We left Justin’s house in Junin around 10 am, and made stops for facturas, lunch food, and to pick up our friend Jeff at the Hosteria on the way out of town. A short drive brought us to the famed Rio Malleo.
I contemplated the arid landscape as we bounced along the dirt road that parallels the lower river. Massive Andean condors soared overhead between the towering rock spires and crags where they roost. The Malleo Valley is a spectacular place, with hints of Gallatin, Madison, Grande Ronde, and Deschutes all in one, and we were the only anglers on the lower river that day. My friends that I was with love the Malleo for the fantastic dry fly fishing and its bright and healthy trout. I found it very pleasant to fish, easy to wade, and crossable in many locations. The lower river is a series of perfect riffles, runs, and pools that were easy to approach and fish with a variety of methods. We fished to some nice trout that morning as they rose to small mayflies until a bit of wind put the hatch off. Eager for more fish I quickly switched to nymphs. A size 14 Copper John was working really well for me, and I hooked 6 or 8 rainbows to 16 inches; typical fish for the Malleo. As is often the case with my fishing friends, everyone in the group dialed into their own program and ended up wandering off in different directions.
I was moving quickly upriver, enjoying the gorgeous fall day when I came upon a long, deep run. One of those spots that can only be describes as FISHY. I tried for a bit with my nymphs but eventually switched to a sink tip line and a brown and olive bugger that I had tied with lead eyes for good measure. It just felt like the right thing to do. About ¼ of the way down this particular run a grand willow overhung the water. Below that willow the river ran smooth and deep to the tailout, another 30 yards or more downstream. I worked down the run, swinging and twitching my streamer across the flow on a sink tip line. Fishing just downstream from the willow I felt a strong take and a second later the surface erupted in a massive brown and gold swirl. After that the fish laid low and then ran downstream, stopping in the shallows of the tailout. I put a deep bend in my 6 weight, hoping to move the fish back upstream, but the fish would not budge. I tried yelling for Jeff but he was long gone and my shouts were muffled by the breeze and the sounds of the rushing river. I took a deep breath and settled into the fight, pulling as hard as I could, whenever I could, and giving line when the fish ran. When I got my first glimpse of the fish through the crystal clear water I got even more excited and plenty scared. It was HUGE! I got an even better look when the fish punctuated a short run with a massive leap. I bowed instinctively, and gasped. I was fighting the biggest brown trout I’d ever seen in person. Another jump, but the hook held and I could tell the fish was tiring. Finally, after a little while – it seemed like a year – I was able to guide the fish into the shallows and grab its powerful tail. Before me laid the biggest, most beautiful trout I’d ever caught. I took a couple of photos and with trembling hands I unrolled my tape measure - 29 ½ inches. I quietly released the fish, secretly wishing that someone had been there to see it.
After the magnificent fish swam from my fingers I grabbed my head in disbelief, looked down at the water, up at the sky, and back down at my still trembling hands before packing up and heading off to find my friends.
This was my fish of a lifetime. I knew it was a really special fish, but I later found out just how unlikely my catch really was. Throughout the coming days, we described the fish to our local guide friends. They had not heard of a trout that big being landed on the Malleo in over a decade. I was truly fortunate to experience that fish. Perhaps a graduation gift from the fishing gods.
I told my story again as we drove back out on the dirt road. Rounding a sharp bend we were taken aback by a most incredible sight. Volcano Lanin, the icon of the Malleo Valley, stood before us, the sky behind it glowing red purple, pink, and orange with the most vibrant sunset I’d ever seen. As the last light faded I though to myself… This is why I came all this way. This is why Patagonia is so special. Anything can happen here!
Take Care & Fish On,
Note: Pardon the romanticism in today's FP please. I wrote most of this about 10 years ago, and the style was heavily influenced by the descriptive writings of Roderick Haig Brown, one of my favorite angling authors. I was reminded of this awesome experience because my FP date fell on May 8, but also because with luck I should be in Argentina right now, visiting my friends down there for the first time since 2004. Hopefully I will be able to find that run with the big willow tree in the next few days.