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Time Off: Rafael Tamargo

  Rafael Tamargo, hooked on fly fishing.
When a surgeon uses his steady, gifted hands to tie loops that look more like mayflies than sutures, something is definitely fishy.

Twelve years ago, fly fishing was a fledgling hobby for neurosurgeon Rafael Tamargo. Now, his car trunk crammed with rods, waders and fishing flies, Tamargo is always at the ready, prepared to outsmart those shiny, magnificent trout.

Fly fishing isn’t a worm, a pole and a dock; nor is it passive. Instead, it demands an astute understanding of the complex relationship between fish psychology, the biology of insect hatching cycles, and subtle variations in water and weather. The bait is not food, but “flies” that are hand-crafted—from wool yarn, hair, wax, even tinsel—to look just like the insects that fish love to eat.

Recently, Tamargo revealed the details of a passion that’s a world apart from the sterile tile and urgent beeps of the operating suites.

What is it about fly fishing that really got you hooked?

I love it because the only places trout can survive are beautiful rivers that are free from pollution. They’re remote, quiet areas. As a surgeon and a researcher, I’m interested in how things are put together. Fly fishing is like conducting an experiment. What is the river doing? What insects are hatching? What stage of growth are they in? You have to turn over stones; look at cobwebs. You choose your fly, your rod and your line based on your observations. If you catch a fish, you win. If you don’t, you try the experiment in different ways until you do.

Of course, if I do catch a fish, I just look and touch. They’re such beautiful creatures, with scales so small they look like a painting. I offer my apologies and throw them back.

You must be an expert after all these years.

Expert casting takes a lifetime. The more you do it, the better you get. Now, I’m pretty accurate from 40 feet. Most weeks, I go at least once, and catch an average of one per hour. One Fourth of July, though, there was a big hatch of caddisflies, and it was more like 12 every half-hour.

In the winter months, early November to early April, I can’t go fishing. It’s so painful. That’s when I tie the flies, using the same loupes that I use in surgery. But I’d rather be out fishing than sitting around tying flies.

When did you know you were addicted?

My wife started to figure out that every vacation I suggested just happened to be next to a trout river. Still, I’d be happy just hiking along a river—having a reason to get in is a bonus.

What’s your proudest accomplishment—no exaggerations, please!

On a trip to the South Platte River in Colorado, I caught a 22-inch rainbow trout.

Can you divulge your favorite fishing spot?

The Gunpowder River [in northern Baltimore County] has been ranked among the top 100 fly fishing rivers in the country. I can leave work on a summer evening and be in the river in 45 minutes. The trout in the upper section, which hasn’t been stocked in more than a decade, are wild and smart—a real challenge. Farther afield, Oregon has the best trout fishing. But the residents have sworn me to secrecy.

—Lindsay Roylance



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