H2O Magazine

Good life at the end of the earth

Chile of Patagonia
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COYHAIQUE

The Bomberos Inn, located in the center of Coyhaique, is only a stone’s throw from the lodge where we have just dropped off our luggage; our guides have reserved a table, knowing that after our long flight, we would highly appreciate a juicy beef steak and a cool mug of beer.

The photos of the salmon caught in the nearby Rio Simpson, which are hanging on the walls, make us feel the atmosphere that we have been dreaming of for some days.

MANIHUALES

The memories of a previous travel to Chile and the stories narrated by the guides on the new itinerary that we are going to face, inflame our enthusiasm so much that we forget our absolute need for restorative sleep.The next morning, after a short journey, we go down the Manihuales on two boats; it is a mighty, valley floor river which is certainly rich in big trout, but it is a very hot day and there is absolutely no activity in the water.

Only fishing with streamers enables you to catch very good-sized rainbow trout and  100 Tortelli catches a huge one just while the camera is off. However, casting such heavy baits requires  an effort that is not rewarded as it should. To make up for it, we couldn’t find a better day for taking photos of landscapes at sunset with extraordinary light conditions, accompanied by a warm wind.

THE CARRETERA AUSTRAL

After a short breakfast we rush to load the pickups, ready to face 350 km on the Carretera Austral. A lot of people have written about this endless strip of gravel: travelers, writers, artists, dreamers, globe-trotters…… Even if you abandon yourself to your most lively imagination, nothing can impress you so much as going along it.

The Lake General Carrera is lashed by a tense wind which lifts waves higher than one meter. We have a short break in the sole restaurant, surrounded by a small built-up area of wooden houses, a tiny village, the name of which says it all: Puerto Tranquilo. Before resuming our journey we treat ourselves to a quick lunch and then continue southward.

RIO BAKER

We have travelled for almost six hours, and the Lake Bertrand is  nearly around the corner. At last we arrive at the lodge: it is very beautiful, completely built in wood on stilts on the bank of the famous Rio Baker; outside the lodges, furnished with very good taste, there is a patio with a big basin and an abundant provision of wood for the fireplace and to heat water.

The Rio Baker is huge, a mountain of blue water which flows impetuously, alternating foaming waves that welter and then calm down in mild flat surfaces, so it makes you feel uncomfortable just thinking of fishing in it. The urge to try prevails and, in spite of the exhaustion due to the long journey, we mount the rods and unroll the tails.

In the small inlets the trout swim just under the surface, but they are not very collaborative, perhaps because they feel that the weather is changing again! Indeed, it is going to rain and a frozen wind is going to drive us to the restaurant to enjoy the heat of a very big fireplace, where a dish of excellent meat and good Chilean wine will help us make better plans for tomorrow.

In spite of the very bad forecast, when we wake up we find an almost clear sky and no wind at all. So we prepare the equipment on the boats and go down the river which seems bigger and bigger. We have never seen such a wide and deep stretch of water. Aside from the water whirlpools the trout appear motionless: they are waiting for the prey that they will catch like lightning as soon as it touches the surface of the water.

The rainbow trout are the worst ones, combative and very fast, certainly funnier and more challenging to fight, whereas the brown trout are the most beautiful ones, more elegant and even bigger. Fishing with streamers is profitable, too and certainly more suitable for catching specimens over 50, which are rather common.

RIO COCHRANE

The day after, the wind and rain accompany us for the 40 km that divide us from the Cochrane; the road is the same leading to Villa O’Higgins, where the Carretera Austral ends up. From there, if you wish to go further south, you have to cross the Ruta 40 in Argentina, then again in El Calafate, Puerto Natales and finally Puntas Arenas. You are already in the Tierra del Fuego, at the bottom of the world. There is nothing else further south.

The Rio is very deep, surrounded by trees and bushes bent till the surface of the water; on the bottom the submerged trunks are an exceptional shelter for the trout, that we try to drive out by casting heavy streamers to be retrieved very fast. While Brave and I go down the river, Aladino and Lancillotto go up.

Fishing immediately turns out to be very difficult, as the bait often gets stuck in the submerged trunks. However, we manage to catch some nice rainbow trout. Then in a meander of the river delimited by a whirling current, Brave’s tail tenses up splitting the water. He promptly lifts the rod and starts a quick fight with a huge fish which doesn’t seem to surrender until a good five minutes of tug of war, after which it finally lets itself be netted by our gillie.

THE TROUT

It is a gigantic trout, not particularly slender but really beautiful and colored. Satisfaction makes you hungry and the wide meadow a bit further is the best restaurant of the area. Meanwhile the wind has become stronger and the first drops are coming. So we decide to go back. Our mates are radiant as they have caught enormous trout, and Lancillotto has certainly made the record of the travel with his showcase “trophy.”

On the following morning the weather is changeable: 10 minutes of sun and 5 minutes of rain. But nothing jeopardizes our departure on the boat on Lake Bertrand and, after some minutes of slow navigation towards the bank which is most protected from the wind, we are already fishing. First cast, first perch!

It is a fish originating from Chile and it is the only fish present in these areas before the introduction of the trout. It stops raining and the sun makes the air a bit milder; however, the best catches are with the streamer and it is much more difficult with the dry fly. Where the lake finishes and the Rio Baker begins, we get off the boat and wade-fish: the biggest fish are just in the point where the water starts flowing faster. Rainbow trout of over half a meter which fight with the current in their favor are a good test for the resistance of the leaders, which are never strong enough.

It is always too early to head for the boat, prepare the luggage and go back along the Carretera, but the journey is long and we have to hurry up so as not to arrive too late. It is six hours of dirt road where speed doesn’t exceed 50 km/hour, with holes, jumps and dust almost everywhere, apart from those short stretches where the ash of a volcano which erupted several years ago makes the ground more compact and smoother. Just a while after dinner time we are in Coyhaique’s lodge, where our well-deserved rest will give us new energy for the following day.

LAKE JUNCOS

The Lake Juncos is about a two-hour drive on a rigorously dirt road which, for a long stretch, runs through a thick wood on the top of which the trees thin out, thus making way for the Moon Valley, an almost unreal landscape rising from the passage of a huge glacier which, flowing slowly millions of years ago, created a myriad of panettone-shaped mountains with almost identical size and height. When we get to the Lake, the sun is shining, but it is still very windy.

We walk along the banks of the lake among high blades of grass coming out of the water, which thin out every now and then, thus leaving some space for the small canals where trout of half a meter hide in 30 cm of water!

The first fishing hour is totally spent among rushes and water rivulets, in search for very dark enormous brown trout with shining red dots. Then we go up the stream (the name of which is not a name, as it is called, “river with no name”).

THE RIO WITH NO NAME

The pools of the stream, which are never larger than 3-4 meters, are under the little falls where the trout make tremendous jumps to reach the hole upstream, as if they are running salmon.

We hardly climb, often helping ourselves with hands and feet and with the stock of the rod tightly between the teeth, but the big and wild trout we catch reward us enough for the hard walk of three hours.

THE RIVER NIREHUAO

The River Nirehuao is to the left of the Moon Valley, with the Pacific Ocean downstream, the Andes at the back and Argentine beyond that. The wind is reckless and it is even difficult to cast heavy tails. Nevertheless, luck wants to bestow the last extraordinary day on us and, with the passing of time, everything calms down; put a grasshopper on and fish next to the bank, Diego tells us, and here are the first nice catches and the few more which will ensue for almost all day. The trout are  good-sized for sure, 40 cm and perhaps more on the average, but not comparable to those of yesterday at Juncos Lake.

Towards the end of the day, when the wind seems to give me the best chance, here is the cherry on top, as we say: on the opposite bank a strange whirl in the water creates a small indentation in the point where the river bends on the left, just beyond the main current. The bank, which is a bit less than one meter, is almost perpendicular and the long grass blades are so bent that they touch the surface.

Diego, next to me, without saying a word, winks  his eye. I kneel down and unroll the tail slowly. There is a bit more than 12 meters and just one possibility. I check the binding, look behind my shoulders to make sure that there is enough space for the cast and I wink to the gillie, who replies with a smile.

I begin to twirl the tail and the grasshopper leans on a tussock and falls into the water, drops for a bit less than one meter, then it is swallowed by a wave and a scream of joy.

It is not easy to let it through the current, but Diego’s experience helps me and after some minutes of hard fight I manage to force it as far as the landing net: beautiful, gorgeous, big and bad. I end up here and lay down my arms in the last hour. I then follow “brother Brave” and Diego in the hunting and I feel like a gillie for some time, while a strong wind is rising up again and black clouds are coming from the Ocean. Everything ends up the way it began: a toast at the Bomberos restaurant, then again on the flight towards home. Chile is, every time, more extraordinary.

Emilio Arbizzi

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