Jun 12th, 2012
Story Written by Gary Lewis while fishing at Coyhaique River Lodge
The wind they call La Escoba de Dios, the Broom of God, howls out of the West at the southern end of the South American continent. Everything bends like the grass before it and all that does not belong or is not pure is swept away, leaving the finis terrae immaculate, barren.
Coyhaique, in Aysen Patagonia sits at a confluence of waters at the foothills of the Andes, where green pastures give way to timbered ridges and high, rugged peaks. It was January, high summer. Hoppers clung in the tall grass on the high banks of the Boca de Leon. We started in a shallow run with my old friend Gaston Urrejola at my shoulder and guide Ives on the bank to spot trout. I used a 4-weight ten-foot Orvis Helios with the new Hydros line and powered my casts into the wind.
At the end of my leader was a Gaucho pattern I picked up at Fly and Field Outfitters in Bend with a tiny Prince nymph and a No. 16 Pheasant Tail for the droppers.
We started each new run from the hole below, concealed by boulders, with casts into the tailouts then successively higher. Trout rose to take the dry, but most often they ate the nymph and streaked to the surface when they felt the steel.
In January, February and March, the speckled rainbows and browns look to the sky for their protein. Under a linga tree, a beetle dropped in front of me. Chiasognathus granti, a male, his jaws were up, ready for battle. Whether he had just been knocked off the branch by his mate, his rival or the broom of God, he was in no mood to be trifled with.
I trifled with him with a camera and fly box where the imitations paled next to the real thing. Only a 1/0 hook and a couple of inches of closed cell foam can do such a creature justice. No wonder the fish look up.
We drove to the upper reach of the Rio Simpson and folded ourselves through a field fence to get to a long riffle along a pasture bank. This looks like the Henry’s Fork in Idaho and we fished it the same way, with long casts on long leaders. I switched to a six-weight Cabela’s LSi and a hopper with a dropper. This time the wind was at our backs, which didn’t make the casting easier when it came in gusts of up to 40 miles per hour.
The fish were bigger, but the wind, the current and the trout and I were unable to reach a consensus on how we would work together. I finished out that reach with three rainbows and a Chinook smolt brought to hand.
Back at the Coyhaique River Lodge, Julio laid an apertivo before us, carpaccio, the thin-sliced loin of el liebre, the wild hare, marinated in lemon and lime and served with capers, olive oil, chilis and parmesan.
In the morning, Joyce Norman brought Melanie Lupien up to the lodge. Both ladies hail from Bend, Oregon and had already been a month in Patagonia. It was Melanie’s birthday and she would fish with us at Panda Lake, a three-hour drive from the lodge, the last half-hour, a four-wheel scramble up a grassy hillside.
We were surrounded by rugged peaks like the battlements of a fortress. Above us, condors rode the wind off the Pacific that blows through to Argentina. The rainbows, descended from those first fish brought from los Estados Unidos, grow to 30 inches or more. Our guide, Claudio recommended big foam beetles to which we tied three feet of 2X tippet knotted to No. 12 beadheads. For these fish, I opted for my 7-weight Beulah.
We cast to shore and to the dark line where the shallows gave way to deep, blue water. Rainbows, as big as silver salmon, elevated to take the bug on the surface or pull the nymph down. One fish, a 25-incher that I hooked 20 feet off the tip of the rod, tore out 90 feet of line and 40 feet of backing in one long run.
Melanie’s first fish popped her leader when she closed her hand around the reel. Freed, it leaped toward the sky a half a dozen times. A few minutes later, she had another chance and this time brought a big trout to the boat.
After he put the camera down, Sam Pyke waved the Beulah wand and conjured two speckled giants. Both Melanie and Sam landed the biggest trout of their lives. Of the fish I brought to hand, the average stretched the tape to just over 23 inches.
We passed through Rio Ibanez, Las Horquetas Grande and El Blanco. Melanie said she remembered when small town America looked like this. Patagonia’s fishing too, a lot of people say, is like fishing Idaho, Montana and Central Oregon in the 1950s. Take a trip back in time. If you are pure, you might get to stay.
Gary Lewis is the host of Adventure Journal and author of John Nosler – Going Ballistic, Black Bear Hunting, Hunting Oregon and other titles. Contact Lewis at www.GaryLewisOutdoors.com.