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My Greatest Day Fly Fishing, Thus Far Anyway

March 16, 2013

>My Greatest Day Fly Fishing, Thus far Anyway A mod-me-squatting-with-bo                                                                                                   (Mark Daly)

OK, some people just love the month of December, Christmas, snow, shopping, and for some, the start of the Ski season. If I had to rate it on a scale from 1-12, 12 being the bottom, for me December would right there, near the bottom. Maybe not on the bottom, but close, more like # 11, January has to be the worst month in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s right, only half the globe lives in the darkness of winter, and December is the darkest month of all. So, why would I rate December over January? The bird hunting season closes Jan 1st, so, there are still some hunting days left in December, of course weather permitting… Looking back at the “dark month” brings back many memories that have nothing to do with darkness. I can remember many Decembers, that it was  the beginning of summer, long , warm , sometimes extremely hot days, going to the beach in Australia to watch a bikini contest, or hiking in the Mountains of New Zealand, sitting lakeside in southern Chile swatting enormous black and orange ‘horse fly’s’, drinking wonderful wines and eating empanadas.  And of course, fishing in Patagonia Argentina, walking and casting up-stream to rising trout sipping on Mayflies, in back eddy’s under the intensely green willows that grow along the river’s edge. For half the planet, this time of year is summer, the longest days of all twelve months. I have spent 14 out of the last 20 seasons in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoying the warmth of long summer days. Still, I would have to say that December ranks near the bottom on the scale of 1-12. From a fishing perspective, December can be the best month to have incredible trout fishing in the Southern Hemisphere; it is the equivalent to our June here in Montana. Some years June is by far the most productive month; it is dependent on one thing, water levels. It is the same for December south of the Equator, water levels are crucial for trout fishing. It is a real” hit, or miss “circumstance that can be epic when it all comes together. Case in point, I was living on the Traful River in Southern Patagonia in 1997, it was in December, about this time of the month. There were no clients staying at the lodge, and no body was scheduled for another week or so.  I awoke that morning to a perfect sunny, high pressure, windless day. I was eager to get down to the river to start fishing, and decided to walk the mile or so to the rivers edge and work myself down stream and end up at the best pool , the “Gate pool”. (La    Tranquera).  I was married at the time, and told my wife (Magdalena) that I’d be at the gate pool at 2:00 and please come and pick me up for lunch. She said she would, and she would come early to do some fishing there as well. It was one of those ‘magical” days, if you fish long enough and hard enough , you might get to experience something like this day, if you are very lucky!


( I started at the top of the photo in the faster water. Larger salmon hold in the pool.)

I started the day in a “run” that holds land locked Atlantic salmon. This river has some that have been caught, up to 18 lbs., most are in the 4-7 lb range, a large Salmon would be 8-12 lbs . In this run , I have never seen any over  5 lbs, and on this wonderful morning I was lucky to land two in the smaller size, both around 3 lbs. It was a good start, but, I felt like it was going to be really a special day so I kept moving down stream. I passed on some water that is difficult to get a proper drift, and concentrated on only the ‘hot spots”. The next run down, I “bumped” another salmon, but, I was too wound up and set the hook to0 soon, I kept moving. Just below here I rolled another salmon, then, caught my first rainbow of the day, a 4 lb hen that fought very nice. I moved down and made a good cast down and across the run and quickly was into a good-sized rainbow buck of around 5 lbs. I was really wound up by now and had to” reel in” and walk around the “‘falls”. I stopped to look at the white cascading water crashing over the terraced granite outcroppings forming the falls. What a sight, and what a spectacular day. I was thinking, maybe I should just skip this water and walk down to the “Tranquera” and try for some huge trout. I had been fishing with a hi -d sinking tip, and was thinking of changing lines to a floating Weight Forward. This would allow me to either nymph fish, or fish large dry flies. For now this water below the falls would be much easier to continue with the sink tip, and so I did. First cast, 3.5 lb rainbow, I got him in quickly, and made another three cast , boom, a gorgeous brown that was close to 4 lbs. after several more cast , nothing, time to move, I did not want to waste time just fishing water, it was not a day for that.

Part 2 December, Sun, Fun, and Huge Trout (Just Below the Falls)

After the falls, the water is a long quiet pool for around 300 yards; it holds nice sized browns and salmon. The water was just a little bit high to get in and fish it properly, so I skipped this stretch and moved down toward “La Tranquera”. It was about another 10-15 minute brisk walk past riffle water that would have been also just a little fast to fish and get a drift. I changed lines by the side of the river, just above the gate pool, out of the wind, to rest just for a minute, and , to look at the water near the shore known as the “Pisci”. Here if one takes the time, one can see huge mouths coming to the surface to feed on stoneflies, mayflies and caddis, but, one has to really look to see them. The surface is broken riffle water and the bottom is covered in a dark-colored moss. It takes a trained eye to spot these trout, in between the small waves created by the water pounding over the “bowling ball” sized rocks. I tied on a “Traful Wasp”, in a # 8, a black rubber legged, foam fly, with an elk hair and crystal flash wing. It was 1997; we were fishing a lot of similar flies, and developing many other patterns that have different names today. I started at the bottom of the run, it is only around 50-75 yards long, and at times the fish are stacked in this area. The water is shallow, at the deepest maybe 3 ft deep, most of the run is between 1.2 -2.5 ft in depth. I took 6 very nice trout, 5 rainbows and one brown, all between 4-7lbs, on the “wasp” in around 45 minutes. It was the best I’d seen in that run, it was just the day, and I had not even cast a fly into the best water, La Tranquera pool.

Part 3 December, Fun , Sun and Huge Trout

                                          (Happy Angler with a large Traful River Rainbow, Gate Pool)

 Now, it was only around noon when I finished my Dry Fly fix, and it was time to try for some very large trout. In December on the Traful, large “lake run” fish are passing throughout the river system. The Traful is a good-sized river, but it is only a tributary to a much larger river the” Limay”, which also is “born” from a huge lake, south of here around 38 miles near the town of Bariloche . So, the Traful river starts from a lake ( Lago Traful) , and it is a relatively short river , around 20 miles long before it enters into the Rio Limay, inwhich started up-stream from a lake around 38 miles. Now, where the Traful enters the Limay, is yet another lake formed from a dam just around ten miles down stream, the actual moving Limay river is south or, up-stream  just a couple of miles , but , all three lake systems are connected. A trout born in Lago Traful, or a tributary coming into the lake, can swim down stream, and swim back upstream through the Rio Limay to enter an enormous lake with rivers flowing into it, they are all connected. The two older lakes are eco systems within themselves, with lake trout, brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout. Funny, they tried in the early 1900’s  to introduce ” Whitefish”, but they did not survive , because their mouths were so small and could not feed on the local crayfish ( Pancora crabs), that are found in amazing abundance, in Chile and Argentina. Due to the abundance of food, and the enormous size of the lakes, the fish grow to incredible sizes. The brook trout use to be caught up to 15 lbs, giant brown trout and rainbows are caught every year. On the radio going into Bariloche , I remember hearing about  somebody that was fly fishing who had caught a brown trout in the mouth (Boca) of the Limay river, that was well over 20 lbs. Fly fishing is a big sport in this part of the world, it has a long and rich history, much like our American West.


(Lago Traful)

I decided to fish the Gate pool with heavy, good-sized nymphs. I know what you’re thinking; why not dry flys, com’on, whats with the nymphs. But, we are talking about very large trout, the problem was, that the water was moving with a heavy current, most of the bigger fish were in the “slots” where the water was deepest, holding on the bottom, and you could see them from time to time move and take a nymph. In order to allow the trout to see the fly, in this deeper, fast-moving water, it made sense. I had developed some “prince” style nymphs that were tied on very heavy curved hooks (size # 6 and #8), with the largest beads made to help get the nymphs down to the fish. (This was before Tungsten was available). The problem was , the water is “gin clear”, the fish are feeding on stonefly nymphs, but the hook needs to be heavy enough not to bend out, and the tippet must be strong enough to hold the giants. Indicators needed to be small not to spook the trout, but float well enough to be able to get a decent drift.There were a lot of factors going into the preparation of the equipment, and I felt like I had it all together. To give the fish a chance , I was using a Sage 9-#6, a light rod for this type of fishing, but perfect for the fish I was catching earlier.

I started from the shore and cast into the first current line, this run usually holds quite a few fish, and this day was no exception. I hooked and landed four rainbows from 3–5 lbs and the largest was near 5 lbs. In this run the water is a bit slower than out in the middle and on the slot just off the far bank. The depth is varying from 3 ft to 5 ft. Just on the other side it shallows again to around 2.5 ft, where you can wade up and down the pool. The entire pool is 100 -130 yards long, with the top of the run and bottom both being the shallowest.

After releasing all of the four fish, I slowly waded in where I just fished. The water came close to the top of my waders, but I stayed dry and made it to the shallow gravel bar and started casting upstream with the extra large prince nymphs into water that is very fast and shallow, but most of time holds good-sized trout.  It was amazing , the amount of fish holding in the shallows, nearly every cast I was hooking up, most bolted out of shallows throwing the big hooks, and jumping free, again and again, like the fly was still attached. But, I managed to land 3 or 4 that were all nice sized, 3-6 lb trout, one brown and the rest rainbows.  I had on a stonefly I’d tied with a saltwater hook, just to make sure it would be strong enough, and I was using 1x maxima, for insurance. I made a cast upstream and a little more towards the middle, but still in the shallows, the line tightened and I really set the hook. At first, I thought it might have been the bottom, it was heavy like I’d hooked a boulder, then the boulder moved, I knew it was not an average fish. The monster was 20 ft upstream of me, and I could not even budge it. I started moving towards it and reeling fast, knowing that it would be making a quick move to get to deeper water, I was ready. The giant copper-colored brown came straight up and out of the water 3 feet into the air, bending and shaking, I can remember seeing the red flaring from its gills, it seemed like the fish was in the air for a long time. When it landed, it ripped line off my reel so fast, all I could do was hold on to the 6wt. Sage and wish I’d brought a much heavier rod. In less than a few seconds the monster was 80 yards below me, 3 feet out of the air once again, then, the line went slack. I was numb, all I could do was hold the rod and watch the Goliath jump, and jump, and jump further down stream with my #6 prince nymph hanging from the side of his mouth. For a second I felt sick, then I caught myself, com’on, it’s not like your having a bad day! But, I’d take one monster over all the other trout that I’d released earlier that day.

My best estimation of that Brown was it had to be at least 18lbs; it was the largest trout that I have ever hooked. I brought the line in to examine what could have gone wrong.  On the trouts first run, it was so powerful and strong, that 1x maxima was no match for the boulders that the lay on the bottom of the river. I knew that I was going to have to step it up a notch to land one of these truly enormous fish. I went to shore to and found some 15lb maxima, and after digging around the 20lb appeared. Ok, now, let them try to break this.

Part 3 December, Fun , Sun and Huge Trout

(Right behind Barbara is where I hooked all three “monsters”. This photo was taken in February, when the water is much lower). (Gate Pool)

Now ready with some really strong tippet ( 20lb Maxima) I waded back out on this fine December day to see if I could land one of the” big boys”. I started where I left off, casting up-stream with the special Prince nymph tied on a # 6 saltwater hook. I was not getting the action I was earlier, the flies were floating downstream, without being molested, I started casting up and out toward the middle of the run. The sun was straight up above; the light was penetrating and breaking through the surface of the water illuminating everything in its path, straight to the bottom. I could now see some log like figures holding on the bottom looking like missiles, their elongated shapes moving ever so slightly to take in a passing stonefly nymph. The clarity of the water made the depth difficult to determine, but, I could see the darkish green flies were just not getting down to the correct level to be seen. I added some weight, and cast further upstream to allow the “bugs” to bounce along the boulder latten bottom. It took a few casts, but finally the line tightened, the fish who did take was not one I was watching, but rather another trout that was further up-stream. I could tell it was a very heavy fish, it would not budge, it was in deeper water than the last trout that sped off to get out of the shallows, and this one was moving right to left, nervously, not knowing where to go. I was in waist deep water in an extremely heavy current; I wanted to move back into more shallow water in case I had to follow this brute down stream. As I stepped backwards, I slipped on one of the “greased bowling balls”, but, caught myself before falling. My movement allowed the line to come up slack for a second, as it did; the golden beauty leaped eight feet sideways toward the bank on the other side.  Another brown trout, an equal to the last, but, this one looked heavier and shorter in length. It made its run cutting through the water downstream, at a diagonal, dissecting the pool and heading for the shore behind me, in a very deliberate move.

I thought at first this was strange behavior, why would it head toward the shore and not try to escape downstream. Just then, the line became much heavier, it was wrapped around the only log in the entire run. The huge golden-colored brown trout was slashing and jumping until it became free. There was nothing I could have done, the fish won, it was the second fish in the last hour that kicked my ass, both being the two largest trout that I’d hooked up to that time.

Upon examining the equipment, I quickly noticed that the fly was still attached, at least the tippet held, but looking more closely, I noticed that the saltwater hook was completely “bent out”, Shit, I can’t win today, I guess something’s got to give, I was beginning to take this personally, I needed to focus, how many chances could I have?


(Magdalena Bustillo)

I looked into my fly box and saw a fly, that was similar to the flies I was using earlier, but it was tied on an extra stout hook, made for large steelhead. With this fly and the 20 lb maxima, I felt like I had my “mojo” back and was ready for bear! I waded back to the spot where I hooked the last monster and saw the other large shapes that were holding near the bottom. I was working on one of the elongated shapes, casting upstream and watching the new fly that was nearly in the zone. Just as I cast somewhat further up-stream to get the bug down to the correct level, I heard something behind me. It was my wife at the time, Magdalena, “Que Tal Che”, she greeted, catching any? She had her rod in hand and was heading quite noisily toward me wading out to where I was watching this grey ghost starting to notice my dark green bug. Whoa, Magda, wait, I’m just about ready to hook this really big trout, he’s… just then, the line tightened, “Damn” , said Magda, you have been fishing all day, and I haven’t even had a cast. She stormed out of the river, and was pacing on the bank. I told her to get the camera, this would be the largest trout she ever saw, we need pictures! She got the camera and just then, it came out of the water, straight up, at least five feet, it looked like a Tarpon, bending and slashing continuously until it landed on its side throwing water in every direction. “My god!”,exclaimed Magdalena, what is that? She started taking photos of the water in hopes of another spectacular jump. I told her to wait, there where only a few shots left (film, not digital). I had to concentrate, I wanted this one, I’d lost two earlier, this one was a rainbow, not a brown; this was a spectacular trophy trout.


(“Magda”  on the Traful River)

I decided to hold my ground, not follow downstream, it was making a very long run, all the way to the end of the pool, I was getting near the end of my backing. I bent my rod parallel to the water’s surface, and toward my side of the river, this was it, either it was going to stay in the run, or it was gone. I held my ground and bent the small Sage to its breaking point; I could hear the graphite start to really stress, what was going to give this time? I asked myself, what this time? Just then, the Goliath turned and started back up into the Pool, it made three jumps in a row, with over 100 yards of bright red backing slicing through the water with each jump. I knew I had him, he was not getting away, not this one, he was going to be mine. I put the heat on him knowing that I had 20lb tippet and an extra stout hook, what else could go wrong? Then it hit me, the fly could “rip out”, Shit, I’d better be careful, just then rrrrreeeee… went the reel and he was off again, jumping and running, all the way down to the very end of the Pool, I turned him once again, and again he came back into the Pool. I moved over to the bank to get a good angle on him, and direct him over to the shallows. I told Magda to get ready, this was it, I had to land him now, or that big fly might just rip out. Again, I stressed the 6 weight Sage near its breaking point, and the giant rainbow complied, and held in the shallows. I grabbed the tippet, dropped the rod and took the gentle giant by the tail and put my other hand under his pectoral fins. As I lifted him gently out of the water, the fly fell from his mouth; it was landed just in the nick of time. Magda shot as many pictures as were left on the camera, six, as fast as she could. I then gently returned the beauty back to safety of the rushing water. He swam away strong and steady, and my ex-wife and I looked at each other, and both said the same thing, WOW!.

Part 3 December, Fun , Sun and Huge Trout

{The Rainbow, 33.5 inches in length, 24 inch girth}

When I woke that morning, I had a feeling it would be a special day on the river. I had no idea that I would be able to experience anything of this magnitude. It was without a doubt, the finest day trout fishing that I have experienced up until now. Ask me again in twenty years, who knows?

Part 1 , December, Sun , Fun, and Huge Trout

 I wrote this story as I remembered how that day started, and, finished, no exaggerations on fish numbers or sizes. My wife at the time (Magdalena), was a good sport about allowing me to fulfill, and complete a fantasy day fishing. I was very glad she came when she did, for one, to be able to share at least the climatic finish to an absolutely unbelievable fishing day.  And, second, for helping with the taking of the photos, I’m sure  it would have been a very disappointing to have photos of such a once in a lifetime spectacular trout, shot on the wet shore, laying on its side, flopping around with no real scale for size,  instead I have photo’s of the best Rainbow trout I’ve ever landed. For that, thank you Magda!

Just so you know, even on this river, I have never seen the fishing as good as it was that day. All the Planets and Stars where in perfect alignment, the weather, water level, time of the year, and the run of fish, all happened on the same day. I did try to repeat that day, over and over, fishing as hard as possible. I went out the next day, and everyday for the remainder of the week. I had very nice fishing, and did catch some good trout, but, pale in comparison to this day. Later that year, or maybe the following year, Ted Turner purchased the “La Primavara”, the ranch that boarded the other side of the river. Since then, the fishing has never been the same on the World Class Rio Traful, that story is for another day…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 19, 2013 11:27 PM

    what a fabulous story… and you have pictures.

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