Stalking the wily Andes trout

Trusted tips for fishers of men

Casting for success

2020-10-16 |

If you are still following this blog, loyal reader, thank you. Your perseverance is genuinely appreciated because, unlike most articles about fishing, this one is pathetically devoid of good advice on how to catch fish.

Today I will try to remedy that defect. I promise to share absolutely everything I know about how to catch the wily Andes trout. Don’t worry, this won’t take long.

First, dress for success. If you have hip waders in your wardrobe, that’s great. But I would not invest in new ones, mainly because the streams in our part of the Andes never come up to your hips. Only a few carry enough water to make it over your ankles. Hip waders are definitely overkill.

For stream fishing, old tennis shoes are your best bet. Canvas preferably, which dries quickly once you’re out of the water. The more holes the better, so as to allow for easy flow-through. The older the better, because after you spend a day wading through streams in them, the shoes are utterly worthless for anything else.

Cutoff jeans go well with holey shoes for fishing in the lush cloud forests that grow on the lower slopes of the Andes. High altitude streams descend through this magical zone of exotic birds, butterflies and thick foliage on their way to the jungle. Once there, the streams become rivers and flow on to the Amazon. You get the picture. Water temperatures in the cloud forest are still cold enough for trout, but not too cold for cutoff jeans.

Warning: Do not wear cutoffs when fishing at high altitude. This will subtract several years from your lifespan. On a few occasions, I have baptized new converts in high altitude streams. That is the only possible justification for putting yourself in the middle of one. The ice water doesn’t feel cold, it just hurts. Ever had your legs crushed in a metal compactor? This is worse.

Most of the high altitude fishing in our part of the Andes is done in lakes, from the shore. Instead of holey canvas shoes, it’s best to wear hiking boots and wool socks. Because air temperatures can change drastically and instantly, it’s best to take along several layers of clothes. Wear a long sleeve shirt over a tank top or T-shirt. Take along a sweater or sweatshirt to go over that. An insulated jacket is next, followed by something water-proof for when it busts out raining.

You MUST wear a hat with a brim all around. The unfiltered UV rays at these heights rapidly scorch any skin exposed to the sun. The tips of your ears and back of your neck are primary targets, so a good hat is essential. It also stops body heat from radiating out of the top of your head, thus helping you conserve energy. Never leave home without it.

Now that you’re properly suited up, let’s go get ‘em.

Second piece of advice: down-size when gearing up. It’s my personal view that whoever invented ultralight tackle must have caught sorohchi at some point and realized the key to successful fishing at high altitude is to cut out every ounce of excess weight. Sure, absurdly tiny rod, reel and line add to the thrill of landing a big trout, but the real reason you use ultralight gear in the mountains is to help you breathe. (If this sounds odd, see Blog One, What goes down.)

I like a short rod, about five feet long and jointed so I can break it down to claw my way up a rocky bluff or wiggle through thick cloud forest. I’ve been using the same pole for 40 years. Made in Japan, sold in Peru and repeatedly repaired with duct tape after clawing up rocky bluffs or wiggling through thick cloud forest. I rarely spend more than thirty bucks on a reel, mainly because I haven’t figured out how to repair one with duct tape.

Don’t take along a tackle box that won’t fit in the pocket of your windbreaker. You may think you will need more stuff than that by the end of the day, but I guarantee that by the end of the day you will not need anything so much as enough energy to drag your weary frame back home.

What goes in the tackle box? Basically four types of artificial bait. Dry flies, spinners, money clips and sinking spoons. If you have still water and the fish are rising, tie on a bubble float and trail your fly six feet behind it. If you need range, a quarter ounce Jakes (the gold one with red dots that looks like a money clip) will get you to the middle of the lake and beyond. Use a heavy spoon to dive to the bottom of deep holes where the grandotes (Spanish for “monsters”) lurk.

Finally, if you want to catch a lot of fish, use a Mepps spinner.

Conventional wisdom has it that the French make the best food in the world. Myself, I’d rather eat Italian or Arab any day. But I must admit that when it comes to spinner baits, the French do indeed make the best in the world. I reckon that 9 of every 10 rainbows I have caught hooked themselves on a Mepps.

A major reason is the versatility of this bait. Because Mepps come in sizes from the half-ounce #5 down to the tiny #00, you can use them in lake, stream or hatchery pond. (I had permission for that, okay?) Match the size of the lure to the amount of water you are fishing. I suggest #2 to #4 for lakes, #1 or smaller for streams.

Don’t worry, big fish bite on tiny spinners and tiny fish, if hungry enough, will find a way to wrap their chops around a hook half their body length.

But know this. If trout are going to bite, they do so fast and furiously. I reckon that 9 of 10 rainbows I have taken from streams struck on the first cast. This happened so often that I adopted the Fourcast Rule. It says that no matter how promising it looks, give a trout hole four casts at most. If nothing has happened by then, it’s a good bet nothing will. Best move on.

This is not to say that something might have happened in that hole and you missed it. That happens to anglers more times than we know. But know this. If you don’t hook the trout on his first strike, he will not give you a second chance. Best move on.

I have personal proof. Once when fishing the Malaga River I clawed my way up a towering waterfall from the cloud forest to a barren table land. I did this because the locals told me that was where the grandotes lurked. Up there, the Malaga was no more than ankle deep, offering pools about the size of a bathtub. I berated myself for believing the locals and wasting all that energy climbing the waterfall. Grandotes surely needed more habitat than this to survive.

But since I was already up there with nothing better to do, I flicked my #0 Mepps into one of the bathtub-size holes. Instantly, the biggest trout I had ever seen rocketed from under a rock ledge at my feet. He sucked my spinner into his mouth, tasted it and spit it back out in disgust. The monster then casually turned around and disappeared again under the rock ledge.

This entire sequence took roughly 1.8 seconds. I felt a slight tug when the fish struck, something like you feel when your spinner bumps over a rock or hits a ripple in the current. I would never have known what really happened, except that the tiny pool was crystal clear and I had a ring-side seat for the action.

I can’t say how long I stood there, awestruck and trembling. Then I snapped back to reality and started frantically flicking my spinner across the pool, time after time. Would he take it again? Oh Lord, please!

Well, you can guess the answer to that. No amount of casting or coaxing would bring him out again. A veteran gourmet, he had learned to eat only what was good for him. He wasn’t interested in my tasteless placebo. Best move on.

So that’s the sum of my advice on how to catch fish in the Andes. I’m sorry, loyal reader, if you are disappointed. I’m even sorrier if you should take this advice and experience disappointing results. Forgive me. I can only repeat the tired disclaimer that what works for one, doesn’t work for all.

Except if you’re talking about Jesus. According to the Bible, He gave advice to fishermen three times in his life, and every time it produced astonishing results (See Matthew 17, Luke 5 and John 21.) If there ever was a man who gave good advice, it was Jesus.

That is because Jesus is what we call “infallible”. That word means “never failing,” “always effective,” “incapable of making mistakes or being wrong.” Wow, think about that! Imagine how happy it would make our wives if we were infallible, instead of just thinking we are.

When it comes to infallibility, Jesus is the real deal. He is incapable of error. You can take his advice to the bank. He will never steer you wrong.

It’s worth mentioning here that Jesus talked about a whole lot more than fishing. He gave advice on life, love, money, work, family, friends, Heaven, hell, and of course, God. All of it infallible. All of it, if followed, produces astonishing results.

So, you want some advice?

Next time: Packing it in.