Published Jun 3. 2017 - 5 months ago
Updated or edited Jun 3. 2017

The Road less Traveled

A long comment to a video developed into a full fledged illustrated article about a nice trip to Chilean Patagonia.

This text was originally submitted by the originators to a video that I posted. I approached them and had them add some pictures and turned it into this nice story.

This is a record of a fishing trip with my brother as best as I can remember and relay from a little journal I did my best to keep throughout our trip. Every night I wrote these memories down as fast as I could, lest I forget anything. I am hoping that when I looked back on it, the words would reconnect all the dots. We documented as much as we could with my brother’s 60D with photos and video recordings. I wrote as fast as I could so as to not leave anything out, yet document only the most important parts for my memories.

The stream
The truck
Stream fishing
The road
Patagonia
Rich and James Lee

January 25-26th

We took off Friday night from JFK. It began to flurry on our way to the airport and by the time we got through security it had begun snowing in earnest. Wouldn’t end up with a lot of accumulation, but could have been enough to delay our flight. The plane was virtually empty and lots of room to spread with no comfort. Landed in Santiago slightly behind schedule, but fast moving lines at immigration. Pass with very little effort, got our luggage quickly and checked back in with the new airline. Even had time for a bite.
The hop from Santiago to Balmaceda was short and uneventful with a quick layover at Porte Monte. Arrived at Balmaceda, which is a tiny two plane airport and one carousel. We rented a pickup slightly over our projected budget, but absolutely worth it for the roads to come. A 30 minute drive to Coyhaique revealed outstanding landscape and lots of promising waters. In Chq (Coyhaique), our first stop was the market at which we bought groceries for the night and next day. Then it was on to try and find our first campsite. A nice woman and her two children attempted to assist us by walking us to the street our paid site was to be. We knew the road was by the plaza and they initially thought we were attempting to camp at the plaza, which is a public park. We relieved them by letting them know that we weren’t trying to sleep and camp out in the town square.

We retrieved the car and after some driving we arrived at our destination. We discovered there; 3 Americans and a Canadian. Two of the Americans were fly fishers and they had been in the country for 3 weeks already. They told us of the difficult fishing due to the weather. We hope the weather improves for all of us. Time to sleep. (12AM 65°F)

The roadside
Rich and James Lee

January 27th

Woke up a couple of times in the morning and guessed at the time and figured it was 5AM and there was a good amount of light in the sky already. Fully woke up at around 8 and with James tapping at my tent, it was time to get up. The place we’re currently staying at has a bathroom with hot water showers, so we took advantage of that. We were hoping to get our fishing licenses in town today, but we got into town at 9:30AM and nothing was open. We drove around for a bit looking for the fly fishing store and it took a while, which we did only to find it closed. We had already spent an hour so we went for a drive around. There was a lot of scenery to be taken in. We even picked up a father and son hitch hiking on the road and drove a mile down the road with them. They stopped us to be dropped off at a large open field in the middle of nowhere with 3 wind turbines. We wondered why they decided to get off there. A bit down the road we went through a mountain tunnel, a first for me. Along our drive we couldn’t resist a stretch of water and crawled down a hillside to get to it. I took a spill on the way down, a minor one, but funny and scary as it was quite steep. Jimmy spilled on the same spot on the way up. We went back to town after several miles. On the way we spotted some wild “llamas” laying by the river. One objective completed.

Alpacas
Alpacas
Rich and James Lee

Back in town everything remained closed save a few stores. We parked and went for a stroll in town. We ate at a cafe/restaurant for lunch and tapped their free wifi for a look around the area. Jimmy asked if I had a screenshot feature, which I never thought to use. Took a snapshot of the town map which we didn’t have previously. Later I found that my GPS feature DOES work even without service, which it does back in the States. Since I know now it does, I feel even more confident on the roads than before. We took pictures in the town and strolled some more.

A cuppa
Carnes - meat!
A glass of wine
Beer
Lunch
Provisions
Rich and James Lee

There are a lot of military presence, mostly on leave. I wonder if service is required. As we have yet to obtain our fishing permits, we returned to the previous night’s paid camp ground. We took a fly rod into the stream right next to the site as I knew there were several small fish in there. Caught a number of small fish and worked our way upstream. We switched to dry flies as we began to see an increase in surface activity. Soon Jimmy hooked into a healthy 8″ rainbow that instantly displayed aerial acrobatics. It was extremely exciting to see it jump so high. Hopes higher, we tied a fresh dry on and I took my turn and soon had a large 12″ rainbow snatch it and jump 3 feet in the air, immediately followed by a 2 footer jump. We caught a few more 6 plus inch fish before we realized it was 8:30. Down here, because of the extreme southerly location, the sun lasts longer and 8:30PM seemed like our peak summer night’s 6:30PM. We headed back to camp and ate a simple meal of a hamburger and a potato. Time to sleep (11:55PM 60 °F)

January 28th

Woke up today to fish the small stream by the campsite as we had to wait for the shops to open to get our licenses. In town, we went to what appeared to be an actual fly shop and they ended up not selling the permits. The lady at the counter directed us to another shop nearby, which we couldn’t find due to my poor understanding of Spanish. We walked for several blocks and getting pointed from one store to the next. Occasionally we stopped at any store that seemed to carry camera equipment as I had broken the filter lens on Jimmy’s camera. We were finally directed to the exact location for permits, which was the very same cafe we had eaten at the day before. Once we got our permits, we bought a few supplies at the supermarket and hit the road.

Nice catch
Ready to go
Rods ready
A catch
Gear, truck, fish
Rich and James Lee

The views continue to be amazing. We found an absolutely gorgeous stretch of water that looked very promising. The further upstream we went, the more tropical the surroundings seemed. The water flowing was deafening yet occasionally there was a screech of a bird unseen that pierced the air and added to the feel. After an hour and no bites, we headed to the car to eat and take pictures. We headed toward our original destination and along the way came across a waterfall. A little further on we spotted a mountain that seemed to have snow in the treeline in a vertical direction. After watching the spot for a bit longer, we realized it was a waterfall on the top. This was several thousand feet up in a very high mountain. We pulled off into a driveway to ask the owner if we could fish on their land, which turned out to be abandoned.
It turns out the locals use this as a beach of sorts. There is a stretch of sand and it was secluded yet spread with litter. We fished the water here to no avail as it is a deep, fast flowing section. We did not have the gear for this. We noticed a lot of little firepits and camped in a more covered section of the beach. During dinner we heard a couple of voices speaking English. Jimmy instantly knew it was the two guys from the night before. It did turn out to be them and they came bearing news of great success. They had gained access to private land and had tremendous luck. James and I were greatly relieved as we had none today. They agreed to show us the spot and share the waters. We had spoke of fishing together once, but they had gone ahead with their schedule as we weren’t able to get our permits in time. We had both agreed to look out for each other on the road and they had even left a note at the previous location informing us of their next move. In the end we ended up at this spot, which they had been at the night before and are able to fish together now. Time to sleep (11:50PM 55°F)

Jump!
Yeah!
Yeeha!
Upside down
The joy!
Rich and James Lee
The signs
Far from everything
Rich and James Lee

January 29th

We woke up early today to follow Tom and John to the spot they told us about last night. When we got there, they showed us some of the Chilean flies they were using and we had few flies that resembled them. We fished the areas the guys had hit yesterday while they tried a newer section down river. Immediately tying the biggest fly I had, I cast into a pool and a big rainbow chased and missed it. The second cast got it though. A big 16″ rainbow leaped out of the water and we thought it would be a great day. We could not get another bite. We hightailed back into town to buy some of the monstrous flies famous to Chile. After an hour drive, we made it to town. The shop we had bee trying to get to was finally open today and we bought what we needed.
Before getting back on the road, we hit up an asada restaurant that was highly recommended by the young shop keeper of the fly store who spoke English extremely well. It was a fantastic meal with extremely juicy beef, chicken and sausage washed down with an equally tasty wine. A stop to the supermarket got us enough food for the next few days. We sped back to the water and fished the lower section after hearing success from the guys. Our success was again very small. After several missed strikes, I had gotten very frustrated. James however hooked into an extremely large fish that was able to shake the hook and get free. A little while later I also hooked into a fish, which ended up rather small and measured only about 6 inches. We gave up for the day as it had been extremely windy in the valley that the river was in. We returned to last night’s campsite and cooked up dinner. I had an urge to wash up so I tried to bathe in the cold water. I felt much better though. Time to sleep. (12:16AM 55°F)

Madonna
Rich and James Lee
Whips
Spurs
Hats
A saddle
Shopping, cowboy style
Rich and James Lee

January 30th

James and I were out of camp by 8:30 and in the water by 9AM. The weather was much calmer and didn’t have the wind tearing through the valley like yesterday. We both hit our first fishes on our first casts. We attributed this success to the sacrificial egg we offered by the stream. We had boiled eggs last night for today’s breakfast and saved one just for this purpose. James was immediately into several fish when he changed to a black beetle fly we never EVER thought we would use. It ended up catching a big beautiful rainbow. We had several fishes today, but not quite the numbers Tom and John had hit. We fished for a while longer before stopping for a rest by the car. I got a brilliant idea in my head to cut off a chunk of my sandals to make a larger beetle fly with a stripped streamer hook and Krazy Glue. When we got back to the water, James hooked into another giant fish on the small beetle pattern and had several strikes.
We left the water and headed down to a tiny town and stopped by a grocery store. It was literally a shed with some products. We grabbed some more eggs, soup base and toilet paper. We also tried a couple of their fruit ice pops, which was literally a fruit in the middle with some flavored gelatin on the outside. We were going to call it an early day and expected to set up camp at the same beach, but came across a hitch hiker. We had picked up a total of 3 now and this would be our fourth. When James hopped out of the car to make room in the back seat for him, the old man jumped into the now empty front seat.
He was very interested in our fly fishing gear and was constantly engaging in fishing related topics. He claimed to also be a fly fisher, but with our limited Spanish vocabulary, much was lost in translation. He said his job was a fish carver and we assumed that meant a fish mongrel. When I asked if he wanted to take us fishing he was very intense for a moment and then said he would take us at no charge. When we got into the town of Manihuales, a good 20-25 km from our camp, he had us go into his shop.

The artist
A rainbow
Look here
A painting
Carved fish
The studio
Rich and James Lee

His shop turned out to be a studio full of tremendous wood carvings and a few paintings. One of these paintings he offered as a thank you for the ride and even though I wanted it, there was no way to transport it back. During the ride, we had asked where it was good to camp and fish, so we locked up the studio and jumped in the car. We went to an area with a man made pond and the other river, the Nirehuao.
He showed us an area that was land for sale by the water and told us it was okay to camp there. It seems, that in Chile, anything that is not privately owned and has some sort of public access is virtually up for public use. We went back to the pond to get a shot at the giant trout there. After parking and a short discussion with Patrice (the old man’s name) we lost him and thought he had gone home and would return in the morning. We came across a few men that were hobo fishing and later they had a nice brown trout they proudly showed off to us. While James and I oh’ed and ah’ed, Patrice reappeared and waved them off telling them to be quiet as we were attempting to sneak up on the monster trout we had seen a little earlier.

By this time Patrice had taken over my rod as his was broken and was casting into the water. The old man had skills. There was no doubting his skills and what showed even more was his obsession with fly fishing. When I said we’d try again tomorrow he had to have one more cast. His enthusiasm was apparent when he was showing us all the different waters he could take us to. We went back to town to drop off Patrice and decided to eat at the only restaurant in town and he decided to join us. In the restaurant, Patrice ran into a person he knew and introduced him to us as a professional fly fisherman. To them, there are two labels applied to fly fishermen: aficionados and professionals. This man showed us pictures of his haul from the day. He had landed some very nice fish today.

We paid for Patrice’s dinner and he in turn gave me a small carving of a trout as a thank you. He was an exceptionally warm hearted and extremely interesting character. A lone man on the road hitchhiking turned out to be a great person to have met.
When dinner was over, Patrice asked the guy to give us some flies. I got my bag and traded some of my flies for his and he explained that black color flies were very important in Chile. Pat offered to let us stay with him, but we declined and went to the area he had pointed out to us. It feels cool by the water and a breeze coming through the tent. Time to sleep (12:04AM 62°F).

Just some afterthoughts.

The man at the restaurant invited us to sit at his table and we ate together. The entire time, Patrice did not stop talking about fishing. Earlier as he was showing us all the waters I asked him what day it was. He was thoroughly at a loss as to which day of the week he was in and shook his hand in the air saying, “we artists are always lost. We don’t have a clue what day it is”

The mountains
Rich and James Lee

January 31st

We woke up at 8 this morning as we had agreed with Patrice and Raul, whose name we got later this morning, to meet them at 9:30 to go fishing at the Guillermo. We kind of didn’t want to go with them as we felt it might be awkward. We concocted an excuse before we left camp to get out of fishing. As we were breaking camp, I saw an iridescent sliver shining in the grass.I picked it up and discovered it to be a beetle’s horn. I now have two genuine souvenirs.When we got to the town, we found Raul and Patrice all fully geared up and ready to go. There was no way we could back out now. We emptied the back seats and put everything in the flat bed and headed out to the river with our two new fishing buddies.When we got to where we wanted, Patrice told me to keep going farther up the road. He took us to a very nice section of the Guillermo we would have never found without them. We had told them that we would need to leave for Coihaique at around 12, so that we could do our own thing later.
We fished for a while and caught a few fish, nothing big. We talked a lot during our trip to the water and back. It was quite an experience that we were able to go fishing with some of the locals. It was very overcast and extremely windy today. After we dropped off Raul and Patrice, we ate some empanadas at the town café and headed back to the Nirehuao. We fished the lower section and James was able to hook into a big brown trout on one of the giant hopper flies.

At the foot of the mountain
At the foot of the mountain
Rich and James Lee

As we moved upstream, I was fishing a seam of water and had a hit from a small fish that missed the fly. I kept throwing another three casts when all of a sudden a giant trout came out from under a rock and trailed my hopper for a foot downstream and then swallowed my fly. I could hardly believe what was going on. As soon as it took the fly, I set the hook as hard as my 5 weight could handle, I knew it was more massive than what I could see. For two seconds the fish was hooked and then the unimaginable happened, the fly inexplicably popped out of it’s mouth. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the biggest trout of my life swam off. The fish was so large that it was black in the water. I was so disappointed and extremely upset. As I stood in the water completely disgusted with myself, I heard a familiar engine and turned to see John and Tom rolling by. They slowed to wave and I went to greet them. We spoke of how their day went and we exchanged our final goodbyes as this would surely be our last encounter.

We called it an early day and set camp at around 5pm. I began preparing the food as James wasn’t feeling well from scarfing down his empanada at the café and washing it down with a Budweiser. He had drank a couple more beers after catching his brown trout and passed out on the flatbed of the truck without any protection from the sun. Needless to say he was feeling quite under the weather. While James was taking a nap, the winds seemed much more malicious and suddenly I didn’t feel very safe out in the open and even suggested we go back to Coyhaique to stay at a hotel. We decided to stick it out as it would be our last night under the Chilean stars.

The tents
The tents
Rich and James Lee

I have gotten quite good at cooking rice in the small mess kit and camp burner. Jimmy got up 30 minutes later feeling better and had the soup he had picked up from the shed market. We drank some of the wine we had bought to give to a landowner for use of their land, but hadn’t had the need for it. We have tried four different wines now and they have all been tremendously delicious.
After a while of talking to James and reading what I’ve logged to him, I feel as if I had left out a lot. It was great recounting the adventures and challenges of the trip on the last night beneath the stars next to the fire drinking the wine. Time to sleep (11:34PM 67°F)

More afterthoughts.

Our tents are being truly put to the test this week. They are going through some rigorous wind test tonight and bearing it quite well and am very pleased with them.


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