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Casting Call

Sublime Trout Fishing Draws Hollywood Heavyweights, Power Brokers and Ted Turner to Patagonia's Traful River
Jonathan Kandell
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 2)

Though I arrive at Arroyo Verde in the late afternoon, I prefer to skip the welcoming libations and instead head out immediately to the river with Magdalena's husband, Marcos. He chooses as a first spot a horseshoe bend where the record trout decorating the lodge's entrance had been caught some years before. The bank here is broad and bare, with no trees to snag my fly on the back cast. The riverbed consists of sand and smooth pebbles, making it easy to wade. The water flows slowly, with deep, clear pools that make fish and angler visible to each other. Choosing from his assortment of dry flies, Marcos picks out a Royal Wulff. We can see and hear fat trout break the surface to snare real flies with a slurping sound. Our casts whistle through the air and drop tantalizingly close to the fish with no result. "We've spooked them," says Marcos. "If we can see them, you can bet they can see us."

We head a couple of hundred yards downstream and the Traful suddenly becomes an altogether different river. There are rapids, and the bed is covered with large stones, forcing us to wade with more care. The rushing water churns up abundant oxygen and food for the trout, which wedge themselves in front of boulders waiting for nymphs and other insects caught in the fast flow. But only the smaller fish are biting, and we hurl them back, barely giving them a glance.

The Traful runs in an almost perfect axis west from its lake headwaters to its confluence with the Limay in the east. With the sunset behind us turning the sky and the river a fiery red, we decide to return to the lodge and resume our fishing in the morning.

In the United States, anglers seem eager to start the day close to dawn. In Patagonia during the summer, there are 15 hours of daylight, so I'm glad that Marcos feels no compulsion to hurry us back to the Traful before 11 a.m. "No use getting there before the hatch, anyway," he explains. With no new mayflies and caddis flies to feed on, the trout won't show.

On the way to the river, we pass the hunters from Mendoza. They are in their own minivan and appear headed straight for the main fishing lodge. Are they going to be given the heave-ho by Magdalena, I wonder, or will they succeed in appeasing Mauricio?

Five minutes later, we park our minivan off to the side of a dirt road and walk through sagebrush, which emits a pungent, sour smell whenever we step on it. Marcos points out several young pine trees whose branches and trunks seem to have been deliberately snapped. The perpetrators, he explains, are red stags, who rub the pine tar on their antlers to blacken them and thus look more menacing to rivals, now that the rutting season has begun.

The Traful is a bit trickier at this spot. The steep bank has willow trees and a thick underbrush. I marvel at Marcos's graceful casting. Using a reverse cast, he faces the riverbank as he flicks his rod and in the same smooth motion makes a 180-degree turn and drops the fly in midstream. At other times, when the riverbank's vegetation is too overgrown and the water flows too fast and deep, he uses a roll cast, keeping the line in front of him. We are lucky to have a puelche, a wind from the east, which carries our casts straight up the river. But still, we are hooking only smaller trout.

I find myself humming some classical music, and I'm suddenly reminded of a Scottish friend, Bruce Sandison, a great angler, who in times of desperation always sings verses from Handel's Messiah to lure trout, and claims that the aria "He Shall Feed His Flock" has never failed to land him a fish. But Marcos is a firm believer that our chances will improve immeasurably if the fish don't hear us approaching.

Sandison is also fond of saying that nothing is more predictable than the unpredictability of trout fishing. "Each new adventure is a new voyage of discovery," he once wrote. "No matter how well you think you know a river or lake, by the end of the day you will have acquired some piece of additional, vital information to add to your store of knowledge." Here, he gets no argument from Marcos. "It's especially true for the Traful," says Marcos. "This is a river that changes many times in the course of the season. I learn something new about it almost everyday--some pool that becomes deeper or more shallow, a bank that broadens or narrows."

I'll never have time to familiarize myself with the Traful. But what impresses me most are the many guises of the river. In two days, we fish it at a dozen points, each with banks and bed and water flow so distinct that in retrospect it seems we have spent a week on several rivers.


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