Swinging Flies in Difficult Conditions: Low/Clear Water and Sunny/Warm Weather

Swinging Flies in Difficult Conditions: Low/Clear Water and Sunny/Warm Weather

Without a doubt, the weather this Autumn around here has been abnormally warm, sunny, and dry.  According to Accuweather.com, 21 of 30 days in September had above average temperatures, and the first 4 days of October have all been well above average temps as well.  The forecast is for more of the same for the next 5 or so days at least.  For those of us who enjoy fishing a swung fly in the Autumn for either migratory or resident fish, conditions have been a bit tough.  By tough, we mean conditions that are not typically conducive to good/great catching on the swung fly – low & clear water, and bright sunny skies.  Unfortunately, conditions will continue on this path at least for a bit.  The good news is that the fish are there in the river, and from what we have seen they are fat and plenty healthy.   

So what is an angler to do in this situation?  Of course, you can always put the Spey and single hand swing rods away for a few days and poke around with nymphs in the morning and evenings and maybe some terrestrials on top during the afternoon warmth.  But what if you prefer to keep on swingin’?  It’s a very fun and relaxing way to fish, after all, and we are fortunate enough to be out here for fun.  All is not lost, amigos!  Read on for a few of our best tips for swinging flies in difficult conditions. 

Fish During Low Light Periods

Trout, and especially migratory brown trout, respond best to the swung fly during periods of low light.  It is during those times that they are most active from a feeding and migrating sense.  They are also the least cautious during low light periods.  It’s far easier to show a fish your fly when it’s moving up the nice seam on the inside of the run than it is when that fish is hunkered down under a cut bank at midday.  The problem with extended high pressure periods like the one we are in right now is that the low light periods are short and most of the day is very bright.  Dawn and dusk provide the best windows of opportunity for those looking to swing up a few fish.  Make sure you focus your efforts during those times especially, even if it means setting that alarm extra early and wearing warm clothes to brave the morning chill, or trading a nice dinner for a couple of power bars so you can fish until dark.

Focus On Stealth

When the water is low and clear, and the light is high (or low), fish tend to be on high alert.  They are more exposed to predators, included the ones wearing waders and carrying flyrods.  Their survival instincts dictate everything about how they act in these conditions, including where they hold (more on that later).  During low and clear water conditions, it really helps to up your stealth game in every way possible.  Wade quietly, or stay on the bank if possible.  Wear drab colors.  Choose types of casts that create less ruckus on the water.  Make longer casts when possible. 

Upping your stealth game also means adjusting your gear.  Use longer leaders and lighter tippets at baseline.  If you are used to throwing T-tips or MOW tips on a Skagit style Spey line, consider switching to a Scandi head and long, mono leader like the RIO 12ft Salmon/Steelhead Mono Leader and adding 3 or 4 feet of your favorite fluorocarbon tippet.  Another great way to soften your presentation and still retain the ability to fish deeper than with a full mono leader is by using a sinking SA Sonar Leader.  We posted a review of them last week on the blog, and they cast great on both single and 2-handed rods.  They will mellow out the powerful WHACK of most Skagit lines, and, when paired with a line like RIO’s Trout Spey Shooting Head on the low end of your rods grain window provide a combo of stealth and sink tip that is tough to beat!

Fish More of the Right Water

As we alluded to earlier, low clear water conditions make for cagey trout, and influence where they are most likely to be holding.  Swinging flies is largely a game of probability, and the angler who swings the most “A+” water using the right tactics, will typically move more fish.  So, where should you fish when water is low and clear?  Think again about where the trout will feel most safe.  During low light periods, migratory fish will feel more inclined to move, and resident fish will likely move to feeding lies.  During these periods, the fish may be found in more exposed locations like inside seams, shallow tailouts, or wide flats.  As the sun gets higher and brighter, and also as anglers have fished through the more exposed lies, the fish will move to where they have more protection.  That means deeper water, places with lots of bottom structure like boulders and ledges, or areas where the surface is broken making the light diffuse. 

If you are targeting migratory fish during the day, consider the fact that the fish you are after will likely just hunker down during the midday periods and not move much.  Conversely, the same fish might be moving all day long when the weather is dark and gloomy and the water a bit higher.  So during tough conditions, rather than letting the fish come to us, we like to cover A LOT of water in search of the fish that want to join in on our silly game.  This is also the approach we take when searching for resident fish on the swing.  Cover more of the right water, and you will cover mover fish.

Downsize Your Flies

We all dream of the days when the browns are out hunting and giant streamers elicit savage, visible grabs from the biggest fish in the river.  Those days do happen, but not typically during the type of conditions we’ve been dealing with lately.  When you are dealing with low and clear water and high skies, smaller and sparser is often better.  In large part, we believe this has to do with the stealthy approach we discussed earlier.   Try landing that articulated, dumbbell eyed beast of a fly softly enough to not spook every fish in the run.  It’s difficult.  Maybe impossible.  For streamers, if you want to fish bigger stuff, they should be light enough to land softly.  Smaller streamers are another great way to go – both weighted or not.   While they might not be that exciting, small variations on the iconic Woolly Bugger are a great option.  So are small, drab bunny patterns like the Sculpzilla.  Of course, soft hackles and nymphs, presented stealthily, are a terrific choice to swing at all levels of the water column.

Last Cast

No matter how you decide to approach the water during tough conditions, we hope that you will do so with an open mind, and enjoy not only the process of angling and appreciate the incredible opportunities we have, but also take some time to treasure the total experience.  As always, if this post triggers thoughts or questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us by swinging by the fly shop, or dropping us an email to jspence@bigskyanglers.com or mklara@bigskyanglers.com

Take Care and Fish on,

Matt and Justin

The Lakes of Patagonia

The Lakes of Patagonia

Stillwater fishing with flies is, in some ways, the final frontier of fly fishing to the United States angler.  Our rivers get all the attention and most people’s romantic mental images of fly fishing are of standing waist-deep in a trout stream, making long casts to rising trout.  As such, many of our rivers are well known.  Lakes are something we have in great numbers here in the US, but they are regularly overlooked, and solitude isn’t so hard to come by.  Though I am still primarily a river angler, I have become more of a lake fishermen over the last 15 years.  I owe much of this to my experiences in Patagonia, where the incredibly dynamic and exciting angling situations in stillwaters are numerous, eye opening, and in many ways, transformative.

In my years of guiding trout fishermen on the waters of Patagonia, I have often heard from guests that they “aren’t really into lake fishing” when they arrive.  Nine times out of ten, though, anglers who are open minded enough to give it a go with me are converted by the end of the week after a few of the incredible experiences that I’m about to describe.  Many of them learn techniques and gain enough insight and confidence to take this new perspective home with them and apply these methods to their home area.  Their list of home waters usually grows significantly once they add their local stillwaters to their circuit!

In the Austral trout fishing zones, the lakes play an important role in the watersheds.  Many of the rivers that hold large fish do so because they are connected to lakes both upstream and downstream.  This allows for full range of movement of large trout, so they can choose the optimum environment depending on the food source and time of year.  It is only natural that one chases these trout into the stillwaters when the larger specimens have retreated into the lake habitats.

In the parts of Chile and Argentina where I have spent a bulk of my time, most of the lakes are crystal clear, and the fish highly predatory in nature.  Sight fishing situations abound, often comparing to angling scenarios one finds in a saltwater flats environment while fishing for bones, permit, snook, or tarpon.  These Patagonian trout cruise in search of dragonfly nymphs, scuds, midges, caddis and mayflies.  They can be found assaulting dragonfly and damselfly adults, snatching them out of the air, at times coming 3-4 feet out of the water to do so.  The first time you experience this, a memory will be etched on your mind that will last your lifetime.  On a calm day, they can be found sipping mayfly spinners or flying ants from the surface.  Generally, if you can spot them, and you can make a good cast, you can coerce them to take your fly.  If you are a hesitant stillwater angler, these situations can easily make a quick convert out of you as they bridge the gap between the sporty scenario of throwing dry flies to rising fish in a stream and the far less visual yet still challenging scenario of probing the depths with sinking lines in the search of willing participants.

Blind fishing methods are highly productive as well, of course.  Throwing streamers and leeches on sinking lines is generally effective, as is skating large dry flies on the surface with floating lines.  On some lakes, the scud populations are so large that the bigger trout will filter feed through clouds of scattering freshwater shrimp.  In these situations, a slow retrieve with a scud imitation on a floating line or under an indicator can produce tremendous results.  This type of lake produces trout with a body mass that can be astonishing.  Some of the lakes around Esquel and Rio Pico are good examples of this.  Perhaps the most well known lake of this sort is Lago Strobel (aka Jurassic Lake) in the arid steppe country of southern Argentina.

As for gear requirements, Patagonia Lake fishing is generally not very technical, but every part of the kit needs to be able to handle big fish, and big wind.  I use the same line that I use in the big rivers for streamers, much of the time and its versatility is outstanding for both kinds of fishing.  Hands-down, my preferred line for Patagonia sink tips is the Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 25 Cold in 200 grain.  The running line has zero memory and hardly ever tangles and the head is just long enough to carry a loop tight enough to fire into holes in the willows when river fishing.  If things get a bit more complicated and we need to slow down our subsurface presentations, I’ll use a slow sinking line like the SA Sonar Stillwater Hover line, primarily with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs over shallow weed beds.

For rods, I always favor versatility, and a faster action rod is what I recommend for casting in the wind and covering water.  I really like to use 6 weight, 9 foot rods for streamer and lake fishing down here.  In recent seasons, my two favorites have been the SAGE X  and Orvis H3F.

If you do decide to try your hand at the giants of Strobel, you will likely want to pack some more specific kit to account for the sheer power of the wind and the trout, and because the fishing is done from shore!  Justin has found the following kits to be very handy over the last two years at Jurassic:

  • Sage Igniter 10ft 7wt or G. Loomis Asquith 9ft 8wt, both paired with a Rio Grand 8wt floating fly line, and 8wt Rio intermediate streamer tip. The extra line weight really brings the Igniter to life!
  • Sage X Switch Rod 7wt 11ft 4 pc with Rio Outbound Short 9wt floating and Type 3 shooting heads for overhead casting.

As for flies, standard lake food sources abound, and baitfish are often important to imitate.  Many of the imitative as well as suggestive stillwater patterns and streamers that have become famous in the States and Canada are perfect.  On many lakes, patterns with a hint of burn or bright orange are absolutely deadly.  But regardless of pattern or color, one thing is absolutely critical – make sure flies are tied on stout hooks.  When you travel so far and hook the fish you came all this way for, you want the best irons available to give yourself the best chance of being able to email your buddies a photo like this…

Convert the Bump – Three Quick Tips to Up Your Streamer Game

Convert the Bump – Three Quick Tips to Up Your Streamer Game

Are you a streamer junkie? Is the Tug your drug? Do you spend all year dreaming about gray autumn days and vicious takes from belligerent brown trout?

If the answer is yes, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the “Bump”.

We’ve all been there. You made a great cast. Your fly sets up at the right depth. The current takes hold of your line, and you feel the pressure build all the way into the cork of your rod. You begin to retrieve your line with deft strips, bringing life into your fly, and there it is. That moment when you connect with all your hopes and dreams at the end of the line.

But, what follows isn’t what you had hoped and dreamed for. It’s not a storied battle with a gnarled-faced brown trout. A heroic net job. A steely-eyed grip and grin shot that.

Nope. All you got was a Bump. And then there was nothing.

Many anglers count the Bump as a loss. But, it doesn’t have to be.

If all you get are Bumps some days, and you want to convert more of those Bumps into hopes and dreams, here are 3 Tips to Up Your Streamer Game.

Keep that Tip near the Water

Streamer fishing is unique among fly techniques because we impart life into our flies, enticing the take of a predatory trout through a tight line.

Sure, you can “Dead Drift” a streamer like a nymph or a dry fly. But, most of the time we are making them swim by swinging or stripping.

Whether you fish streamers on a static swing, or with a stripped retrieve, the position of your rod tip is very important to maintaining contact with your fly. A rod tip that is held too high while stripping or swinging will result in a length of slack line extending from your rod to the water. This slack line is a killer of hopes and dreams, and can be the difference between a Bump and a hooked fish.

By keeping the rod tip pointed at or near the water it’s easier to stay in touch with your fly and eliminate excess slack in your line. Every time you strip your line that movement will translate directly to your fly, and when you do elicit a strike you will be more likely to convert it into a hooked fish.

Slow it Down

Streamer fishing is one of the most active games that we can play with a fly rod. With all of that casting and stripping there’s a lot going on.

Many times the stakes are high as our targets are often the biggest fish we will chase all year.

It’s easy to get a little carried away. All it takes is one ferocious grab, and you’ll be stripping that fly like it owes you money.

We all want the savage eat from a furious brown trout that nearly rips the rod from your hands. But, let’s face it. That’s a low probability situation, even on the best of days.

Far more fish will eat a fly that is presented slowly and enticingly than one which is ripped past the trout’s face.

A slower retrieve will also maintain better contact with your fly making you more likely to convert those takes into hookups and not Bumps.

Don’t Trout Set

In fact, the best set is no set at all.

Not every streamer eat from a trout is an aggressive take where the fish turns on the fly making it easy to hook them in the corner of the mouth.

Frequently, a trout will see your fly and follow it as it moves through your retrieve. When the fish eats, it will often overtake your fly moving in the same direction of travel. Then, you strip, and take the fly right back from the fish.

Bump

 If the next thing you do is trout set, then you completely remove your fly from the game, and the fish is left wondering what happened to it’s meal.

If you do nothing, and continue to swing or strip. Then, your fly is still in the game, and you have an opportunity to convert that Bump into a hook up.

The Argentines call their streamers “Gatos” for cats, because of the similarity to teasing a cat with a cat toy.

When you feel a Bump try to keep your cool, and tease that fish into another Bump. Sometimes it takes two or three (or more) Bumps before the fish is keyed up enough to turn on the fly and catch the hook.

Conclusion

Bumps aren’t all bad.

It means that you put the fly in the right place, and made it look good enough for a trout to eat it.

Some times, no matter how hard you try to tease them, trout just won’t fully commit to your streamer.

But, if you keep these 3 tips in mind, you’ll be better prepared to convert those Bumps in hook ups.

Now grab your Gatos, get out there, and find some trout to tease.

Imitating Baitfish: Factors to Consider

Imitating Baitfish: Factors to Consider

Streamer fishing is one of the oldest versions of fly fishing, yet it also seems to be one of the fastest growing types of flyfishing today. I don’t know why that is the case, but streamer fishing is certainly an interesting, complex, and exciting way to angle.  It also opens up new doors, and allows the fly angler to experience many “new” and exciting fisheries where insect imitation with dries and wets simply cannot and will not work.

You may have already guessed that I’m referring to fisheries where baitfish are the primary prey.  You’d be hard pressed to catch many of today’s popular gamefish on the usual mayfly or caddis imitations.  Saltwater species like striped bass, roosterfish, dorado/mahi mahi, tuna, queenfish, jacks, trevally, and billfish all eat other fish – and little else.  Even in freshwater, anglers will find situations where the fish they want to catch will only eat other fish.  I’m thinking of certain trout fishing situations, certainly, but also other targets like smallmouth bass, walleye, freshwater dorado, and more.

Of course, impressionistic patterns may be good enough in many instances.  But, more often than not, a good baitfish imitation on the line of a competent angler will win the day, and outfish other patterns.

Baitfish fly patterns go way back in time.  Carrie Stevens’ Grey Ghost and other trolling streamers come to mind.  With their long shank or tandem hooks, flowing feathery lines, and eyes made of jungle cock nails, they share many features of modern baitfish imitations.  But the modern fly tier has access to a nearly infinite variety of materials that have made tying baitfish imitations into more than just an answer to a vexing fishing problem.  We can do so much more with the modern materials than we could with only fur and feathers.  Tying streamers – particularly baitfish imitations – has become as much a science as it is a craft.

So, what makes a good or great baitfish imitation? In the end, the fish will be the only relevant judge and jury.  There are hundreds of patterns out there available at your local fly shop.  Guides carry them too.  But there is also a joy in selecting your own or even crafting your own lure.  I’m less interested in telling you what flies to buy or tie than I am in getting you to think about this topic a bit more, maybe in a new way.  With the remainder of this piece I hope to at least call attention to a few factors that I believe are important to consider when sitting down at the vise with dreams of catching big fish that eat smaller fish.

Color

Color is probably the first thing an angler notices about a fish, a baitfish, or a fly pattern.  Tan over white.  Olive over white. Brown. Blue. Silver.  Tannish olive over white with flecks of blue and silver.  Baitfish come in loads of color combinations.  I really like how some of the modern synthetics come in complex colors.  I try to match the baitfish whenever I can.

Have you considered how baitfish look alive vs dead?  A living minnow rarely looks the same as a dead or dying one.  A baitfish that is alive but has been in the live well for 2 hours can look different than they do when freshly netted.  It can make a difference which color phase of the bait you are imitating, especially in fisheries where live baits or dead baits are used as teasers or chum.

Size

The size of the fly should approximate the size of the baitfish you are trying to match, similar to matching the size of a mayfly during a hatch.  While I have not experienced extreme selectivity to overall size, I try to get my fly as close to the expected size of the bait as possible.  In instances where a certain baitfish is extremely prevalent, however, it can backfire to match size exactly as your offering will blend in among the thousands of naturals.  In that instance a slightly bigger fly can make a difference.

Some fisheries are based on very fast growing prey species.  Early in the season, the predators may be used to seeing 3 inch long bait, but a few months later all the bait may have grown to 5 inches.  If possible, it’s good to do some research and be ready with the right size flies.

What about a customizable pattern? Some flies can be trimmed on the water to make them smaller while they retain all the necessary fish catching qualities, but few can be made larger.

Profile

When I refer to profile, I mean the overall shape of the baitfish.  Some are long and thin, others short and fat, or somewhere in between.  Some baitfish have a circular cross section – with bodies as wide as they are tall (mullet  or sand lance).  Some are laterally flattened – a fancy term for taller than they are wide (sardina).  Others are dorsoventrally flattened – a really fancy term for wider than they are tall (sculpin).

It goes without saying that fly pattern should address the overall shape of the bait being imitated.  Again, material choice plays a big role in this.  So does the technique used to attach materials to the hook and build the body.  It’s always good to make sure the fly keeps the proper profile when wet and retrieved in the desired manner.  More on that later!

Eyes

Eyes may be the first thing that a predator fish notices about your fly, or it may be the last thing it notices when deciding to either refuse, or gobble your offering.  Many baitfish species have prominent eyes, or false eye spots.  On translucent baitfish, the eye can be just about all you see of them.  For that reason, I like eyes on most of my baitfish flies.

On the other hand, a baitfish like a sculpin does not have prominent eyes, and therefore adding them to your pattern may be less important.

Flash

Some baitfish are flashy.  Some are not.  Simple, right?  Sort of.

It seems to me that flash is often the absolute difference maker when it comes to how well a fly works.  I’ve noticed that in bright sunshine and clear water that flash is often a turn off for the fish I’m trying to catch, even when I perceive the live baitfish as quite flashy.  Maybe the modern flash materials are so reflective that it is easy to overdo it.  Maybe we perceive shininess differently than predator fish in some instances.

Then, other times, maybe for a different predator, it seems like you can’t have too much flash.  For that reason alone it may make sense to tie a variety of patterns or the same pattern in a variety of flash combinations.  I like to think about how I might be able to alter a fly on the water as well.  Can I turn a flashy fly into one without flash with scissors or nippers?

Translucence

Something I learned about many baitfish species is that they look very different in the water vs out of water.  In particular, many smaller baitfish are virtually invisible or at least highly translucent in the water.  Often, all you see of the prey is an eye, and a lateral line, or the digestive tract.

This is where the modern synthetic materials blow nearly all natural materials away.  Pick your material wisely and match the translucence of the live bait.  Don’t be afraid to go really sparse as well.  Test your flies in the water before you tie 50 of them!  If they look bad, make a modification.

Action and Tracking

I mentioned this briefly when discussing profile.  Here is a whole lot more.

Action is the way a fly moves in the water.  If your fly looks and acts wrong, you are probably out of luck, so I think this factor is worth a decent amount of discussion.  Part of a fly’s action is the motion that the fly angler imparts to the fly to make it look like a real fish, or at least to make it move (or not) in a way that elicits a take.  While the retrieve has a lot to do with the action of a fly in the water, the true action of a fly begins with material selection and construction at the vise.  In reality, the two must work together perfectly and the angler is well served to take both elements into account when selecting a fly.

Different materials move differently in the water.  If you have fished with me, or followed my old Frontpage rants on Sexyloops.com, you probably have heard me say that “nothing moves like rabbit”.  Well, that’s true.  Similarly, nothing moves like marabou, or EP fiber, or bucktail, or slinky fiber, or kinky fiber, or (name your favorite material).  Knowing the relative stiffness and wiggle of materials and purposefully experimenting with them in your baitfish patterns can really take your flies to the next level.

More than anything I would urge to you observe how the bait you are imitating acts in the water.  Do the baits dart quickly then dive for the bottom?  If so, maybe you need some weight up front to create a jigging action when stripped.  Do they swim continuously, without pauses, in a straight line?  Then consider stiffer materials that hold profile under constant tension in the water.  Do you want your fly to have motion even when it isn’t moving?  Softer materials will do that for you, but watch out for fouling.  Do the baitfish twitch and dart left and right and up when injured?  Time to get really creative with your tying and experiment with intentionally off balanced patterns.

Tracking is another part of fly action.  I consider tracking to be the way the fly moves through the water relative to its own vertical axis plane.  The concept is similar to tracking in fly casting.  Keep it in line for best results!  If a fly unintentionally “tips” off its vertical plane or flips over when retrieved, then I consider it to be tracking poorly.  Fouled streamers track poorly, and I feel like that is why they don’t work. Poorly designed flies also track poorly.  Baitfish (most of them at least, when they are healthy) swim effectively and remain “upright” even when moving at maximum speeds.  Predator fish are used to this behavior.  If a predator is following/chasing down your fly, and the fly happens to tip over on its side for even a split second, there is a chance that you will experience a fantastic refusal.  This is particularly true, in my experience, with roosterfish.  I started thinking really hard about this after seeing dozens of roosterfish refuse flies at extremely high speed and at very close range after the fly wobbled or tipped just slightly.

In the Pacific Northwest, many conventional anglers “pull plugs” for salmon.  These guys and gals know that the way the plugs run or track (straight and true) can make a big difference, and so they spend hours “tuning” their plugs to ride just right.  Why should it be different with flies?  I am now a huge believer in tank testing patterns.  Bathtubs, sinks, ponds, rivers, puddles, fountains, etc. have all been used as testing grounds.  Not just one of a pattern, either.  Every fly!  Sure it’s crazy, but it gives me confidence in every fly I have in my box.

Feel

This last factor is one that I consider most abstract and difficult to test and understand.  For that reason it is a wildcard in my own mind.  Maybe the real reason that some flies out produce others for no apparent reason.

Water transmits sound and vibrations much better/faster than air, and fish are equipped with a lateral line that allows them to pick up on vibrations from other fish, predators, and prey.  We know that fish use feel to navigate, feed, and avoid danger.  Conventional anglers use vibration and the way their lures sound or feel much more than fly anglers.  Why should it be that way?  I’m not suggesting that we equip all of our flies with spinner blades and rattles, but it makes sense to consider the way a fly pushes or displaces water.  It may be more important than we fully understand.

Last Cast

Of course, there is much more that could be said.  But I think I’ve said enough for now.  It’s time to fish.  After all, there is no substitute for experience, gained through hours and days on the water.  So, get out there.  Fish.  Observe.  Learn.  Enjoy the day.

Thanks for reading.  Take care, and Fish on!

-Matt

Limay River Giants – Hunting for “El Uno” in the Heart of Patagonia

Limay River Giants – Hunting for “El Uno” in the Heart of Patagonia

Everything about the Rio Limay is big.  It is born at the outlet of the massive (Surface Area = 205 sq. miles; Max Depth = 1,522 ft), glacially carved Lago Nahuel Huapi at the base of the Andes, emerging crystal clear and powerful, and regularly flowing between 3,000 and 5,000 cfs in the Fall.  The Upper Limay is one of the most scenic rivers in Argentina, confined between willow lined banks that glow gold in Autumn, with classic riffles, beautiful runs, and clear pools as deep as 30 feet!  Downstream, the river is captured by two consecutive and massive reservoirs developed for power generation, and takes on the flows of tributaries legendary in their own right among fly anglers – the Rio Traful, and Rio Collon Cura (which is formed by the Rios Chimehuin, Malleo, and Alumine).  Below the second dam, the Middle Limay, as it is known, is simply massive – the main channel is typically around 500 feet wide, and with its many side channels and islands, the overall width is nearly a mile in places.  The surroundings are arid and vast – the Patagonian Steppe.  It is South America’s Big Sky Country!  Flows in the Fall typically run between 5,000 and 10,000 cfs, with power generation pulses occasionally bumping flows as high as 20,000 cfs or more.  Because of the dams influence, however, the river remains crystal clear and fishable even at those massive flows… if you know where to look for the fish.

The setting is vast and spectacular, but what makes the Limay absolutely unique are the races of giant, migratory brown trout that live there.  In most places, a 5, 6, or even 8 pound brown would be considered a true trophy.  But on the Limay, thanks to a combination of interconnected lake, reservoir, and river habitats, and the presence of pejerrey baitfish and pancora crabs in huge numbers, a fish over 10 pounds is considered very large, with individuals pushing 15 pounds considered true trophies. Simply put, there are few rivers in the world like the Limay.  People often think the photos they see of Limay browns have come from the Rio Grande in Tierra Del Fuego, which is home to some of the largest sea run brown trout in the world.  But the fish of the Limay spend their entire lives in fresh water.  We have been fishing, exploring, and guiding anglers on the Limay for over 15 years and we continue to be blown away by the massive brown trout that come out of the river. Fall in Patagonia (April and May) are the prime months to fish the migratory run.

For many years the Limay simply wasn’t talked about.  Local guides selfishly kept it quiet.  It was the place they went to fish and unwind after a long season behind the oars. Where they went for a shot at the fish known as “El Uno”, or “The One”. The fish of dreams.  Over the years, word of this fishery has gotten out, and today the Limay is no secret, but there are still very few anglers and guides who really understand how to target its largest migratory fish.  Justin was among a small group of Argentine guides who devoted weeks every fall to cracking the code on the Limay.  By thinking outside the box, bringing in new types of gear including modern fly lines and fly tying techniques, and truly studying the migratory habits of these amazing fish, they began to unravel a few patterns.  “Lucky catches” slowly became more common over time.  More than a decade of experimentation later, Justin and our team of guides in Argentina now feel that they truly understand what it takes to give visiting anglers a legitimate chance at hooking and landing  a double-digit fish.

This is streamer fishing to the max.  Boats are critical to the approach on much of the river, offering transportation as well as aiding in the presentation of flies in the best holding water.  We generally fish seven or eight weight rods with 250-350 grain, super fast sinking lines for presenting the truly large streamers that move these big fish.  In many ways, the angling approach is more similar to saltwater fishing than classic trout fishing.  Long days and lots of long casts, sometimes in difficult conditions, are what it takes when looking for “El Uno”.  But landing the fish of a lifetime is not just a matter of luck and time.  Your chances greatly increase by investing your efforts intelligently, by fishing the right methods and flies in the very specific areas of the river that these migratory giants congregate.  If you have ever tried steelhead fishing and like its mental and physical challenges, you will love the pursuit of migratory trophies on the Limay!

We are super excited to offer guided trips on the Limay to those who love chasing trophy browns on big streamers.  This is not an all inclusive lodge trip, as there are no lodges that are located in the right location to fish the specific sections of the river where we find larger concentrations of trophy fish.  Rather, we arrange lodging at a variety of small local hotels and cabins, and eat at local restaurants, which allows us the best opportunity to be on the best water at the right times.  In other words, the fish dictate everything about this trip.  We are currently booking limited slots for the Fall 2020 (Late April – May) season.  If this sounds like an experience for you, please contact Justin Spence for more information and details at jspence@bigskyanglers.com or call the flyshop at 406-646-7801.