Fly Fishing the Rio Limay Medio in Patagonia

By Julie Tallman, Athens, Georgia

Whoa! My boatmate exclaimed, “Look at him!” When my sulking brown trout finally came to the surface, I could not believe its size. We had just boated Rick’s big brown, 29”, 10+ pounds, and I had hooked this fish on the first cast back at the spot where Rick caught his. What a surprise to find another fish of equivalent size at the same spot, but there he was parked in a great feeding seam. Thus, my new fishing friend and I started our trip down the Rio Limay Medio with Andes Drifters and its excellent guides.

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The Rio Limay Medio stretches for approximately 70 kilometers or 55 miles between reservoirs in the desert part of northern Patagonia. Our timing was the equinox week of March, separating summer from fall. The nights were quite cool and the days cool to pleasantly warm, usually windy. The Rio Limay Medio flows through high desert, open and with few people populating the river side.

The browns were beginning to move into the river in preparation for fall spawning and to follow the minnows. I was keen to catch them. I had taken two previous trips with Andes Drifters on the Rio Limay Medio, had watched browns of remarkable size being landed, and had landed some nice browns myself, but nothing like I knew was there. It is a river that demands a straight-line cast with a sinking line. Two of the largest browns landed by clients of Andes Drifters were hooked by a woman with casts not much more than 30 feet in length. I knew my casts did not need to fly as far as the guys seemed to cast, but I hadn’t yet realized the best casts needed to fly out in a straight line. Looking back on the trip, I hooked my trout when my line straightened out at the end of each cast. The swinging fly is then able to entice the trout with its realistic behavior.

As the only woman on this trip, I do not think my ambitions or desires were any different from the guys who had signed on. Perhaps I was a bit more aware of the beautiful surroundings, but perhaps not. We all were fly fishing fanatics, happy to be on a camping trip, and eager to try our skills. The camp staff gave me a single tent, most often right next to everyone else’s tents, a private chemical toilet, and chance to take a hot shower every night, if I wanted. Tents, sleeping bags, pillows, and dry-bags were all labeled and transported each day from camp to camp by two supply pontoon boats. I had no unfulfilled needs, no unexpected surprises that could have proven difficult. What a pleasure to beach the drift raft each night and be greeted by an excellent dinner, and then comfortable sleep on cots and air mattresses.

But back to the fishing, knowing that we would be using rubber drift rafts with standing platforms that made line tangling a nuisance, I had invested in an Orvis stripping basket, carried it on the plane from the states, and hoped it would be worth while in dealing with sinking lines and the ever-present Patagonia winds. By the second day, most of the guides were talking about it and my new fishing friends were, dare I say, a bit jealous. I had fewer tangles and a much cleaner line throughout the entire trip, not to mention, being able to send the line out further on my casts than I had previously. I discovered that line control on these rafts is crucial to fishing success. Every time my cast zinged out with all the free line, my guide would say, “Good cast!” Fish usually struck at the end of the swing on the fly dangle, having been enticed by the fly’s behavior on the swing. If the line isn’t tight, the fly doesn’t behave like it should and the fish won’t strike.

The middle section of the Limay is known for fish chasing minnows on top water. We were told we would see this excitement and weren’t disappointed. We would reach riffles where the guides would stop, switch us from sinking lines to floating minnow flies on floating lines. At one riffle, the guide told us to watch because we would see rainbows rocketing out of the water chasing the minnow flies as they crossed the seams. I heard this, but it didn’t register totally until we actually saw the fish aerializing two to three feet in the air, trying to attack the minnows. This awesome sight mesmerized my boat mate and myself. We would cast across the seam and watch the rainbows attack. But the set had to be so quick or you chance a snag of the rainbow, like I did, foul hooking it. Never mind, we would have more chances to test our increasing skills and learn how to deal with the rush of adrenalin in setting the hook quickly. More riffles gave us chances to fish floating minnow flies. Incredibly testing and fun! Because the river was exceptionally low this year, more riffles were evident than on my previous trips. Rapid riffles on a bend draping over a deep drop-off produced one of the most exciting catches of the week when I saw a large rainbow rise up out of the depths and attack my fly. Wow, was that a treat!

Several times during the first five days of this six-day trip, we would see wakes of big fish on top and minnows splashily trying to get away. It was only an appetizer to the final day when we saw boils and wakes constantly as we approached the reservoir signifying the end of our trip. Where we could, we tossed our flies toward these boils, hoping to get close enough to entice the rainbow toward our minnows. Watching the fish follow the minnows was incredibly exciting. I had to remember to keep stripping my line as fast as I could. If I stopped, the fish would turn away. Minnows don’t stop their escape rush. I will not forget seeing a huge rainbow follow right up to the raft, making a final lunge right by the boat, capturing my fly. The fight was on while the guide rowed to the bank. The rainbow did not want to give up. This incredible fish was my final fish of the trip and seemed a fitting end to a wonderful trip. Kudos to Andes Drifters, our outstanding guides, and my gentlemen fishing partners. I will be back.

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