Low Water Blues (AKA, Malbec and Empanadas)

Low Water Blues (AKA, Malbec and Empanadas)

Matt Klara | Sunday, 22 May 2016

Today’s discussion arises directly from my recent experiences in the Lakes District of Argentina. This is likely applicable to many angling areas – certainly New Zealand, and a few places I can think of in the USA. In the Sexyloops tradition, I’m going to present angling problems and questions but only suggest possible solutions. Maybe we can go to the board and jam on the topic a bit. I’d love to hear more experiences and possible solutions.

To set the stage, I need to describe the fishing conditions. Autumn. Late season. Drought had left the area with extremely low and clear water conditions. Many of the fish had clearly retreated from the rivers and streams back into the large lakes throughout the region. A few big fish were still hovering around the Bocas (river mouths and lake outlets) and in the fishy backwater areas of rivers. Those that had not retreated to the depths are wary, but will feed very aggressively if provoked properly. For once, in Patagonia, there was almost no wind. Of course, we were trying to catch the big fish, which in that area means rainbow and brown trout from say 22 inches on up, with the distinct possibility of a fish over 10 pounds in some locations.

You are probably thinking, “Mate, go find a bottle of Malbec and a few empanadas, and forget the fishing.”

It turns out, you can only drink so much wine, and eat so many empanadas before you NEED to get out on the water.  Of course, it is Argentina so you never know what might happen

Here are a few things that happened this time, and a few questions that came up.

The hardest part of presentation in the conditions described above was actually getting a fly into the water before spooking the fish.  Flat calm conditions, especially on the lake margins, made it hard to even get a fly in play around the fish - especially the typical streamers that often get the biggest grabs.  And then if you did get a cast to settle without spooking the fish, in the low clear conditions, the fish seemed to shy away from the big, bold baitfish and pancora (freshwater crab) patterns, heavy tippets, and rapid retrieves that work wonders most of the time.

So, downsizing seemed like the logical solution.  Lighter rods. Longer leaders. Lighter tippets. Smaller flies.  Great.  And we tried that. And it worked.  Sort of.

The problem was, with everything downsized we could sometimes get a presentation that didn’t spook the fish, and we could sometimes get those big fish to eat.  Perfect.  But, as I mentioned earlier, when we did get a fish to commit to the fly, the response did not match the conditions.  I mean that I would expect to have a fish approach the fly warily and eat it with some degree of concern or contempt in such difficult water conditions.  A nibble, a sip, or a smooth take at best.  But what we experienced was the fish absolutely smashing the downsized/tiny flies – and subsequently the tippets we had then tied to.  At one point I downsized as far as I would dare (15’ leaders, 5x flouro,  and #18 soft hackle), and immediately got smashed by a good fish that was cruising a backwater lagoon.  So I increased the tippet one size and kept the same fly, and never turned another trout.

So, what is the answer to this angling predicament? Upsize the tackle and hope for a dumb fish to swim by every few days? Stay downsized and keep getting smashed?  There seemed to be no gray area. And there wasn’t enough time on our trip to experiment…  especially with such easy access to all that Malbec and all those empanadas.

Take Care and Fish On,



PS – If you are in Montana and dig Fish art, there is an upcoming show in Bozeman raising money for a great cause that you need to know about…

Montana artist Mimi Matsuda and photographer Patrick Clayton “Fish Eye Guy Photography” present a gala art show opening on Thursday, June 2, from 5 - 8 PM at the 406 Brewing Company, 101 E. Oak Street, Bozeman.  Original paintings and fine art prints will showcase our region’s fish, wildlife and aquatic wilderness.  10% of all proceeds go to Montana Trout Unlimited, Montana Water Project. 

This exhibit is a collaborative art show of two of Montana’s well known fish artists, Mimi Matsuda and Patrick Clayton “Fish Eye Guy.”  These contemporary artists call Bozeman home and find the fish and waters of Montana as fuel for their art.  Matsuda and Clayton will direct 10% of proceeds to Montana Trout Unlimited

Matsuda’s art is directly influenced by her decade working in Yellowstone as a park ranger naturalist.  “I paint to inspire people to preserve and protect wildlands and animals.” Ever since childhood, she has wanted to teach about animals and paint to tell their stories.   Her art highlights the fantastic wild citizens that make our region so distinct.  Matsuda will show her wildlife acrylics, soft pastels and landscapes. 

Patrick Clayton has been traveling for over a decade to the farthest flung river corridors with his underwater camera in tow, searching for the most beautiful salmonids on earth.  He has documented the most iconic species swimming free in their natural habitats.  “The wilderness has been more than a place for me to find a challenge; it is a place to reconnect with a natural world from which modern life too often pulls us away.” Clayton will display all his best images as fine art prints hanging on the walls of the 406 Brewery.

Trout Unlimited’s Montana Water Project’s Bozeman-based staff focuses on restoring streamflows to dewatered streams by collaborating with irrigators to maintain agricultural production while conserving water and updating water policy to ensure our world-renowned wild trout rivers keep flowing.   Bozeman’s Madison-Gallatin Chapter of TU is among the largest of 1,500 chapters nationwide bringing grassroots support to restoring local streams and fisheries and advocating for fish-friendly policies in Helena.  TU members and staffers are passionate about southwestern Montana’s unrivaled trout fisheries and share our wider community’s concern for wild and healthy streams.

10% of all sales will go to the Montana Trout Unlimited. 

For more information:  www.mimimatsudaart.com and fisheyeguyphotography.com