We talk with Rance Rathie, owner of Patagonia River Guides, about life in South America and how two guides from Montana founded the best operation in Patagonia.
Rance, you and your partner in Patagonia River Guides (Travis Smith) are native of our home state of Montana. How did two guides from SW Montana end up starting and running the best fishing operation in Patagonia? Winters in Montana are quite long! After growing up in Montana and finishing college, we thought it was time to see the world. The endless summer meant southern hemisphere. It was originally just a “trout bum” adventure with guiding to pay the way, but turned into much much more after falling in love with Patagonia.
Was there a “a-ha” moment when you knew you had something with PRG? We have always been confident in the area and the fishing in Patagoina, but after the first season, every single client re-booked. We only had 12 clients that year, but it was a good sign that we were doing something right.
What are some things that give you pause (concern) about the future of fishing in Patagonia? The world is changing everywhere and Patagonia is similar to where we grew up in Montana. People love it (and in many places in the world end up getting loved to death). Fortunately, Patagonia is a long way from anywhere, but towns are growing and more people are moving out of the cities.
You sort of alluded to this in your last answer, but do you ever worry about the globalization of fly fishing might make it tougher and tougher to find solace on the water? Someone told me a long time ago, “Fishing will never be better than it was today” (like right now). I have thought about this quite a bit, and it’s true, there are few secrets left in flyfishing and it seems that the discovery rate of new places with Google Earth is exponential. But, there are still a lot of places you just can’t get to easily, and that’s the difference to me. Hopefully, all the great places won’t get overrun and until we have time travel to get to southern Patagonia, it will take decades still to make fishing in Patagonia crowded.
You now own your own lodge and put guests up at about ten other private estancias and lodges in the region. What do you see is the future of PRG in the next 10 years? The future of PRG in the next ten years is to maintain our programs – not grow too much more – and to continue to provide the best possible service and fishing for our guests. We have to be creative with all the world competition (other destinations) and we have to ensure that the “special something” about Patagonia and Patagonia River Guides keep our clients coming back.
So you think your company will continue to be centered in Patagonia – don’t you get intrigued by opening operations in other parts of the world? Yes, we’re staying put! There was a time when a whole lot of places in the world were attractive and we had visions of maybe trying to do something big on another country. Now, with four kids, it’s time to stay put and enjoy all we have developed and an incredible place to live and work.
You have a lot of great partnerships (Simms, Hatch, RO, etc). How do these relationships help an organization like PRG? To offer what we do – the best equipment, tackle, etc – we need strategic partners. They are critical! We’re a long way from a “fly shop” down here, and our things have to hold up to lots of abuse. Without having partnerships with great companies, we also wouldn’t be able to provide Simms waders and boots, Hatch Reels, Winston Rods, etc. for each and every client, and our guides wouldn’t be as effective in doing their jobs without having the best. Some may argue, but to be the best, you have to use the best in all modern sports. I can’t imagine trying to run PRG w/o our partners.
Have you seen a change in the client over the time you have been in operation? My sense is that they have become more sophisticated anglers. The sport has become more technology driven, but the clients have really stayed the same. Unfortunately, we’re losing a whole lot of great anglers – that “greatest generation” that some talk about. So, I guess the demographics are changing more than anything for me.
What are some things you have learned (either about fishing or life) from working with the local guides? I guess the most important thing I have learned from the local guides is to be more patient. That is mandatory in Argentina! And I have also learned to try to be as caring, open, and hospitable as they are. They are truly the greatest hosts on earth.
What would you say to a college grad (perhaps someone from our hometown MSU) about wanting to get into the global fly fishing business? I would tell them to be damn sure they want to make a buck out of what they love, because they won’t love it in the same way. For me guiding changed a lot of how I enjoy trout fishing. I still love it! But I’m so used to helping-watching-encouraging-teaching someone else how to make that cast, catch that fish, etc. that the desire for me to do it just isn’t the same. I would say, if you want to be a guide, and be a good one, you will ruin trout fishing for yourself. It won’t happen immediately, but once you can “predict the future” and the mystery or the unknown is gone, it just isn’t the same. A good guide will always learn – every day – but much of it becomes too “known” and too predictable.
What species of fish that you haven’t caught most intrigues you? The most intriguing fish is would probably be something like a milkfish, but the one I want the most and can’t wait to catch is the Atlantic Salmon!
You are now married to an Argentine woman, have a family and permanently live down there while your partner Travis comes back to the States in the off-season – how hard was it to make the transition to full time? The transition is still a work in progress after five years. Damn, I miss Montana at times. Argentina is a nice place to live but just about everything is challenging down here in the “land of mañana!” There is no way, I could every truly be Argentine and after fifteen years down here – five full time – I’m still very much a gringo. I drink beer at 5:00 for example.
Why or where did you became known as “the golden arm.” So, my Mom comes from a family of 15 kids – the Reynolds from Melrose, MT. They happen to be the most competitive family you will ever meet – but mostly at playing cards and horseshoes. I’ve sort of inherited that competitive spirit and, in my younger years, I used to want to be the best caster in the world. I’m far from that, but got pretty good and could routinely smoke the competition back when it was important to 20-something guides. Most of those competitions involved a case of beer. You get it? “Hold my beer and watch this!” Anyway, I was cocky and I guess I could talk the talk and walk the walk. Long story short, I named myself the “golden arm” and used to joke around with the boys that there was a bronze made of my arm and that they could touch it if they wanted to. It is so embarrassing that question, but if you do a little checking, there are probably a few people out there that will tell you that it did “move just right”. The same guy, (the late Jim Repine) that told me “the best day of fishing was the one you had today” also told me “the best fly caster in the world will never pick up a fly rod” …. I know exactly what it meant and what it means today!
Patagonia River Guides can be reached online at www.patagoniariverguides.com. Here is a collection of photos from the Simms photo shoot with PRG.