Persistence Pays In Silver and Brown

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

Pulling up to today’s lunch spot was a little more eventful than usual.

A morning filled with hopping from spot to spot on a panga-style boat, named Ms. Suzy, had left us starving for a solid meal and a cold beer. The day’s program was a streamer junkie’s dream. Hunting down prime water and ripping floating minnow patterns across the ripples of the Limay had already made for an exciting morning on the water. The explosive takes and hyper aggressive trout left many of us with jaws on the water, as well as frayed, tattered tippet. The first part of the day had certainly lived up to the hype, and with the hot sun beating down on us, a seat in the shade sounded amazing.

DSC01375As we cruised up to grassy shore along the right bank of the river, we all took immediate notice of a large, dark, shadowy figure lying just off the bank where we had planned our dine and dash. The four of us must have seen it all at once, as we all pointed to this large creature and gawked at its size. There was no doubt that this was one of the big, migratory brown trout that begin to make their way up the river, following schools of baitfish. I thought for sure that the sound of the outboard would spook it as we idled toward the bank, but, to our surprise, this trout stayed chill as we floated by as quietly as a seventeen foot boat possibly could. Anchoring the boat quietly, we all jumped off the boat and immediately began scheming up ways that we might entice this large brown to play our game.

After surveying the trout’s lie and attitude, we decided that nymphing might be the best initial method, so we quickly strung up the only rod that wasn’t currently set up for streamer fishing: an Orvis H3D 905-4. The setup wasn’t perfect, as we weren’t exactly prepared to be doing any type of nymphing, but the rig would work. We collectively picked out a single #12 PT tied on a barbless jig hook with a brightly dubbed collar and affixed it to the end of the 3x leader that had just been hastily tied up moments prior. No indicator. This would be a very crude tight-line attempt. After checking and re-checking each knot, it was game time.

Trudging through the brush along the bank as quietly as someone being barraged with rose bush thorns (seriously… really big damn thorns) could, we found a nice spot along the bank that overlooked this brown’s current position, which made things a little tricky. Looking over to my right, I could see Willy chuckling as he tried to piece together the sleeve of his shirt after following me through the thorns.

DSC01229With the commotion of a couple gringos tap dancing along the bank with anticipation, this seasoned trout had pushed a little further upstream, sliding its nose just underneath an overhanging bush. While this gave me a little more cover to move around and get situated, it also made it nearly impossible to drift a fly anywhere near him. But that wasn’t going to stop me.

Slowly sliding down the bank on my ass and knees, I crept into position along the bank.

Taking several seconds to survey my surroundings, I quickly tried to put together a game plan and weigh my options. I had a stupid small window to present my flies, and an even smaller area to land my flies. Each presentation had to be damn near perfect in order to get the drift that I needed without either spooking this fish or having my fly swept into faster current. And, better yet, all of this had to be done while crouching in a cramped area with my rod sticking through a space within the trees about the size of a twelve pack of long necks. It was really tight. I questioned whether or not a hookset was even possible without shattering my rod in the trees, but, then again, you don’t know what you don’t know. I was committed to giving this my maximum effort.

After settling in, I had to play a little waiting game. I needed him to slide back to where we originally found him lying, a little downstream of my position. After several minutes of sitting still, he finally began to glide back downstream and settled in about eight feet down river of the overhanging bush that he had previously been sitting under.

With him sitting in a more favorable location, all there was left to do was to present the fly.

Easier said than done! Like I mentioned, things were super tight. There was no cast, and a hook set could have very well been catastrophic. Everything had to be precise. So what did I do? Sliding my rod slowly thru the branches and over the water, I took my fly in between my left thumb and forefinger and I threw the damn thing in the water. To my relief, the slight “plop” of the fly didn’t faze this fish as it began its decent. The line of my initial presentation looked pretty good, but the currents that played into the drift pushed my fly well to the outside of his position and kept my fly much too high in the column. Depending on where he decided to lie, this brown was holding in water between two and three feet deep and in some moderately swift current. I knew immediately that I needed to get down quicker.

Enter fly #2. A good lookin’ #14 Black Prince nymph with a fluorescent thread collar that decorated a stout, barbless jig hook. Tied approximately ten inches behind the PT on another piece of 3x, it was sure to help me get down quicker, as well as increase my odds of catching the eye of this wily trout.

Tossing two flies into the water with your non-dominant hand is a little trickier, but I managed a handful of respectable drifts. The water of the Limay River is crystal clear, making it easy to spot my flies as they danced along the current. While both flies were indeed getting down a little quicker, maintaining an accurate drift with the funky currents kept me from getting a solid presentation to this fish.

C0173-1After a frustrating effort, and harassing this trucha grande until he pushed back up under the overhanging bush, we decided to give it a break. We would setup lunch and take some time to take a step back and chill out, giving the trout an opportunity to rest as well.

Our guides Willy and Gustavo erected our table and began dishing out the day’s lunch. I took a seat, facing at the water just downstream from where I had last presented my flies. Just minutes into lunch I looked up from the table to find that Mr. Brown had drifted back to his original lie, in plain view of everyone sitting at the table. Spending your lunch with a trophy fish like this certainly isn’t something you would expect to experience, but it was a most welcome sight. Even if catching this fish wasn’t meant to be, I had thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to watch this fish glide around in all its glory. Having said that though, I wasn’t done. I knew I had yet to get a quality presentation to this fish, and until I did that, I was not going to be satisfied. I wanted this trout to see my best drift and either take my fly or completely refuse it. Only then would I be content with my efforts.

After a couple empanadas and some tasty flan, I was right back at it.

With our movements along the bank, he had returned back to the bush, but I wasn’t deterred. Crawling back into position, I waited until he was in the most favorable position for a better drift and presentation. I only wanted quality drifts this time. Nothing half-ass. As I sat and stared at this big boy hovering above the riverbed, I couldn’t help but get kind of lost in the sauce. I could have sat and watched him all day, and with him back under the overhanging bush, I thought that may be all I would have the chance to do. However, with each passing moment he began to slide back. When he finally settled in he was a little further downstream from me than he had been in the prior attempts to feed him, giving me more room to get my flies down. To top it off, he was even holding in water a little shallower and closer to the bank as well.

DSC01199Knowing that this was my shot, I tossed my flies into the water. The flies shot down toward the smooth rocks of the riverbed as I reached outward with my H3, giving my flies as much of a chance as I could. It was a damn good looking drift. As my flies disappear near the bottom of the river, I visualized where they should be along their drift. Just as I knew they should be right in front of this trout’s nose, I see it. The money shot. As bright as white can get, I see his mouth open and shut. In my mind, in that moment, there was only one reason for him to do that. He’s taken my fly. Trying my best to keep my cool in this split second of time, I lifted the rod and set the hook in the only direction I could… Upstream.

Nothing. Damnit! He had to take my fly! Did I just rip the fly from his mouth?

Possibly. It was an upstream hookset on a large fish. Gustavo had seen the fish open and close his mouth as well, and felt pretty certain that he had likely taken my fly. I knew for sure we were toast, however, during that deflating moment the brown had fallen well downstream from where he had been lying. Far enough downstream that I could sneak around and actually position myself downstream of him, allowing me to control my drift more easily. And on top of that, it was a wide open space with plenty of room for the simple things like casting and setting the hook.

Giving him a few minutes to rest while I zig-zagged my way back though more thorns and bushes, I also took the time to gather my thoughts and reset. Fishing upstream now, I felt more confident in my chances of hooking up with this monster so long as he wasn’t shut down from my previous failure to seal the deal.

Crouching and kneeling once again, I made my way up the bank and stationed myself about fifteen feet downstream of his tail. Keeping a low profile, I made my first presentation as he sat cool as a cucumber in about two feet of water. It was awful. My angle was horrible and my flies fell way to the inside of him and got sucked into much slower water, which absolutely killed my drift. I gently stripped my flies downstream of him and prepped for a better second effort. The initial attempt had moved him back upstream about a foot, so I knew I had better get my act together before he tucked back into the bush upstream. I took one more step upstream and made a small adjustment in my stance to prevent my flies from getting sucked back into the slower water.

With Louis poised behind me with his camera, a Cheshire-grin-wearing Willy on the bank chanting “Justin, Justin, Justin”, and Gustavo standing by with his net, I took my next shot. It was a good one. Really good. My flies landed gently and immediately I could tell this was going to be the one. He’s either going to eat one of these flies, or he’s going to glide off and completely refuse my offering. My fingers began clinching the cork on my rod as my flies got closer and closer to the snout of this hog. Just as my flies drifted to where he lay, I saw his thick head and body move ever so slightly to the right. The slight amount of slack in my leader suddenly straightened, and I set the hook.

“I got him,” I shouted as the peanut gallery behind me came to life.

As exciting as that moment was to have finally hooked up with that bad boy, that feeling immediately turned to anxiety. I’ve got a really big, wild fish on a #14 barbless nymph in some big damn water. All that brown trout had to do was haul ass downstream and “hasta luego”. Game over. Fortunately, he didn’t do that. Instead, he just bulldogged me in the moderately fast current where he had been holding. At one point he made a dash for that overhanging bush, which had a few submerged limbs that would have proven challenging, but I was able to steer him back downstream before he found any trouble. After what seemed like forever, Gustavo stepped in the water and dipped the net under his large, kyped head. As that silvery brown began to fill the net, the full gravity of landing this beast sank in for both of us. As I let out a booming “hell yeah!” across the river, a stout apex predator went berserk inside the net.

C0187-1In a last ditch effort, before the net was lifted from the water, he turned downward and tried his damnedest to swim through the bottom of the bag, nearly taking Gustavo with him. Wrangling this buck nasty brute, Gustavo swung the net across the surface of the water and to where I was kneeling. Gazing into the net at this amazing fish, I reached in and removed the fly from the right corner of his upper jaw. I grasped his tail with my left hand, my right hand still clinched tightly to the cork of my rod. Check mate.

Everything had finally come together. The planning. The adjustments. The visualizing. The strategy. The execution. It had all played out in my favor, but the one thing that played the biggest role in landing this fish was persistence.

DSC01306I’m stubborn as hell on a normal day, but if you put me in front of a big fish with slim to none chances of catching it, then I get hyper focused and dig in deep. I knew that if I landed this fish, it would certainly be one of my best catches and I was going to do everything I could to give myself the best shot at hooking and landing it. Every presentation was calculated, and better than the previous. Taking my time, and even a lunch break, to think and plan. It doesn’t always end with positive results for me, but on this day it did and I could not have been more stoked.

As I lifted the bulky, migratory brown trout from the net and held him in my hands, I just stared at him through the crystal water of the Rio Limay. How the hell am I holding such an awesome thing as this? It’s a moment that I will never forget. Looking him in the eye one last time and thanking him for gracing me with his presence, I let his powerful, broad tail slip through my hand and watched him glide gracefully into the turquoise depths of Argentina. My persistence had certainly paid off this time around.

Don’t just read about it. Join us in Argentina for Big trout and golden dorado Feb 2-12 2019. Get the details on our HOSTED TRIPS PAGE.

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “Persistence Pays In Silver and Brown

  1. Awesome story. Brings back memories of a rainbow trout in Alaska. It was a giant and while I failed to bring her to hand I was able to finally fool her with fly and drift. I never cared that I lost her, I planned to release her anyway. Besides it’s the challenge of hooking up that drives the fly angler. Who am I fooling! The loss of that trout haunts me to this day, but at least we were able to dance,if only for a moment. Thank you for the memory and your dance with the big brown.

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