In January of 2010 our team hosted Steve Welk and Brad Bertram on a trip through Southern Chile. Here’s the daily blow-by-blow!
Photos: Brad Bertram, Chris Price, Trevor Covich
Day 1: Travel
After much preparation and anticipation our team ventured to Balmaceda to greet Steve Welk. Steve and Trevor headed north as Chris waited for Brad, who was to get in on a later flight. The weather was perfect for the drive, passing waterfalls, mountains, and countless lakes and streams. We were traveling to a small town called La Junta which was a 5 hour journey. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the panoramic show as large as IMAX could only portray. The sun was beating down and the glaciers on top of the pass at Cisnes were melting, giving us a show of cascading water. Getting into our destination around 8pm, we checked in and sat down for dinner. The restaurant at the Hotel Espacio y Tiempo was fantastic with smooth settings. Pisco sours, beers and fishing talk ensued….
Day 2: On to Palena
Brad and Chris got in late the night before, so we all sat down for breakfast and met for the first time. Brad and Steve got along great – both being doctors they had much in common. We went over strategy and trip plans. Ronnie, one of our drivers met us, and we started the 3 hour trek to Palena. One stop at the local cheese factory and if you’re a cheese lover you might fall in love with this kind. You can’t find cheese like this in the states with flavors like oregano, aji, and garlic.
The guys were getting antsy, and why not, passing all the water on the way to Palena. We joked that “we’re just winding you guys up and tomorrow we are letting you loose”. Sun greeted us in Palena along with Marujita, the proprietor of our B&B in Palena. Pisco sours and appetizers followed as we ran a small slideshow on Alaska West for the guys. Chris prepared a great dinner for all of us. Over dinner we decided on the upper Palena float. Chris talked of flies and strategies to be used in the morning.
Day 3: Upper Palena
After setting up the boats, Steve and Brad arrived geared and ready to go! Chris rowed down river, anglers casting to the trees. They weren’t out of sight of the bridge when Brad stuck a fish on a stone fly dry.
Despite snow on the hills and temperamental weather the week before, the water was warm and ideal for hatches. Steve cast his large dry at the base of the canyon wall and after a short drift an eager brown came up. Not an average fish at first glance. We found a place to pull off and a found brown like many others unique with its own characteristics. It measured 20 ½ x 12 inches, a fish worthy of any stream.
Stonefly nymphs worked as well, and Brad finished the float with a few more nice rainbows. A great start to the trip. Pizza appetizers and Criscos followed. The Crisco is a drink that is as smooth as they come, careful…. they can sneak up on you. Wine and Congrio, a Chilean fish followed.
Day 4: Second Float Rio Palena
Chris and the fellas started out an hour earlier today as the float was longer. The guys started off where they left off – 8 miles of dry fly heaven! Stonefly dries were the ticket and Steve put on a clinic. They caught Browns and rainbows alike, no estimate on numbers but great action.
At the take out, a King Salmon hung from a tree. It was caught earlier by the guy running the ferry across the river. It was reeled in by a hand line, caught with a metal spoon. Looking at the hands on the guy who caught the 20 pound King, deep line cuts were clearly visible which only large fish can make. Arriving back to the cabins, appetizers were followed by a hearty meal, wine and a good night’s rest.
Day 5: La Junta
Arriving in La Junta at 11 am, we checked in and upacked. Ronnie and Trevor headed to a local lake to get set up. The weather was off and on, however the second Steve and Brad showed up the monsoon began.
We counted 6 water falls that surrounded the lake, all were gushing water. We pushed off in wind and rain. The guys made their casts, sinking lines and leeches to start off. Steve hooked and landed a nice rainbow that fell for a Zoo Cougar on the strip. Brad followed with a rainbow of his own that went for a weighted leech. Eventually the fish jumped in front of us and spit the fly back at us.
The lake began to rise and the wind blew harder, casting becoming precarious with streamers. We decided to troll, however with the wind at our backs it provided great action. We tied on 2 Halloween leech patterns and 6 nice browns followed. With Patagonia testing our rain gear the we all looked at each other in pleasant misery! We joked about what the fair weather fishermen were doing today. The beer and the steaks at the hotel were a perfect nightcap.
Day 6: Change of Plans
While eating breakfast the next morning we got word that the water south of us was high and the roads were torn up from the rain that passed through this section of Patagonia. Our next destination might be tough for travel and fishing. What a perfect situation for our mobile program!
We decided to head back to Palena to good weather and water conditions. Chris made preparations for our stay back in Palena while Steve, Brad and Trevor headed back to the lake we fished the day before.
The weather was the exact opposite – no clouds and hot. After getting a couple fish on leeches in the morning, the fish started to jump around the reeds after hovering damsel and dragon flies. This is the reason we call this Lago Jumpo.
Brad cast at a fish that worked a reed bank for 10 minutes. The rainbow sipped his blue damsel, followed by what rainbows do best – jumping! Steve followed with 2 nice browns on the same fly.
The clock read 6 pm and the flood gates opened for us. With calm conditions and low light the fish were eating everything we threw at them. Brads casting was dialed in, and he fired a long cast into the reeds, his leader hanging over a reed. He pulled a little line and his fly lifted off the water about 2 inches. We though “there’s no way this could actually happen”, and then it did. What looked to be the largest brown of the day jumped up, crushing the hovering damsel! After a stern hook set, the fish broke free. Trevor had just witnessed the best lake fishing take he had seen in his 20 years of fly fishing – what an awesome day!
Day 7: Back to Palena
After the drive back to Palena we headed straight to the river. We decided on another meat-and-potatoes float of the Rio Palena. The weather was gorgeous being so close to Argentina. The guys caught some fish, however the high winds were hindering. Difficult casting and tough rowing made for a hard day on the river. Good food, fire and a stiff drink did a great job curing the ills brought on by the the Patagonian weather.
Day 8: Exploratory Lake
An hour drive began in the morning down a road that wound deep through the Chilean countryside, the last part of the journey on what looked to be a jeep trail. We arrived at our destination – a pristine lake with great access. We watched the shoreline closely for any signs of fish. A fish took a damsel off a reed in the distance.
It was Trevor’s turn to guide and he pushed off with the guys not knowing what the day would hold. We soon found out karma was on our side, with 3 browns in the first 10 minutes. We outlet of the lake was shallow, littered with reeds and weeds.
Fish were rising, and 6 fish later a brown rose deep into the reeds. Steve fired one back in there – a long double haul and perfect presentation awarded us with a glimpse of the nose of a brown. Another fish rose next to the bank, Brad made his cast and all 3 of us witnessed a brown come up about five feet for the damsel.
The wind started gently but we were just getting warmed up. We went to weighted wooly buggers, casting and stripping from the shore. Aggressive takes took place for the rest of the day. We honestly have no idea how many fish we hooked on this day, but it was ridiculous – a day none of us will soon forget.
Day 9: Palena to Coyhaique
Our travel back up to Palena got us the best fishing possible during the trip, but it left us with a long drive down to Coyhaique, blowing past the Cisnes region where the water conditions were real tough. Weather was great for the drive, and the popsicles at the Copec in La Junta were a nice touch! We arrived at our hotel in Coyhaique, checked in and had another great feast.
Day 10: Emperador Guillermo
An hour drive from the hotel, we arrived at our destination, a small river that was an easy walk and wade. Weather was sunny!
All four of us crossed a small swaying bridge over the river – the word ‘antique’ comes to mind. Brad and Trevor started off by sticking a nice rainbow on a stonefly nymph. Chris and Steve staged up in a longer, deeper run with plenty of fish. They took fish on dries and nymphs, taking their time leaving no fish unmolested.
Brad and Trevor went upstream to the next spot. A log was down next to the bank of the river and a small run with even speed lay in front. They tied on an orange stone with a nymph dropper and 3 casts later, a nice brown came up and sipped the dry! With the hot weather the fish were eager to rise. The fish came to the net, a nice 17 inch brown.
There was a snag in the middle of the next run with something hanging off of it – it looked like rotting flesh of some kind. First cast Brad hooked what turned out to be a goat that perished in high water.
After the day was done, Chris called Ronnie on the radio – he was waiting just up the hill from us. We all walked back and met at the truck for a celebratory Escudo, our beer of choice here in Chile. Spirits were high, what a trip! We capped it off with dinner in town at the Café Ricer – great food and an authentic setting.
Day 11: Happy Trails
Steve and Brad thanked us and were on their way back to the real world. It was another great trip! Great fishing, the weather wasn’t an issue and we got the chance to get to know two people on a real level – something that is impossible in one 10 hour day at a lodge! We had gained not just two clients but two friends.