Book Excerpt: Cue the Tango Scene in Argentina

Written by: Steve Duda

Illustrations by Matthew DeLorme

The Rio Alumine is one of the most remarkable trout streams on the planet. Broad and clear, even in its early-season bustle, it is a hundred rivers contained by a single canyon etched by a massive earth chisel. The Alumine throws wonderment and a series of questions at an angler every foot of every river mile. It is tireless in its range, diversity, and surprise, and from the front of a driftboat, those surprises appear around every river bend.

My first fish is an enormous brown. Big. Even bigger than that. He comes from nowhere, crushing a streamer splashed tight to the bank. My heart stops for a moment when he turns on the fly. We all see the chase. Then he is on. Then the fight, the cheering, the backslapping. I release him. There is glory for El Polako—but then nothing happens. Nothing keeps happening. The river, so gorgeous, is suddenly not giving up the goods. Fish—giant Patagonian monsters—should be there, and there and there, but they are not. Where the hell are they? We stop for lunch, and I hunt around random coolers for a stray Quilmes. Then I notice it. Unbelievable. A gaffe more egregious than AJ’s laundry debacle—a bunch of bananas sit brown and squashy in tepid cooler water. I point into the cooler and yell, “Bananas!”

Everyone stops. Everyone looks. There they are, real as day and tragic as sin. Bananas. In the cooler. On a fishing trip. In Argentina. Monsterland. Springtime. The Alumine. What? How?

I am not superstitious. I don’t read my horoscope. I’m not into metaphysics or religion or lottery tickets. But some things are beyond science. Bananas in a boat—thought by sailors to bring bad luck going back to the 1700s, when trade ships that wrecked in the Caribbean were found to be survived only by bananas floating in the water—are one of those things. Do they have this sort of science in Argentina? Are things different here?

No. Universal angling laws are universal angling laws. Bananas in a boat are a definite no-go in Patagonia, too. The guides are humiliated. How could this happen with a drone droning, El Polako catching his big brown, and the gringo who dries his underpants on the asado? Esteban calls a meeting with his crew. Something must be done. After some shouting, pointing, and hugging, the plan is in place. We are to smash the bananas with rocks, yell an insult regarding bananas, and then chuck them into the Rio Alumine. Everyone has to do it; everyone does. While this scene is happening, I think, “Is this really happening?”

After lunch, AJ begins throwing streamers and I switch to an oversized, dry attractor pattern. We pound the bank. Fish, suddenly, are where they are supposed to be. Two massive rainbows battle over one perfectly cast streamer. A twenty-three-inch brown sips the dry as delicately as a kitty lapping a bowl of milk. There are giant fish. There are doubles. Trout porn is happening all around us, and we can only wonder: Was it the bananas? Esteban smiles and says, “You just had to wait. You just had to climb on the burro!”

On our final day in Patagonia, we have a decision to make: hit a small, unfished spring creek we may or may not have access to, or roll over to Lago Tromen, a lake at the very base of Volcan Lanin. I vote for the spring creek. I lose. The lake it is.

Lago Tromen is too beautiful, like a painting by a nature artist who has yet to realize that nature is not supposed to be perfect in every detail. But Lago Tromen is truly perfect, and holds massive brown, rainbow, and brook trout. We bomb long casts to the bank, over drop-offs and into shady cover. At one point, we wade a hard sand bottom and wait for hungry trout to emerge, patrolling the flat like bonefish. It is not like actual fishing. It is too good. It is too much. It is overwhelming. No fish less than sixteen inches. Not a bum fight on the fight card. Not a moment when I don’t look around in awe. After more than a week riddling over why I felt so at home in Patagonia, I am still stumped. Lanin, the massive volcano, looms above us. I think, “vast.” I think, “Mount Rainier.” I think, “home” and “backyard.” I am beginning to understand.

We motor back and load the boats, and then I jump in a pickup that reminds me of my beater back home. Along the way, we get a flat. A stranger stops and helps us fix it. I try to tell a joke in Spanish and fail, but the guides laugh anyway. A few beers are left in one of the coolers, and we drink them by the side of the dirt road, in the middle of nothing, in the middle of everything, in the middle of springtime.

Excerpted from River Songs: Moments of Wild Wonder in Fly Fishing (August 2024). Published by Mountaineers Books. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.”

Steve Duda is a writer, editor, and producer who lives in Seattle. He is the former editor of The Flyfish Journal and a founding editor at Boise Weekly.

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