Mickey Finn Goes To Patagonia
Mickey couldn’t remember the last time he was in Patagonia.
It might have been sometime back in the 60s, when tie-dyed shirts and bright colors were totally hip. Or maybe it was in the 70s just before disco brought all that synthetic fabric to the dance floor.
Either way, he’d been long forgotten by the starry-eyed anglers trekking to Chile and Argentina, especially when trophy trout trips to Patagonia started to take off in the 90s. From the start, he was rarely if ever a consideration for the guides who rigged the lines and leaders for well-heeled sports who dreamed of catching the fish of a lifetime using exotic mojo and local secrets.
But here is was in 2019 and Mickey was looking forward to seeing the majestic Andes and swimming in the cold clear rivers. Maybe he’d even catch a few trout.
Most fly anglers prefer dry flies with floating line. Making that delicate dead drift on a seam in the current or dropping a dry in the center of a rise-ring, and then watching a trout slam the fly on the surface is the ultimate rush. Mickey had a hard time competing with that visceral feel of victory that catching a heavy trout on a high-floating mayfly, caddis, or stimulator can bring.
For sheer numbers and consistency of fish brought to net, nymphing with a hopper/dropper rig or a strike indicator is tough to beat. Trout take nymphs beneath the surface pretty much 24/7/365, so many fly anglers start with their favorite nymphing tactics in deep runs. There are some big terrestrials down there, so trout in Patagonia take the big top fly often enough- maybe a hefty hopper pattern, Chernobyl ant or a Fat Albert- instead of the nymph. When they do, it adds extra excitement.
When someone decides to swing a streamer, it’s usually a big, meaty weighted pattern with lots of flash and a sweeping tail, so the sparkle, size and motion will attract the biggest trout in the pool or lake. “Big fly, big fish.” That’s how many guides think. Streamers are often the fly of last resort, used when the water is high and cloudy, or bugs are nowhere to be seen on the surface.
But then there are the anglers, like Dave, who love the Old School flies; the ones that were the foundation of all the flies that came along after. The ones made from traditional, natural materials like bucktail, feathers, elk hair, thread and yarn. Some fish them for the nostalgia, but the reality is they work just fine, thank you. Flies like the Royal Coachman, Black Ghost, Brown Owl, Warden’s Worry, Picket Pin, and Parmachene Belle.
And, of course, the Mickey Finn. But in Patagonia, they often sit unused in the fly box.
Originally called a Red and Yellow Bucktail and then The Assassin, the Mickey Finn was popularized in the 1930s by outdoor writer John Alden Knight. Knight commented that the fly is as dangerous as a Mickey Finn, slang for a drugged cocktail used to prey on unsuspecting victims. With names like Assassin and Mickey Finn, one might presume that this simple attractor fly works pretty well.
It does. It doesn’t look like anything in particular, yet the Mickey Finn triggers a reaction in all species of trout and salmon and even smallmouth bass. In sizes from small (#12 streamer hook) to a big ol’ #4, it’s especially effective for rainbow trout.
If you want to know how to tie a Mickey Finn, check out this video.
Dave had brought Mickey and a few of his friends on his first trip to Las Pampas Lodge in Patagonia. Maybe he didn't know better. Or maybe he had a hunch.
On Thursday morning, while fishing Lake 4 near Rio Pico, Dave decided he’d had enough of throwing weighted streamers in the wind with nary a strike. So, he took matters into his own hands and chose to go Old School. First, he switched his reel from floating line to full sink line. Then, he put on a fresh 3X leader and tied on a Mickey Finn. Nothing huge, a size #10 hook. His guide, Idaho Tim, looked skeptical. Brother-in-law Eddie kept casting a big weighted streamer from the bow.
Mickey was ecstatic. Finally, this was his chance to get into the game. He was ready for the big league. Lake 4 had been yielding some big rainbows and browns all season long.
Dave threw his line out a ways and peeled line off the reel, letting it sink while Idaho Tim rowed into the wind. The line quickly disappeared and soon there was 70 or 80 feet of line out there. Dave started stripping line, varying the length of each pull, giving the Mickey Finn some erratic motion in the clear lake water.
The first cast came up empty, so Dave repeated the process: flipping line out to avoid casting, waiting for it to sink, stripping back with long and short pulls. On about the fifth strip, the rod tip dipped hard. The wobble in the rod said “Fish on!”
Idaho Tim stopped rowing and reminded Dave to keep the rod tip high to keep pressure up on the fly. A few minutes later, Idaho Tim was dipping the net to bring in a stout 14 inch rainbow with Mickey Finn proudly hanging from its jaw. The fish was nothing huge, but it marked a turning point in the day. Dave’s second rainbow was closer to 17 inches. Now, Eddie in the bow wanted some action. “Gimme one of them flies!” he growled with a laugh.
Dave slipped Eddie one of his extra Mickeys. It didn’t take long for Eddie to pull in his own 17 inch ‘bow. Then Dave brought one in over 20 inches. Soon Eddie had his own big one, maybe 22 inches. It was a very good morning. Mickey was glowing with pride.
At lunch, the guides and the guys in the other boat were surprised to hear about the success that Mickey had brought. After lunch, Emil started fishing a Finn, also with good success. And Ed and Dave each boated a few more before it was time to head back to the lodge for dinner.
Mickey Finn had seized the day and put on a show that will be talked about for some time. He proved that the classic flies still have a place in modern fly-fishing. Patterns and materials have changed, but the fish are still fish. If a fly works, it works. They may not be the next shiny thing, but they can get the job done.
“Do yourself a favor,” says Mickey, “Give an old fly a chance.”