And Another Season Ends in Argentina

Well folks,… the fishing season down here,… has officially ended.   And as is always the case after such an event, the non-fishing season,… has fishily begun.  Yes.  Fishily indeed.  It was a great summer overall, low water notwithstanding.  And from the look of the rain and snowfall surrounding this writer’s current point of view here at the big bay window in Trevelin (I know it’s early, but just in the last 24 hours we’ve had over five inches) things are going to be back to normal levels in no time and we’re likely to have plenty of water for next summer. Rance and Travis had some photographers down in March and so I showed them around the Tres Valles venue, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  These are good friends of mine, and also the owners of Patagonia River Guides, whose programs at Estancia Tres Valles and in Trevelin, as well as up in the San Martin/Junin de los Andes region all appear in the Patagonia Unlimited catalogue.  Austin Trayser, Matt Jones, Rance Rathie, Guillermina Etchebarne, and Khadizhat and I had a great time of it those days, fishing and rowing and hiking and setting up shot after shot after shot.   And in the process I even ended up convincing Marcelo Acevedo (one of Rance’s auxiliars and a neighbor of mine from back in the Rio Pico days) of all people that my fishing Icaros actually work.  He had challenged me to try one, in fact, while Rance was nymphing the juncos bank one day as we waited on the lunch truck.  Bright sun, no wind, and no bite happening whatsoever – these were the conditions, that is until the last note of my Icaro – then Wham!  Rod went up and it was on!    Pretty cool really.  “Ahora te creo” Marcello said, “Ahora te creo”.  Other highlights of these few days were my own thirty inch brown, pictured here and now also on the homepage slideshow of Rance and Travis’ website, a lot of really good lunches, and a lot of just kind of lying around in the tall grass looking up at clouds while Austin and Matt messed with the cameras getting set up for a shot.  After the shoot we had several more very nice groups, including my last of the season which was really made up more of friends than clients – Matt Branton and his father Allen.  Even Negra got to tag along on this week’s worth of wading, boating, and getting hooked in the face, although she mostly just got tangled in the stripping.  Matti apparently has a thing about my face; at one point while I was netting a big rainbow for him on Lago Tres he spat Copenhagen all the way across it, and at another point down on La Panisa he buried the size #2 hook of his Great Pumpkin (a big orange articulated streamer fly) in it on his back cast.  God Love the guy though, he did keep catching hogs, and even rowed the boat sometimes!  Once it was over though it was over, and I had to accept that the hour had come to shift gears.  Luckily, there were apples.  Lots and lots of apples. When Trevelin was first settled by the Welsh in the 1880’s they brought more than a couple of apple trees.  At that time the farms which were being developed here were all producing wheat, not cattle, and once the mills were constructed the flour being produced in our region even began to win world fairs.  Once the population began to come in off the estancias and center up more in town though, the apple trees just kind of got left out on the old homesteads.  And since those same old homesteads are the kinds of places I usually hunt quail in the fall, I run across these trees quite often.  So Khadizhat and Caetano (a most excellent neighbor from across the way) went out gathering them, and have been eating and cooking and drying and juicing them ever since.  Khadizhat makes pies and cakes, I make apple sauce and cider, and we’ve both been dehydrating and juicing the living Dickens out of them to the point that I honestly wonder if one might not overdose on apple with such practices.  Alas though, the things are apparently healthy, in whatever quantity, and with the stores that now exist here it looks like we’ll be eating them still for a good long while.  In truth though we’re actually just now getting back to the processing of the harvest that got stashed beneath the stairs, since it got interrupted for a bit with a trip to the Amazon in Peru.  No new country mind you, just some more of the same ol’ same ol’ with our friends up there in the jungle, but this time also a lot more water than we are used to.  The river herself, which off the banks of our usual camp is already a mile and a half wide and normally a hundred and twenty or so feet deep, had come up thirty-plus feet above even her hundred year high-water mark, which totally flooded us out.  It’s truly hard to explain the scale of this river.  Actually, even for a guy like me who spends more days than not on a river of some sort or another, it is hard to even comprehend the Amazon’s scale, much less explain it.  Just to give it a try though for my North American friends who have never been there, we’re talking about a river that is over ten times the size of the MississippiThe area of the watershed itself encompasses more than 40% of the continent of South America.  I mean, seriously.  This is a RIVER.  And for folks like myself the fact that it is home to over two thousand five hundred known species of fish, a total greater than that of the entire Atlantic Ocean, is also of significant interest. Some ichthyologists even estimate that the actual total, if we get to know it, will likely be over six thousand. But anyway, I could go on for hours here…  Our usual camp, as I said, was flooded, and so we traveled inland to one of the old camps that I have spent a lot of time at over the years, and in fact even harvested plants from the property herself that we had been watching grow for a very long time. Plus we spent time in Iquitos proper, and took some nice photos as usual of the stray dogs and locals, not to mention my old adopted son Charlie, the monkey of Belen, who Sunay and I bought/adopted last year.  It was a great trip overall though, and now we are back in Trevelin and looking out at the snow capped and rapidly whitening Andes and wondering what happens next.  So in other words the question now,….

Leaving Las Pampas

Well, actually leaving Patagonia altogether for a while.  But whattayagonnado?  I got other fish to catch!  It’s been an awesome season though, even if it was a short one for me (Gustavo and the boys are still going strong).  Just looking back through the photos and the stories from these few of months though it almost seems as though I’ve packed an entire season into half the time this year.  Between all the usual Rio Pico Lodge package trips, and a couple of back-country Trout Bum endeavors, a heck of a lot of fish were caught, and a heck of a lot of good times were had.  Onwards and upwards though; I’ll be back down here soon enough!Write me back everybody!

A Snowy Christmas in the Austral Summer

Happy Holidays Everyone!  As I write this I am sitting in the altillo here at home in Patagonia, with the sound of the centrifugal honey extractor humming up from down below where that lovely substance is being spun from its combs for safe packing into jars; while the snow, yes I said snow, falls on the mountains outside my big bay windows to the West.  I am going to miss this place.  A lot.  But as a famous writer once said, “Everything moves and changes, and no two days are ever the same for a fly fisherman.”  And so, I am winding down a shorter than normal season here and getting ready to head north, then farther north, into a year that will see me guiding at one point or another in every single hemisphere on Earth.  Such is the way things move and change these days.  On that note – my house in Trevelin is currently for sale.  Don’t everyone panic all at once; I am certainly not closing up shop here in Patagonia. It’s just that with my upcoming cycle of work between Argentina and the Bahamas, the Peruvian Amazon and Siberian Russia, it just doesn’t make sense at the moment to let the place sit here un-used.  Like I said in my last post, operations will continue as normal while I’m gone, as well as when I am back in between other locations, but in the meantime the house has to be let go.  Anyone interested or who thinks they might know someone who will be interested can click here to see details.  In the meantime, when it sells, all of my stuff will be stored with friends here in the area, and I’ll still have a more than adequate base of operations down at the lodge in Rio Pico until I find something else I want to buy.  It’s been a busy season so far (hence the long time no update) and both the weather and the fishing have been excellent.  Hernan and I did a couple of dot-connecting excursions down to Rio Pico last month where we enjoyed catching on both the Spey rigs and the dry fly throwers, spending a few nights as always beneath the bridge at the Corcovado Boca with Don Arias and the gang.  This is always such a wonderful experience, and one I wish I could share with more people than I do.  The folks that congregate beneath that bridge for the opening and closing of each season are some of the most knowledgeable, and nicest in all of Patagonia.  I don’t think a thousand dinners with them would be sufficient to hear all the stories that might get told, or to learn all of the useful tricks that might be learned.  The time was cut a bit short this year though due to a re-paving project that the province had (in my opinion) rather poorly timed, which caused the Madrugon II to be disassembled and hauled back to Rio Pico after the first week of the season.  But no worries, April will be here soon enough, and Maestros Paulino, Raul, and Pedro will be there to serve, as always.  Hernan and I had other business to attend to anyway at that point, and made our way North and then West to see about the wedding of our good friend Zachariah Tweed with the beautiful (and to be honest) practically perfect in every way, Marcela.  This event was held in Chile, on a lake, and despite the less than cooperative weather every single person in attendance wore a smile.  As a means of post ceremony celebration we then enjoyed two days of thermal pool frolic that even the curmudgeonliest of curmudgeons would not have been able to prevent from putting to good healthy use.  Afterwards Hernan and I headed back East, then South, anxiously awaiting throughout the first part of that drive our arrival at a creek which had attracted both of our attentions as we crossed it on the way to Chile – the Arroyo M. Malal.  This thing just sort of screamed to have hoppers thrown into it, and the throwing of them was exactly our intention as we anxiously parked beneath a clear blue sky that afternoon and rigged our rods.  No sooner had we done so though, when Hernan said “Che, Justin, has viste ese letrero?”  I could hardly believe my eyes.  We had parked right next to a sign which read, in no uncertain terms, “No Fishing”.  Arghhh!!!  I grabbed my regulations and looked up the creek.  Sure enough – closed.  But why???  Only thing we could figure was that it was an important spawning ground for the fish of the nearby river into which it flowed.  So – licensed guides and law abiding citizens that we are, we took down the rods and pulled out the cameras for a walk. Sure enough the thing was chock full of beautiful trout, some of which we even managed to photograph, but a fishing we did not get to go.  Another interesting note from this particular trip across the Andes was that it was Hernan’s first into the “interior” of Chile, and the roads made quite an impression on him.  I mean, they’re paved!  And not full of potholes!   Plus there is the embarrassing question of the cow crossing signage.  You see, in Argentina we have this sign: that of a cow, crossing.  In Chile, on the other hand, they go full-bull:  Whether this is simply an issue of greater impact iconography to make drivers even more cautious than they might otherwise be, or some sort of pseudo-Freudian complex about terminology differences between the two cultures along the lines of “Pico” vs. “Pito”, I don’t know, but Hernan was laughing pretty hard, so we took pictures.  Back in Rio Pico it was client/fishing time again, and we enjoyed some wonderful weeks on the water with folks who had come down to do just that.  I was a bit surprised at how low some of our streams and rivers have fallen already, considering the excellent snow pack the area had this last winter, but the fishing was spectacular, as usual, all the same.  Of special note was a visit by one of my favorite clients, Mr. David Capen, who this year took advantage of both our Rio Pico Lodge package and a portion of the Trout Bum package, following Hernan and I with packs into one of the back-country drainages we love so dearly in order to make camp and fish for trout that have most likely never seen a fly, as well as enjoying the campfire and natural surroundings of a puma-tracked and little accessed area of Patagonia he had not before been familiar with.  As usual, the fishing was great.  And now with the new snowfall I am watching and the rain which is forecast to follow, I am certain the coming weeks will be more than superb as well.  There is definitely better moisture in general though this year, as noted with the year’s crop of Llao llao, an orange tree dwelling mushroom which is sweet to the taste and a delicious treat while we are out on the streams. Taking a quick break before my next group comes in though I just got back from the annual “scenalada”, or marking/castrating of the lambs, out at my good friend Marcelo’s place on Lago Rosario just down the road.  A bittersweet if also delectable affair as always, we got started at dawn and wrestled with the poor creatures all morning through the process of ear marking, castrating, and tail-docking, before eventually slaughtering and roasting one of them for the afternoon asado.  This year was a low-attendance event to be sure, with only myself and the always reliable Toledo from the peninsula puesto doing the pin-downs, and Marcelo doing the cuts.  The resulting feed was awesome though, and I washed all of the blood off my skin by swimming myself out most of the way across the lake that afternoon.  So anyway, here I am folks!  Write me back!  I would love to hear how all of you are experiencing the holidays, and where you are and what you are up to in the world.

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