I am almost embarrassed to write this, but one of the activities I enjoy most about my fly-fishing trips to Patagonia is the stream-or lakeside lunches.
I recognize that is setting the bar pretty high, given that après a day of grueling fishing for legendary Brown, Rainbow, and Brook trout, we are treated to crudités in front of a roaring fire, an open bar, gourmet dinners, and upon retiring for the evening, crisp white sheets with a 25-lb weighted blanket to help ward off the inevitable mountain chill.
EDITOR’S NOTE: SEE PART I OF JEFF’S STORY HERE⤵︎
Then, too, there is the unparalleled Patagonia scenery.
Snow-capped mountains and the Tronador glacier.
Deep green water.
And the stars at night? Oy vey, it’s as if Tom Sawyer had taken a large paintbrush full of white paint and flicked it at the heavens.
“And you’re complaining about the lack of curiosity expressed in the conversations?” wrote my brother in response to Part 1 of this article. “Well, don’t cry for me, Argentina!”
As I admitted in my earlier piece, the whole package is top shelf, but at this stage of my life, my defense is the L’Oréal hair commercial tagline of my youth: “Because I’m worth it.”
Back to the lunches
After 3-4 hours of sitting or standing in the boat, our guide puts us ashore so that we can stretch our legs and then quickly sit down for what amounts to a gourmet lunch. He opens up folding chairs and a folding table, and gracefully unfurls a tablecloth. Out comes local cheese and sausages, olives, and other assorted finger food.
What? “More food?” you ask. Hey, by this time, our hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs is a distant memory.
Then, too, we hear the welcome “POP!” of the cork from a bottle of Malbec and the clink of real wine glasses.
“Wine?” our guide asks. The only thing missing is a starched white cloth draped over his forearm.
And soon we settle into the sounds of something sizzling on the portable grill – pork chops, steak, or salmon.
Often the lunches are just the three of us: me, my father-in-law, and our guide for the day. We have more personal conversations than those on the water.
“Where do you want me to cast?”
“Let’s change flies.”
We see the lunchtime settings as an opportunity to learn about our guides as people and not just as the guys steering us down a river or motoring us around a lake, changing our flies, or netting our fish. And often, we get a side order of humor and life wisdom.
“Are you married?” my father-in-law invariably asks them.
That question may seem impertinent, but given that our guides work three to four months solid during the height of the fishing season and given that our lodge is almost two hours from the nearest town, it’s an understandable one. Many of our guides spend those months in the lodge “bunkhouse” away from family.
“Divorced,” our guide, Sosi replies. “But I have friends,” he continues with a bit of a wink.
We soon learned that Sosi was a member of the Argentinian Olympic ski team before an untimely accident ended his career. He pulls up one leg of his fishing pants and shows us the Andes length scar that crosses his knee and tibia.
“Now I teach skiing in the winter,” he adds quietly.
Sosi is a bit more reserved than some of the guides. Perhaps it’s because his English is only passable. Or maybe it’s because he’s shy. But eventually, we learn that he knows Italian, having trained in northern Italy with the ski team.
My father-in-law, the former Italian tour guide leader, smiles and asks him a question in Italian. Sosi answers fluently. They laugh.
“Where can I get one of your hats?” my father-in-law asks in English, pointing to Sosi’s Gaucho beret.
“I will get you one,” Sosi replies. (He later does.)
“Where do you live?” Sosi asks after a bit of silence.
“Baltimore,” my father-in-law replies.
“New York City,” I offer.
What do you know? Curiosity.
Lukas is one of my favorite guides because he is patient with me. He observes my casting and then provides gentle counseling. “Don’t try to power it so much,” he offers after one cast. “Let the line do the work.” He is also very intent on finding us fish. “We will try this for a while,” he says with a note of optimism and seriousness, “And if that doesn’t work, we will try something else.”
As we relax at lunch, I ask him “On a scale of 0-10 with 0 being terrible and 10 being great, how would you characterize us as fly fishermen?” I’m thinking 7 because I have been particularly impressed with some of my casts that morning – relatively straight and long, with the fly presented gently on the water. And if I am impressed….
“A 6,” he replies unhesitatingly. “You are both good, but you can improve. More wine?” he asks offering the bottle. I imagine the owner of the lodge wincing at Lukas’ straightforward reply, but I’ll take it. I was nowhere near a “6” two years ago.
Later that afternoon, I make a long, straight cast where my fly gently lands on the water right in front of a stretch of weeds – the perfect home for a lurking hungry trout. As I ready for the explosion of a big trout hitting my fly, I imagine the Olympic judges holding up cards with 10s on them.
Lukas nods in approval. “Maybe an 8” he whispers. We wait for a trout to hit the fly. When that fails to happen, Lukas winks “Would be higher if a fish hit it.”
Pablo is a big burly teddy bear of a man. We have fished together a number of times over the years, and I have to admit that I love his smile of recognition when he sees me for the first time outside the lodge this season.
“Chef!” he beams.
Bro hugs and backslaps, and then we stand back and smile at each other.
Pablo’s English is about as good as my Spanish, but he knows the most important words you can use to counter the line tangles, lost fish, crossed lines, flies in trees, and horrific casts that inevitably come at the end of even an experienced 9-foot fly rod.
One day at lunch, I recount his inestimable patience with my myriad of mishaps. He leans back in his chair and takes a sip of Coke. At that moment, he is like Socrates with his eager students seated all around him.
“Is fishing,” he shrugs with a smile. “Is just fishing.”
Some of us are thinking about Idaho. It would be a much shorter trip. New vistas. New water. New fish. New guides.
New guides? Hmmm.