. According to the story, the group that ran them down and finally killed them near the Cahon Grande just downstream were looking to collect the ransom, and cut off the bandits heads with an idea to carry them back to Buenos Aires for identification. Eduardo Hann was a very religious man though, and had different ideas, directing the party at gunpoint to immediately bury the heads there on his property and then remove themselves from the area. The family has maintained the graves ever since.

Just before Christmas I had a bit of a break and as usual used it to do some exploring, happily loading the truck up for that operation with my good friends Tweed, Hernan, and Redwood. Redwood is a new addition to the crew and another of those that just sort of wandered in on his own and became incorporated, this time all the way from a forest fire fighting team up in North America; but it was a fortuitous event, and the beginning of a friendship I expect to last a long time. Tweed and I already have plans to visit him on the steelhead country he calls home sometime soon. I had had my eye on a couple of small streams that were in no way easy to access through any means other than with backpacks, boots, and a lot of hours spent using the two for some years now, and the time was ripe for them to be seen, experienced, and fished. We were not disappointed. All of the water we explored produced as good a result or better than expected, although what will perhaps end up being our favorite of the streams now carries the name Arroyo Mañoso, due to its extreme nature of moodiness that might well be compared with certain women I have known throughout this life. One particularly interesting note from that one was the presence of pancoras, a species of local crawfish that is common in provinces to the north of here, but very uncommon in our area of Chubut. The stream we were on was just chock full of them though, and it is a mystery I intend to solve figuring out what specific conditions in that particular arm of the drainage are the cause. Tweed, as is is fashion these days, threw practically nothing but twelve inch long Dorado patterns the entire time, and proceeded to catch browns after brown on the things, none of which were what you might call trophies, but all of which were at the very least ambitious predatory fish. What a trip though. We really weren’t sure what we would find when we came out, give that according to the Mayan calendar the world was supposed to end and all that while we were in there, but I guess maybe this post from Dave’s blog says it best:

Oh well.

Christmas day Redwood and I treated ourselves to a huge American-style breakfast of waffles, eggs, bacon, and freshly grated sweet potato hash-browns, then as might well be expected we went fishing. There is a stream not far from home that for various reasons I only fish once a year, and it had yet to be done so we went. It did not disappoint, as it never does. When we got back we made European Hare tacos and listened to the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas, as I always do, and it was a good day, a good day to be alive.

Last but not least I attended a wedding down on the coast of Santa Cruz Province, practiced with the Spey rod a bit on the Lower Santa Cruz, and then guided for a week at one of my favorite places in the world, Lago Strobel. Strobel, you may remember from earlier posts, is a landscape apart. This is an area of such high steppe and most desolate yet fascinatingly beautiful landscape it defies description, a place where one can still expect to find, even without really looking, such an abundance Tehuelche artifacts and enormous trout it is beyond belief. I myself left there this time with two new ancient boleadoras (one broken in half) and photos of some very, very nice trout from my one day of exploration between client groups. The clients also left with some very nice prizes, including this enormous beast, a rainbow caught by John that we measured thirty two full inches in length, weighing in at just over twenty pounds! What a place. I’ve got a couple more cancellation deals to offer for this location as well if anyone is interested, for the dates February second through the ninth, and while its short notice the discount equates to over $1,700, easily enough for the flight it will take to get down here; call our office up in the states or contact me here for details.

Now it’s back down to Rio Pico for several more weeks of guiding and limited connectivity to the world, but I’ve got a couple more days before I head out so all of you please write me an email and let me know how life is wherever you are! I am starved here for news

2012 Season Finale (and worthy of its title)

Wow… to be honest I don’t even know where to begin.  The last three weeks of the season flew by in a classic example of the true relativity of time.  It felt like months’ worth of fishing, wading, and rowing while it happened; yet now that it’s over the whole of it seems like it all got used up in a flash.

So I started out just after my last post exploring some new (to me) lakes with a really special client who had shown up in Esquel just the day before.  This turned out to be hugely successful, both in terms of experiencing some un-known scenery and in terms of the fishing itself, and I think our experience there has cemented these locations into a special place for next year’s plans as well.  (See photos for an answer to the question “why?”)

We then picked up the rest of that week’s group and headed back down to Rio Pico, where the fishing was absolutely on fire.  Every piece of water we hit was lit up like a Christmas tree, and the combination of big bright fish and awesome orange fall light made for some spectacular experiences both from the perspective of the net man (that would be me) and those with the rods in their hands (those would be the sports). These turned out to be a really great bunch of folks too, and we all had about as good a time while they were here as we could have asked for without feeling guilty in the process.  Ok, I guess I do feel a little bit guilty, but that’s only because all of you up at your desks in the states won’t just get your butts in gear and come down here!

Predictably, the weather became a bit more challenging right about the time I dropped the last group of clients off in Esquel and headed back south to, get this, shoot a video.  You see I had been contacted earlier in the year by a fellow named Alex Miller, an associate of Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters in San Francisco, about the possibility of doing a week or so’s worth of “Trout Bumming” around at the end of the season with the objective of putting together a nice little video that would show folks what our April un-wind is like down here, and maybe drum up some interest in trips for next season along the way.

I must say, after having been involved in video production as a sort-of-paying job for the last decade or so in my position at Syzygy Productions, the idea of getting behind a camera (or in front of one, for that matter) during my end of the season wind-down time did not exactly at the onset make me jump and shout with joy.  Alex seemed like a really nice guy though; and basically the plan was mostly just to go fishing; so in the end I picked him up on my way south and we headed straight out to Lago Vintter and the Madrugon II, where Paulino was holding high court over an extremely low-flowing river.  Lack of snowfall last winter and an exceptionally warm summer have the Corcovado running at a level it hasn’t seen since 1985.  It is still fishing well enough, as the photos of what we caught there this last week will attest, but it was a strange experience to stand on rocks that in previous years we’d have been swept off of and carried away downstream without the river’s having to give it a second thought.  I talked with Paulino about this extensively while we were there, and although there’s no direct relationship (last year the river was higher than normal), it led to a larger discussion about the cycles and trends in the weather here around Rio Pico over the decades he has been in the area (going on eight of them now), which touched on some interesting points.   I’m certainly not one to stick my foot too far into the seemingly mostly political debate over climate change or its causes, but sometimes it does seem to me that something sure is happening, and happening fast.  According to Paulino, when he was a child growing up in Rio Pico the snow stayed on the mountains all around town throughout the whole of summer, and that the lakes in the area used to freeze over – even Lago 3!  This probably won’t surprise any of you up in the states (I mean who hangs out on Lago 3 in the winter?), but to a relative newbie like myself who is down here year round just these past few years, that’s big-time news.  Paulino says they used to walk across it!  Oh well, perhaps it’s just a short-cycle of temperature change and about to reverse itself with a vengeance.  Sure seemed like that this last week!  Which brings me back to my story.

 Alex and I pitched our tents and set up shop, still sort of divided down the middle of the group as to what was our main objective.  Mine was to catch fish; his was to make video.  I actually thought that first night to put one of the three-liter bottles of water in my tent so we could still make coffee in case the temperature dropped below freezing, but the next morning it was frozen solid anyway right there at my feet.  That’s cold.  The weather seemed to wake the fish up even more though, and within an hour of our shivering pre-dawn wader-up we were into them.  And that’s how the week flowed on – frost on the tents, steam from the coffee, fish from the rivers, ice in the guides, rocks actually frozen to our boot-soles mid-step, more fish from the lakes, more frost, more coffee, and then finally, Eureka!  I was inspired.  Mid-shower one morning at Nikita’s an idea hit me for how to stitch together all our footage into something that would play, and I was back on my game with the camera in an instant.  But by that time we only had a few days left!

Luckily, my rod-wielding replacement appeared in the form of Hernan, an exceedingly fishy kid from Junin, stuck in a motor-home with four adult cucharero/cuchillero’s and looking for an out.  Hernan had Serious Fish-Mojo, and just sort of appeared in our campsite one night, probably due to some sort of yet to be discovered magnetism that exists between similar fly-fishy types.  This became a symbiotic relationship our first day out with the camera though; you couldn’t keep huge fish off his line if you tried!  I would love to show everyone a preview of what we shot that day, but out of respect for the finished product I shall demur.  It’s going to be even better once it’s scored.

So the shoot raged on, over what seemed like about a million enjoyable miles and a thousand or so gate openings and closings, punctuated by lots of fly line being carried out through the guides and against the drags by running monsters with flies in their big, toothy mouths; and now it’s all been stored on hard-drives in the form of billions of ones and zeros, and carried North in the capable hands of our man Alex (by this time an old friend), who will turn it into a bright little gem of some sort for all the fish-loving world to enjoy.  Stay tuned for that post soon!

When it was all over and we had crunched through enough shore-ice to feel like it might be time to go on home, we first helped Paulino and the gang break down bridge-camp and load it all into the trucks and trailers that would take it back to town, then made a few last casts with the Spey rods at the boca.  Having discovered the magic of Skagit, I proceeded to catch my last boca brook trout of the year on the thirteen foot nine weight, and with that called it a season till November.  A good season, that is.

“Wait,… what month is it up there?”

Back again for a few days of office and home front scramble-age between clients:  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks out on the water with a very nice fellow from Rhode Island, down for his seventh trip to Patagonia and his second in a row with us.  We’ve been chasing fish across several old favorite spots of his, plus a lot of new water too in the area of Rio Pico and beyond.  A few of the results of our efforts can be seen in the photos here, and I will let them speak for themselves.

As I write I am in fact just back in from my standard “Buen dia” tour with the Negra.  We wake up early in the morning when we can to go for walks, and the exchanges that result between myself and the folks we encounter as well as the environment in general always serve to remind me of just how good we have it in this community.  Almost everyone we meet greets us with a “Buen dia” (Good morning) and a smile, and between the house and the bakery or wherever else we walk it is a pleasure to watch the city and the sky here come to life.  Back in the states I always dreamed of having a farm of my own and the good, pure food that would result.  But since when I got back in this morning I had for breakfast a bowl of cereal wet with yogurt I made here using milk from the neighbor’s cow, butter made by the neighbor’s hand from the same milk spread onto bread from the bakery I just walked back from, eggs laid by another neighbor’s chickens, and juice squeezed out of oranges and grapefruit bought in bulk at our local verduraria, I am for the most part feeling like I now have the benefits of the farm without doing all its associated work; which is kind of cool too, in a way.

We’re finally getting some rain which will help water levels and the fish here a great deal, not to mention the ranchers and their cattle.  I find now though that after having been in the southern hemisphere without return to the north for as long as I have I am getting confused about the seasons.  Patagonia doesn’t habitually subscribe to seasons anyway, and over the last couple of years we’ve seen both ice storms in the middle of summer and bright, warm days when it should have been freezing.  But I knew maybe I needed to check myself when I asked my mother the other day while on Skype “Wait,… what month is it up there?”  She laughed.

Everyone shoot me the news; I’ve got a couple more days of good connection left before I head south again and would love to hear from you, any and all.

         

Everything outside was elegant and savage and fleshy.  Everything inside was slow and cool and vacant.  It seemed a shame to stay inside.

                   ~JOHN CHEEVER

Circus Poodle and Afghan Refugee Tame Giant Shaman Brook Trout

OK, so he’s not really an Afghan refugee, but my client these past two weeks did come down here directly from Afghanistan, and with Brook trout specifically in mind.  So, after some great days chasing browns and rainbows around the area of Rio Pico, we struck out for the south into some of the country Zach and I explored back last month; a cold front, wind, rain, and even snow on our heels and shortly thereafter on our heads.  The weather put the fishing off just a bit, but not enough to keep us from success, and the whole trip ended with a climactic series of events that I think warrants description here, if only for its singularity with regard to fly selection.  Walking the river downstream from camp our last day out the weather had started to break, giving us just enough light between the clouds to spot four nice fish in a deep bend pool that luckily had a concealed casting position just above it.  I picked a stand where I could watch the fish and sort of whisper-yell instructions up to Eric, who’s first cast with a fairly normal brook trout fly hooked the smallest of four fish, a hen of about five pounds.  He landed this fish and was quite happy, but I could see that two of the other three fish in the pool were quite a bit larger, so we tried the whole sequence again with a new fly on the tippet right away.  The next hook up was a short-lived event, with a slightly bigger fish pulling free from the hook within a matter of seconds, leaving only two more in the pool who had not yet felt the sting.  A third fly was tied on, and a few casts later the third fish was hooked, played and landed, proving to be a nice six pound hen and seeming to bring our sequence to its conclusion.  That fourth and final fish in the deepest part of the pool stuck in my mind though, and since we were already there, and not in any hurry, I thought we should at least give him a try.  I couldn’t see him very well, but he looked to be long and dark, so we tied on a very large streamer and ran it over him a few times.  No reaction.  Another streamer was tried and results prove to be the same.  “Of course”, we thought, “the fish was spooked.”  We’d just landed all three of his companions one after another and returned them to the pool, and the game was up.  But as a last and final resort, I looked deep in my backpack, and found, – the Circus Poodle.  This is a fly that had no business even being on this stream, or any stream really, for that matter, but it was in one of the boxes at the bottom and was so different from anything else we had tried it seemed like it might be worth a shot.  At almost seven inches long and dressed like Liberace’s dream Queen on new year’s eve, it was definitely not like anything else this fish had ever seen, artificial or otherwise, in his little stretch of Patagonian stream.  If the Circus Poodle didn’t raise him, I figured, we’d move on.  Out went the line; down splashed the fly in a moon-capsule crash at the back of the pool; and Eric started to strip (for those of you who might not actually be fly fishermen, this means he was pulling in line, not taking off his clothes).  The Circus Poodle danced, climbing its way back to the head of the run, white marabou, red plastic beads, and long rubber legs all waving around looking as alien as could be in the darkness of the water.  Then out of the depths shot a big mean looking shape, and the next thing we knew there was nine pounds of Salvelinus fontinalis tearing around the river shaking its head like it had just eaten the worst-dressed dog in the world and wanted none of it more from there on out, which made perfect sense if you think about it.  We had to land him first though, and we did, but it wasn’t a sure bet in either of our minds until the second he was in the net.  Honestly, I could hardly believe my eyes.  What a fish!  Eric had his picture taken with the Shaman King and then we sent him on his way, the moment after seeming just about right for a cigar break and reflection on the value of what’s left of wild places in this world.

Another Fishing Season Begins

Hi Folks!  I hope you are all doing well up/down/around wherever you are when you receive this.  The only question is – Why aren’t you here?  Come on down!

Our fishing season has finally gotten under way in Patagonia, and not one moment too soon.  So my good friend and colleague Emiliano Luro and I celebrated the first day of it after a long Halloween walk-in on a remote pacific drainage we had not previously explored.  For all that I had been pining for autumn since the month of October began, the absolutely beautiful springtime weather and amazing array of budding and flowering plants all around me have finally won me over, and I am into it at last!  We spent the whole first week of season in the back-country with a bit higher water levels and a bit lower water temperatures than we would have liked, but considering the alternatives (like, the office) I really can’t complain.  When we finally walked back out after six days of eating mostly noodles and rice, poor Paulino and the gang at the Boca of the Corcovado had to suffer our Mongol-like invasion, as we set upon their kitchen devouring every leftover scrap of meat in sight.  Luckily, they had cooked up a big asado just the day before, and there was plenty left.  We fished the boca some then, and the bite was pretty good with post-spawn rainbows coming out and big fat lake rainbows cruising their usual circuit, and although I didn’t have my spey rod along with me it sure felt good to get back on top of that rock and swing some flies.  One of the most valuable things that came out of this trip though, to me, is the photography from Emi’s camera.  He shoots with a Nikon he bought a few years ago from none other than one of the most famous fly fishing photographers in the world (a client of his), and since that time I’ve been watching his talent and his mastery of the thing take shape.  I must say now, that process has come along nicely.  Almost all of the photos below in this post are his, and all of these from just the one week out.  Shots from his overall bank of photography are already in use on several websites and in a variety of print medias, and by all indications I think I will be watching his career as a photographer continue to grow.  Anyone interested in seeing more of his work or inquiring about licensing just shoot me an email and I’ll get you in touch right away.  With the season under way now I am back to being on the water most of the time now, but will of course be posting more updates as the weeks progress.  This month we have the editor of the biggest fly fishing magazine in Russia coming in to do a profile on the Rio Pico area and our agency/operation there, and my rowing arms are just getting warmed up nicely for the task.  Yesterday I was out on Laguna Larga, just above Parque Nacional Los Alerces chasing big browns around in the boat, and the tube flies I’ve been tying all winter have been working their magic even better than I had expected them to.  All of you drop me a line when you get a chance; I look forward to hearing from you soon!