To Patagonia for Big Rainbows and Browns- Gary Lewis
Can trout live here? Balmaceda is a frontier post on the border between Chile and Argentina. From my seat on the LAN A320, I looked down on a cluster of brightly painted houses and the pampa’s golden yellow grasses that waved with the wind. There was nary a trout stream in sight.
Gaston Urrejola and his three-year-old son Max met me at the airport for the 40-minute drive to Coyhaique River Lodge. We topped out on a hill and dropped down into a different climate. On the skyline were the jagged peaks of the snow-capped Andes and below, the forest valleys of the Rio Simpson.
The Spanish explored here in the 1500s and 1600s and left their language in the land. In the 1800s, Darwin, Fitz Roy and Malespina wrote of the region, Aisen Patagonia.
That was when the first efforts began to introduce brown trout to Chilean waters. In 1903, a hatchery was established with eggs from Germany. Soon after, Federico Albert-Faupp and other breeders began to stock Chilean waters with trout and salmon from Europe and America.
On the first afternoon, worn out from travel, we fished the intimate Coyhaique from horseback. A long cast on a flat pool produced a swirl to the hopper and a nice rainbow, which made half a dozen runs before we brought it to the saddle.
With a climate the opposite of ours in the Northern Hemisphere, the peak of the trout season runs January into April. Here, fly-fishing techniques tend to dries and streamers.
On an alpine lake on a huge estancia, I would have employed chironomids or wet flies. But Ricardo wouldn’t let me use a four-weight rod and didn’t like it that I’d brought a six-weight. With a 2x tippet and a sink-tip, we cast big olive and tan streamers.
Howard Finck hooked the first, a trout that battled deep like a silver salmon. In the net, it measured 24 inches. His biggest stretched the tape to 27 inches.
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