It's 5:00 am and though I had set the alarm
to wake me, I'm already awake. I get dressed
quietly so as not to wake my wife or the kids.
Taking off this early in the morning is a
finely orchestrated maneuver.
I have to remember to not to forget the
Camelback bladder that I left cooling in
the fridge last night. I must also remember
to take the sandwiches the maid made for us
to take. (Yes Bolivia does have some perks)
Downstairs in the kitchen I boil some water
and prepare a thermos full of hot tea that
will serve as breakfast for me and my buddies
Rene and Fernando as we drive to the lake.
I grab my backpack and insert the bladder.
The pack contains my waders, jacket, wader boots,
two reels, a Reddington CPS 5 wt rod, two snow
poles, and my little William Joseph chest pack.
Hoping I've not missed anything I get into the
Outside it's quite dark, but we have to leave
this early to get to the lake by about 9am. At
5:30 Fernando is already waiting for me outside
his door with Rene. By 6 we are close to a small
market at La Paz's edge. The people are starting
to come to life, and in a market area some Indian
women have set out their bread in giant baskets.
We buy a dollar's worth of rolls, which is about
three dozen of them, knowing we will find plenty
of people along the way that will delight from a
piece of bread in the early morning. Fernando
buys a bag of rock candy for all the children
we will run into. I get a couple of bottles of
water for Rene and Fernando, knowing they never
think of these things.
A few minutes later we have left La Paz, a city
at 11,500 ft. of altitude, heading east towards
a small mining town on the base of the Illimani,
a snow capped peak that overlooks our city from
100 miles away. We will fish on a mountain just
opposite it, an almost as high. This particular
road is cobble stoned the first part of the way,
which is typical for Bolivia. As I drive we each
eat a roll and drink some of the tea I made earlier.
Rene is Dr. Rene Botelho, a thin 45 year old
biochemist, and father of Fly Fishing in Bolivia.
Fernando Montes is an older architect, but I would
most likely characterize him as a fly fishing fanatic.
By 8 in the morning we have arrived to Choquecota,
the small mining town close to our lake. On this
particular morning the river below the road is dead
grey. This means the miners have been washing their
ore in the river, thus poisoning all that lives
downstream with mercury. As we start donning our
packs the children and people from the village begin
to surround us. The rolls of bread flow for everyone,
and children two and three years old delight with
candy too. On this special morning we have also
brought 150 notebooks and 300 pens to give to the
local families for their school children. This
is our token trade for the village to protect the
lake from net fishing or even worse, a few sticks
of dynamite in the water. We ask the villagers to
do something about the miners and the river. We
get some empty promises.
Finally we are off to the lake, a steep hike up
to 16,000 ft where our secret hides in a small
valley surrounded by shale gravel and snow. (This
is where the ski poles really help by taking some
of the load off my feet) We have named the lake
"La Prohibida," which means "The Prohibited One"
because many years ago we got chased out of it by
the local "campesinos" (which means country folk).
Eventually we made the deal with them in the form
of notebooks for their school aged children. We
also lovingly call it that because it's an unspoken
code among the three of us that we will not tell
others about the lake. (So you too keep the secret
Ok?) After all, the spinning rod fishermen would
only be too happy to test their wares on our lake.
The mountain path eventually leads to a small valley
where llamas and wild horses roam freely. It's April
and the herds have had their offspring. Tiny llamas
are everywhere with their coats nice and clean. A
couple colts run tight with their mares. Children
herders whistle to us from far above the mountain
and come running down for some of Fernando's rock
candy. We ask the children if some fishermen have
come these days and they say "no" through their
runny noses. We insist on how they know. The
little one, barefoot in this cold, black, wet peat
moss answers "because last night we slept next to
the lake." It's summertime in Bolivia (just the
opposite of the northern hemisphere) but it still
gets down to freezing every night at this elevation.
Soon we arrive at the lake and don our waders,
jackets, small chest packs, and assemble our
rods. The climb up has taught me personally
to be a minimalist. I take a reel and an extra
spool, one with floating line and the other with
full sink III line. It is a deep lake after all,
and sinking lines are the norm. Slowly we begin
to spread out and work the deep lake. The sky
is clear and last night had a full moon. This
is not good because the fish will be less prone
to bite. I work my way to the part of the lake
that receives the runoff of a glacier, as I've
had better luck here in the past. The wind is
on my back, and as I strip line onto the grass
I notice a pair of Condors flying above. They
will remain there for most of the morning, eagerly
awaiting some fish entrails that we might leave
My first cast is lucky - I manage to hook myself
right in the back. I wonder to myself why I always
do this. It's embarrassing to have to strip down
to my T-shirt to remove the hook. Soon we all get
into the groove, tossing long casts out into the
water and waiting for them to sink deep enough to
start retrieving. Quite a while passes of
absolutely nothing biting with Woolly Buggers and
Scuds. I finally decide to put on a size 10 black
streamer whose sides have a little silver tinsel.
It feels lucky, and sure enough I soon have a hook
up. The reel spins down to the backing, and I
slowly begin to work the rainbow in. It feels
like a big one, so I have to be as careful as
the 4X tippet will allow. She's a female, and
carefully I hoist her onto the grass. Since she
is fairly good sized I decide to keep her, as most
of our fishing is released. I kneel on the grass
and can feel each blade like a sharp needle on my
knees. Secretly I hope my waders won't get poked.
One has to kind of slide onto this grass so as to
push the blades down. I take my Swiss army knife
by the lanyard and smack the trout on the head to
kill it. Then from the butt I slice it open to
beneath the gills and remove the entrails. I scrape
off the black stuff next to its backbone and wash
it in the lake to leave it quite clean. My hands
smell like fish; a little of the trout's vengeance
to my kill. This gutting will slow down the
fermentation, as I wont be home before 5 or 6
tonight. The fish is stored in a Zip Lock bag
and set into the water so it stays as cold as
possible before we have to head back.
Fernando has hooked a few too, but he has
returned everything. (I'm not as good as
the two of them, so even if I keep one now
and then it doesn't bother them). True friends,
they feel joy in my catch, as some times I get
skunked in this lake. Rene is also doing well.
To watch him cast is impressive. Wind or no
wind his double haul is so powerful he always
casts the whole line out into the lake. He
made his first rod and used to store it in a
PVC tube. These days he has moved up to an
old Scott SAS rod.
At lunch we have the tuna fish sandwiches my
maid made the night before. Rene and Fernando
never think of food or drink, so I always bring
food for them, and force them to take some water
bottles in their packs from the truck. Sometimes
I wonder, this guy is a doctor, doesn't he know
The three of us on the bank watch something I
have never seen before on this lake. Every now
and then we see rise rings, where the trout are
coming to the surface for food. Rene says I
should try a floating line with a dry fly.
Quickly we make the line swap and put more
tippet on the end. I read somewhere that a
12 ft leader works better in these cases where
the sky is clear and the water is calm. A little
Frog's Fanny floatant on the fly... My cast is
perfect (not long mind you, but perfectly presented
which is not so common for me) The trout takes
the fly and all three of us jump for joy! It's
a little one, so we let it back. Still, this
is one of the few times we got to see a dry fly
in action since most of our fishing is lake bound.
By about 2 we start heading back down the hill.
My pack is laden with one beautiful fish that
my little one will ask to have sliced into Sashimi.
I can already picture him dipping the raw orange
slices in the black soy sauce. It's still cold
at the top of the hill so we all have our waders
on but by the middle of the walk down we are all
so hot we have to stop and shed them. Back at
the truck we hand out the last of the bread and
begin the drive back. They ask us if there were
any fish and all we give up are looks that
half-heartedly say "no."
As we head back west with the sun in our eyes
we are blinded by the wonderful sepia colors
of the dust in the traffic ahead of us. It's
been a real nice Saturday. ~ migs