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.

Fontinalis Giganticus (Seriously, this is RIDICULOUS )

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… more big brook trout; isn’t this getting a little old by now?” you might ask. Honestly, no!

This last exploratory trip may well rank in the top three fishing experiences of my entire life, and I am not alone in that sentiment. Last week Zach Otte, Colin McCrossin, and I all headed out together into the backcountry of yet another more or less mapless set of drainages on the Argentine/Chilean border, this time with not much thought of looking into client-friendly water, just lots and lots of miles to put beneath the boot soles, and enough food and supplies in the packs to keep us going along the way.

The first days were quite warm and gave us considerable trouble with biting tabanos and mosquitoes, but the temperature began to drop and the fishing got steadily better as we went along, moving us farther and farther each day from anything even remotely civilized. Aside from a few old gaucho trails and the odd errant cow track here and there, by the second day there wasn’t much sign around that other humans even existed on earth, and with the fishing we were finding, we could almost have forgotten ourselves.
This really is rough, rough, country, hard on us and hard on the gear to be sure, but beautiful all in its own way at the same time. On the third day out we woke up to snow flurries, and the river we were camped on literally began to explode with ferocious fontinalis of dimensions we could hardly believe. It really became almost indescribable. Ludicrous. Enough to make even me think that perhaps at long last I had somehow cultivated a vibe of luck, or good karma.

At one point on a deep pool I lost a fish I could never even turn with the nine weight; then Zach landed an eight-pounder out of that same hole; then he lost a fish he saw and called better than ten, just before I brought yet another eight pound brute to my hands; and we both just started to laugh. That’s when he said “I don’t know what to think about this. There’s really no going back.”  Indeed. In the end eight pounds was really the best we can claim to have landed, but better fish were hooked and played and seen and lost, so while in the sense Zach meant it, there may well not be any going back, there will certainly be some going back in there, if you catch my drift.  There have got to be only a few places on the planet that are left with this kind of fishery for giant brookies. There are certain sets of conditions that make such a thing possible to begin with, and they are all easy things for humans to disrupt, even unintentionally. I will say that by the time we finished up the exploration and hauled ourselves back out we were pretty well destroyed, limping our way back to the road with very sore bodies, empty bellies, and much more well-worn waders than what we had gone in with; but that, in specific effect, is exactly what has protected these fish in that environment for all these years. I can only pray that the ever popular watch-word of “access”, as it relates to all things fishing, logging, cattle farming, and generally human-impacting, continues to stay as far from these drainages as possible, and that these fish remain as beautiful, enormous, and innocent as we found them when we arrived.I hope everyone is having a great holiday week leading up to Christmas!  Send me an email and let me know how you are doing; I miss you all.