Rance Rathie is living the trout angler’s dream. As one of the owners and operators of Patagonia River Guides in Argentina, Rance spends much of his time in one of the world’s most extraordinary fly fishing destinations. Rance recently took time to interview with the Venturing Angler:
What draws you to operate where you do?
Patagonia and its fisheries are some of the most diverse out there. From one location, anglers can fish desert spring creeks, big mountain rivers, rivers in temperate rainforest, mountain freestones, and lakes with huge fish. The ecosystems are always changing; the fisheries themselves are random and varied; and the Andes Mountains and area offers scenery, which is truly inspiring. What is really cool is that anyone can catch a lot of fish averaging 17-18 inches on a daily basis. Patagonia itself is remote and wilderness but the little towns are easy to call home and the people are charming, friendly and welcoming. Maybe the most important think dating back to the “endless summer” days, it is currently minus something back where we grew up in Montana.
What is your favorite fish trout to target down there?
My favorite fish to target are large browns. They make up less than 20% of the overall population of fish and are more challenging to catch in general. The big boys are wary and hold in different kinds of water than most would expect up North. I grew up fishing streamers on the Big Hole River and my fly box from early years would have been almost exclusively comprised of yuck bugs, wooly buggers, and rubber legged buggers – in just about every color combination. Surprisingly, they all work in Patagonia and the only difference is that fishing them on a sink tip is always more productive here. There has always been something about slapping a fly right on the bank, seeing the take and casting a lot. Streamers also return bigger fish and big browns on streamers fire me up!
What is your favorite thing about doing what you do?
There is a lot to this question because a true guide and outfitter loves so many aspects of the sport and profession. When I was still guiding full time, the thing that always pleased me the most was to help and teach people, while really fishing through someone else’s rod. I’ve always loved fishing, and as I became more experienced as a guide, I especially enjoyed using my knowledge and experience to show others the way. With that maturity, I could more easily relax and enjoy the energy, passion and excitement others experience throughout a typical day on water without being worried about all the little “what/ifs” of guiding.
The guide position is somewhat spiritual and I believe that good guides have always been way more than just fish hunters. The best become some form of healer, counselor, expert, teacher, role model, and even heroes to some degree. That kind of informal responsibility combined with all the little moments in a day: maybe a sick slow-mo dry fly take, a big fish clobbering a streamer, seeing your angler/student really get it and finally throw that nearly perfect cast, teaching little tricks, those “high-five” moments, making new friends, enjoying the beautiful country with someone that comes from a high-stress job or that lives in the city have always been the most rewarding part of the job. Absorbing that energy and those little moments of each and every day is really addictive and was why I had a really hard time moving from guide to co-outfitter as PRG grew.
These days, leading the way with my partner, Travis Smith, is different but just as fulfilling. Our reward comes at the end of the day at the lodge where we see and appreciate our guests’ happiness. Listening to their stories about how awesome their guide was, that river, those fish, that cast, and imagining the moments of their day is really special. It’s kind of like being head coach and knowing in the end that the organization, training, theory, and play book help field a great team each day.
What is the most memorable trip you’ve had and why?
My most memorable trips have always been fishing new waters and those “ahh ha” moments of figuring things out. I’ve had so many that it is hard to whittle it down to a single moment, but I specifically remember my first lap around the “lodge water” in the Esquel area back in late 1998. I particularly remember the first time I saw the Rivadavia River in Los Alerces National Park. That was when I knew I was not in Montana any longer. The sensations I felt and still feel from that river are still fresh in my mind – the smell of a Valdivian rainforest, the sounds of chucaos (small vocal birds), and the emerald color of the river and that day of fishing within stand out. Everything was new and totally different from any trout stream I had ever seen.
What is it that makes Patagonia so special?
The diversity in the water and the ever-changing ecosystems are part of what makes Patagonia so special. The abundance of waters and the pure-strain “hot” fish within is also special. And I guess the lack of anglers and friendly culture kind of sum it up. It’s wilderness for sure but also a great place to live, to be, and to raise a family. It’s a paradise really and much much more to those that fish…
What makes your guide service and lodge great?
We started PRG with an internal mission statement: to create the best guide company – made by guides and for guides. The point here was to equip and provide our guides with everything they need to succeed, show them the way, and always pay top dollar. The idea was always to create a world-class guide staff and retain them since we had worked for a few outfits in the past that really didn’t have the best guides or take care of their people. Then we came up with “fish the best waters, at the best times with the best guides” and we still stick to that principle each and every day. A significant portion of our annual budget goes to getting guests to the best rivers though private leases and equipment. The amount of water we control and the variety is off the charts. Over the past fifteen years, we have created a very unique culture within our staff and everyone has taken ownership. Guests tell us every day that PRG guides are the best guides they have ever fished with and that tells us something. We take pride in producing the absolute best guide trips each day and having a return client rate of over 80%. Those guest that return feel like part of the family because the staff never changes and they always produce great trips.
We are also proud of our attention to detail and service at the lodges. A building is just a building and won’t make a kick-ass fly fishing lodge without the right service people, amenities and attention to detail. After seven years of hotels, cabins, and leasing other facilities, we were finally able to purchase our first lodge, the PRG Lodge at Trevelin. We then spent the next five years remodeling and tweaking things to best fit the needs of our guests. We listen to our guests and accept the fact that no one is perfect and that we can always make their experience better. Today we offer twelve single occupancy rooms, indoor parillia (barbeque), two bars – one of which, has a 180 bottle selection of whiskey, awesome mud room, outside fire place centering a huge deck, fine artwork, and provide all the comforts one wants from a fishing lodge – and a lot more! They say location is everything, and from the Lodge at Trevelin guest travel in every single direction to some of the best fisheries in South America. The fishing and the PRG guides are really what anglers come for but we are told frequently that our lodge is one of the best in the fly fishing world and completes our guest’s experience.
If you had only one day off all year, where would you fish and what fish would you target?
I’d head to the Rivadavia River and target large migratory and resident browns.
What are your favorite three flies?
Gypsy King, black rubber legged wooly bugger and the pheasant tail. With these flies in every size, one could fish just about anywhere down here.
What is the one piece of gear you couldn’t bear to leave at home?
Do you have any other passions?
I love wingshooting and am currently getting back into bow hunting, which I left behind all those years ago when I hit the road as a pro fishing guide. I am also obsessed by permit and travel as much as work and family will allow to chase them.
Disclosure: Patagonia River Guides is in a professional relationship with the Venturing Angler. Though potentially benefiting from this relationship, we do not post what we do not believe to be true. To read more, click here.