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Coyhaique River Lodge, Chilean Argentina
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by Keith Mortensen
January 23, 2015

Our final fishing day at Coyhaique River Lodge started like the others. That would be with a wonderful breakfast served by our new friend Julio. We finished up with the other guests who, by the way, had also become our new friends. The entire experience seemed to have that effect on everyone.

When our guide Rodrigo “Piti” (like Petey) Alfaro showed up a little later to take us to our last fishing destination, he suggested that we go to the Huemules (Way MOO lays) River. I hadn’t heard that much about it during our trip since it is not one of the “marquee” rivers you always hear about like the Simpson. But not knowing much about the river didn’t keep us from leaving the lodge with a heaping dose of optimism; a critical tool fly fisherman rely on each day. So my son Thomas and I tossed our gear in the Nissan diesel pickup and headed out.

We traveled south towards the Balmaceda airport where we would sadly be flying out the next day. The Huemules, at least the section we would be fishing, was within a mile or two of the airport. The airport is within rock throwing distance of the Argentine border and is in a huge open valley. Unlike all the other rivers we fished on this trip, the Huemules was virtually bereft of any trees. Imagine a valley with grass everywhere, a few cattle here and there, even fewer trees and a beautiful, clear stream flowing through the valley. Now also imagine that, although it is not a big stream, it varies between being fairly narrow and too deep to wade to wide and easily waded. Even for a fisherman like me with diminishing wading/balance skills. The river bottom showed everything from mud to gravel to small stones. So let’s review; mild summer day, sunny, wind just north of “breezy”, no fly-grabbing trees, grassy banks and brownies reportedly up to 22” and I’m thinking “good call, Piti!” This river screams “Hopper-Town!”
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Indeed Piti started us off with Hoppers, a size 10 Fat Albert in brown/tan for me and for Thomas, the black version of the same fly. My first cast resulted in a 14” brown. In some circles I understand that catching a fish on your first cast is supposed to be bad luck. Fortunately that was not to be the case. Thomas and I caught fish like they vote in Chicago; early and often. There is something special about a place that is so easy to fish, meaning it’s so open, easy to wade and so non technical, yet the fish are so willing. Other than adjustments for the wind, this was pretty simple stuff. And if you tried a few casts in a fresh run or a pool with no strikes, you just moved upstream to the next one where the odds were favorable for another beautiful fish. I had moments in which two fish would fight to get to the hopper first. Those moments always packed a smile for me. Most of our fish would go 14-16” but what they lacked in size they more than made up for in moxie; their bravado in the strike and their stamina in the fight.

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This kind of fishing just never grows old. To be in a beautiful setting, tailor made for hopper fishing, no one else around (I think we saw one truck go by) much less other fisherman, a beautiful day, and just the fact that I was in Chile fishing with my son! Piti had told us that there were fish up to 22” so I knew there were bigger fish present and eventually I saw two of them. One a darker olive (they are all browns in the Huemules) and the other was a lighter brown, almost a rusty tan color or so he appeared. The second one I believe was one of the 22” fish that we had hoped to see. By this time it was later in the day and the wind had picked up considerably, making it a bit more challenging to get the hopper in exactly the right place but fortunately the fish were mostly forgiving. The second larger one I saw, much like the first one, appeared out of nowhere and did a little window shopping. Unfortunately he was looking but not buying. You could see his long back just under the surface as he approached the foam hopper. He was big, but apparently not hungry at that time. Subsequent casts could not rekindle his interest.

Towards the end of the day, Thomas made a blind cast into a nice pool and had a big fish come out and check out his hopper. No sale. More casts didn’t yield any better results. And this is where a great guide comes in. It would have been really easy to make a dozen more casts to the fish and have Piti tell my son “let’s move on upstream, this fish is just not interested.” But Piti tried a different approach. He did send Thomas upstream to try the next hole but he stayed behind to watch Mr. Big.

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What Piti found was that after a few minutes, the fish came back out and started a feeding rhythm. After 10 minutes or so of letting the fish get real comfortable, he called Thomas back. He lengthened the leader to twelve feet and changed the fly to a purple bodied Parachute Adams in a size 16. He coached Thomas so he knew exactly where the fly was to land. Fortunately this was the fourth day he had with us and had really helped Thomas sharpen his casting skills. Thomas nailed the cast and put the fly exactly where it needed to land, which was no small feat with the strong wind blowing across the stream. The fish did his part and came right over and sipped the fly off the surface, Thomas’ timing was good and he set the hook. As the big brown felt the sting, he left home quick, fast and in a hurry. Piti continued with the coaching. Thomas yelled to me so I knew he had a good one. I wasn’t that far downstream so I hustled up to watch the battle. As I arrived I had just enough time to get the camera out of Thomas’ pouch and snap a few pictures. As the big brown came to the water’s edge and soon thereafter to our guide’s skilled hands, I just shook my head. It was perfect. The day, the fishing, the Fish, the river, our guide Piti, the beautiful Chilean countryside and the trip overall.

We caught bigger fish on this trip, in fact, much bigger fish; some of the biggest fish I have ever caught in my 58 years and absolutely bigger fish than Thomas had ever caught before but I don’t believe that there were any more satisfying than this one. I believe you always appreciate that which you truly earn and Thomas, with Piti’s skilled direction, earned this one.

If you’d like to learn more about this destination or start exploring other Patagonia fishing possibilities drop us a line at Email or call 800-552-2729.
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