Small flies, big challenges

E-mail Print

By Reinaldo Ovando
Editors Note: The following is from Issue 14.
Southern Chile and Argentina offer a variety of ecosystems and natural landscapes that can really take your breath away, the large majority of them with little human intervention, and some almost completely pristine, make Patagonia an ideal international destination for fly fishermen. Even more so if you add to this the possibility of fishing true "trophies" that will test even the most experienced fisherman, either by the species that it is possible to find or by the geographical and climatic conditions in the extreme south of South America.
Usually, fishermen come to Patagonia thinking that the larger the fly, the larger the fish. It's fun to see the surprised faces of inexperienced fishermen when they see the tiny size of some of the flies in my fly boxes. "These are to fish whitebait or baby fish?”, they often ask me, almost with a tone of derision. And when I tell them that, despite their size, with them I can fish for trout weighing 4 or 5 pounds, their faces light up in surprise and disbelief. That’s because sometimes, the size is not what’s most important, especially when seeking greater individual challenges.
Trying to catch a big trout with small flies can be one of the most fascinating experiences a fisherman can face, and often it happens not by choice. From my perspective, it is the river and their conditions which dictate the form in which one should fish, and not the other way around. Nevertheless, often supported with preconceived ideas that fishing one or another way is the "best,” leads, in many cases, to using the wrong gear or technique.
When I speak of small flies, I am referring to patterns tied in hooks #14 to #18, which in my case are the smallest sizes that I use. That is a true aberration for the regular angler in Chile’s Los Lagos Region – which I am one - whose average size is typically the #6. As a commercial fly tyer, my clients tend to request from me hundreds of flies per year, and almost never request patterns in sizes smaller than #8. The same goes for the stores for whom I provide flies.
That said, it’s also true that fly fishing with small flies present enormous challenges. One of them is the presentation. It is necessary to locate the fly in the precise place so as not to scare the fish you’re attempting to catch. In creeks, this sometimes means putting only a small part of the line and the leader above the current, while in big rivers it is preferable to throw at a distance that allows the current to help take the fly to the precise place where the fish feeds, followed by careful control of the free line and preventing at all costs our fly or indicator from skating to the surface.
For a good presentation and proper performance for this sized fly its necessary to use leaders with tippets from 4X to 7X, otherwise, the flies are too rigid and it can affect the buoyancy in the case of dry flies. The use of leaders of this caliber is a real challenge when trying to fish this way, especially when our prey are around 20 inches (50 cm) in length. The key is to do battle with just the right amount of force at the moment you hook a fish and then control the loose line in the subsequent fight with the fish.
Where can you practice this type of fishing? Anywhere there exist consistent hatches of midges, caddis and mayflies, which in the case of the Los Lagos region occurs in small rivers, spring creeks, lakes and some specific sectors of large rivers, like crosscurrents, meanders and in general areas with slow waters.
About 15 years ago, I had my debut in this entertaining and challenging form of fishing. My friend Hernan Barrientos, a connoisseur of the Puelo River basin, taught me how to catch trout of very good size with imitations of midges, particularly with Griffit's gnat in size #18, in the crosscurrents of the Puelo. These are places where the strong currents interrupt when you move abruptly, generating a little oasis that attract a significant quantity of insects in the process of hatching, or some dead insects trapped in the foam.
This type of fishing is not the most abundant, and it depends on climatic factors, water levels and the presence or not of hatches of insects, but it is definitely possible to fish this way, and very challenging, and eminently worthwhile trying to develop the skills needed to do it with success.

Subscribe Today!