I’m at the airport preparing myself for the 10 hour plane ride to Santiago…I intentionally stayed up late last night so I could hopefully sleep on the plane. I get to my seat and find out I’m in a bulkhead row and my seat doesn’t recline (Bummer)…..However, I quickly realize that the only 2 vacant seats on the entire plane are next to me!!!! Once dinner was over, I confiscated the vacant seats and slept like a baby until we arrived in Santiago.
It is summer in Chile and the airport is extremely crowed with Chilean vacationers. After a short 2 hour layover I’m off to Balmaceda. 3 hour flight….roughest landing ever and I’m on the ground in Balmaceda…..I’ve always heard about the wind in Patagonia and it didn’t disappoint. My guess is the wind was blowing 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph!
I make my way to Coyhaique and the El Reloj hotel which will be my base of operations for the next 2 days until I depart for Nic Fin Outfitters. The El Reloj is a quaint little hotel with 18 rooms located within walking distance of the town center. It is very comfortable and clean…has wireless internet and a great restaurant…all for $80/night.
I unpack, change my clothes and embark on a walk around town. The setting is very beautiful….Coyhaique sits in the mountains with views all around. The thing I notice first are all the stray dogs…..I was out for about 2 hours and saw at least 15 strays.
After getting slightly lost, I make my way back to El Reloj for an early dinner and some much needed sleep.
The time difference in Coyhaique is 3 hours ahead of Dallas so my normal wakeup time of 5:30 Texas time lets me sleep until 8:30. After a good breakfast, I catch up on some emails and get ready to explore the city more. Skip Mullen (Nic Fin Outfitters) comes by and I go with him for a few hours to running errands and pick up supplies for the lodge. The hardware store in Coyhaique is called Sodimac and looks just like a Home Depot in the States.
Skip drops me off about 1:30 so I go for another walk around town. Coyhaique is built in a circle and it is very confusing and easy to get lost. After a couple of hours, I begin to understand the lay of the land.
I return to El Reloj, watch some American movies with subtitles, some soccer, rugby etc….dinner and more movies. I’m starting to get bored…two days with relatively nothing to do…no bueno!
Today is the true beginning of my trip….I’m headed to Skip’s lodge south of town and I can’t wait. Skip picks me up about 11 and we run some more errands and then were off. The lodge is about a 2 hours drive from Coyhaique, and the countryside changes dramatically between town and the lodge. Coyhaique is very mountainous with lots of trees and looks very much like the US West. As you drive south, it becomes more arid with areas of pampas, ranch land etc. Once you get close to the lodge, the mountains are extremely majestic and beautiful – tall jagged peaks with glaciers in every valley.
The lodge is located on a small lake with the most beautiful view imaginable.
At the lodge I meet Skip’s beautiful Chilean wife Viviana, her nephew Stephen, who will be working with them this summer and the chef, Christian. We enjoyed a great dinner and off to bed.
After breakfast, my Patagonia fishing experience begins. Skip and I leave the lodge about 8:30 headed for one of his “secret” lakes. The wind is blowing and its about 50 degrees but high sunny skies. After we unload the boat, we head up the lake about 4 miles to its mouth. Skip and his head guide Adam Henderson custom build their boats, and after years of trial and error, they believe (as I do now as well) that they have built the best fishing boat for both lake and river fishing. See picture below….it has more room than any boat I’ve ever fished out off and its extremely sturdy – the 30 horsepower jet Yamaha gives it a ton of power.
Once we arrive at the head of the lake, the wind actually lets up a little. I tie on a size 4 foam beetle and begin casting at the shoreline. I wasn’t past the fourth cast before a 17-inch brown crushes my fly- after 3 jumps and a couple of good runs, I release him unharmed. We fish all day and probably catch (guessing here) 20 fish between 17 and 22 inches…all browns.
Back to the lodge for dinner and a little sleep.
Another day on a “secret” lake. On the way to the lake we stop off at a house to visit with a recently widowed Chilean woman who Skip and Vivi have become good friends with. It is truly amazing how she lives….she raises everything she eats – from vegetables, sheep, cattle, chickens and turkeys. She even makes her own clothes from the sheep’s wool and alpaca hair!
On to the lake…once again it is winding and we have to go up the lake 10 miles, and at about mile 5 we decide to just fish the lower end of the lake. The fishing was incredible. Today we were throwing streamers on a sinking line. We must have moved and caught 25 fish. At one point, we were wading along a long sandy beach just catching 22 inch after 22 inch after 25 inch and the all of a sudden I feel something a little bigger than the normal…..he jumps twice and I can see he is much bigger than the others (which were big in their own right) The fish fights for a couple of minutes and I think were about to land him and for no reason he just spits the fly back at me. I am completely mortified, I just lost the biggest fish of my life. Well what can I do? We continue fishing and catch a couple more 20 inchers and then Skip hooks a good fish…after a few minutes we land him, measure him and he goes 27 inches. After we release him, Skip and I look at each other and were both thinking the same thing but I didn’t want to say it. Finally Skip says, “Holy Shit, your fish looked much bigger than this fish…I think it might have been 30 inches!” The more I thought about it the sicker I got…
Off to the lodge for a traditional Chilean Asado (Bar-B-Que) of cordero (Lamb)….dinner is incredible…the lamb is placed on a metal rack and turned over and open flame for about 4 hours. They continually marinade it with this special sauce called Chimychura (I hope that’s how it’s spelled) and the flavor is unbelievable. After a wonderful fiesta it’s off to bed.
Skip and I decide to look for a spring creek that he has been meaning to check out….he’s never been there but he knows someone in Villa Cerra Castillo that might know about it. We go into town and talk to Bruno, a local gaucho. We ask him about this spring creek over near the Rio Murta…Bruno immediately says, “That’s on my aunt’s land,” and after a quick “dirt map” and a letter from Bruno we’re off.
It takes us about 2.5 hours to get over there on the bumpy dirt road. I can’t believe it but the dirt map actually paid off and we drove straight to her house. She said, “…of course you can fish!” Which we did for about 4 hours and caught several nice rainbows…one 23 inches.
It’s time to head back to Coyhaique and we’re 200 KM away and most of it is dirt road……after a 4 hour drive we arrive. Quick dinner and off to bed at 1:00 am….muy cansado!
Skip, I and Stephen fish the Rio Blanco….beautiful river…BIG fish but not huge numbers. Fishing was tough but we managed to catch several over 20 inches.
Skip, Adam and I fish the Rio Paloma and into Lago Caro. Fishing was great we played baseball all day, switching from the front to back, to oarsman. Basically, three strikes (blown chances) and you are at the oars! The Rio Paloma and surrounding valley is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
This is the last day with Skip but I know I’ll see he and Vivi again soon. We’ve become friends in less than a week and I can’t wait to see them again.
After several hours of trying to locate a rent car, I found the last truck in town. It looks like a Baja 1000 race truck with sponsor stickers all over….big tires and loud pipes. I’m off for a 200 Km drive to the Cines Valley and La Posada de los Farios.
After a beautiful 4 hour drive, I arrive at Rex Brygleson’s lodge on the banks of the Rio Cines. The lodge is an old farm house that has been completely remodeled and updated…..very beautiful and comfortable. That evening we have a traditional Chilean Asada and it’s off to bed.
The plan is for a two day float on the Rio Cisnes with guides Pelayo and Dale (Gringo). We gather all the camping gear and head off to the river. The Rio Cisnes is a beautiful river with tons of fish. Fishing is good….several fish 16-18 inches. This is the first hot day I’ve experienced yet, and I wish I was wearing shorts.
After a full day of fishing, we set up camp on the bank and cook dinner and relax.
After breakfast, we pack up camp and continue our float. Fishing is much the same as yesterday….lots of fish on big dry flies..16-18 inches. Back to the lodge around 8:00 dinner and sleep.
Today Rex is taking me to one of his Secret Spots. He has a canoe stashed in the woods and after a short 10 minute hike, we arrive. We put the canoe in the water and start upstream. Third cast of the day…a big rainbow crushes the dry…very nice fish, about 18 inches. We are in a huge canyon with rock walls all around. We fish for about 5 hours catching probably 40 fish between 15 and 19 inches with a good mix of both browns and rainbows.
Back to the lodge for dinner and sleep.
I’m headed back to Coyhaique for 3 days of rest before our guest arrive for the hosted trip at Cinco Rios Lodge. When I get back into town, I go to the El Reloj and they discover that they are full, so I head to Mincho’s….luckily, Victoria has a room.
I tour Coyhaique and the surrounding areas….catch up on sleep, emails and watch plenty of TV.
I return my Baja Camioneta and head to Cinco Rios Lodge….I arrive and am greeted by Lodge owner Sebastian Galileo. After lunch we head to the airport to pick up our guests.
Among the guest is my father, Don. This is his first trip out of the US and I can’t wait. He taught me to fish and has been my number one fishing partner my entire life.
The flight is on time, and with no lost baggage we’re off to the lodge. Everyone cleans up after a long 15 hour trip…dinner and early to bed.
At breakfast, head guide Claudio explains the procedures, who’s fishing with who and lays out the entire week.
My Dad and I will be fishing with Gringo guide Jeff…this is Jeff’s fourth season in Chile and he knows the area well. We fish the Rio Aysen and have great luck…..15 fish apiece on dries and streamers….rainbows and browns…all fish are 17-19 inches.
Today we are fishing Lago Elizalde and the outlet. Cinco Rios has a jet boat on Rio Paloma that is used to access Lago Elizalde…after a 10 minute run down river you take a small tributary about another 10 minutes into Lago Elizalde. This is another one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We head into the lake first….the wind is blowing so we find a spot out of it and start fishing. My dad is using a size 4 Fat Albert and I’m throwing a black streamer on a sinking line. We immediately start catching fish….18 inch brown, 19 inch brown, 20 inch brown…22 inch brown……after 8 or so fish we come to a point and Jeff says “Get ready for a big rainbow…this is the only place on this lake that we catch rainbows” sure enough…..two 19 inch rainbows on back to back casts on dries.
We have lunch near a beautiful sand bar next to a waterfall, and afterward we fish the lake for a couple more hours….19 inch brown after 19 inch brown….all day long. We arrive at the outlet around 2:30….the water is CRYSTAL clear…tons of dead logs litter the bottom…it is incredible. I’m throwing the sinking line and move fish on the first 4 casts but fail to hook-up…on the 5th cast, out of nowhere it looks like a huge log coming at my fly….CRASH….I hook up. I immediately realize I have a huge brown on and I have to maneuver him out of the logs…after 3 jumps and a couple long runs we land him. 25 inches and HEAVY!
We fish the remaining part of the outlet and catch another 10 fish on our way back to the pickup….all in all, the best day of fishing yet!!
Today were going to fish a small lagoon in the morning and then try and hook up with a King Salmon in the afternoon.
We arrive at the lagoon, gear up, unload the boat and start fishing. My dad’s on the front of the boat fishing the size 4 Fat Albert and has perhaps the best 2 hours of fishing ever….he proceeds to catch 9 brown trout over 20 inches and loses one I’m guessing was 24 inches. I don’t catch a single fish…
After lunch we drive south to a spot on the Rio Simpson that typically holds King Salmon and we fish for awhile. My dad hooks one but it gets off quickly. Finally I hook a big female – she jumps 3-4 times, takes some runs and then I’m in for some work. After 25 minutes and a few more jumps and runs I get her close to shore. I tell Jeff to get ready and I slide her up into the shallows, and as Jeff grabs her tail she flops one more time and CRACK! There goes my tippet and the fish…. Oh well – no photos but a good time, and definitely memorable!
Back to the Lodge for dinner and sleep.
This day is a sightseeing day we drive to the Valley of the Moon, fish the Nirehuao and the Emperado Guillermo…catch 15 fish, but nothing exceptionally large. One beautiful drive however!
Today we drive up to Cinco Rios’ sister lodge: Estancia del Zorro. It’s about a 45 minute drive east of Coyhaique near the Argentina border…the area is mostly pampas and there is a spectacular spring creek running through the property. Fishing conditions are tough:70 km winds and the spring creek is only 5 ft wide at its widest. After we learn how to fish these waters we have good success – we catch 12 -15 fish from 16 to 22 inches. I see several fish over 25 inches but spook everyone before I have a chance to cast to them….just typical spring creek fishing.
On our last day of fishing at Cincos Rios we’re off to Lago Azul and Lago Desierto. These lakes are accessed by taking a jet boat up the Rio Mogote.
It’s raining when we start fishing and it never stops…..pouring rain all day but let me tell you….the best fishing of all. We move and/or catch at least 40 fish all over 18 inches. When we leave, the Rio Mogote has risen about 3 feet and is completely muddy, making for an interesting jet boat ride back out, an incredible day, and a great way to finish the hosted trip!
Today is departure day for most of the guests so we have a leisurely breakfast, go to town for some shopping and then take them to the airport. My dad, Adam Maris, Phil Napolitan and myself are staying for a few more days so I arrange to use a boat from Skip Mullen.
That evening we go to this lake that Adam and Phil had fished with their guide a few days earlier – there is a beautiful river coming into the lake that was very successful for them. Adam says it’s about a 10 minute row across the lake to the river. Knowing Adam, I plan for 30 minutes. When we get there I quickly realize what Adam thought was 10 minutes was actually 50 or more. We set up the puma raft and dive in! The wind is blowing and it is all we can do to get to the river. It’s very beautiful but fishing isn’t that great, and I think the cold weather has them shut off. We leave the river about 9:00 and it gets dark at 10:00 so I’m a little worried we won’t make it back before dark. When we get out into the lake, the wind has changed and once again I have to fight it the entire way. To make matters worse, as we’re rowing back, somehow one of the rods gets dropped into the water and as I go after it I fall in! 100 ft deep, waders and all! Sounds much worse than it was but could have been very dangerous. I get back into the boat soaking wet and cold, but luckily the 1 hour row keeps me warm. It’s dark when we reach the truck and we still have 30 minutes of work to do. Luckily for us the restaurants in Coyhaique stay open late….we eat at 11:30 then off to bed.
Dad, Adam, Phil and I drive up the Rio Manihuales valley in search of some good wade fishing we find what I think is the Rio Picacho….first two cast I catch a fish and I think it is on! It definitely was not on- we didn’t have another bite.
After a late lunch we drive to a spring creek someone told me about. He said it has huge fish but is almost unfishable because of all the brush and debris, and he was correct – it’s very marshy but holds big fish. Adam caught an 18 a 19 and had a huge 24 incher refuse his fly – tough fishing but we had a great time.
By the time we leave it already getting late and we still have 2.5 hours to drive so we stop at a minimarket in Villa Manihuales and grab empanadas, chips, cookies and a Coke….not healthy but much needed calories!
Adam and Phil are going home today…more shopping in town then off to the airport.
My dad and I sightsee the rest of the day.
Today is the last day of my trip. While I’m disappointed to be leaving, I’m anxious to get back to the States to my family. This has been the trip of a lifetime – an entire month in Chile with 20 plus days of fishing.
Incredible fishing, incredible beauty, and most importantly, incredible people. These folks are the kindest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, and I cannot wait to see them again!
Until my next adventure,