Big Brown Trout: The Fish I Remember

When you’ve been fishing as many years as I have, you just can’t remember all of the big brown trout you’ve ever caught. But what I do remember, are the guys who were with me when I caught them, and the ones that had such interesting stories that they get told over and over again by the campfire.

Maybe I’m a slow learner, but it’s taken me nearly a lifetime to figure it all out. It’s not just about the fish.

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When I was a kid I fished alone a lot of the time, chasing bluegill and bass in the brackish backwaters of Florida with a cane pole. Then in my twenties, just a few years into my post-college career, I quit my job (much to my parents dismay), and took off across the country. I drove west until I hit the Rockies, turned north, and kept driving and fishing until I couldn’t go any farther. I caught some really great brown trout in Wyoming and Montana, then fished my way through British Columbia and the Yukon, and ended up in Alaska. I stayed there for six years chasing trout in some spectacular country. The strange thing is, I remember almost none of it, and very few of the thousands of fish.

The moments that stay with me; the ones that I remember so vividly, are the times when I wasn’t alone. The times when I was with great friends and we shared an incredible experience. And sometimes it included a really big brown trout.

Here’s a moment I’ll remember forever.

Gustavo Hiebaum - Andes Drifters

Gustavo Hiebaum – Andes Drifters

I get a message from my friend Gustavo Hiebaum, owner of Andes Drifters, and he tells me that he and his head guide, Gonzalo Flego, are going to pack into a wilderness river in the Andes Mountains and do an exploratory trip. Someplace that few people have ever been, and almost no one has ever fished, because it’s really remote. Would I like to come along? I think I was their guinea pig to see if an average guy could survive it. You bet, I’m in. Anything for the improvement of fly fishing science.

The journey to get there is a story on it’s own that I’ll tell another time. The lasting memory is about the Huge Brown Trout. Here’s the scene:

Gonzalo Flego - PatagoniFlyFisherman

Gonzalo Flego

We’ve been wading in a crystalline stream all day, taking turns in every new pool as we work up river. We’re slaying them. The smallest fish we’ve caught all day is about 18 inches, and we’re seeing a lot of fish in the mid-twenties; in two feet of water. It’s early Spring. These fish are ravenously hungry, and they act like they’ve never seen an artificial fly before. Ever. As we come to the last pool of the afternoon, Gustavo says, “Memo you’re up.”

I cast a small dry and drift it through the pool, and a big, dark shadow comes to the surface and gives it a look. Not interested. He turns and goes back to his hideaway. Gustavo is standing behind me, “Here take my rod, I’ve got a different fly on!” So I pass him my rod, and take his. One more cast and an easy drift. Same spot, this enormous brown trout comes up, sniffs, and then refuses again and disappears. Agh!!

Now Gonzalo is passing his rod forward to me, “Here I’ve got a mouse fly on my rod, try it!”

I take his rod, make the cast and skate the mouse across the pool. And again, the big brown trout rolls up, chases for a moment, and then refuses. This fish is picky. Three flies, three refusals.

As I was making the last cast, Gonzalo has my original rod in hand and is frantically tying on another big barbless dry pattern in anticipation of taking a fourth shot at this monster brown trout. These guys are tenacious fishermen. He passes it forward through the daisy-chain of fly rods. “Take another shot at him!” The three of us are working this fish as a team, and my team mates are keeping me in the game.

One more cast and a brown comes up and slams it! But it’s a different fish. I guess this smaller brown (19 inches) has been watching big boy refuse all these treats and he just couldn’t stand it any longer. The big fish has obviously retired for the day. So we release the one I have in hand, and take a couple steps forward and cast the same dry fly up to the head of the pool; and guess who comes up?

This time, no chasing, no sniffing, just “slurp”, right off the surface. The team of three is going crazy. We know it’s a really big brown trout, but we didn’t know just how big until he destroys the surface of this little stream pool in a tail-walking tarpon act. I’m on the rod, Gustavo is coaching, and Gonzalo has pulled the net and he’s wading in. Even the videographer, (oh yeah, I almost forgot the videographer Pablo Saracco!) he’s screaming too, but he’s staying on film like a pro. And after a prolonged battle, the big brown trout came to hand. But after it’s all over, this isn’t a story about a fish.

Yep, I remember the fish. But when I tell the story, as I have a few times already, it always seems to be about my friends, and this fantastic experience we shared on the river that day. Sharing the fish picture is fun, but it really doesn’t tell the story. What I’m wishing I really had is a picture of me and my friends right after the fish was sent on his merry way home. But to my great fortune, the story was captured in an awesome video, and the hugs and smiles tell the real tale.

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