s southern Chile, Patagonian Chile, a true fly angling Paradise? Absolutely! Is it still relatively unspoiled? It's far less impacted at this point than Alaska! But isn't it just trout fishing? Not at all! There is world class trout fishing, rainbow and brown, in every type of water situation imaginable, and accompanied by a grand variety of insect activity. Yet in the Futaleufu River alone I've taken rainbows, browns, perca, coho salmon, chinook salmon, brook trout, and Atlantic salmon. Several river and lake systems in Patagonia offer like opportunities, all situated in surroundings of indescribably gorgeous scenery.
But it's strictly for rich folks, right, like five grand per person per week -that sort of thing? That's pretty close to average, say six grand for a week's fishing indulging air fare from your front door and back. By world standards that's not so high, but for younger anglers, and thousands of others of more modest means, it's more than they can spend. Too bad! So what's new? Paradise is only for the well to do, right? WRONG!
My wife and I have one of those high price spread lodges. It's internationally popular, the way to go if you can afford it. For anglers over forty, especially those who like to share fishing or luxury lodge life with the ladies in their lives it can't be beat. It's top pro guides, horses, air-conditioned four-wheel drive vehicles, gourmet food, with five star accommodations and service. Sweet? You got it! But there's another way to do it.
For twenty-five years in Alaska my principal choices were to drive a road system with less miles than Rhode Island in a territory more than twice the size of Texas, or to fly. As far back as 1968 when I arrived, drive to fishing was already crowded. Or I could fly from Anchorage for the good stuff. There wasn't any other real option, yet every time I took an airplane in order to get somewhere to fish, we flew over miles and miles of excellent, untouched fishing that short of parachutes was inaccessible. An entire system of superb streams and lakes too small for float plane landing and too brushy for helicopters exists between Anchorage and wherever you're headed. Southern Chile has a similar deal. It's a place called Chaiten (Chy- tan).
It's a small, friendly coastal community of four or five thousand, an hour south by air from Puerto Montt. If you fly from Santiago, and/or Puerto Montt to Coyhaique (Coy yia ki), the area where so many of the lodges and outfitters are you will fly over Chaiten on your way.
However there are also several daily commuter flights, from Puerto Montt to Chaiten as well as ferry service. Then within an hour or less, you have easy driving to three excellent rivers, Rio Negro, Rio Blanco, and Rio Yelcho, plus several smaller streams and lakes. Within these waters are good to excellent populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout, chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon, robalo, and perca. I've personally caught and released all of those. There are persistent rumors of steelhead, though I've not seen one -yet.
And here's the best part.
I have a pal, a twelve-year pal, who lives in Chaiten, and can custom package any length stay you want. His name is Nicolas La Penna. and he will personally attend you as your guide, providing vehicles, boats, etc. You will stay at a warm, comfortable hosteria (bed & breakfast), take a bag lunch with you daily, and have a choice of several restaurants in the evenings. Your food will be very good, mostly Chilean dishes, although pretty good cheeseburgers and fries are showing up more and more on local menus.
A couple of days after our lodge closed, one of my guides, Eric Hoffnagle, and I snuck off to meet Nicolas and check out some fish tales we kept hearing from his area. Weíre located just four miles from the Argentine border so it takes about four and a half hours of unpaved road driving to reach the coastal town of Chaiten. We didnít need to return for three or four days so there wasnít any hurry, and we didnít plan to fish the first night anyway. We sometimes pick up our guests here and transport them to the lodge, so Eric knew where the latest cheeseburger was. And that's what we did.
In the morning Nicolas showed up right after breakfast, hosted a twenty minute planning and strategy conference, and off we went. About ten minutes from our home base, the Hosteria Uanos, we pulled up beside a lower portion of Rio Blanco, maybe a mile before it empties into the Pacific. This small river runs through the town. You must cross it in fact to get into town from our direction. For a dozen years now Iíve driven over it time and time again always telling myself that on the next trip I would bring a rod and do some exploring. Finally, I was there. What was the unique attraction? I donít know, I havenít passed over clear water, moving or still, in sixty years that didnít give me a seductive "come hither" wink and smile.
We didnít catch much and didnít stay long, but from what Nicolas had to say, and what we saw and heard from others the Rio Blanco is a sleeper. I watched a youngster catch, play and lose a brown trout that was surely five pounds, and Coho salmon are there in increasing numbers each year. Steelhead? Our guide named specific fish taken by specific anglers: names, dates, and sizes. After I took some photos we were off to a gorgeous lake in a huge park that 1"11 leave unnamed.
This was Eric's last season with us, so we were on his good bye expedition. I presented him the lake, an especially beautiful piece of water with most of its shoreline covered with high growing reeds. He had the front of the raft, Nicolas rowed from the middle and I took photos from the rear. Reeds here mean snails, lots of them, half the size of your thumb, and black. Black wooly buggers, leeches, etc., are pretty much the standard, and hard to beat. There is also a great number of dragon flies that often bring twenty-inch and better rainbows a foot and a half into the air to grab them. With these two things going for you, it's a stacked deck. Eric kicked a lot of trout butt for a couple of hours.
After lunch Nicolas showed us small streams that a blindfolded photographer could get cover images from. They tend to hold smaller fish, except now and then, when you least expect it, the twenty inch monster appears out of no where, and often breaks leaders, etc., before you wake up. When we finally arrived back at the Hosteria, tired and content, it dawned on me -we hadn't seen another soul, angler or otherwise, on any water we went to.
Our final day was split between Rio Negro, a highly productive brown trout fishery, and then the act three 'Grande Final" on Rio Yelcho. Yelcho flows out of huge Yelcho Lake that is fed by sixty miles or so of Rio Futaleufu, originating in Argentina's spectacular Alerce National Park. Yelcho River is becoming more and more famous as a Chinook river with an extended spawning run from as early as January until after the mid April c1ose of the season. We were there for trout.
Browns were on the move as spawning season was beginning. I fished with a nine foot, eight weight Hexagraph and a weight forward floating line. Using my own Jimís Green, a #8 fall caddis designed to wake. It was good, very good and I caught wonderfully energetic trout from twelve to sixteen inches for as long as I continued to cast. I didn't count, but there were a lot. Then I did something different.
I had been experimenting with a new pattern for the Miramichi. I usually fish it dry, and sometimes do quite well, though now and again I still go under the surface. Weighted flies aren't legal there, so the challenge is an unweighted fly with maximum sink. Light dressing is a major help, and that's what this new pattern is about. The prototype is black. It would best be described as a streamer; the one I was using tied on a #6 streamer hook. An eighteen-inch brown ate it on the first cast, though it wasn't much of a test with so many eager trout about.
I was wading a run that extended about a hundred yards. It was pleasant wading gravel, easy walking, the sun almost down, and me deep into that contemplative thing Izaak Walton wrote about though at sixty seven it just might be a fancy word for mind wandering. And then it all stopped. For a long second everything was still and silent, even my fly that had just started its swing around. I lifted the Hexy to see why. Something was on the other end that merited more than trout pressure to start things off .I stuck it -hard!
You know how it feels to give a big guy your best killer punch, right on his snoot, and then realize from his lack of reaction that first, you haven't hurt him at all and second that you are in big trouble. It was like that. This fish was a nailer and a half, you could tell from the way he started to run. Like hooking a bulldozer, not so fast but absolutely unstoppable. I had on a 10-foot leader tapered down to a six-pound tippet. No question, I was buffalo hunting with a twenty-two.
For a run that felt slow It was amazing how Quickly he took me to backing, way into backing, before he decided to move upstream for a while. Eric, always the instinctual guide, was beside me. Actually I regained quite a bit of line over the next ten or fifteen minutes. In fact I was almost ready to believe there might be a chance of landing this behemoth. Then he came to the surface. If he had opened a blowhole and sent up a noisy spout or two it wouldnít have been too surprising. Instead he rolled, exploded, and then shook his massive head and pulled the hook out. We three stood silent for some moments. Good God! Did you see that fish?" Eric hugged me, as we all began chattering at the same time.
It wasnít a whale. It was Moby King Salmon. Bright silver fresh, at least forty pounds, a Patagonian Chinook that was approaching my Alaska fly rod largest salmon, fifty-seven pounds. But how did I feel about losing it? Thereís an age-old adage you still hear once in a while maintaining that you canít lose something you never really had. 1"11 go along with that, because I sure as heck never Ďhadí that monster.
Sound good? Any week from mid November to mid April will do it. With a round trip air ticket from home and back, hereís how to make the rest happen. Call or fax my pal Nicolas La Penna in Chaiten. T ell him you donít have much more than a grand to spend with him once you get there. And start packing your gear.
Fast into another fish on the Rio Blanco in Southern Chile
Photo: Jim Repine