Patagonia Nymphing

by | Mar 20, 2024 | 18 comments

At the end of day three in Patagonia, Austin and I had past over endless miles of gorgeous water, and we desperately wanted the freedom to fish hard.

Day one was spent hiking for sight fishing opportunities. And after five miles of wading the upper Malleo River, I’d made less than one-hundred-and-fifty casts. A few larger trout had come to hand for us, but most of the trout spotted were not actively feeding. Ultra spooky trout in the sun were not the best targets, but we’d stuck with the strategy and followed through, determined to do it our guide’s way.

Day two was a float on the Collón Cura. We’d turned to Hopper/Dropper as our best option, given the lack of hatching bugs or any trout feeding at the surface. We threw streamers often enough to keep things interesting for the fishing, and the stunning river scenery took care of the rest.

Now on day three we were in the raft again — this time, the first of a two day float down the Chimehuin. With the same program of hopper/dropper and a few streamers, Austin and I grew restless. Mile after mile of river passing by without the opportunity to wade for two days was grinding us down. We were anxious to step into the river, wade into a perfect island section and pick it apart with different tactics. Two hundred yards before the campsite — our takeout on the Chimehuin — our guide finally presented the opportunity. We could wade and fish until dark, then walk downstream to meet the others at camp for dinner.

Austin and I did not waste the chance.

What followed was my favorite moment in Patagonia . . .

We jumped out of the raft, and I slung a small black backpack over my shoulder, reminding myself never again to leave behind leaders or flies for a fishing trip. My efforts to keep gear minimal had backfired. The guides’ leaders and flies hadn’t produced much to this point, and I knew that my go-to flies and favorite rigs would install renewed confidence and bring back the fun.

So as the raft drifted downstream with our guide, Austin began casting and I reached into the small front pocket of my backpack. I’d come to Patagonia to fish big flies for big trout, to fish dry flies and streamers and do what the local fishermen recommended. But I’d also brought a small stash of my favorite nymphs and a Standard Mono Rig.

When Austin saw me dumping line in the water and changing leaders, he returned my smile.

“I was thinking the same thing,” he said, nodding to his reel. “We might not get a better chance than this one.”

Somehow, Austin had already made the leader change. He was a step ahead of me.

Perhaps the most common question I’ve received about Patagonia, before and after the trip, has been about the Mono Rig.

“Did you tight line for those trout?”

“How was the nymphing?”

Fair or not, Troutbitten has become synonymous with tight line tactics and a hybrid approach that we do with a Mono Rig. But we also fish in every way possible with a fly rod. Personally, I take all reasonable chances to fish dry flies, wherever and whenever. And I do that with a fly line and a Harvey Dry Leader. In fact, that versatility is built into the Mono Rig system, because the leader has a butt section long enough to keep fly line on the reel for tight line tactics but short enough to permit easy, efficient changes, swapping over to a dry leader in about a minute. (Just another reason why we don’t use euro fly lines but choose standard ones.)

So I didn’t plan to nymph in Patagonia. With the promise of big dry flies and streamers, or even stripping mouse patterns in the daylight, the Mono Rig and the small set of confidence nymphs I’d stashed away were the last things on my mind — until they weren’t.

Now was the time.

I rigged up with two beadheads — a Pheasant Tail and a Stonefly. Then I slid into the first edge of a riffle that dropped off into a deep run where Austin was fishing just twenty yards below.

Five casts in, and I’d picked up two rainbows. In the next lane, a small brown spit the hook on the way in. And before the thin stuff ran out, I fooled two more bows. It was a fast start — fast enough to take the edge off, and I walked down to talk with Austin and savor the moment together.

Austin had similar success, and we took turns catching small fish in thin, knee deep water. We breathed easily and watched the sun tuck behind the treeline, over the ridge. Shadows and highlights swapped places, and the changing visibility brought our eyes to the head of the heaviest run. I stood bankside for a moment and tied knots, while Austin grabbed the camera and chased scenery nearby.

It was a remarkable piece of time, full of satisfaction. And we spoke about Troutbitten — how the small fishing blog from 2014 had grown large enough to bring us here to Argentina, all these miles from home, while fishing for familiar fish. These brown trout were no different than our own. A big wild brown trout is a cautious, careful predator that wants things easy. These trout were not about to throw themselves at the nearest dragging dry fly, eat something they’ve never seen before or chase long distances through sunny water. The fishing in Patagonia, to this point, had affirmed all of that. It was predictable, because the habits of brown trout are precisely that.

I looked upstream to the sharp spillout at the bend, and I saw a deep, dark bucket, about twenty feet long. Every fishing instinct within me, built and grown from decades of wading rivers for trout, had me as sure as anything that the largest brown trout around was holding at the bottom of that bucket. And of course he wasn’t going to chase a hopper pattern out of that stuff. The water was too fast.

I don’t know another time when I approached a slot with so much confidence.

I probed the trough and refined the seam with multiple casts, catching two small rainbows on the drop. As the nymphs made their way lower each time, I learned about the currents. I stepped upstream and in for a better angle. But I stepped back when loose gravel threatened to roll out and spill me into the deep. Resetting, I eyed the top of the lane with a new understanding. While the heavy lane pulled hard to the right, the merger seam returned much of the flow to the soft inside water, right in line with my rod tip. I’d learned all of this from the previous drifts, and now I was ready to take the shot.

Three more steps downstream, and I cast. Then again, with a steeper tuck this time. At the back end of the second drift, I picked up and fired the tuck cast in harder. Still I missed the strike zone, so I changed the fly. With the heaviest stone in my small assortment, I pitched the next cast precisely at the head of the merger.

Better. Slower. This was it.

At the end of the fishless drift, my certainly wasn’t questioned, it was simply re-informed. And after one more drift through, having found the top of the strike zone, with some slowdown, I looked back at Austin who was filming on the gravel bar.

“Need more weight,” I said.

I attached a number one split shot in seconds. I thanked another part of myself from a few days ago for bringing the shot container, and I threw my best cast.

I was sure it would happen. And then it did.

Another item I didn’t pack was the net. But the large brown was remarkably cooperative or just surprised. He allowed for a quick photo shoot, and I returned a Whiskey to the deep river.

It was an unforgettable, prove-it kind of moment. Sure, we had wondered how tight line, technical nymphing might work for Patagonia browns. But we kind of already knew the answer. Brown trout like good drifts. And they like being hand fed easy opportunities.

“Proof of concept!” I yelled to Austin. It was a Pete Weber moment.

That was my last cast with a Mono Rig, tight line style in Patagonia, though we’d fish for three more days. I traded Austin the camera and put down the fly rod. I watched my friend catch many more trout and lose another Whiskey at the net-less landing.

Dusk settled in and forced an ending to one of our deepest memories in Patagonia.

Rack of lamb on an open fire pit and a Blest Pilsner finished the evening, before gazing at the Southern Cross over the darkest skies imaginable.

Easy sleep passed quickly.

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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18 Comments

  1. great story, great lessons. My take aways… Learn everything the guide has to offer, don’t leave anything at home, Confidence in your experience translates anywhere and can change your whole trip.

    Reply
    • Way to go Dom. I have co-workers down there and my former boss’s friend owns Chocolate Lab Adventures down there. I’m still planning on making the trip and wondered if tightlining would work since its what I am most comfortable with. Love seeing the plan come together and awesome to see you and Austin got to share those moments. Nothing better.

      Reply
      • Hey Jon,

        There’s no mystery about whether good nymphing presentations will work. Trout eat nymphs everywhere. And skilled tight line tactics present nymphs in the most natural way for most conditions. Same with streamers. Note that I didn’t say euro nymphing, I’m saying tight line tactic, so ALL the stuff you can do on a tight line.

        My point is that brown trout eat well presented flies, up top or underneath. Meet the trout on their terms, and you’ll catch trout.

        Have fun out there.

        Cheers.
        Dom

        Reply
  2. YES! This was the article I was hoping would happen Dom. I think you described something I have been unsuccessfully trying to express when you talked about how you and Austin were getting restless passing up good water that is so great for the mono rig.

    I, like you, will fish different styles and techniques but I always get restless making the compromises necessary to skip the water that I love fishing ‘troutbitten’ style…I love to fish hard and always end up back there.

    Reply
    • Good stuff Mike.

      It wasn’t that we were passing up water that would be well suited to a Mono Rig (almost all trout water is well suited to the Mono Rig.) It’s that we were passing up miles and miles of water without getting the chance to FISH it. I would have been very happy having the chance to wade and pick apart the water with dry flies, like I wrote about doing on days 5 and 6. Even slowing the boat more often on floats for longer changes or a couple different tactics at the best spots would have been great. So when we got the chance to fish hard, we loved it. It wasn’t about the rig as much as the fishing itself.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  3. What tactic did you guys decide to use overcome the wind?

    Reply
      • Yeah, I seen the stuff you did for the dries. I assumed the wind was ripping when you fished the mono rig. It’s cool the wind died down. I figured you probably had to go tight to an indie or some kind of crossover technique with a heavy jig head streamer.

        Great article. As always your writing is enjoyable to read.

        Your kreelex jig got me a second rainbow over 20”. They are supper aggressive right now getting ready for the spawn. That nutria fly better get you a good fish soon or I am going to have to send you a gift.

        Reply
  4. Interesting as to the guide experience. It seems that out of country guides I’ve run into just do it their way, they know the holes but are set in the “how to fish”. What better opportunity for your guide to have learned something new from a couple of pro clients when things were slow with “their technique” . At least your guide didn’t do as some of my Baja guides have done while Marlin fishing, IE, set the hook and hand you the rod to real it in. My response to that has been to hand the rod back to them and in my broken Spanish tell them they could reel in the “pinche” fish

    Reply
    • Ha. Good response.

      For me, it wasn’t about my way vs their way. We simply wanted guides that would hear our requests, our questions and our preferences. Just the basics of enjoying wading vs floating, of choosing to prospect when searching for exposed trout isn’t working — these are the things good guides will do.

      My story was not meant to be me complaining about guides. I was just setting up the situation — why the moment felt extra special — because for the first time in three days, we felt that we had the chance to really fish. That could have been with dry flies, streamers or nymphs — whatever would work for the moment.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  5. Ah nice one Dom the guide isn’t always right it’s fishing always an opportunity to challenge the status quo, shift the paradigm and catch some nice fish ….. way to go

    Tight lines

    Reply
  6. Hey Now!
    Dom, you consistently and constantly reinforce the premise that we can all not only learn from one another, but also from the conditions we fish as well. I’m sure your guide will bring newly acquired knowledge and techniques to bear in the future for the benefit of his clients. I wonder if he felt ‘out-gunned’ during this outing. I admire the numerous ways you and Austin (and TB crew) always seem to push to the edge of the angling envelope. Also, I chuckled hard about you not bringing a net. Apparently, however, the old adage rings true. When you forget your umbrella, it always rains. Thanks for the update on your trip. It will great to hear your podcast. P.S. Does Austin always wear that grin when he’s fishing?

    Fish Hard!

    Reply
  7. Great story. When I heard you were headed to Patagonia, I was anticipating something exciting from the trip. Thanks for letting me fish vicariously through your storytelling… Jeff

    Reply
  8. Hello Dominique. This is one of the two “Johns” that were on this same Patagonia fishing adventure with you. It was great two meet you and Austin and to enjoy such a fantastic fishing/catching trip together. Thanks for the write up and for helping to relive some fond memories.

    Reply
  9. Same experience I have had in NZ twice. Sight fishing to visible trout rules the day, but left to my own devices I caught fish with abandon…and Tango’s aplenty. I have the pictures to prove it:-)

    Reply
  10. This is the other “John” from the trip to Patagonia. Given time to reflect, if I ever repeat this trip I am going to be more assertive in how I want to fish. Of course one defers to the experience of a guide but after years of experience you really should trust your instincts.

    Fishing the banks and willows was fun and at times challenging because of the wind but I close my eyes now and see all that deeper holding water and want to jump out, wade and get into the deep. You know Walter is waiting there.

    All the best

    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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