Tehuelche artifacts, prehistoric fossils, musings, and yes also, fish…

Hi Folks; back again for another installment.  I’m in off the water for just a skosh here between groups, and re-grouping, as they say, in the office, yet again.  It’s been a pretty spectacular last couple of weeks down here.  I started out down on Lago Strobel where I actually managed to sneak away for a bit of fishing on my own before the sports came in, and also spent a day out on Estancia Laguna Verde searching for Tehuelche artifacts and “paintings”.  Paintings probably isn’t the right word for what we have on that particular property, since in fact they are etchings, the actual images carved into the rock with other rocks, but many of the styles and forms are quite similar to the paintings found just a little ways to the North on Estancia Cueva de Las Manos and in other sites across Santa Cruz province.  These things always make quite an impression on me, and so I’ve decided to devote a little time here to describing them, as well as to sharing the rest of the small collection of Tehuelche bolas, stone tool and arrow point chips, and other generally interesting (to me, anyway) rocks and fossils I have seen or collected down here over the past five or so years as I walked around mostly looking for fish. The first of these was a bola that was given to me by a fellow outside Rio Pico, which I was amazed to later find out from an archeologist who recorded it for her database was actually over nine thousand years old.  Bolas, more or less perfectly spherical stones crafted using other stones by Tehuelche hunters (some of them with a groove around the circumference and some without) were a sort of primitive weapon used to hunt guanaco and rhea, among other things.  They were tied to short woven leather lines, sometimes also wrapped in rawhide, and then swung around the hunter’s head before being released with a trajectory intended to hit the target animal and crush enough bone to bring it down, or in the case of multiple bola boleadoras, wrap and tangle the cords around the animal’s legs.  It is hard for me to imagine how much work must have gone into the making of these things, and even equally amazing to me that there should ever have been enough of them “lost” by the Tehuelches that I might somehow come to have three of them (well, two and a half) sitting on a shelf in my house all these thousands of years later.  Just holding one in your hands and thinking about the fact that at the time it was made even the people of Europe were still also in the stone age makes quite an impression on me, and also calls to mind that in the millennia that followed, the Tehuelche simply continued to live in this same form – all the way up to, in fact, their first contact with the by then more modernized Europeans only a few scant centuries ago.  They were a nomadic people, hunter-gatherers by way of life, and judging by the artifacts like these bolas and spear points and the paintings and etchings themselves, it seems that for well over ten thousand years they lived in very much the same fashion, with the same culture, and little or no change at all took place in their way of life over all that span of time.  Contrasted with what those peoples who experienced the agricultural revolution across the Atlantic have done over just the last three thousand or so years (going from much the same way of life as these Tehuelches to the sort of horrifyingly beautiful mess of things like fly fishing, nuclear weapons, and reality TV programming that we have today) it makes me wonder a little bit sometimes: how and why did this all actually come about?  The paintings and etchings tell us a little bit about what Tehuelche life was like for the thousands of generations that they existed here in this form.  There are guanacos and rheas, renditions of these same animals’ tracks, images and negative imprints of the people’s hands and feet, images of women giving birth (like the one seen above), images of hunts, and interesting but inexplicable circles and geometric forms of all sorts, possibly astronomical in nature, but equally possibly not.  What there are none of, however, are images of war. And this contrasts markedly with the Egyptian hieroglyphs and other vestiges of post agricultural-revolution Arab and Eurasian cultures we all know.  Some of what I found a few weeks ago was recent enough to be accompanied by the still preserved (though by no means fossilized) bones of the animals the hunters had killed.  Chips of obsidian scattered behind “blinds” constructed of stone were amongst piles of guanaco ribs and legs, indicating that as little as maybe one hundred and fifty years ago hunters had crouched in that very spot, making arrow points and waiting on their prey, then perhaps processing and eating it there as well.  And at the same time, five thousand odd miles to the North, our American ancestors were engaged in a bloody civil war complete with canons, muskets, and the newly developed Henry repeating rifle.  It is a strange world indeed.  It hasn’t been just items of human making that have caught my eye since I’ve been down here though.  There is a lot to be seen amongst the stones at river and lakeside that goes far further back in time than that.  You may remember from sometime back in May of 2011 this piece of petrified wood I found on the Rio Limay, a vestige of a tree that stood on those plains during the Mesozoic Era, which came to its end some sixty six million years ago.  Or how about these fossil imprints of bivalves I found just a few weeks ago on a nameless river drainage I was exploring to the south.  Or this giant fossilized oyster shell from the Rio Jeinimeni that weighs more than thirty pounds.  Who the hell knows what they are?  Or how old?  The stone with the clamshell imprints was in the midst of a myriad of other types of stone, pushed into the place it lay by the last glacial retreat I would imagine, but I’ve not yet had the opportunity to ask someone better educated in these matters than myself and thus find out.  I move on now though, to the beast of all beasts, and one that thankfully also rests in my tiny collection, the mighty dinosaur.  Yes folks, I have dinosaur bones.  Or, well, fossils, actually, but damn if they don’t look like bones.  Only heavier.  These segments of jaws (complete with teeth) and a leg joint belonged to a creature that apparently (according to the museum up in Santiago del Estero) looked like a sort of triceratops with the horns in reverse.  It had two huge tusks coming out of its mouth and extending almost straight forward, elephant style, but also a unicorn like horn sticking straight out of the protective plate that extended from its head.  They have a complete skeleton at the museum there, and the thing is about twenty five feet long and probably twelve feet high.  All I can say is that I’m downright thankful to live in a part of the world where it is possible to just stumble across this stuff.  And when you do, well, it really does make you stop and think.

But now on to the fish.  I know you all want to hear about the fish.  Fishing has been good and my last group had three and a half days of spectacular weather down on Lago Strobel with Tweed and Alfredo and the boys before me and the clients headed north to Rio Pico for the rest of the trip.  The wind though, was acting strange.  Now, I’m no Paulino Arias, and the number of my years of climatological observation in these parts is a fairly limited, at the geologic scale of time – but I know one thing:  The wind here comes from the West.  I can count the number of times I’ve seen wind out of the East in Patagonia on a single hand in fact; that is, until this last two weeks I could.  It started while we were still in Santa Cruz.  Tweed had one of the clients on his four-wheeler and I was behind him with another when I noticed something strange.  The dust coming off of his tires was going the wrong way.  I honked to pull him over and we both remarked on how strange it was, but I certainly didn’t expect it to last.  Last it did though.  Off and on for the next week and a half.  Why should this interest you?  I’m not sure.  I’m not yet sure even what it means to me.  But I do know what it means to the trout in my area of expertise, and it makes them start acting awfully strange.  Mind you, we caught them; yes, we caught them just like we always do – but not in the places or in the ways we always do. The fish just weren’t acting the same.  It is hard for me to imagine how a simple change in wind direction should affect the behavior of a single outsized brown trout lying in a pool on a tiny spring creek in the pampa.  The water flows downstream just like always, the sun and moon rise and set, maybe the grasshoppers get blown into the water from the left bank instead of the right, but how the hell does he know which way they come from anyway, and why should he decide to move his place or do something different than he always has?  Who knows?  But he does.  There’s a lot more going on here than we will ever understand.  It’s like trying to balance an equation with far too many variables and far too few numbers, or find the patterns in that never ending decimal string that is π.  Yet we can’t help but try to systematize the thing, to understand it, take it apart, and examine how it works so that we can make it work to our advantage.  Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev said once in a letter to Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy dated January 3rd, 1857,  “The only people who treasure systems are those whom the whole truth evades, who want to catch it by the tail. A system is just like truth’s tail, but the truth is like a lizard. It will leave the tail in your hand and escape; it knows that it will soon grow another…”  I’d say that about sums it up.  In many ways though, this is in fact the very attraction of fishing from the start.   It is never going to be something we can control, never going to be something we can perfect; and there is always going to be something new to learn.  “Tomorrow, the river will look much the same.  But it won’t be.  No two days are ever the same for a fly fisherman.” (Roderick Haig Brown)

The goings on – here, and there

Hello Everyone,

Taking a break this week from the water (more or less) and getting caught up in the office between groups. I hope you are all doing well wherever you find yourselves in the world. Things are good for me. We had a bit of a spell of hot weather for a while, but as I write it has cooled off considerably and a mix of rain and snow is falling in the mountains. Over the last month I’ve had some backcountry Trout Bum trips and some clients for a few weeks in the lodge, but they have all been quite enjoyable, and the fishing has been excellent as well. I say more or less about getting caught up in the office over my break because of course the voices called me, and so Trey Scharp and I did a small exploration of the Valle Rio Frio yesterday, when I should probably have been in front of the laptop instead. The water does call though, and it amazes me every single time I get on Google Earth just how much of it there is within a day’s drive of home that still has yet to see my flies. Now though, after the break is done, I’ll be back on the oars until the end of the season and then more or less immediately heading out again for a month-long float trip through one of the longest stretches of back-country river left on Earth, mixing it up at last with a fish that has been on my list now for some time, the noble steelhead. Poor me. Look for stories of that one to come along in May.

In other news (I’m starting to hate that word) the rest of the world seems to have gone quite mad. I am a bit off the network down here, a circumstance I rather enjoy, but the things my clients have been telling me about the goings on up in the states and other parts of our planet of late have been alarming. I realize it is easy for news to seem worse than it is; the media is in the business of focusing only on the bad most of the time; and when I back up far enough from my limited perspective to look at all of this within its larger historical context, perhaps not much has changed. But that can be hard for me to do sometimes. I live in a town where the baker, if she can’t make change for the only bill I happen to have in my wallet on a Sunday morning, tells me “Just pay me next time you come in.”, and then doesn’t even feel the need to write the debt down in her ledger of credits. I just pay her next time I go in, and that’s how things work down here. Sure, bad things happen too; people lie; horses and cattle are occasionally stolen; sometimes even a couple of gauchos get into a fight and one of them is knifed; but for God’s sake man – nobody walks into an elementary school and starts shooting children. I mean, seriously though, what the hell is going on up there?

Anyway, changing the subject, here are some of the better photos that have been taken either by or of me since my last post. Hope you enjoy. Also – our video from the last post got picked up by Orvis’ Friday Fly Fishing Film Festival – click here if you haven’t already seen it, or would like just like to give it another look, and be sure to scroll down to the bottom and leave us some good commentary for the public there as well! And everybody shoot me the news! (Your news, not the media’s; and the word “shoot” here only applies to its usage in sending me an email) Hope to hear from each and every one of you sometime soon.Baby Seed Snipe – Lago StrobelBrown Trout – Christmas Creek, outside Rio Pico, ArgentinaPatagonian Road Sign: “Beware – Spontaneous Orgasms Can Occur”Happy Client, Happy GuideNikita and Gretel – A Love that lastsAnd on a dry, no less…High Lake ApproachPatagonian Edible MushroomLago Tres Brown TroutWielding the Net of JoyThe Spring Creeks of Tres LeonesWild Strawberries on the Estancia of the man who once told me “No one can own a waterfall!”Low Profile Approach

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