It’s not about catching fish, umm right?

There is the window in the spring when every fisherman or woman in the mountains grabs their gear and tries to fish as much as possible.  It’s between when the weather warms up enough not to freeze your keister off standing in or floating down the river, and before the river blows out with runoff.

Blowout: when the snow starts to melt quickly, running into rivers and streams, bringing with it dirt, crud, muck, etc. that turns the river mocha.  The fish go to the bottom not to be seen until run off dissipates and the water clears – usually around July here in Jackson Hole.

This past week the Snake River in Jackson Hole went mocha but we had heard fishing on the South Fork of the Snake in Idaho was still good.  So Sunday morning we threw the kayaks on the Highlander and headed across The Pass to see if we could find some trout.

When we stopped at Rendezvous Fly Shop in Irwin, our hearts sank when Gary the owner told us they had opened the flow from the Palisades Dam.  Alas, it was a gorgeous day for a float and maybe the fish gods would be with us.

They weren’t…..but it’s not about catching fish right, it’s about the experience?!

Kayaking the South ForkThe river was a little murky and extremely cold with all the fresh water from the reservoir.  Our other clue fishing was not going to be good – we only saw one osprey and two eagles surveying the river the entire day.  Typically on that stretch, the birds are waiting for you to catch something so they can swoop in and steal it away!

So down the river we floated.  The sunshine felt glorious on my back, the green grass poking through the muddled browns of deadfall and deteriorating leaves were like microbursts of paint.  We stopped at various gravel bars and tried our luck in seams, riffles and pools that should obviously be holding fish.  Let’s just say it was a good practice day.

As we passed other fishermen we all asked the same question and got the same answer. Nothing happening.   At least it wasn’t just us.

Fall Creek FallsAs we approached Falls Creek Falls, our spirits lifted based solely on the beauty of this spot.  While I have floated past the Falls a number of times later in the year, I had never seen them early on when the water is gushing over the rocks.  A favorite place for fisherman and hikers to take a break, we stood and took in everything around us and were thankful we had the place to ourselves.

Five hours later we arrived at Conant boat ramp, a little dismayed at the lack of catching, but happy to have had such a beautiful and serene float down the river.  There was plenty of time to clear our heads, chat about life, make plans for our next fishing trip to Montana and just take in all that was around us.

I’ve always said, fly fishing is a great excuse to stand someplace beautiful and do absolutely nothing.  It was the universe’s way of reminding me, it’s not always about catching fish.

 

 

 

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Patagonia River Ranch

It’s been several years since I first learned about Patagonia River Ranch, world-renown for its luxury fly-fishing trips and accommodations.  I remember opening their website, transporting myself through their photo gallery and thinking, someday. Last November it was finally time for John and I to treat ourselves to “someday” and take a much needed break after a busy summer in Jackson Hole.

The Lodge

Our trip sums up as: the trip of a lifetime, incredible staff and service, exquisite ranch and scenery, 5-star wine and cuisine, and then there’s the fishing…

Sunday morning the lodge manager and all-around goddess, Salome, picked us up at our hotel in San Martin de los Andes.  (See my previous post on San Martin.) We met Salome last fall when she visited Jackson and immediately loved her vibrant personality and the wealth of information she provided about the ranch.  Greeting her again was like connecting with an old friend.

We drove about 30 minutes northeast of San Martin to the ranch which sits on the bank of the Chimehuin ChimihiunRiver.  We felt like we had been transported to “Jackson Hole II” as the scenery and flora were so similar.   The final road to the ranch is beautiful, lined with pine and aspen trees, lupine and honeysuckle.  Ken Gangwer, the owner of PRR, has done a spectacular job landscaping the property and creating a beautiful oasis in the high-desert mountains of Patagonia.

Our first wonderful surprise was being greeted at the entrance by the entire staff and the ranch’s four golden retriever mascotsGuides Cabin.  Our bags and fly rods were quickly whisked away, while introductions were made. Wondering how we would remember everyone’s names, upon arriving in our room we found a life-saving “who’s who” sheet with names, photos and job descriptions.  It’s those little touches that are a constant at PRR.

The PRR property is a landscape architect’s dream.  Ken has worked with the staff to plant over 1,000 rose bushes around the property, and developed trails that wind through the property and out to the river.  They have also created expansive gardens, greenhouses and orchards, growing practically all of the vegetables, fruit, herbs and eggs used in the kitchen.  The Lodge is simply, perfect.  Featured in Town & Country magazine, it’s beautiful log-style architecture is appointed in an elegant, yet casual design.  Beautiful gaucho saddles and Crillo knives, ornate mate gourds and a wonderful library of photography books about the area add more unique touches.   It’s the kind of place where you can dress up for dinner if you want, but a comfortable pair of fly fishing pants and shirt, coupled with a fleece vest is just fine.

So about the fly fishing.  First, we were blessed to land Kiki as our guide for the week, and we honestly have not laughed so hard and had so much fun on the river as with this talented young man.  Like all of PRR’s guides, Kiki is local and knows the river, the fish and the flies you need.  You can bring your own fly box, but why?  These guides have it down to science and you should trust them.

After settling into our room and then experiencing the first of many incredible meals, we headed out for an afternoon float down the Chimehuin River.   Now I have to admit, I was nervous, seriously nervous.  This is the Mecca of fly-fishing and I was terrified I would have one of those bumbling days where the fly goes anywhere but where you want it to land.  A quick prayer to the fishing gods, a deep breath, and ah…..right under the willows, calmly floating down the river.  It was a good sign.  Several casts later and BAM, welcome to the grab-and-go at warp speed of the Patagonia brown trout!  The smile on my face said it all.

JuliAnne's brown

Within several hours, we pulled out some spectacular browns and rainbows, but John won the glory with a beautiful golden brown trout.  We also learned quickly that if Kiki headed the boat to shore, we knew we had something good on the line.

John's golden6x3

While the Patagonia rivers are known for trophy fish that lurk at the bottom of the river, only to be teased up by streamers, we opted to be purists and use dry flies.  It was the opening week of the season and we knew they’d be hungry.  Plus, there was the challenge to see if we could present the fly just right and make them come from below and grab it.  Kiki’s beetle pattern was a favorite and it was worth the patience factor every time.

At the end of our first day, we pulled out on the banks of the ranch and were welcomedEduardo Happy Hour by the fabulous Eduardo who had a glass of Argentinian wine waiting for us, in addition to an expansive selection of happy-hour appetizers.  The guests started to trickle in and the fishing stories began to unfold.

Day two was spent on the lower part of the Chimehuin River and then the Collon Cura.  The scenery was breathtaking, the fishing exciting, and with a wide river and fewer willows, the daunting factor diminished.  But the best part of the day was the company.   A fellow guest was PRR’s “vice president of outdoor pursuits” Mark Patton.  Mark is an old college friend of Ken’s and has now become a dear friend of ours.  Mark kept us in stitches, while providing great facts and history about the area, and it was fun to sit back and watch him cast.  It never fails, you meet some incredible people when fishing.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we went on an overnight fishing/camping trip on the Caleufu River.  Let me clarify that we were not roughing it.  PRR has all the necessary camping gear, broaching on the edge “glamping.”  We slept comfortably, enjoyed the outdoors and spectacular scenery, the smell of gourmet food cooking over a wood fire, all while sipping another beautiful Argentinian or Chilean wine.

After the rapids

Floating the Caleufu is a 2-day snapshot of the beautiful and varied landscape of Patagonia. Starting in the mountains about an hour south of San Martin, we launched surrounded by majestic rock formations and the bright, fresh colors of spring.  The turquoise water was still a bit high and running fast, so we had fun running a few rapids, while still being able to slip into eddies and pull out another beefy brown or rainbow.Pulpit

As we floated down the river, we continually dropped in elevation.  Soon the canyons of rock fell away to more open banks, backed by green estanicas with beautiful rocks pillaring in the sky.  By the time we pulled into camp for the evening, we were enjoying wide open vistas that would turn to a high-desert profile on day two.  We simply saw it all, while continually landing fish on a regular basis.  Upon arrival at camp, the staff had been hard at work putting up the tents, preparing dinner and cocktails were served!

Now what would one of my posts be without talking about food?  There are so many exquisite things about PRR and the cuisine is one of them.  Chef Claudio, along with the pastry chef and sommelier, Patricia, are two talents who complete your experience.  From the breakfast table ladened with River lunchhomemade pastries, danishes and the most decadent french toast I have ever tasted, to the stellar riverside lunches served at a pop-up table (no pre-wrapped sandwiches and potato chips here), with of course wine, always a surprise dessert and wonderful salads.  And, with Mark and Eduardo along, I even received a beautiful bouquet of purple lupine, adding that special touch to the table – John just rolled his eyes and laughed.  Patricia’s wine pairings were superb without question.  We were thrilled when she provided us with a list of wines we enjoyed during the week, and we are still on the hunt for several of them stateside.

Camp dinner

Chef Claudio, as far as we’re concerned, should be up for a James Beard award!  Whether slow-roasting beef, lamb or pork for the asado on our final night, whipping up crepes over an open fire during our camping trip, or crafting the perfect empanada and other local dishes for us to try, there never was a bad meal.

asado dinner

PRR has much to offer to the non-fisherman.  Their local gaucho will take you on a horseback ride around the area, there are mountain bikes for exploration, or one of the staff will take you hiking, on a photography excursion, or shopping in San Martin or Junin.  Even if you are fishing, take a morning off (shops are closed in the afternoon for siesta and reopen at 7 pm), rest your arm and take in the local culture, you won’t be disappointed.

On our last day fishing, we floated the Chimehuin again and landed some amazing browns and rainbows, a perfect send off.  Those memories will keep us coming back for more, along with the staff and locals who have captured our hearts, and the new friendships that will last a lifetime.  We look forward to returning when the roses and lavender are in full bloom and trying more of Kiki’s fly patterns which we know will attract the next big one.

JJ Asado_2

Enjoy rustic elegance, laughter, priceless local knowledge, a talented staff on so many levels, and the most comfortable beds you can fall into at night and continue your dreams.  It is a vacation you must take at least once in your life, and we already know it will not be our last.

The Gang

Email me to learn more about Patagonia River Ranch.  It is open November – April and can host up to 14 people.   Visit their website to view more pictures and experience virtually, the beauty of Patagonia River Ranch.

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Patagonia – San Martin de los Andes

When you blend world-class fly-fishing, exquisite cuisine, plush mountain luxury and spectacular scenery, it can only add up to San Martin de los Andes and Patagonia River Ranch.

7 Lakes Road

Long overdue is my “Ode to PRR,” sharing the unforgettable week in southern Patagonia where we belatedly celebrate my 50th birthday.  Months later, our minds still easily wander back to this beautiful area, it’s people and an adventure that lived up to every expectation.

Before I get to Patagonia River Ranch (next post), I have to touch on our 24 hours in San Martin de los Andes.7 Lakes Road 2

Following our wonderful tour of the Mendoza wine country, we jumped the once-a-week plane from Mendoza to Bariloche.  While we could have flown back to Buenos Aires and then directly to San Martin, one flight and the beautiful 3-hour drive up the Seven Lakes Road to San Martin were more appealing.   Our driver met us at the airport and let us sit back and absorb the beauty of the surrounding mountains, small villages, deep blue lakes and snow-capped volcanos.

We arrived in San Martin at siesta time when many of the shops and restaurants are closed, and of course, we were starving.  Strolling through town we came upon a small quaint restaurant, El Mason de la Patagonia.  The owner, Raul Duarte, welcomed us and had us feeling at home in no time.  Over John’s shoulder I noted a massive prosciutto stand, many antiques and fly-fishing pictures adorning the walls.

We were immediately presented with a refreshing starter of salmon, dill, red onion, carrot and green onions on crostini, and mozzarella and tomato skewers drizzled with balsamic.  Paired with a very cold and crisp Chilean Punta Final 2012 Sangiovese and our taste buds awoke.

While we weren’t planning on a big lunch, we realized we wouldn’t have dinner until late that evening, so we indulged.  El Meson TroutTaking advantage of the fresh prosciutto that I watched Raul delicately slice for my order, I enjoyed a prosciutto wrapped trout with roasted garlic, fingerling potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, zucchini and brussel sprouts.  The saltiness and rich flavors of the prosciutto beautifully complimented the fresh trout.

John went straight for the mint crusted roast lamb with au gratin potatoes and prosciutto.  Juana, Raul’s wife oversees the kitchen and what a wonderful job she does!  We leaned back in our chairs, El Meson Liquersmiled at each other and knew an afternoon nap was in order.   Before we could ask for the check, Raul returned with cool, crisp chocolate wafers and El Mason’s version of what I would call mintcello (versus of limoncello).  Not too sweet, but the perfect aperitif to complete and unexpected lunch experience.

After a well-needed nap, we ventured out to explore San Martin, which had come back to life around 7:00 pm.  I love local artisan shops and John was patient while I ducked in and out of countless stores.  In one store, I set my sites on a beautiful handmade cream shawl, trimmed with lace and ribbon – the perfect gift for my Godson’s bride-to-be for their February wedding.

Our hotel recommended several restaurants for dinner, but they all appeared too touristy for our liking.  A small cabin caught our eye with the ever-present meat roasting in the front window.  Peering inside Ku we saw many local families and knew we had found our place.

KuThe biggest problem was trying to decide what to order from their incredible menu.  The first decision was wine.  Our waiter recommended Ernesto Catena’s (son of the Catena wine family) 2010 Alma Negra Pinot Noir Select.  Heaven in a bottle… unfortunately, we can’t get it in the States, alas.

With additional insight from our wonderful waiter, I selected the Red Deer with a sweet and sour sauce of mixed berries, orange rind and balsamic vinegar.  Argentinians must be hearty eaters because when it arrived, it was not one, but twoKu Red Deer steaks!  Thank goodness John was able to help with the leftovers.  The steaks were incredibly tender, juicy and perfectly cooked at medium rare.

John decided on one of the many trout dishes.  His was served with cream, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts.  We were worried the cream would overwhelm the trout, but it was a light blend that only enhanced the flavor.

Over a dessert of molten chocolate cake, berries and berry liquor, we giggled as much as the little girl at the next table who was playing peekaboo with us.  We loved the home-like family atmosphere of Ku and pride that the chef and staff took in sharing a little corner of Argentina with us.  We highly recommend skipping the restaurants with the dinner tango shows and instead enjoy a warm and delightful evening at Ku.

Kudessert

As we walked back to our hotel for the evening, it was wonderful to see families and musicians gathered in the town square, enjoying the beautiful evening and each other.

It was time for a good nights sleep and we couldn’t wait for our adventure at Patagonia River Ranch to start in the morning.

San Martin is a beautiful mountain town filled with an abundance of unique artisan, fashion, outdoor clothing, art galleries and adventures sports shops.  Almost everyone spoke English so it was quite easy to ask questions and learn about the community.  We look forward to returning again and take some extra time to kayak the many lakes in the area, as well as hike and explore the beautiful scenery and community.

 

 

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So this is what’s next!

We’ve all had one or more moments in life when you’re standing at the end of something, a job, relationship, bucket list check-off item or a goal you set. As you stand there, the look inSolitdue Hike your eyes might be – deer in the headlights, vapidly staring into an abyss, or maybe, just maybe there is a twinkle in your eye, laced with a little mischief. Then, someone without fail says to you, “So, what’s next?”

I have to laugh, roll my eyes and even cringe when I think of the times that question has been posed to me. It’s probably too many times, but if you know me, you know that my life has been anything but normal and boring. My first experience was undoubtedly graduating from high school. Instead of heading to college, I flew off to Australia for one of the most fabulous years of my life as a Rotary Exchange Student. Then there’s the long story about quitting college much to my Father’s displeasure (a great story for a future blog dealing with Hell freezing over), followed by a blind leap of faith, or more like insanity when I moved to Washington, DC. Roll right ahead to quitting a six figure job to start my own consulting business, and then tossing all sanity to the wind, I returned to Jackson Hole, the place that captured my heart from a very early age.

The next major “what’s next?” came from myself when that date started looming, the big 5-0. I’ve never been one to worry about my age, but I found myself awake in bed at 2:00 a.m., staring at the ceiling and thinking, crap, my life is half over! I still have a lot I want to do and plan on having a darn good time doing it!

To me the answers were obvious. Travel, fly fish and enjoy the outdoors more, expand my knowledge and love of food and wine, and then there’s the “new” one – write about it. Yah, that one is just a little scary for two simple reasons: 1) my Mom is an English teacher and I know she is going to “red pen” everything I write. And 2) What if they don’t like it? Oh screw that one, time to throw caution to the wind. Wait, I’ve done that a few times before…  Dos Equis Mexico

My Dad used to tell me that I roller skated on marshmallows, meaning that I usually was moving at Mach speed when I slammed into a wall or crashed and burned, only to bounce right back up (somewhat unscathed, and maybe covered in that sticky goo), and just kept going. No roller skates this time, just my favorite hiking boots and they are about to step off the edge, so here we go.

Sit back and enjoy my insights into the spectacular beauty and life in the mountains, specifically Jackson Hole, Wyoming, my completely biased opinions on food and wine, and of course this means I’m going to have to travel so I have something to write about – oh darn.

Yep, both feet have jumped off the ledge and it feels pretty good. I have a glass of Amancaya Malbec to soothe the nerves and the spectacular Teton Mountain Range as my steadying backdrop.

Come enjoy what’s next with me!

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