Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fly Fishing Patagonia Argentina: From New Hampshire to Junin de los Andes

Did you know that...

  • 98% of all North American and European fly fisherman visit Patagonia during the high season (January 01 through March 01).  Why?  Patagonia has been discovered and it gets pretty busy during peak summer months
  • 2% of fly fisherman visit Patagonia during the low season (March through May 31).  
  • More accurately, I would guess there are no Americans or Europeans fishing in Patagonia during April and May.  Except for... 

Gene and Tom Rochette, are fraternal twins from Lowell, Massachusetts, who now reside in New Hampshire and are members of Ducks Unlimited, Great Bay Trout Unlimited and Three Rivers Stocking Association (www.3riversstocking.blogspot.com). During the last two weeks of April, they joined me for a DIY walk-wade northern Patagonia fly fishing adventure.  Why so late in the season?  Simple... Tom is a tax account working (owner) at www.rochettetax.com and could not leave his office till after April 15th (FYI, Gene is the owner of www.statelineguns.com, located in Plaistow, NH). Both had no idea that some of the best fishing to be had in Patagonia is during the month of April (and May). Plus, they had no idea that they were probably the only two Americans fishing the waters surrounding Junin de los Andes.  In other words, with the exception of a few Argentines, they had the place to themselves.

I met Tom less than a year ago; at about the same time he and I were elected board members to the Great Bay Trout Unlimited Chapter (www.greatbaytu.blogspot.com).  Other than monthly GBTU board meetings, I don't personally know Tom.  In other words, I assumed he was a fly fisherman, but I did not know his experience and skill level.  As it turns out, as I discovered on day one of fishing, both Tom and Gene's skill level, according the Patagonia standards, was between beginner and beginner.  Specifically, neither could single or double haul...what about the freaking Patagonia wind?  Neither knew what a water haul/tension cast was...how are they going to nymph all day without this simple must know cast?  Neither could shoot line without fumbling the line...WT-Fudge! Neither could properly mend line without disturbing the surface of the water...they had what I coined the Lucas Pond mend (an ugly piece of shit mend that originates from the pond they live on in New Hampshire, and by using this mending technique, they would disturb the entire pool!).  When asked about certain basic flies (nymphs and streamers), neither of them had a clue...they had boxes full of flies that I had never seen!  Neither of them knew how to set a strike, play and beach or handle a trout...it was obvious that both of them grew up watching way too much bass fishing on TV!  Add in that they signed up for 10 days of DIY walk-wade fishing, and on day two, Tom tells me that his new wading boots, which he did not try on prior to Patagonia, were hurting his feet...are you F'n kidding me!  The list goes on...add it all up and you just might have the perfect storm (an obvious reference to the movie/book based on a true fishing story out of Gloucester, Mass.) or the worst fly fishing vacation of your life! Well, NOT ON MY H2O WATCH!

So, not to entirely beat them down, the question is, "what did the Rochette brothers have?"  Gene and Tom, especially after two days of me coaching (at times yelling) at them to do this or that, showed me they have blind determination to get it done.  At times the fishing/casting/mending was not pretty, but I saw two guys who kept their mouths shut and kept going and going...no matter what situation I put them in.  Even after fishing for 7 days straight (which is physically and mentally unbelievable) they were ready for more...and that's exactly what they got.

Hope you enjoy the photos and comments.


First Day: Amphitheater on the rio Limay.  Do they have any idea what they are in for?  This is not fly fishing for New Hampshire stocked fished!  This is N.F.L (national fly-fishing league) level...time to bring your 'A' game.
Tom's 1st Patagonian Rainbow Trout.  In Patagonia, if your walk-wade fishing and not catching fish you need to move or change your fly.  In this situation, I soon realized the bead head Hare's Ear nymph was too big and not matching the hatch.  We switched to a #18 CJ and on the first cast, BINGO!  Nice job a 5wt rod.
 
Someone is learning how to beach big wild Patagonia Trout.  Simply keep tension on the line at all times (right Tom!) and walk backwards and the fish will easily/slowly come to shore.  Seen in photo is Gene fishing the confluence of the Malleo and Alumine.
Day 01:  was slow for both Gene and Tom.  Lots of missed strikes, and when they had fish on they lost lots of fish on the fight.  But at the end of the day I brought them to big H2O for big fish.  Gene with his first Alumine Rainbow.
 
Up close with Patagonia wild rainbow.  Gene with another Alumine bow.
 
Day 02: Brother Gene in background waiting his turn in my special walk-wade spot on the Collon Cura.  Meanwhile, Tom caught a few and lost a few.  He eventually gave up the spot and switched to casting the dry fly...and caught a few more, but one big nasty bow snapped his line.  Speaking of, I put Gene in this spot with sinking line and a streamer.  Within a few cast, Gene had something on the end of his line that would fall into the LARGE POWERFUL category.  No BS, I know this spot and I know this fish!  Next time Gene, bring it...you gonna want a photo with this big old boy!     

Another Collon Cura rainbow trout.  Today, I spent a lot time working on nymphing technique's.   I put Gene and Tom in multiple spots, purposely preparing them for day three. The progression from day one to day two was impressive. But that freaking Lucas Pond mend is a hard habit to kick!

I never like to make claims, but the Collon Cura, regardless if your are beginner or pro, produces a lot of fish!  If you know what to do and where to go, you'll catch plenty of fish.  The fish seen in the above picture is average size, and be prepared for a good fight!

Gene on the Collan Cura with full Patagonian moon in background.  He has no idea what size fish he just missed...  I could not bare to tell to him...next year Gene!
Day 03: Rochette Brothers on the middle Malleo.  Early A.M. score card for Tom = Fish 2 - Tom 0.  Tom is starting to the put the package together, but these trout are wild and lightening fast!  We walked across the stream and I put Tom in a spot that most anglers would not bother to fish.  But, I saw something that said, "there is a fish there...there must be a fish there."  This spot was extremely challenging, almost impossible, for a beginner.  Several cast later, Tom had on a +/- 20" brown trout.   Unfortunately, the fight was over in seconds.  I told Tom to keep his chin up...this happen to me many, many times, on my first trip to Patagonia in 1999.     

Day 03: Gene showing us a fine middle Malleo bow.  

Gene with another middle Malleo bow...he's on fire!

Gene's middle Malleo rainbow 'heater' continues!

Gene's last middle Malleo bow.  What was his secret?  1) moving  2) switching flies  3) presentation.  If you can develop these habits sooner than later, you'll catch fish in Patagonia.  In other words, don't stand in the same spot all day and fish the same fly...these fish are too smart for that game.
 
Day 03:  The weather has been great; almost summer like conditions with no wind.  We've seen lots of hatches.  The weather report say rain and cold are coming, soon.  My thoughts?  We better get to the best hole on the Malleo, regardless if Tom and Gene are ready.  Seen above = upper Malleo bow caught a  dry fly and a 5 wt rod. Big hatch was on when we arrived.  
Hard to beat a moment like this = I told Gene he should pack his bags and go home :) 

Gene the gun guy, now a fly fisherman! Congrats on a beautiful fish!  Now how about letting your older brother get some?
WOW-WOW-WOW!  


WOW-WOW-WOW!
After spending 2.5 days missing lots of good fish, I think Tom was beginner to wonder if he would ever catch/land a big fish in Patagonia.  Trust me, on new waters and in wild places, we all think this!  Well, obviously if Tom's goal was to catch a +/- 30" brown trout in one the toughest spots = mission accomplished.  Folks, to catch this fish you have to cast +30ft, across a fast run, preform an aerial mend, mend the living crap out of your line once it hits the H2O, high stick it, hold the line in a back eddy for 5 seconds and pray to the fish gods for some luck! Actually with a little bit of all the things that I just mentioned, and with a last minute changing of the nymph to a time tested big fish nymph, it all came together for Tom.  Congrats on an amazing Patagonia brown on the upper Malleo! 

After an epic fishing day, it's time to celebrate and relax = Patagonia Parilla/Asado (BBQ).  

If I recall correctly, this entire meal  for three people cost us $60 USD...we could not finish it.  That included smoke red stag deer, a ginormous mound of meat (pork, sausage, steak), salad, bread, and wine.  Our DIY walk-wade trips are designed so that you experience the real Patagonia, at fair value prices. 

Like all Americans, the unmarked bottle to the bottom left of the meat pile instantly becomes your best friend.  It's called Chimechuri and it is a multi-herb oil-vinegar based condiment that makes everything pop.

Day 04: As predicted, a rain/cold weather system moved in over night.  By now, after three days of hard fishing, Gene and Tom were feeling it (physically and mentally). So, I decided to return the Malleo river to fish some areas that are easily accessible, and only a short walk from the truck.  Specifically, I tried a few new spots that did not seem like 'great' water, but I spotted a few things that instantly told me that it might be worth wetting the line.   The story behind this fish = Gene, like most fly fisherman, loves the long cast.  The problem = much of what he is doing while casting for distance is wrong.  Rather than spend hours trying to teach him the tricks of long distance casting, I said to Gene "do me a favor, let's focus on presentation and short cast."  No BS, on the first 15ft cast, using a nymph rig, and with a perfect presentation, Gene caught this beautiful bow, right in front of him!  Take away message = if you are beginner, and if you want to catch fish,  focus on presentation, while gradually developing your technical casting skills.  I always tell my students...I'll take an ugly cast with perfect presentation every day of year! 

Day 04:  Since I broke my right middle finger (casting hand), I developed a new way of taking photos of fish (I think I prefer these shots over the standard fish pose...you really get to see how beautiful the fish are).  This is one of several bows that Gene and Tom caught on the lower Malleo.  

Day 04:  Gene is back on the Malleo rainbow heater.   Again, short upstream cast, focusing on presentation and no Lucas Pond mending!

On our DIY walk-wade programs, we customize every trip to meet your needs.  That being said, most people opt for an evening meal in San Martin de los Andes.  SM is only 40 minutes from Junin and offers a variety of high quality restaurants and some of the best gelato/ice cream north of Bariloche.  

I love Junin de los Andes, but sometimes I wonder who does the planning and thinking in this quaint Patagonian town?  For example, Junin is the fly fishing capital of Argentina.  To acknowledge this unofficial claim, the town of Junin placed this hand carved wooden structure outside of town, in a spot that 99% of people don't see!  Anyhoo, love the shades, camouflage pants and hat, but not sure about the yellow vest.

Day 05:  They won't say a word, but I am sensing that Gene and Tom are tired.  So, back to the lower Malleo river to find some easy to walk to places.  Since Tom's epic big brown trout, fishing has been so-so for him.  I decided to spend more time with today; working on presentation.  We caught this little brown beauty amongst rocks/pocket water = sometimes it's not about how big the fish is, but how you are able to catch the fish.  For example, anticipating fish, we made several adjustments to our nymph rig that allowed Tom to make the perfect presentation, amongst the rocks = for me, that's what fly fishing is all about!

Day 05:  My guess, most fisherman would not stop at this spot.  But, once again, I saw things that told me that there should be fish here.  I switched Tom to an egg pattern and he ended up pulling a small handful of nice bows out of this run.   Note to self, in the future fish this spot again!  

Day 06: In/around the Junin area, there are many DIY walk-wade opportunities.  But knowing where the primo spots are, well, that's what I am for.  We love walking-wading, so we have put in endless hours searching for the best of the best.  For Gene and Tom, I told them that my job is to put you in the 'spot,' your job is to catch them!  Good job fella's!  Be very proud...many people visiting Patagonia, even those doing float trips, do not catch fish like this. 

Day 06:  Look at the spots on this +/- 25" fish!  Notice the brown water in the background?  It rained the night before, making the Alumine a bit brown/stained, in color.  This means that average fly fisherman stays home, but not me.  When it rains you have to know where to find clear water.  

Day 06:  One last pose before we released this magnificent brown.  Great job Gene!

Day 06:  OK, Gene hooked into a nice brown, now it's Tom's turn.  So, I told Tom to follow me.  I put him in the best spot.  I told him to cast out into the fast current and swing your fly into the two converging seems; and to hang on!  Within less than five cast Tom was hooked into a BIG fish.  What you can't see or hear in this picture is me coaching/yelling at Tom to keep constant pressure on this fish and no Lucas Pond/Bass Master's BS!  Trout, especially big Patagonia rainbow's and brown's are different.  If you are not on your game, they will kick your ass!  Sorry for yelling at you Tom, but we could not let this boy get away...great job stepping up and landing this beauty!

Day 06:  People think they can come to Patagonia and catch monster rainbow's and brown's on every cast, all day long.  I may be the only one saying this, but it's not true.  Maybe this was true +50 years ago, but what I can guarantee, if you want to hunt for monsters, I will put you in the best places, at the right time.  The rest is up to you and the Patagonian fish gods.    

Day 06:  +24" brown trout, in the right spot at the right time!  Great job Tom and thank you Patagonia fish gods.

Day 07: We will be leaving Junin soon, so it's time take a quick tour of lago Huechulafquen, scenic views of +12,000 foot volcan Lanin, and the famous 'boca' of Chimehuin river.  

 
Day 07:  The 'boca' (mouth) of the Chimehuin river.  Over 50 years ago, a world record brown trout was caught at the very spot Tom and Gene were standing.

Day 07:  Gene and Tom in front a defunct hotel, now a private home.  

Day 07:  The upper Chimehuin is best fished by floating, but we decided to wet the lines.  The pool in this spot, depending on water flow/level, ranges from 30ft-60ft deep.  Obviously this makes it very hard to fish.    

Day 07: We could not leave Junin without fishing the upper-upper Malleo, or the monkey puzzle tree forest.  April offers stunning colors.  

Day 07:  I love this water/place.  Don't expect to catch tons of big fish, but do expect to relax and catch lots of pretty little fish. FYI, I have written a lot about the upper-upper Malleo (see blog post for more details).  



Day 07:  upper-upper Malleo brown.  Believe it or not, these little guys are harder to catch than the bigger fish.  This is great water for beginners to hone their skills. 


Day 07:  Well, the Rochette boys got their fill of the upper-upper Malleo, but hey wanted more BIG browns!  So, we headed back to the same spot that we caught the big browns on the Alumine.  Only this time the Perca god's were answering our prays... 

Day 07:  Gene with a HUGE native/wild Patagonia Perca (perch).  

Day 07:  Like fraternal twins, both Gene and Tom seem to catch fish species in two's.  Gene usually catches one first, followed by Tom.  What we will never see...moments after Tom released this Perca, he hooked into a large Brown Trout. His 8wt rod bent and line started screaming.  Then, suddenly,  the trout shot out of the water and Tom did something that he will and should never forget.  He raised his arms over his head and began fighting the fish.  Unlike the other night, when I was coaching/yelling, I did not say a word, while he was fighting this fish.  But moments after this HUGE fish spat the hook, I looked at Tom and said, "what the F&*%# was that Luca Pond Bass Master bullshit all about!"  "Never-Never-Ever, do that shit again!" We had a good laugh about the experience and folks,  that's just life here in Patagonia, for a semi-beginner fly fisherman.    

Day 08: I can't believe these guys have been fishing for 8 days straight.  They don't realize that most people on cozy 6 day float trips take at least one day off.  But, the Rochette brothers wanted to keep fishing! We fished the upper Malleo canyons, and then went back to my honey hole for monster trout.     We had great weather for about an hour.  We caught a handful nice bows (seen in photo), but then the weather changed on us (overcast, cold, windy). Sudden shifts in barometric pressure can turn fish off, so I was worried about the early evening fishing at my honey hole.  We arrived and saw no signs of hatches, etc.  I think we caught a few smaller trout,  but no monsters this evening.

Last Day:  On day 09 we fished the middle Limay (Piedra del Aguila).  This is an area known to hold huge GINORMOUS +10lbs Brown Trout (they are not easy to catch!).  Unfortunately, a few days earlier this area was hit with a flash flood, so the water was severely discolored.  We wet the lines anyway, but no luck. On our last day, Gene and I decided to try our luck one more time, for big browns.  We fished the 'boca' of the Limay river at lago Nahuel Huapi.  Conditions were prefect = rain the night before, overcast clouds, cold temps, and no wind!  As we started casting we heard a gentleman, across the river, yelling at us.  In Spanish, I heard the river was closed!  I asked him to repeat it, just to make sure I heard him correctly.  He said, " it's May 01, the upper Limay river system  is closed for the season."  Holy Poop!  I had lost track of the dates...this happens often when you fish for 8 days straight.  Though Gene did not seem bothered by this, I insisted no making up for a lost day of fishing.  So, I took him and Tom out for afternoon drinks and appetizers, the best Chinese dinner, and amazing gelato ice cream.  In hindsight, I think we were all glad that the trip ended this way...bellies full and lots of good memories! 


Ten days ago, I picked up two strangers from my home state of New Hampshire.  According to Patagonia standards, I also picked up two semi-beginner fly fisherman (they know enough to be dangerous on Lucas Pond, located in Northwood, NH...a stocked pond).  If you understand guiding, it is extremely difficult to teach while fishing, especially with two Patagonia beginners who believe that they would catch fish on every cast!  As a result, Gene and Tom received my crash course in Patagonia fly fishing! So, at times, when I felt it was necessary, I pushed them mentally and physically.  I don't like teaching this way...it's not my style and goes against my principles of what I call the E.I. Fly Fishing System™ (see tab on main header).   But given the short amount of time, and the need to please clients by catching sizable fish, I had to push them beyond their comfort zone.  In other words, I had to figure out how to break bad habits, and develop new skills ASAP!! In the end, we worked together and got it done!

In the end, I left two new friends at the airport, two New Hampshire residents that now have seen the real Patagonia and love it, and two Lucas Pond Bass Master fisherman who are well on their way to becoming great fly fisherman!  Seriously, Gene and Tom...you have what it takes (look at the fish you caught!)...stick to the basics and just keep working at it!

Lastly, a HUGE thank you to Gene and Tom.  You guys were good sports and hope to see you soon!

Gone Fishing,

Mark

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