André De Ganay was born in France, where he lived during his childhood. He arrived to Argentina in 1946 after taking part in World War II. He started fishing in Patagonia in 1949 and he still does. He is a prominent businessman and a permanent lover of fishing and nature. He lived all ages of fly-fishing, from the very beginning of this sport in Argentina. At that time, reaching the rivers of Northern Patagonia presented a real challenge; daring to three days of hard gravel roads, river crossings without bridges, and all sorts of contingencies. He fished together and was a close friend of the group of dreamers who started fly-fishing in Argentina, even though his extreme humbleness and low profile have kept him away from the spotlight. The purpose of this interview is to rescue the recent past of fly-fishing through the memories and experiences of André, without a doubt a fisherman of great national and international experience.
FD: We would like to know when and where did you start fishing?
ADG: I started when I was 13 years old, in the French Normandy. I will celebrate my 87th birthday in a few days, so I started 74 years ago.
ADG: We fished with dry flies. Rivers in Normandy are very soft and only hold brown trout, which are very smart. We used to fish “la mouche ephemere” hatches, that involved large mayflies that appeared during the months of May and June.
FD: Did you start fishing because of your father?
ADG: No, because of an uncle of mine who held a very nice property near Dieppe, in Normandy. The place is called Le Pont d' Albart. The place had about eight miles of a very beautiful river. Trout there were small, so we had to use fine leaders and have perfect presentations. In general, we read the water searching for rising trout and fished with much precision. That was a huge contrast with the wet fly-fishing we made later in Argentina. It was a totally different formula.
FD: What kind of equipment did you use at that time?
ADG: Bamboo rods, those old friendly canes that are rarely used these days where everything is plastic. They were made of bamboo sheets joined together by a special process. Some had steel core, for more demanding fishing. But for trout we used very short and extremely light rods. The trout were small; a pounder was a nice trout over there.
FD: Were those bamboo rods made in France?
ADG: Yes, by Pezon et Michel. But all the fly reels I've ever known were Hardy. It was, and still is, an English classic.
FD: Which is your favorite river and why?
ADG: The Caleufu River. That’s where I’ve been fishing during the last couple of years. The Chimehuín is also a fantastic river which has always caught and the attention around Junín de los Andes. The Malleo and Quilquihue are also nice rivers. Because of my age I fish the Caleufu, where the current is milder and rocks aren´t that slippery in comparison the Chimehuín. Since I don´t want to fall, even less in the water, I fish the Caleufu.
FD: What kind of flies do you use in the Caleufu?
ADG: All my friends fish with dry flies, but I prefer wet fly fishing for this river. It´s a style I’m used to and actually enjoy it. What happened, speaking about the Caleufu River, was a strange thing. A few years ago, I can’t exactly recall when, they built a dam on the Limay River, the Alicurá Dam. For three consecutive years, trout in the Caleufu were gigantic. In other words, we caught 7 to 9 pounders. It was something common; we thought it would last forever. Today the river is back to normal and trout are smaller but it really was an amazing experience to fish it during those three seasons. I even caught a 6 pound trout that had a pejerrey (Odontesthes hatcheri) in its mouth. Probably there was a proliferation of pejerrey and other smaller fish that caused the sudden increase in trout’s average.
FD: So you still fish.
ADG: Yes, I still go out fishing when I have the chance.
FD: Which is your favorite species and why?
ADG: My favorite species is the Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). It is a powerful and intelligent fish. I was lucky because I rented a river in Norway, the Aaroy, with some of my cousins. The Aaroy River is a very short river but it holds extremely large fish. I was fortunate to catch a salmon weighing 50 pounds there. Gear for this river had to be powerful since the current is as strong as it can be. Bamboo rods were 16 feet and reinforced. They weighted about 2 pounds, therefore every time I returned at night I was extremely tired.
FD: Which species have you caught all around?
ADG: Only salmon and trout. Golden Dorado too, but not using flies. My brother has fished for golden Dorado in the Bolivian jungle, quite a hard and physically demanding fishing expedition. I encourage you to go there.
FD: Which is your favorite fly?
ADG: Ugh, it depends on the time and place. In that sense I have some memories. In the mid 50’s, a formidable fisherman from America came here: Joe Brooks. He mainly used streamers and said that big trout wanted a mouthful, a big fly. I disagree with that, but he had much success using big flies. His cast was remarkable; he became a friend and professor of Anchorena, Charles Radziwill and Jorge Donovan. The four of them almost lived at the mouth of the Chimehuín River and stopped at the inn of Joseph Julian.
FD: We have stopped several times at that inn too.
ADG: So much history there and so many memories.
FD: Indeed. We’ve seen black and white pictures of you at the lodge and also in a book by Joe Brooks (“Fly Fishing”).
FD: Yes, we did not bring the book because we thought you would have that photo. We can make a copy for you.
ADG: Well, thank you.
FD: Did you fish the mouth of the Chimehuín River at that time?
ADG: Of course. It was the time when my friend was Silvestre Blaquier. He went fishing there every year, very fond of it. We slept at Joseph Julian’s inn; most of the rooms were very basic, except from the special rooms for Anchorena and Radziwill.The owner, Joseph Julian, was sitting at the bar every day at 7 am drinking a glass of liquor. The hotel was run by his wife, Doña Elena. There was a very nice group of people gathering there, with a slight competition of who was going to fish better.
FD: What do you think about the evolution of fly-fishing?
ADG: Unfortunately, when I started fishing there were many fish, and although some fish were released, people usually kept them. Obviously, the amount of trout started to go down until Catch & Release became mandatory. That was a huge change, imposed by regulation. I believe it helped a lot. Despite that, the size of the fish never returned to be like in the old days.
FD: Luckily, today fly-fishermen release their catches. At the Chimehuín River´s inlet, fish average has decreased but there still are some exceptions.
ADG: What is really scandalous is the horrible hotel they’ve built there. Why didn´t people stop that? I can’t believe the lack of common sense.
FD: It certainly is a historical place, which is in the books and is one of our letters of presentation to the world.
ADG: They used to call it “Boca Fever” (boca: river inlet from the lake, in Spanish). Some of the best trout ever have been caught in that place.
FD: Do you remember any fish in particular?
ADG: Personally, I never landed a trout of more than 3 kilos in the Chimehuín. My largest trout was from Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, weighing 7 kilos. At the Caleufu I´ve landed some 4 kilos trout.
FD: In your opinion, who was the most complete fisherman?
ADG: It is difficult to choose, one was better than the other really. No doubt many were good. Joe Brooks was a professional who always chose the right fly. He could put his fly inside a hat 60-feet away. He had an absolutely incredible precision in every cast. He introduced to us the double-haul technique, a true revolution in Argentina. It was undoubtedly an important innovation in the way of fishing. I think he had a bit of nonsense for streamers. Sometimes, large trout choose a small fly. Perhaps the finest fisherman was José “Bebe” Anchorena.The strongest, by far, was Jorge Donovan. He had a wrist as thick as my leg. Casting against the wind he had no parallel. And then, a true gentleman from every point of view: Charles Radziwill. He had so many anecdotes, though sometimes these were a bit exaggerated. But hey, this is a typical fisherman's tale, right? I still remember taking Joe Brooks to Norway, he was crazy about those salmon.
FD: Any particular fish that left an impression on you?
ADG: A salmon of 16 kilos, from the Aaroy River in Norway. It stole most of the backing from my reel because both the fish and the river were very strong. Only because of miracle it didn´t cut the line. I was running and tumbling downstream, chasing him. It's the fish that gave me my strongest emotion. It was very lively, jumped several times. The largest salmon I’ve caught went to the river bottom and did not move, a very heavy fish, while this one was pure agility.
FD: Do you remember which tackle you were using?
ADG: A 16-foot Hardy cane rod, very strong tippet of at least 15 pounds and a big fly. Back then, all the flies we used were those typically used in Scottish rivers, but larger. Hardy also sold those, as well as rods and reels.
FD: The best salmon rivers are those in Norway?
ADG: There are many nice salmon rivers around the world. I was also lucky to catch Pacific salmon in Kodiak, Alaska. Very large salmon. There was a huge amount of salmon and other fish. There were bears too, the guide always had a rifle to defend us in case of emergency. The comfort of the facilities was very poor, rather uncomfortable. Still, I was young and did not care much about it. The cabins in Iceland were very comfortable, with good food too. In Alaska it was hard, but it was awesome for fishing and a true adventure. I´ve had the chance to fish everywhere, even in Russia for Atlantic salmon. I had little success; I only caught two salmon in a week. It was tough because the rivers were very rocky and had violent currents. I was more worried about where I could hold on to keep from falling rather than about the rod and fish. The amount of mosquitoes was a tragedy over there.
FD: Do you use graphite rods these days?
ADG: Yes, 9-feet, 7-weight. With typical flies from Patagonia, streamers mostly. I see that today very few people use them or know how to. I wonder if you use them.
FD: We do, we use nymphs, streamers, dries. Whatever works according to the time, place, and our mood.
ADG: Of course, it´s a trial and error process.
FD: Who was your best fishing friend?
ADG: My great friend was Silvestre Blaquier. Although he was not an orthodox, he also used artificial lures, spoons. He was very fond of fishing, the most entertaining and original person I have ever met fishing. It was a blast to fish with him.
FD: Is it true that Silvestre did not wear waders?
ADG: Exactly. He wore wool socks, sandals and shorts or a swimsuit.
FD: All over Patagonia?
ADG: Yes, indeed. I did a lot like him, I warn you. And well, I'm still here.
FD: André, thank you very much for everything.
ADG: I hope I have helped somehow, thank you very much. Note: when we finished the interview we could not believe the memory André had of each of his stories. We felt a great deal of satisfaction to hear those stories and for having the privilege of meeting one of the pioneers of fly-fishing in our country.
Photo 1: André needed a 16-feet, two-handed cane rod to subdue this 32-pound Atlantic salmon in the Aaroy River, Norway.
Photo 2: Jorge Donovan, Charles Radziwill and André de Ganay in the back of a stubble near the Chimehuín River´s inlet. March 1958.