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By Cathy Beck

Here I am on the Rio Malleo, which is perhaps the best dry fly river in all of Patagonia, and my Argentine/Italian guide Nicco is suggesting that I fish a worm. I can’t believe it. In his defense we have had two days of horrendous winds with few if any hatches. Nicco smiles and reminds me that we have yet to see a fish rise today. I look at the red San Juan worm and wonder what Ronnie Olson would think. He’s our host and San Huberto lodge owner. My husband Barry and I are here hosting a group of friends and fly fishermen and we sell this river on its history of prolific hatches. I try to picture myself back at the lodge when someone asks what fly worked for me today. Would I say a size 18 blue winged olive because that’s what should be hatching or would I fess up and say, Oh, a size 10 red San Juan worm, and blame it on Nicco.

And then how about Nicco. He’s a guide’s guide if there ever was one. He’s one of the best, but one look at him and you have to scratch your head – his wading boots are falling apart, his waders are torn beyond repair, he says he just broke his landing net as well as his new Sage One. He was putting the rod into a rod rack in his truck when the tip got stuck, Ouch. His check engine light is on in his truck and his speedometer is broken. If you didn’t know him, you would have to wonder if this guy is so bad that no one tips him or is his gear in shambles because he works that hard. I know from experience that it’s the latter. Nicco will do anything to get his clients into a fish.

To be honest I have a number of worm patterns in my fly boxes including a selection of rubber band worms that I find are much more effective than the vernille worms. And we just returned from a month of hosting trips in New Zealand where the rubber band worm reigns but this is different, this river is unique and it has a long list of aficionados who play by the rules with 6x and tiny dries. That said, we tie on the worm, add a strike indictor, and off to the dark side we go.

An hour into it and we have lost two and landed four including a nice cart-wheeling 16 inch rainbow. I’m not feeling the slightest bit of guilt anymore. Action is action. Oh, I almost forgot – the 6x tippet has been replaced with Rio 4x and the fish don’t care. They seem eager to egg the worm regardless of tippet size. Nicco says it’s time to move to another pool, he thinks we’ve worn out our welcome here so we move on upstream.

The Rio Malleo flows through the Olsen family’s San Huberto estancia and has over 20 beats. There are few rivers that can offer the mixed bag of fishing opportunities of this queen of spring creeks. We are fishing beat number three on the upper end of the Olsen’s property and as we come around a bend we are treated to a full view of the Lanin Volcano with its majestic snowcapped peak. The view reminds me that the mountain alone is worth the trip. Nicco points to the head of a deep run and says that there is a really nice brown that hangs out there. We start at the bottom of the pool and patiently work our way up. A pint size rainbow who acts likes he’s bigger than he is takes the worm and jumps all over the pool. Oh great, just what we need to alert any good size fish that might live here.

The head of the pool is within reach now. My cast lands and I watch as the strike indicator comes swiftly back to me without pause. Another cast, and then two more, when Nicco says just one more. This time the indictor disappears as if it was never there and the eight foot nine little four weight Sage Circa is straining against something that spells size. A few minutes later the brown in the net is smaller than I would have guessed from the fight that has just ended. Nicco pulls out a faded measuring tape and says twenty inches on the mark. I ask to take a look and can barely see the faded twenty inch mark, but it’s there and this is a beautiful wild brown, and yes, in the corner of its mouth is Nicco’s red San Juan worm.

It’s almost dark as we arrive back at the lodge and most of our group is gathered on the porch hanging waders and gear and sharing thoughts on the day. I begin to think of a way to get around the worm thing when one of our guests, Steve Binnick, walks up to me and of all things asks, “Did you bring any San Juan worms”? I am saved

Adios. From the banks of the Rio Malleo and the San Huberto lodge