COMING of AGE
A trip through Chilean Patagonia and its best fishing lodges by Brian Gies
ast summer Fly Water Travel was lucky enough to have Rex Bryngelson, a 24 year veteran of Chilean Patagonia outfitting and the owner of La Posada de Los Farios, work out of our Ashland office for four months. Anyone that knows or has fished with Rex will tell you that he is a solid stand-up guy who loves and understands all types of outdoor adventure, especially fly fishing. During his summer in the office with us we became close and he was able to substantially deepen our knowledge of the vast and diverse fisheries of Chilean Patagonia. During his time with us he insisted that I come back down to tour not only his home waters but a vast array of operations and systems that surrounded him in the spectacular region of southern Patagonia that he calls home. One of the things I asked him to do while working with us was to write out his thoughts about where Chile now stands in the world of international fly fishing. His synopsis follows: “Chilean Fly Fishing has truly come of age and the country now boasts some of the World’s finest lodges and professional guides. The diversity of angling opportunities on Chile’s side of Patagonia is truly incredible and most anglers who make the journey to this remote and unspoiled corner of the planet find themselves yearning to return again and again. Chilean Patagonia is defined by it’s abundance of pure fresh water and possesses countless rivers, lakes and spring creeks all teeming with wild brown and rainbow trout. Combine this with a safe and friendly rural Patagonian culture and the spectacular glaciated peaks of the Andes Range, and you have designed the quintessential trout fisherman’s heaven.”
COMING of AGE True, the previous statement is quite flowery but after spending time To say I was impressed with every aspect of the trip was an underwith him, reading this statement, and consequently spending three statement. It was not that I had lights out fishing every day. However, weeks with him visiting and fishing lodges across Chile I can say his the vast majority of my days were absolutely stellar; some because of sheer statement is spot on. numbers, other because of size and to top it off, the vast majority of my Having spent the past six winters plying the flats of the trophy fish were caught on the surface. Pacific, Caribbean, and the Indian Oceans, I had been remiss All this said, it was not purely the quality in making time to fish Chile. But this past winter I made of the fishing that got my attention. I had gone it right. My pale skin needed a break from the equatorial down confident I would have a solid angling expesun and invitations from Rex and multiple other outrience and that was more than true. What really got fitters to join them on their home waters combined my attention was the exceedingly high standards of with my yearning to toss large dries at big willing the operations I visited. Everything from the quality of browns and rainbows sealed the deal. the lodging and the guides (almost all local) to the meals My mission was to spend the better part of March meeting and the equipment was most impressive. Rex’s statement that Fat Albert and fishing with as many operations on as many rivers and lakes “Chilean Fly Fishing had truly come of age” was sinking in and as humanly possible. In-between talking shop and fishing I made a firm the following three operations really drove that point home. commitment to sample as much Chilean wine and cuisine as possible. Chucao Lodge I would worry about sleeping when I got home. And that is how it went. The First operation that really got my attention was Chucao Lodge I hit the ground running and did not stop until I boarded my return located outside of Puerto Monte. When setting out to build the the flight. Early April found me at home, completely exhausted, with mullodge of his dreams, Gonzalo Cortes quickly realized that one lodge tiple CF cards full of images, pages of notes, and a deeper enthusiasm and would not suffice so he built two: Yelcho and Rosselott, and created respect for the lodges, guides and the overall state of the Chilean fly a program where guests would slit their week-long stays between the fishing experience. two. From start to finish this place delivers a remarkable and authentic To put the journey into numbers, I met with seven different outfitChilean experience with complete with rustic local architecture, savvy ters and fished fourteen different rivers and lakes. Starting from the town Chilean guides, spectacular mountain views and arguably Chile’s largest of Chaiten I fished just about every major river system down the coast wild trout. through Coyahique and then headed south. The major rivers included the Perhaps the cornerstone fishery of this area is Lago Yelcho. Amongst Yelcho, Rossolot, Figiroa, Cisnes, Simpson, and Nirehuao. Other smallanglers in the know this lake has a almost cult like following. If you’ve ever er lesser known rivers and spring creeks including some utterly fantastic had a friend show you a photo of a rainbow trout from Chile that looked lakes were thrown into the mix as well. For those of you that cringe at just too big to be true, chances are it came from this lake. During the majorthe thought of fishing lakes, know that I historically I have been right ity of the season you can find dragon flies in the reed beds that populate the with you, but now after having sight fished big browns and rainbows with back bays of the lake. The biggest trout in the lake cruise these areas dries, my opinion has forever changed.
“To put the journey into numbers, I met with seven different outfitters and fished fourteen different rivers and lakes.” Page 87
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COMING of AGE looking for a substantial meal and will often leaping clean out of the water utter novelty. Now even though the sport is firmly rooted in the area Rex’s to nab the giant bugs, mid-air. place is still is considered remote. Thirteen miles from the lodge you turn off Even though I visited the lake near the end of the season there were still the pavement onto a seldom traveled dirt road and from that point forward enough of the big bugs around to keep the trout and us very busy. My first you start moving back in time. day on Lago Yelcho was one of those days that I will never forget. The huge It is difficult to describe the emotion of arriving at Rex’s place, way out lake was essentially ours and all around us the jagged peaks of the at the end of the rod. Everthing from the split rail fencing to Andes rose up out of the lush rainforest into the bright blue the sigs and siding is worn and wooden; settled, expanse of the Patagonian sky. We landed multiple fat sublime and overwhelmingly inviting. The porch fiesy rainbows in the 3-5 pound class and even manbegs to be enjoyed in leisure and from it you can see aged to land one bruiser an dry that tipped the scale a perfect put-in on the glimmering Rio Cisnes that is at the at just over 10 pounds. Accordingly, my advice is exclusive disposal of Rex and his team of seasoned guides. that when presented the option, “take the lake day.” In addition to four essentially private float sections on his You won’t regret it! home river, Rex offers a horseback riding trip into his own private In looking back at my time with Chucao, I can’t help lake that is packed full of 20+ inch trout, access to multiple beats but be impressed. Their dual lodge program is generous and on the nearby Nirehuao, hidden lagunas and the mysterious seaChernobyl Ant flexible. Travel time to and from their numerous fisheries run fjord systems of Quelat National Park. For those that want are short and with the entire staff traveling between the lodges with to experience a wide range of fisheries, a week here just begins to break the their guests, the “schedule” remains rather open to best accommodate surface. preferences and prevailing conditions. Additionally, for those that ap For me the image and feeling of La Posada De Los Fairos is what I preciate not having to hike or wade or wade rugged rivers to reach a see when I think of fishing in Chile: warm, welcoming, scenic and sincere, diverse range of trophy fisheries, Chucao’s program is truly one of the with more faboulous fishing than a full season could reveal. best I have ever seen.
La Posada De Los Fairos The next place one needs to experience is La Posada De Los Fairos (the Inn of the Brown Trout). It is a charming farm-style inn tucked out of the way on the banks of the Cisnes River, 2.5 hours north of Coyhaique. This diverse area offers fly fishing anglers wading and floating options on multiple rivers, streams, and lakes in a seldom traveled portion of Chilean Patagonia. La Posada’s founder Rex Bryngelson started fishing and guiding rivers in Chile back in 1989 and opened the lodge in 1994. Back then the majority of the road to his property was unpaved and fly fishing guides were an
Coyhaique River Lodge
The last and one of the most appealing destinations that I visited was Coyhaique River Lodge, located roughly 15 minutes out of the easily reached fly fishing hub of Coyhaique. In short it is a combination of a gorgeous modern facility and innovate hard working guides. In a word these guys have options. Creeks, rivers, and lakes, wading and drifting, keys to private gates, you name it they have it. When asked about Coyhaique River lodge it is hard not to go on and on about the impressive new lodge they have built. It is open beams and glass-fronted view of their valley it certainly sets the new standard for
“If you’ve ever had a friend show you a photo of a rainbow trout from Chile that looked just too big to be true, chances are it came from this lake.” Page 89
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COMING of AGE modern fishing lodges in Chile. However, after spending just a few minutes with the owner’s Gaston and Cladio Urrejola you realize that although they are proud of their new lodge their true love is fishing, exploring, and coming up with new ways to get anglers into previously untouched waters. Although they already have access to numerous rivers and lakes within easy striking distance of the lodge the brothers are constantly working to find more options. The result is that even their long time guests find new surprise each season. While I was no stranger to the region, virtually all the venues I fished as their guest were new to me. One day we fished a clear bright blue lake ringed by peaks and caught heaps of hot rainbows up to nine pounds an dries. It was so good that for a moment I actually wished there were other anglers around to hear us laughing aloud. Another day I worked a small little-know river, using my new Winston B3x 4wt catching medium sized trout at will. The river was an absolute emulation of the river I grew up fishing with my father. Not too big not too small, easily wadeable, and
chuck full of fish. Its banks and nearby fields were thick with thick with the healthiest lupine I had ever seen. It was March so the blooms were all gone but I could not get the vision of the same river in full bloom out of my head. To be there on a clear day “Not too big, in early summer with, the sun out, all these fish looking not too small, up, and three colors of chest-high Russell lupine blan- easily wadeable, keting the banks would be about as good as it gets. and chock full As a whole I only wished I had made this trip soon- of fish.” er. I didn’t know how badly I needed to reconnect with the root of our sport: Remote wild places, warm hosts and hospitality, and lots of large willing wild trout that rose recklessly to unlikely offerings of fur, foam and feathers. Moreover, I came to better understand how a trip to this unspoiled region could easily turn into a true tour of endless angling options that cant help but be enjoyed by all that experience it. And finally, I came to fully understand what Rex meant when he said that Chile and its fly fishing potential had truly come of age.
How to Get There
Capacity: 6-8 anglers Rates: $3,990 per person for a 7 Night/ 6 Day package, based on double occupancy, $5,200 per person for a 9 Night/8 Day package, based on double occupancy
To get to these lodges you need to fly to Santiago, Chile and then to Puerto Montt and Chaiten (Chucao Lodge) or Balmaceda (Coyhaique River Lodge and La Posada de los Farios.) All anglers are met at the airport and transferred to the lodges.
La Posada de Los Fairos
When to Go
Capacity: 6 anglers Rates: $3,950 per person for a 7 night / 6 fishing day package
Although most anglers head down to fish Patagonian Chile in the warmest months of January and February, the spring season (November and December) rewards anglers with season’s first hatches and abundant displays of wildflowers. The fall (March and April) typically sees the most settled weather and least amount of Patagonian wind.
The standard outfit for Chile is a 6wt rod, floating line, 3X leader and a large dry fly. Although guides employ all techniques (dries, nymphs, and streamers) throughout the season there is a definite propensity to stay top. In that vein there are all types of mayflies and caddis hatches and a solid hopper season as well but the regions abundant beetle population steals the show making large(size 8) foam dries the fly of choice.
Coyhaique River Lodge Capacity: 6-8 anglers Rates: $3,950 per person for a 7 night/6 fishing day package
Fly Patterns Fat Albert Chubby Chernobyl Gypsy Kings Page 91