My name’s Patrick – a native of Tacoma, Washington, and current employee of Big Sky Anglers in West Yellowstone, Montana. After my inaugural season learning the ropes of a fly shop this past Spring and Summer, I hoped to continue my education in fishing during the off-season somewhere that I wouldn’t have to worry about losing fingers to the cold. Thanks to a long-standing friendship between El Encuentro Fly Fishing and Big Sky Anglers, I’m fortunate to say that I’m now writing this post from the banks of the Futaleufu river. For the next three months I’ll be helping out my new friends here at El Encuentro – as a guide assistant (prepping drift boats, running shuttles, etc.), and anything else the lodge may need! I’ll be sharing my experiences in life and fishing here in Central Patagonia along the way, and keeping you updated on how the season develops as we head into summer.
Flying into Esquel looked a lot like driving through Montana’s Madison River Valley for the first time, with large snow-capped peaks punctuating arid valleys that appear to go on forever. It always seems like a wonder to me that these sorts places — looking so harsh and inhospitable on the surface— can foster so much life (trout most notable of all). As in Montana, however, Patagonia is a land of extreme and constant change: 20 minutes out of Esquel the dry scrubland quickly exploded into mountains of green, pavement turned to dirt road, and small farms dotted the cold, bluish-green Futaleufu.
After arriving at El Encuentro, it was hard to imagine that this place will be home for the next few months, but surprisingly that’s what it feels like already — in only a week this little series of cottages tucked away in the mountains (right on top of one of the biggest back eddies you’ve ever seen) feels like home. The staff here at El Encuentro is like a tight-knit family that’s quick to welcome anyone and everyone. Through the changing Patagonian extremes of blistering cold winds, snow, rain, and more recently the sweltering heat, the constants seem to be friendship, laughter, and fish (most importantly). From day one I’ve been treated like another member of the family — whether you’re hanging out by the asado watching fish rise in the distance, or stripping streamers through deep pools on the Futu, everyone seems to have each other’s back. With a season under my belt at Big Sky Anglers, it’s clear why the two operations often work together so closely.
The weather has been pretty drastic recently. Two days of hot, windless heat will be followed by biting winds and rain; endless action on the dry dropper gives way to days dedicated only to sinking lines and heavy streamers. I’ve quickly learned that dealing with the elements is fundamental to fly fishing in Patagonia. As Benjamin told me on my first day, “you’ll always have the chance to target big fish… if you’re up for it. There are so many waters to fish, and so few people that you just have to be willing to put in the work. There are an unparalleled amount of options here.”
Benjamin’s words rang true on my first trip to the Brook Trout Base Camp last week. It’s supposedly summer here in Patagonia, but while pulling into El Encuentro’s remote outpost we were provided with an unexpected scene. A cold front was predicted to push through our camp on the banks of the Corcovado River, and sure enough we were treated to snow fall in the early evening. The next morning we awoke to three inches of the white stuff with reports calling for more with high winds to match — needless to say, it put the morale of the camp to test! Even with the snow, things shaped up. In the end, the sheer amount of fishable water was enticing enough to pull our guides and clients through. There are so many lakes and small feeder streams near the camp that they resist naming if only for the effort it would take (you might run out of names). In this case Lake #1, #2, #3, etc. are often enough. After a brisk morning of stoking stoves and a near-constant rotation of Matés and thermoses full of hot coffee, El Encuentro guide Santi and his clients set off to fish some of these“unnamed waters.” They later returned with stories of a day spent filling their nets with wild browns, brookies, and rainbows against some of the wildest scenery I’ve ever seen. As the vastness of all this unbridled nature continues to leave me dumbfounded, I’m starting to realize that fishing in Patagonia is not just about cruising down the river and stroking fish all day. It’s about contending with — and being a part of — the awesome environment while having a really good chance of encountering some unrivaled wild fish.
Now back at El Encuentro, it seems like we may finally be in the thick of some good old fashioned summer weather. The past few days have been hot, devoid of clouds, and relatively windless. This has made for some great dry fly fishing in the mornings, followed by hours of streamer action into the early evening. I was shocked to hear from El Encuentro Guide Robert about his last two days on the river with 70+ fish to the boat on streamers each day. For me, streamers are often reserved for scuzzy cold days back home in Montana, and on those days I usually expect less fish overall. I’ve come to learn, however, that they’re a year-round standard here. The tail waters are so deep and clear, and a lot fish hold down near the riverbed, so it’s often just a matter of having a line that sinks well and the patience to wait 10-15 seconds before you start stripping. The idea of streamer fishing being so lucrative is real exciting. I’m looking forward to taking the rod out for a spin more in the near future as I get settled in (obviously with a few wooly buggers in the box!)– with any luck I’ll have more fish to write about next week.
Thanks for tuning in!