In the summer of 1994, Steamboat Springs native Jason Jagger was at the ripe age of 25, plugging away in the Yacht Club's night kitchen.
But then a couple local fishing buddies, Justin McCarthy and Perry Coleman, approached Jagger with a proposition that changed the course of his life and led him on a fishing odyssey to the world's premier rivers and streams.
McCarthy and Coleman had spent three weeks that spring scouting the remote and pristine rivers in the Patagonia region of South America. Jagger and the pair went in on a Chevy Suburban and vowed to fish South America the next summer, which in the Southern Hemisphere begins with the Dec. 21 solstice.
Rather than taking their chances with the drive and being "three white guys driving the car of choice through Columbia," the group drove to Miami and shipped the car south.
Flying to Chile and meeting the vehicle 22 days later in the port of San Antonio, the group spent the next six months living out of the vehicle and off of fish caught from the rivers. Based primarily out of the Argentine town of El Bolson, they put 7,000 miles on the car, criss-crossing the Southern Cone and knocking on the doors of each sprawling ranch to ask permission for free access to fishing waters.
The travels took Jagger as far south as Tierra del Fuego, South America's southernmost island archipelago separated from the mainland by the Strait of Magellan.
Knocking on a random cabin door along the Rio Grande, the island's main river, Jagger was surprised to see a fellow American named Tom Brady answer.
"He was trying to start a lodge and told us we could fish for a week to learn the river, and he put us to work for a week guiding his last group of the season coming in," Jagger said.
Jagger was immediately hooked on the Rio Grande.
The big oxbows and flat gravel bottoms make it an ideal location to fish the sea-run trout (identical to a brown trout) that feast on ocean krill and then swim up river to spawn.
"The lower (Rio Grande) is famous for the sheer amount of fish where the average fish is 9 pounds," Jagger said. "A 20-inch trout in Colorado is big. There, you drag (a 20-incher) in and flip it off your hook. A big catch is 30 pounds. You remember the first time you see a 40-inch trout. It's something different."
The sizable fish required the similar fly patterns as those used to lure a strike from Atlantic salmon or steelhead trout.
Jagger was also drawn to the island's remote location, "where you don't see any jet trails," but only foxes, sheep and guanacos wandering around the barren landscape swept by daily winds of 80 mph.
"You're just above sea level between the Pacific and the Atlantic and the weather is extreme," Jagger said. "The sky is magic and always moving."
Jagger returned for the Northern Hemisphere's summer to work as a guide at the exclusive Elktrout Lodge near Kremmling, bringing plenty of pictures to help convince avid fishermen that the haul to the far end of the Americas was worth the trip.
Jagger returned to work the next six fishing seasons at the San Jose Lodge on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego. During this time he watched the thinly-populated island change as more tourist-fishers discovered it, transforming the economic landscape. Jagger estimated what was once a budget destination now runs an angler $4,000 to $6,000 a week to fish through one of the lodges (which does not include airfare) that control water access. The river caught the eye of media mogul Ted Turner, who purchased the San Jose Lodge in 1999.
As destination travel became a lucrative business, Jagger cashed in by supplementing his schedule of summers in Kremmling and "winters" in Argentina by guiding fall sport-fishing trips to the Venezuelan islands of Los Roques.
"We were walking around Miami International and saw we could get a flight to Venezuela for $200," Jagger said of the first trip that eventually led to an arrangement guiding Caribbean bonefishing trips booked through the Swedish tackle company Loop.
Between guiding these private trips in Los Roques and similar trips in Iceland, Jagger always made it back for another season on the Rio Grande.
In 2002, Jagger took advantage of another opportunity that came his way, this time moving up river and across the Chilean border to the increased miles of fishable water offered by the Estancia Cameron Lodge.
After guiding for more than 200 days a year for 12 years and 25 summers, Jagger has decided to spend his first real winter in Steamboat. He can look back and see how his attitude has changed during the years, where it's no longer "a life or death thing to drive all day to get to that fishing spot," and believes he can satisfy his passion with a newfound sedentary lifestyle. He claims he would still be happy "to go to Denver and fish carp in a duck pond."
For now, Jagger plans to work on his photography and break the cycle of endless summers by enjoying something that has become a foreign concept - snow.
To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253
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