Dry Flies In the Patagonia Wind

by | Mar 17, 2024 | 14 comments

Wading into the Malleo river, I follow our local guide, Mati, upstream to encounter one gorgeous willow-lined riverbank after another. The opportunities are infinite.

On day six in Argentina, Austin and I are anxious to pick up where we left off yesterday evening. We’re hoping for a repeat of good, hard fishing with big dry flies, against the wind and against the odds. As Patagonia’s southern-hemisphere seasons shift from summer to fall, the March winds double the strongest I’ve encountered anywhere in the states. Yesterday, these same winds left Austin and I burned out and exhausted, yet invigorated from the experience. Meeting the challenge also put some good trout in the net, and we hope to do it all again, a few kilometers upstream among a picturesque foreign land, accompanied by our constant state of amazement and wonder.

This stretch of river, among the fabled waters of Patagonia, twists through the Mapuche Reservation, among high canyon walls that form a distinctly structured valley, dotted with massive boulders, endless undercuts and angled gravel bars that drop off into the abyss of cold darkness and the realms of big brown trout.

Austin with a perfect brown

The willows dominate here. Their thin flexible arms are pushed sideways in the wind. Leaves flutter against the river’s surface, and flickering shade creates shifting, transitional lines that project through the riffles and clear water. These animations at the riverbed can fool an untrained eye and a hopeful mind, tricked into seeing trout tails and fins hovering at rock level, until the complexity comes into focus for what it is — another mask for the brown trout that are, no doubt, lying unseen anyway, right underneath our noses.

Beyond the rooted willows the riverbank is reminiscent of a high mountain desert, with short thickets and sparse patches of brush. Intermixed among the tangle is a stout plant with devil thorns, sturdy enough to tear waders and flesh but hosting a small, inviting berry like a cherry tomato that Mati suggests we do not eat.

We walk the banks and wade through it all — a new slate for memories, a new proving ground for tactics.

Mati and his sincere joy.

Austin and Mati

Mati is kind. He’s an old soul. Friendly, with a natural smile, a father of two young children and native to this valley, his knowledge of the Malleo is instinctive. He quickly inspired confidence in us yesterday. Austin and I learned to rely on his knowledge, and the three of us quickly fell into the natural rhythms of fast fishing friends.

Big dry flies for big brown trout. This was the allure of Patagonia. Our early conversations with Mati confirmed the strategy, provided we covered water with good drifts and remained hopeful, he said. For our last day of the trip, this was another perfect match for the moment.

Fishing dries in extreme wind requires cooperation. You can’t fight this kind of force, so you work with it.

I refuse to give up on the goal of dead drifts. So a beefy leader, built purely for turnover and power, doesn’t suit me. When the dry fly touches down, I need s-curves and grace to the fly. While a leader built for power might push through the wind better, it also lands straight, and drag sets in immediately. I fish the Harvey Dry Fly Leader.

Mending is fruitless in this wind, because any leader lifted from the natural anchor of surface tension is immediately kicked into the air and tossed asunder, uncontrolled. Instead, aerial mends are the answer. And getting the line and leader in position to dead drift a fly before everything hits the water is a challenge that pays dividends. In truth, it’s the only way. Don’t fight the wind. Make friends with it.

This wind is blowing mostly downstream, and I’m thankful for that. I’d rather use the wind to create slack instead of having it straighten everything from behind me.

I wade upstream with a six weight and a Harvey leader terminating in 2X or 3X, depending on fly size and strength of the wind. My casts are sidearm, and I work with a good Lagging Curves and a Crash Cast concept, alternating between the two for each situation. Overhead casts are a mistake. False casts are wasteful. Long casts are problematic. Keep the casts short and punchy, Keep body motion to a minimum. Refine the fundamentals of quick acceleration between two points with crisp stops. All of it, done with precision, lends reasonable control when I cooperate with the wind.

Most of my casts are upstream and across, using just enough power to barely turn over a #6 Cicada, a #4 hopper, or a #2 Chubby Chernobyl. The wind stops the leader from straightening. It pushes the fly back at the end. Finding the perfect amount of power in each sidearm stroke, working with the angles and reading the wind are the variables to solve. At best, two out of three casts hit the mark, but I’m pleased with the effort. I’m fishing well.

Mati

When the wind pushes harder, I change my casting angle, fishing across stream. I place the lagging curve upstream of the dry fly and let the full rig drift downstream of my position, often feeding line into the drift. Am I spooking trout that are below me? Yes, I’m sure of it. But I’m also sure that the wind turbulence on the surface gives me cover too, especially among the riffles, runs and drop offs, and especially at thirty feet across.

At midday, I catch myself crouching and leaning upstream, instinctually keeping a lower profile to catch less wind. My casting arm remains close to my side, reaching only at the end of a stroke for an aerial mend. There’s no fatigue in my shoulder. None in my elbow. And on the plane ride home, I will notice only the soreness of the strongest muscles in my casting hand, two days of punching at the power stroke, squeezing at the stopping point to emphasize the rod flex and direct the line, leader and dry fly to their setup.

Yesterday we saw just three rises, but trout came to our prospecting flies often enough. Today, in even stronger winds, there’s not one rise by lunchtime, but again, trout don’t miss the opportunity. Browns in the upper teens and a few Whiskeys are caught between us, the largest of which is twenty-two inches.

Austin and Mati

Austin, satisfied.

In the clear water, looking away from the sun, visibility is enough to see trout coming for ten feet or more. Early on in this trip I spoke aloud to myself about hook sets. Let them eat it, I said. Control your adrenaline, and don’t set too quickly. Wait to see the trout turn down, then set the hook and hold on.

The soundscape is a relentless rush of wind, not unlike the jet engine flights that took me here. Constant and ceaseless, the backdrop is now common and accepted. Speaking voices have become shouts, and the audio nuances of the environment are absent. Birds are unheard. The wisp of the fly rod is lost. Gravel under wading boots is only felt, not heard. The whitewash of wind buries everything that does not exert extra effort to overcome it.

Austin and enjoy the effort.

And with our new friend, Mati, we share a perfect day surrounded by familiar fishing situations in unfamiliar environments. The wild brown trout of Argentina exhibit the same habits and tendencies as they do here, a quarter of the way around the earth. So do the people.

Austin, Mati, Dom

Fish hard, friends.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for the really great story. You made the challenges stand out but so to the enjoyment and satisfaction of a great day fishing

    Reply
    • Thanks for great story on the SET Flyfishing experience in Patagonia.
      Am heading there with some friends to fish with SET and I didn’t think I could be more excited about it, but your pictures and descriptions of challenging fishing in a beautiful environment with wonderful guides has me wishing it was sooner!

      Reply
  2. Dom,

    I am so glad you got to experience that trip and do it with one of your close friends. You truly give so much to this community and I am glad you got some ‘you’ time. Cheers to Becky for holding down the fort and supporting you.

    Reply
  3. Would have like to see you two use the monorig and the Troutbitten Superfly for at least a half a day just to see if it produced.

    Reply
    • Oh, it produced, Beau! That’s the next article. I caught the fish of the trip in the first nice piece of water I targeted with the Super Fly. No joke. Got that whole thing on video too. I only tight lined nymphs that one evening, though. Austin tight lined all of day five. He cleaned up on numbers and caught a big brown. Anyway, more on that later this week. Thanks, my friend.

      Dom

      Reply
  4. As always, loved the story & photos. A bucket list trip for me, for sure

    Reply
  5. I worked 3 net years in Santa Cruz Province 2004-2019. I only got to fish the rainbows in the volcanic pot hole lakes 4 times, including Strobel. Biggest was 34″. Yet I will forever be envious of your stream fishing. Biggest wind ever! Sideways casting, roll casting, single and double hauling with big streamers…I’d rather do what you did!

    Reply
      • what’s with the chest pack dom? fwiw, i like the umpqua overlook these days…

        Reply
        • Hi Greg. A few people mentioned that. I borrowed Trevor’s chest pack for the trip. I missed my vest. Ha. I’m back to it

          Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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