Stocking the Larder for a Patagonian Winter

It really was a research trip: the Amazon River, Machu Picchu, Cusco. Along the way, I caught piranha in the Amazon. Tiny, deadly fish that struck aggressively, baring razor-like teeth before hitting the boat in a Napoleonic frenzy. No skill was involved except preventing the snarky devils’ interaction with a body part.

But how can a fly fisherman go to South America and skip Patagonia’s fine rivers? I was Chile-bound with my wading pants in my carry-on.

He was the last fish of the trip. I was tired, having caught and released eight Chinooks in two days. They fought savagely, and I used traditional lures instead of fluffy flies requiring stripping or spey-cast swinging. I’m a committed fish releaser, hoping to catch every one repeatedly as they grow stronger, propagating the species with each seasonal cycle.

But when I hooked El Guapo—which means Pretty Face, which he lacked—I knew he was the size of a minivan. After twenty minutes of slow dancing in a pump-and-reel two step punctuated by long runs and steady head shakes (both his and mine), I slid him to the bank with shaking arms. The mighty beast had swum many seasons from the Pacific ocean less than three miles downriver.

El Guapo the Chinook: 44 inches, 58/59 pounds

Winter in Patagonia hits hard. Employment is still seasonal for many, requiring larder stocking for snowy, blustery months ahead. El Guapo would feed families, the guide assured me, as a welcome addition to many freezers. So we returned to the States with only memories of the fight—a few photos of one of less than a dozen fish kept in twenty years of sport fishing.

El Guapo, I salute you. May you fill a dozen empty bellies, and may your children live long lives.


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