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Coyhaique River Lodge The Heart and Soul of Patagonia

By Ken Morrish

Fly Water’s Jon Covich with a stillwater trophy. Photo: Jon Covich

T

he story of Coyhaique River Lodge is really a story about brothers Gaston and Claudio Urrejola — their upbringing, combined skills, vision and their neverending drive to learn, create and improve. Born in the mid-70s on a small farm 300 miles south of Santiago, Gaston and his older brother Claudio had the type of childhood many kids dream about. There was a trout stream flowing through their property, endless open space and a culture of trust and independence that enabled kids like themselves to run wild and free in the great outdoors. More than anything else, these two loved exploring and fishing, and while they got plenty of both, life in the country was by no means all fun and games. Living on their property came with real chores and responsibilities starting at a young age. By the age of 10 they were driving trucks and tractors, working in fields of hay, wheat and corn, and tending to their family’s cattle and sheep. It was all normal enough, but now, looking back they were unknowingly building the knowledge and skills that would ultimately enable them to create one of the finest, most versatile and widely praised lodges in all Patagonia. Both of them recall vividly in the early 80s when their father first drove them south on the new Austral highway to

the Coyhaique region. Gaston recalled, “There was just so much water and we wanted to fish it all!” Since that trip, a great deal of their adult life has been about assembling an array of skills to enable themselves, and most importantly their guests, to do exactly that. Combined, Claudio and Gaston are likely the handiest and most capable lodge management team we have encountered, with shared skills in ranching, farming, road building, fine home construction, hospitality, and best of all, guiding fly anglers. Additionally, they share between them careers as a veterinary doctor, a fisheries biologist, a fulltime mechanic and a government director of tourism. It’s the full package, and with it they have created arguably the finest and most versatile fly fishing and outdoor adventure lodge in South America.

Location, Location, Location It is easy to make the case that the Coyhaique region of Chile is the most diverse, strategic and productive trout fishing hub in Patagonia. It was this simple fact that initially attracted Gaston and Claudio to the region and ultimately compelled them to buy land, build their dream lodge and raise their families here. While the area is often compared to the American West or

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COYHAIQUE RIVER LODGE

“Their combination of a prime location, handsome facility, private waters and true knack for hospitality make it a lodge that virtually all of our guests rave about.”

Montana 100 years ago, in large part due to its low population and abundance of large uneducated trout, the real magic of the area stems from its geography. The landscape of the Aysén region is incredibly diverse, enabling anglers to travel from the dry, arid pampas of the east to the temperate rainforest of the west in just over an hour. Additionally, the area is more friendly and open than the steep regions to the north or the ice field-dominated regions to the south, making for perfect trout fishing habitat. With rivers of all sizes, streams, spring creeks and an array of trophy stillwaters all within a stone’s throw of the lodge, the region is a virtual dreamscape for all who love spectacular trout fishing and eye-popping scenery.

The Fisheries When pushed on the subject, Gaston confessed to having over 50 distinct day beats that Coyhaique River Lodge fishes over the course of a season. Of those there are roughly 15 staples, 75 percent of which the lodge enjoys private access to. Most of their private land use agreements originate with down-home community relations in which a neighbor needs help cutting a road, harvesting trees, or managing their cattle. Always capable and happy to help, this often leads the brothers to land exclusive access rights to trophy rainbow lakes, small walk and wade gems or special put-ins on rivers that few others float. In a land where anglers are already relatively few and far between, these arrangements will virtually assure that you will have days with a beautiful spring creek, river or lake entirely to yourself. The following is a quick overview of a few of their favorite fisheries.

Rio Simpson: With its large caddis and mayfly hatches and commanding scenery, the Rio Simpson is like a big handsome Montana river. The Simpson boasts some of the southern hemisphere’s highest fish counts per mile and its numerous browns and rainbows average 14 to 22 inches. The Simpson offers lots of distinct floats and walk and wade beats, and has gifted more than a few lucky fly anglers with browns in excess of 30 inches. Rio Nirehuao: The Rio Nirehuao may well be the region’s most famous river. This mid-sized walk and wade freestone enjoys a cult-like following in large part due to the beauty and bounty of its summer hopper fishing. With lots of wild browns in the 14 to 20-inch range, as well as some two-footers thrown into the mix, the Nirehuao is the type of classic trout river that keeps anglers coming back. PAGE 24

Rio Desague: The Rio Desague is the outlet of Lago Elizalde and flows only five miles before entering Lago Caro. Within this short stretch of river, browns and rainbows in the 17 to 23-inch class abound with many larger trophies lurking. This remote and scenic dry fly fishery is accessed by jet boat. Rio Emperador Guillermo: This small walk and wade gem is the perfect stream for experienced or novice anglers looking for consistent top-water action. Its many pools and riffles are loaded with browns and rainbows in the 12 to 16-inch range, making it a favorite for anglers of all skill levels. Rio Mañihuales: In addition to having lots of big trout, the Mañihuales has a diversity of prime structure that makes it a favorite among the guides at Coyhaique River Lodge. The river supports a healthy population of browns and rainbows as well as a strong run of king salmon. Spring Creeks: Near the Argentine border there are several high-country spring creeks. Although they are relatively close to the lodge, the landscape in this area is a world apart and more typical of the high arid pampas often associated with Argentina. These spring creeks combine great walk and wade fishing for really large fish in small well-rested waters. Stillwaters: While many of our traveling anglers shudder at the thought of stillwater fishing, the lakes frequented by Coyhaique River Lodge offer some of the most interesting and pleasant trophy trout fishing imaginable. There are a great many highly productive lakes within easy reach of the lodge and despite their differing characteristics they share a few common elements. They are beautiful, private, hold trophy rainbows and browns, and are most often fished by sight casting large dry flies to visible cruising fish. Some of the most beautiful and productive lakes are found in the dramatic Cerro Castillo area. If you want a shot at a 10 pound trout of a lifetime, make sure you take advantage of at least one lake fishing day during your visit.

The Guides As might be expected the guide team is led by owners Gaston and Claudio Urrejola. Their hand-picked local guide team reflects their commitment to service and they know the surrounding waters like the back of their hands. They are young, hard-working, passionate and professional and always willing to help even the most inexperienced anglers get the most out of their time on the water. Additionally these guides are great off

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Top: Enjoying a guided ride on private property, a large stillwater rainbow. Middle: Floating the Rio Simpson. Bottom: The lodge’s main living room, December on the Coyhaique River, another great lunch complete with -552-2729 Chilean wine. Photos: Barry and Cathy Beck and Coyhaique River Lodge25 1-800 PAGE


COYHAIQUE RIVER LODGE the water, with Alejandro Trepiana being a real standout. He is not only a skilled guide but also a talented professional guitarist who often entertains guests around the lodge in the evenings. Have a favorite Beatles song? Alejandro knows it.

On The Dry

created by the original ancient inhabitants of the region. For those looking for more leisurely activities, the lodge is less than 20 minutes from Coyhaique, a city of 45,000 people and the capital city of the region, where visitors can enjoy traditional handicraft shops, restaurants and friendly local culture.

The Lodge Experience If there is one thing that the majority of trout anglers share in common, it is the love of catching significant fish on Coyhaique River Lodge has everything you would expect from dry flies. It is also one of the main reasons that winter after a premier fishing destination. It was purpose-built out of local winter, North American anglers make the trip south to fish the timbers in a style that could be described as a perfect prolific waters of Chile. Irrespective of time of year or combination of rustic and modern. It is located on conditions, the guides at Coyhaique River Lodge won’t a high bank overlooking the Coyhaique valley and leave the lodge without at least 50 fat foam flies and the small intimate flows of the Coyhaique River. a virtual arsenal of more specific dries. For these They have a beautiful exposed-beam great room guides, fly fishing means dry fly fishing. Will they as well as eight double suites, all with private baths. switch to streamers or dry dropper set ups when Meals are of the highest level with dinners featuring Fat A l b er t needed? Certainly, but given a choice and a chance, you local beef and lamb dishes, fresh vegetables, and Chilwill more than likely catch 70 percent of your fish on top. Were ean salads all paired with renowned Chilean wines from the you granted only one set up, a 6-weight with a floating line lodge’s wine cellar. is the go-to outfit, with line weights in either direction having However, all of this is only a piece of what makes the place their place depending on conditions and preferences. special. What makes it truly special is the fact that this is the home and the future of the Urrejola Family and they want nothSomething for Everyone ing more than to share it with you. At first you might not notice In addition to a world-class fishing program, one of the truly the depth of the family’s personal touch because they are a subdifferentiating features of Coyhaique River Lodge is the tle and modest bunch. In the same breath, the observant might breadth of quality outdoor experiences it offers guests. While notice that Claudio’s wife Francesca had a hand in sourcing the the brothers love to fish, they are also avid hikers, horseback locally woven wool blankets on your bed, or that Gaston is close riders and mountain bikers. They have a stable of sturdy horses, friends with ranchers that raised your dinner’s delicious lamb, or new high-end mountain bikes and professional guides to help that all the vegetables came from the lodge’s own garden. If you hikers explore hundreds of miles of trails in the region.  The look more closely you might see that that they have done away trails range from easy day walks to full day hikes in addition to entirely with plastic bottles, that the beer on tap is brewed by new purpose-built mountain bike trails. The diversity of terrain their friends in town and that their kids are part of the team and surrounding the lodge means that guests can easily experience contribute to the family business by taking any task they can all of these activities in a wide variety of landscapes from the get at the lodge. These are some of the more subtle things that arid steppe on the east to the rainforest and fjords of the west.  make this lodge so sincere and meaningful to those who have Some of the highlights of the region include the jagged basalt the pleasure of visiting. Last but not least, this lodge is handstowers of Cerro Castillo peak, the chapel-like Marble Caves of down the best value in a truly premium product that we have Lago General Carrera, and the Puerto Ibañez hand paintings seen anywhere in South America.

Notes

Travel: Coyhaique is the most easily accessed and arguably the best fly fishing hub in Chilean Patagonia. Guests arrive in Santiago, Chile in the morning, clear customs and take a two and a half hour flight to Balmaceda. From there guests will transfer 45 minutes by truck to the lodge. Season: November to May Capacity: 16 guests total (up to 10 anglers and six additional guests) Essential Tackle: A 5 or 6-weight fly rod with weight-forward floating line Top Flies: Black Fat Albert, Morrish Hopper, Autumn Splendor 2017 Rate: $4,250 per person for a 7 night/6 day package

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Top: A multispecies double, a hearty river-born brown trout, hiking the incredible Cerro Castillo massif. Middle: A beautiful day of sight casting on a private lake. Bottom: Longtime guide Matt with brown-552-2729 trout, throughout most of the season big foam dries are the topPAGE producers. 1-800 27 Photos: Jon Covich and Brian Gies

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