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Migrating fly-fishers: Part V

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Argentines rarely start dinner until after 9:30 p.m. The restaurants in Buenos Aires open for dinner around 8, but the only diners you’ll usually see at that hour are tourists who haven’t adjusted to the Argentine routine.

What you’ll also notice is that Argentines are committed carnivores. And their favorite meat is beef – large marbled slabs barbecued over hot coals.

In some ways the trout that dwell in Argentina’s rivers have similar habits and tastes.

On our first day of fishing, we arrived in San Martin de los Andes after a two-and-a-half-hour flight southwest from Buenos Aires and were met my our old friend and ace fishing guide Carlos Viscarro, known by everyone as “Tuqui.”

He was happy to see us and said we had come just in time to make the evening hatch on the Chimequin River. On our previous trip there five years ago, we didn’t fish in the late evening because it was grasshopper season and the fish fed on them all day long.

To the trout of Patagonia, grasshoppers are like big, juicy steaks. But later in the season, when the grasshoppers are gone, another version of that steak is their first choice – the hexagenia limbata. It is a very large mayfly (over an inch long) that is in the habit of transforming from its stream-bottom nymph stage to its large, flying adult stage, but only after sunset.

When those big bugs swim up from the bottom of the river, break the surface and then fly off, the trout go into a feeding frenzy. In the clear brightness of day, they and fish chasing them to the surface would be easy to spot. But in the dark, not so much.

The fishing during the day is pretty darn good (even fantastic some days), but the guides kept telling us that the night “hex hatch” was off the charts.

Each guide had his favorite spot along the river. It was hard to distinguish them from many other places we’d fish during daylight hours, but these particular places were the big bug nurseries. If conditions were just right, Tuqui said, the monster trout would be feeding like wild hogs all around us.

As darkness fell and shadows from overhanging trees gathered over the water, the pools in which this big event was to happen grew dark and eerie. The air, already cool, got a lot colder. We could no longer see the bottom, including the numerous large and slippery rocks that could trip us into a cold and unwelcome evening swim.

What remained of the twilight reflected off the riffles, but if there were bugs hatching, fish feeding or the creature from the black lagoon prowling, we couldn’t tell.

Cautiously we waded where Tuqui directed us. Then he’d shout, “There!.”

“Where?” We’d shout back. All we could see was his arm pointed in the general direction of the trees on the opposite bank.

“There!” He’d shout again excitedly.

Desperate to respond, we’d cast out into the dark unknown with no clue where our fly would land.

“That’s it!”

“That’s what?”

“A big fish!”

Too late we’d realize a trout had actually found our fly and tried to eat it.

Nevertheless, we waded through the darkness, casting blindly as coached, and miracle of miracles, we actually hooked some fish.

The really big one, the one that could have been a six-foot, sex-crazed amphibian movie star for all I know, got away.

We did this for several nights (after the first, Dottie opted to wait in the car) with each evening pretty much like the first.

There was one time when there was just enough ambient light that I actually saw what got our guides so excited. Faint light from the horizon dimly lit a small pool in front of me. As my eyes adjusted, I could see large, dark torpedo shapes breaking the surface of the water like porpoises. Their massive bodies were half out of the water and they seemed to be using their mouths like a scoop, to swallow the big hex flies as they struggled to fly away. It was like watching feeding time at a shark tank. I’d like to have hooked one of those guys, but that wasn’t to be.

Still, I was comforted by the knowledge that back at the lodge, a very large steak and a nice glass of malbec was waiting for me. It is, after all, the Argentine way.