Greetings from Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, where Tim Romano and I are enjoying a brilliant week of fly fishing for goliath sea-run brown trout from the legendary Kau Tapen Lodge. It’s a surreal experience to be standing in the iron-gray currents of the Rio Grande, with the wind buffeting across the stark, austral landscape, casting two-handed rods as you’re being watched by guanacos and condors. And the take by a fresh brown is sheer thunder.
As always, the greatest “catches” of the week have been the friendships forged with other anglers of like spirit. In this case, those who have literally traveled throughout the world to dally with trout.
Lilla Rowcliffe may well have the greatest fishing stories I have ever heard. She’s easily among the most intrepid anglers I have ever met. She has traveled from England to many parts of the world to chase fish with flies, including taimen in Mongolia, mahseer in India, and Atlantic salmon throughout Europe (she’s holding a photo of a beast she landed on the River Spey some years ago). To say Rowcliffe has “game” is an understatement. She’s out-fishing me at around a 10-to-1 clip at the moment (she’s had her guide piggy-back her across the river to get in the best spot to cast). But I am not alone. Several years ago, she set a remarkable benchmark at Kau Tapen by landing over 600 pounds of sea-run trout in one week, with the average fish being 13 pounds. I should probably also mention that she is 87 years old.
I asked her why women are often naturally better anglers than men. It’s true, after all. Rowcliffe agreed and shared an anecdote that a certain angling expert, befuddled by female prowess on the water, once theorized that women have a pheromone effect that attracts fish. He believed this so much that he took to carrying his wife’s undergarments in his pack as he cast.
“What men often don’t understand is that fishing is not about power,” she said. “A woman will feel the fish take, and her natural instinct is to do exactly the right thing at the moment… let the fish go.”
Women are often better hatch-matchers than men, and Rowcliffe may be the best in history.
To wit, I’ll relate her story from the River Cauvery in India. Having caught the mighty mahseer, she and her guides shifted attention to tricking carnatic carp. Though they saw rises and whorls, none of the fishing guides could dial in on the exact pattern to toss. Then one morning Rowcliffe woke to find monkeys jumping about in a banyan tree overhanging the river.
“I noticed one monkey dropping poo in the river, and up popped this carp right there. I thought ‘Lilla at last you know the secret!’ As I knew what monkey poo looked like (apparently gray and round) I found a muddler minnow in my fly box and, still in my pajamas, I went out to fish. On the second cast, I caught one. I ended up catching seven that morning and thought, now at last, I am a proper fly fisherman, because I know how to truly match the hatch,” she said. (The story is another example, by the way, of how the muddler may indeed be the most versatile fly in the world.)
Some years later, the tale made its way into an angling book of some note in the U.K. When her daughter described the episode to a ghillie at the Scottish fly shop she stopped at to buy a copy of the book, he exclaimed: “My goodness, I did not know your mum was the monkey s*** lady!”
We of course, will remember Rowcliffe for far more than that.