Where does one start when telling the story of the greatest fly fishing destination in the world for trout? Maybe I should speak of the “ONE” that got away, which, according to the Owners Travis Smith & Rance Rathie, in addition to all the guides agreeing, it would have easily been the largest fish of the year. But I’ll save that for a little later and let a few pictures tell a story of grandeur, and the ultimate customer service experience. Exactly what Patagonia River Guides set out to do in the first place so many years ago.
When the call came in on a sunny but cold winter day on the South Texas Gulf Coast, the cogs started churning and burning. “Not kidding you Ken, just get on the damned plane! You’re coming with me to Patagonia.” says my long-time friend Dirk. Immediately the shock and awe hit me like a heavily weighted streamer to the chest. Thoughts of giant trout, both rainbows and browns filled my imagination and in short order a small batch of 5 inch articulated streamers crudely fell off the vice. No time to research, no time to visit the fly shop and certainly not the time to sit on the pot. I packed a carry-on sized duffel bag while flight itineraries arrived in my e-mailbox, and I grabbed my 7wt fly rod and all the freshwater flies I could find in my closet and crammed it into my small duffel. In doing so I was easily reminded that I am a saltwater fly fishing guide, not so recent on the freshwater scene when it comes to fly selection. “No worries,” I am told, “PRG has everything you could possibly need.” Waders, boots, fly rods/reels, left and right hand retrieve, flies that work, great food, stunning rivers and lakes with water clarity reaching 30 feet. In some cases, the water clarity allows for even more visibility. What else could someone need other than to get their asses down there for one of the greatest fly fishing adventures ever?
Seven (7) days spent fly fishing 7 rivers. Naming them all without writing down the names of each is impossible for me, and pen and paper wasn’t on the priority lists much less taking time to make notes while fishing. You see, I have a flyfishing problem. I like to throw big flies. Dries and droppers will certainly get you into multitudes of trout, and many will push the 20-inch mark, but as those who know me well can confirm, I am not a numbers kind of fisherman. I LOVE BIG FISH! That is exactly why I guide the saltwaters of South Texas Gulf Coast.
I prefer the excitement of a violent strike from a large fish, and those that come from massive brown trout can require more strip-sets than you think necessary. Early on in the trip the guides would tell me to strip set like a maniac in order to get these fish well connected to your big streamer fly, and in many cases, I lost quite a few quality fish even when I was able to make 2 solid strip sets of the hook. “How in the hell can these fish come unhooked so easily!?!?” I asked myself many times. So, I began to count each strip-set once the fish ate, and tried my best to get past 3 or 4 solid strip sets before I did anything else such as raise the rod tip to fight the fish.
Each day, upon returning to the lodge, the guests and guides would sit outside on the deck, sipping a fine beverage of choice, snacking on olives, peanuts, cured meat and other tasty treats, telling smelly fish lies, and teasing each other over their own wondrous experiences of the day. Each of the guides were extremely personable, kind, and considerate of the guests’ needs and unspoken desires. Leo was in fact a very vocal guide, who knew every rock in the Rio Grande that holds a quality fish. He’ll encourage you to the end, and suggests changing (dry dropper vs. streamer) tactics regularly in order to get a fish in the boat to get the skunk off, then, switching back to your preferred method in order to satisfy the big fish craving that I cannot help. It was on the Rio Grande where I encountered that monster trout… While as we drifted downstream, I noticed a rock shelf, laid out diagonally in the river, with its head, or point, on river left (looking downstream). The gentle riffles dump into a pool so deep you cannot see the bottom. Without mention, Leo had already positioned the boat for me to make the perfect cast, 60 ft long cast required, a back handed cast and with 22mph winds blowing upstream and across my casting shoulder, we all ducked to let the 6inch purple leech whiz past and amazingly the wind ceased to exist for the 5 seconds it took to execute the cast.
The fly landed in the water at the tip of the narrow channel just up current from the perpendicular line. “BIG MEND”, I hear Leo say with confidence, and so I do it. Three seconds later, as my line begins its downstream swing, I begin to strip in order to keep the fly just off the edge of the gravel shoal as the current sweeps it down and the 200 grain sink tip fly line puts the fly directly in the face of the largest trout I have ever witnessed in 20 years of fly fishing. A massive flash appeared in the water, revealing a trout as big as 30 inches or better judging from the size of the flash it produced when it turned to inhale the massive purple leech. I set the hook with a long-armed strip set, and then I repeated that motion 3 more times… Leo is quite, and possibly beside himself and I can hardly muster the words, “HOLY SHIT! BBBIG FISH! BIG FISH LEO!!!!” …In a fraction of second I realize that this fish has put itself on the reel already and is now pulling against the smooth drag of a Hatch 5+ reel. My guide Leo, maintains the boat position in order to keep the line tight to the fish, and without the fish even jumping, we fight the slimy beast all the way back to the boat where it makes another valiant run using the deep currents to its advantage and shows itself broadside 10 feet away. Instantly, Leo states that this is the biggest trout he has ever witnessed on the Rio Grande and swiftly grabs the giant landing net in preparation of landing this beast. Carefully and slowly, but with maximum pressure, I inch the massive trout closer and closer. Now, only the leader is out past the rod tip, but the fish is 4-5 feet straight down where we cannot see it and directly under the boat. What happened next is tragic and disheartening, but I must have put too much pressure on the fish when trying to lift its head up so that Leo could get the net under it and I pulled the hook from the gaping jaws of this seemingly prehistoric trout.
And that was it folks… this trout was “THE ONE” that got away. I got everything back, the line, the leader and even the fly with the hook still intact and in good shape. The fish escaped and that’s just how I like it. Swim free my pretty. The World is yours, as much as you want, and as much as you can handle. After all this excitement, the two-way radio squawks and the time to break for lunch was announced by the team just downriver from us. Stopping riverside for lunch was always welcomed, especially after this epic battle. I was in no hurry to start casting again, and took the opportunity to relax the forearm, toast to a couple NRB’s and sip some fine wine and let the sun warm the body.
From one day to the next, we bounced from spring creeks with 20ft holes, 15ft bluffs and massive trout ranging from 3-8lbs to big wide rivers with inflatable rafts to ferry us downstream hitting all the likely dives along the way. The Rio Teka was no exception, and with its high overlooking bluffs, an angler and guide can work the fish over on foot like there is no tomorrow.
Many more fish came to hand although I only encountered one more fish that came close in size to the Rio Grande Monster. That fish was spooked and understandably, it was not my fish to catch. Mostly due to a fouled fly in a logjam near the front door of the fish just as I prepared to launch the fly upstream. On the last day of fishing as we headed to a river in the park with Esteban and Jauny, we talked in the truck about the river and Esteban tells me it is a short and narrow river but large in the volume of water passing between the lakes. Indeed it is a cozy river with towering mountains alongside and deep between two lakes which require a motor boat to ferry the guides, gear, and clients to the fishing grounds. Long-time PRG Guide Esteban tells us we are going to a place most fisherman call “HEAVEN”, and where few fish see any flies. We were to be targeting “Quality over Quantity”. Immediately as I hear this, my heart begins to pound and I can feel the adrenaline pumping throughout my body as flashbacks of the Rio Grande Monster flood my imagination. “Could there also be a Monster Trout lurking in this river too?” I say under my breath so that the guides don’t know my anxiousness… “Why yes, of course!” Esteban replies without having heard my question. Or… did I say that out loud? Fishing the river in the park requires alot of work, much on the part of the guides with constant rowing to maintain excellent boat position, as well as the anglers who have the most difficult cast of putting a heavily weighted streamer in the mouth of a giant trout. It is more than worth the effort though just to see the place, much less get to fish here. With the motorboat loaded to the gills with two inflatable drift boats, three guides and three guests, we arrive at our secondary launch site, a nice gravel bar at the mouth of the river where massive ancient evergreen trees seem to tell the stories of years past. Sooner than later, the rafts are assembled and gear is moved from the motor boat to the inflatables, along with 7wt fly rods paired with 300 grain sinking lines.
Again, a massive Chernobyl-esque wooly bugger is tied onto the 0x fluorocarbon tippet and Juany and I shove off in search of another monster trout. It is a short float, with most the time spent in back eddies, casting into swift mainstream currents, dropping down into 3 different pools below raging rapids, letting the fly and line sink for 20-30 seconds and swinging it through the likeliest of fish holding areas. Juany has been with PRG since the beginning and his ability to speak English is better than he realizes. I seem to think that he is just a quiet man around the general population but should speak more freely with clients, or as much as the client wants to engage in conversation. All the guides at PRG are attentive and work very hard to adapt to their client’s wishes and personalities. Thoughtful conversation can be found at anytime, yet that Golden Silence is never far away allowing for the guests to simply take in the breath-taking scenery that this wild land has to offer.
Many fish came out of nowhere and would trail the fly and take swipes at it as it would hang in the current just below the water’s surface. One nice brown trout tried to eat the fly 5 times in total, and came back for it 3 separate times after it had given up from missing, returning to the depths. I would then pay out line quickly to let the fly drop back and down and then start those short but fast retrieves where it would reappear ready to eat again. Any fly fisherman, especially those who travel the world, cannot ask for a better place, with better accommodations and better service than what can be found in Argentina with Patagonia River Guides. If it takes you years to save for a trip like this, you wont see any of it wasted and the guides on the rivers and staff at the lodge will keep you begging for more! I cannot wait to go back, but the memories burned into my brain during this recent trip will keep me satisfied for many years to come and may never be beaten by an American trout fishery. For me, it is better to list the best things about a trip, than it is to compare them to another experience, or another place. The unique habitat and ecosystem that Argentina hosts is comparable to none, stands out above the rest and the guides will keep you laughing while you wrestle the trout of your life! I’d also like to give a special Thank You to my hosts for the week, Dirk, a great friend and industry companion and client who made this trip possible for me, as well as special thanks must go out to PRG Owners Travis Smith and Rance Rathie, for putting together such a smooth operation around a colorful fishery where the fish are willing to come out and play any day of the week. Now its back to the saltwater flats for me, scouting out redfish, black drum (there are some big’uns around) sea trout and flounder on the good weather days and on the bad weather days I will spend cleaning and repairing equipment in anticipation for the warming season fly fishing the Texas Gulf Coast out of Port Aransas.Keeping the hooks sharp, Capt Ken Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) 361-500-2552 – Port Aransas, Texa