It might be his different way of seeing things, his unique perception of existence, his profuse creativity or spellbinding storytelling that is so appealing. When Mel spoke you listened, became a believer and hoped to be his friend.
I first met Mel in March 1978 at the Hostería Chimehuín when he and friends, top fly-casters and fishermen Phil Miravalle and Ed Rice, were guided by Laddy Buchannan.
His magnetic personality struck me straight away. I was a bamboo rod fan at the time but Mel was already beyond graphite and was even talking about the boron rods of the future. It was the beginning of a long lasting friendship I have always been grateful for. Little did I know then that Mel would become so important in my career as a guide and outfitter.
In August 1979, I gladly accepted Mel’s invitation to visit him in San Francisco. Jorge Donovan, my partner in the first true fly-shop in Argentina pretentiously called "Fly Fishing Enterprise" came along, too. I can’t remember exactly how long we stayed, probably a week or ten days. Anyway, one weekend, Mel took us to Squaw Valley Ski Resort (no snow in August, of course) where we spent two days at his casting clinic watching him teach the essence of fly casting and fishing to more than 100 beginners.
Both Donovan and I considered ourselves experienced fly-casters and we thought there wouldn’t be anything we could learn. Anyhow, I watched and filmed Mel with an 8mm movie camera (no video at the time) and paid great attention to each word, each gesture, and to the compelling sayings he used to reveal the real essence of fly-fishing to each and every one at his clinic. It was the first time I heard Mel ask his classic question: “Why do we fish?” And all the answers,views, feelings, analogies, metaphors, even poetry and his gestures, expressions and convictions which he conveyed so artistically.
Listening to Mel’s speech was a strange, addictive pleasure that would be repeated time and again over the years never losing its charm. The first conviction he passed on to me was the absolute need of practicing catch and release, always, with no exceptions. So I became a catch and release activist and, I am proud to say, in 1985 I managed to get the Government to pass the first catch and release regulation in the Province of Neuquén for the upper Malleo River.
I’ve learnt much from Mel, but what I can never thank him enough for is having taught me how to teach. After watching the movie I had filmed at Mel’s clinic at least 100 times, I remembered every step and every word by heart.
It’s true I didn’t start my own fly-casting school, but I did become a fly-fishing guide. As a guide I knew how to teach my clients, explain the essence of fly casting, correct errors, know what to say in most cases and what words to use. It worked and it was priceless. And I had thought I had nothing to learn!
I must have fished with Mel various times, but I distinctly recall once in the early 80s at the Chimehuín Boca. I was parking my truck when I saw Mel coming back from the lower section below the bridge. I hadn’t seen him for quite some time so we got lost in conversation.
At some point Mel mentioned he had never devoted as many hours to fishing the Boca as others. He thought that was probably why he had never caught a classic big monster brown at the Boca; he preferred small streams, dry flies and nymphs.
As we happily chatted away, he absent-mindedly cast a Dave’s Hopper at the “flat pool” right in front of us. All of a sudden, a huge brown took it and Mel’s line came tight. He was as cool as ever. The big brown trout fought with extreme dignity for a long time, running, jumping and shaking his head down deep until I finally netted it for him. I immediately reached into his vest pocket, grabbed his camera, took 5 or 6 photos, put it back in his pocket and released the big brown back into the river.
A few months later Fly Fisherman Magazine arrived, and what was on the cover? My photo of Mel, proudly holding the big brown. It made me really happy to have played even a small part in it.
Over the years Mel has taught thousands of people the wonders of fly-fishing, and has made a million friends who, like me, loved and admired him.
So what was it about Mel that was so appealing? I think he turned everything into art, be it fishing, teaching or living.
Owner of Patagonia Outfitters