In last week's recap of my recent trip to Patagonia with SET Fly Fishing, I hinted at the story behind the PROTOTYPE brown trout that our guide Mati wrangled at the end of our day on the Malleo River. Well, whether you like it or not, I'm back...and we're talking about how it all went down. LET'S DO IT!
There we were. It was the morning of Day 4 in Patagonia. With PLENTY of wind in the forecast, we all agreed to get a later start. Our morning was spent on the lower Malleo River right above the confluence with the Alumine River. It was very windy. Windier than anything Wyoming resident Bobby Tightloops (Bob Reece) had experienced on the water.
For some reason, I decided that it was still appropriate for me to bring my 5 weight and only my 5 weight. Perhaps, it was because the Malleo River is renowned as one of the best dry fly fisheries in the world. Perhaps, it was because I'm a moron. Perhaps, it was....I don't know. But, there I was...standing knee-deep in the Malleo with sustained 40-60mph winds blowing right in my face. Needless to say, dry flies were in the cards. Bob and Steph did their best to try and get good drifts with hopper-dropper setups, but it was a losing battle.
I decided to throw a Kreelex despite the fact that I was undergunned with the five weight. I kept my loops open and threw my best Belgian cast in an attempt to keep my head and the rod tip safe. As we worked upstream, I would slide behind the water Bob and Steph had just fished with hopper-droppers and started cleaning up with the Kreelex. The flashy streamer was moving fish all over the river - in long runs, deep undercuts, behind mid-stream rocks, soft insides, and under overhanging riparian vegetation. "Clean up on aisle 3," Bob noted after he designated me the Janitor as I kept sweeping up behind the Reeces.
After grinding it out in the heavy winds, we decided to head upstream. Gonzalo and Mati wanted to show us a different section of the Malleo with the hopes that we might escape the wind and get a peek at the Lanin Volcano.
We hopped out of the Hiluxes and there was little to no wind. Sweet relief. We grabbed our rods and walked our happy asses towards the river. The middle Malleo was a different animal than the lower. Lined with overhanging riparian vegetation, the middle was moving at a much slower and deliberate pace than the lower. While the substrate was much darker than downstream, there were still opportunities to sight fish a bit here and there. After a 10-minute hike, Steph, Bob, and I started trading off again. Steph and Bob with the hopper-dropper. Myself, the Janitor, with the Kreelex.
Fish were caught and we were enjoying our late afternoon on the banks of the Malleo. Gonzalo picked out a nice stretch of water for Steph to work with the hopper-dropper. After putting a couple of small ones in the net, Gonzalo and Steph kept creeping upstream.
I turned to Mati and asked if he wanted a go with the Kreelex. "Mati, your turn to be the Janitor?" Mati declined. Bob and I kept on encouraging Mati to make some casts. But, Mati kept deflecting. "No, no. It's ok." Finally, I picked up my rod. It was enough with the empty threats. I handed Mati the rod.
He said, "Are you sure?" "Yes," I responded. "Please."
Selfishly, I wanted to watch Mati work. How did he throw streamers? Did he work upstream? Downstream? Big strips? Short twitches?
Mati waded in knee-deep and started throwing lasers at the opposite bank. I've always been a cast upstream and work the streamer downstream kind of angler. Fishing it in the same water as I would a big bushy dry fly. I'll swing it downstream sometimes, but generally not on smaller water. Mati cast quartering downstream and immediately started BIG, LONG, SUPER FAST strips as the fly swung down and across. It was a presentation pace that I had never considered. He plugged a couple of smaller fish and Bob and I were chanting his name "Mati. Mati. Mati." as he released another small brown.
Bob left to join his wife and Gonzalo upstream and Mati laid out another cast. I was taking photos of Mati fishing and THUD. Almost immediately, you could tell this fish was different. It exploded at the surface and basically folded the 9-foot-5 weight Asquith in half. I tossed my camera on the bank and looked upstream, hoping to see Gonzalo and his Mid-Length Nomad. No luck. They were around the corner.
It took a second or two to sink in, but I realized it was up to me to net the fish. Mati left his small, wooden net on the bank underneath his backpack. I scrambled back to the bank and snagged the diminutive net. I thought "There's no way that fish is fitting in there, but here goes nothing."
The light was low. The river bottom was dark. I waded in front of Mati as he dug to the base of the Asquith into his stomach, trying to horse that fish towards me. The fish was close, but damn it if I couldn't see it to save my life. The fish itself was only visible when he would open his mouth. I went for the scoop. The fish spanned across the width of the net and bounced out. After another botched net job, Mati worked the brown into the shallows and I finally scooped it. "LET'S GOOOOOOOOO, Mati!!!" I yelled.
By the time I found my camera, Gonzalo and Bob had returned with the same deer in the headlights look that I had. It was a look of excitement and disbelief.
It was the SPECIMEN. The PROTOTYPE. The fish you dream of. The fish that I wanted to see on this trip. I was excited to see it, capture it, and be there for the Mati show.
At the risk of sounding like an absolute almost 40-year tryhard, but the vibes were HIGH. Hugs, high fives, and fist bumps for everyone. Mati was grateful to have caught the fish and seemingly felt guilty about catching that fish while he was guiding, but I couldn't care less. It was meant to be. I wouldn't have presented the fly the same way that Mati did. Mati and Gonzalo agreed it was the biggest fish they've seen caught in that section of the river over their 15+ years guiding there. We went through the motions for a couple more bends and finally decided to call it. The 20-minute walk back to the truck was spent reliving that one 5-minute sequence. Over...and over...and over...and over again. Do you blame us?
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I'm currently editing a video from our time in Argentina that will be released on our YouTube channel shortly. Stay tuned for that. Also, I'm thinking about returning to visit the good people at SET FLY FISHING in the future - I'll update the blog with info about potential future hosted trips down to the chosen land.