How It Feels to Be Yvon Chouinard
Credit: Jean-Marc Giboux / Getty Images

The wind is blowing at 60 knots, gusting to 70, and we're walking this broad, yellow plain, and we're going fishing, Yvon Chouinard and I. Ahead of us, a dust storm rises and screws its way upward into the blue sky. Chouinard says, "You can feel it." Feel what? "The fishing is going to be shit-hot today," he declares, smiling. "It feels like that moment before an avalanche."

Green carnations of foam are exploding across the Río Grande as the river surges through the bare Patagonian hills. Beaten by the wind, it almost appears to flow backward, as if surrendering and retreating to its source in the foothills of the Andes, across the Argentine border in Chile, 30 miles away. This is sacred country to Chouinard, his favorite wilderness, and each year he stays at a lodge called Villa Maria to fish this remarkable river, recognized as the best sea-trout water in the world.

Chouinard punches merrily through cyclonic blasts of wind, his fly rod quivering: He's happy under these conditions – typical of Tierra del Fuego – not because they're inherently dangerous, but because they'll make the fishing more challenging.

"Incredible!" exclaims Chouinard. "You gotta love it! Unbelievable!" He looks back at me, grinning wildly. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?" And I can't help but grin, too. I hunch over, pull down my hat, and try to keep up with him.

Which is when Yvon Chouinard – supremely fit and tanned at age 60; a pioneering mountaineer; an expert fisherman, kayaker, and surfer; a blacksmith and a gourmand; a lover of Beavis and Butt-Head and the poetry of Charles Bukowski; an environmentalist, an entrepreneur, and the founder of the clothing company Patagonia – stops to study the river thoughtfully, and then steps off the bank into thin air, to catch the biggest trout on Earth.