Sunday, January 30, 2011

Valley of the Moon

Yesterday – Saturday – we drove up to an area called the Valley of the Moon.  

Based on my limited geologic knowledge I can't be sure but my bet is that is the remnants of a caldera.  The lava plugs, rim of distant hills and flat landscape are 

my clues.  Even if I’m wrong it is still a cool place to see.  And, one hell of a good place to fish.

This is the pampas.  Wide open whit nothing to stop the wind.  And windy it can be and was!  But not as windy as it was one time we tried to fish it last year.  That day the wind was blowing so hard that it was picking up pebbles and blowing against the truck.  Yesterday wasn’t quite that bad but the wind blew hard enough to make us think twice about rigging up and trying to fish.  But we did.

Pampas streams are almost a hybrid cross between a western meadow stream and a spring creek.  Most gringos refer to them as spring creeks.  Definition is just a choice of words.  Two words work well: wind and great fish.

A crawl under the fence and a 100 meter walk and we were on the stream.  The wind was blowing from every way except head on.  Precision casting was out of the question.  If I could get my fly within 2 meters of where I wanted it I was happy.  If the wind died down for a moment and I could get my fly within half a meter of where I wanted it I was ecstatic!

Early on the fishing was slow.  But once we started applying a bit of “Kentucky Windage” to our casting things started to improve.  And I think as we moved a bit further up the river the wind seemed to be a little less intense.  The transition into the head of a pool produced fish.  

But the best fish came from long arrow straight pools.  These sections were a uniform as if they had been channelized.  Step off the bank and you were in 

waist deep water.  The water was about the same depth all the way across the river.  The logical place to cast was tight to the banks.  And it worked but not necessary any better than anyplace across the width.  And with the wind plowing the way it was it make for simple fishing.  Get it anyplace in the water and be ready!

I’m not sure how many Km’s we fished with the river meandering its way across the pampas.  Following a straight fence back to the truck took about an hour and a half.

There was only one thing wrong with the day.  Both E and I thought the other had put a six pack of Crystal in the truck.  Almost 80 Km’s back to Coyhaique for a beer!


It is so nice having E here in Chile with me.  And I don’t mean just to have someone who can read the menu.  I’ve been blessed with two fine sons and friends.  I have tried very hard not to live the Harry Chappin song “Cat’s in the cradle”.  I think we have succeeded.  I hope Ethan and Dan feel the same way.

On Friday’s you can get a fishing permit here in Coyhaique.   A little after 9 we were there but were told we had to wait about an hour for the man to arrive.  No big problem.  We ambled over the Full Fresh grocery store and stocked up on supplies for the day.   At 10, with E’s permit in hand we were off to one of E’s favorite places to fish, Estero Turbio, a tributary to the Guillermo. 

Estero Turbio has a moderate gradient with some longer pools separated by stretches of riffles.  The pockets in the riffles are not real big but with a well-placed cast will produce a fish.  Most are 10 to 12 inches but a few will be closer to 14.   The best fish of the day was a “gimme” from Ethan.  It was his turn when we reached  a great run.  E is a great caster.  By that I mean not only distance – what most perceive as the definition of good – but more importantly pin point precision at a 20 foot distance.  I once heard a quote attributed to Kansas City golfer Tom Watson:  “Drive for show but putt for dough.”  We fly fishers should take Tom’s advice and work on our short game if we want to catch more fish. 

Back to the “gimme.”  Anyway E had to hook the end of his cast in behind a couple of cane stocks hanging out over the Estero.  Typically an easy cast for him.  A split second before his cast was going to come in behind the cane and into the current seam a gust of wind blew his fly onto the last 6 inches of the cane.   There was no way I could have made the cast Ethan had come within a fraction of a second of making.  But now I had everything going for me.  I sent E a little downstream and across the stream and with his fly still on the tip of the cane, had him pull his line to get the cane back out of the way.  All I have to do was make a relatively simple 20 foot cast.  I did it and was rewarded with a good – but not great – fish.
With two of us fishing I was more comfortable in exploring further upstream than I had ever been.  I had always turned back at the first gorge.   These streams are in such rugged terrain and/or are so remote that if something happened to you, likely you would be found by an archeologist, if at all.   (My Dutch friend Gerlof, who like me is often alone someplace remote, carries a satellite phone in his backpack.)  One long and rough gorge section finally lead to the end of the road for us.  

Walking out we decided to follow a sheep path up to the top of a ridge rather than retrace our path back through the gorge section.  It worked out just fine.  Not only was it less demanding than scurrying over the rocks but at the top of the ridge we came upon an old farmstead and two cherry trees.  I had forgotten how good cherries are.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Day Of Rest

Today has been an easy day.  Ethan arrive at about 2 so there weren’t a lot of places to fish besides the airport stream and he had asked me to save it for him.  Just a bit of housekeeping – go to the ATM, buy ibuprofen and get some groceries.    Boy did I need an easy day after three hard days of fishing with my young Dutch friend Gerlof.  Some words don’t translate exactly right but in reality they translate perfectly.   Sore is an example.  From Dutch to English it becomes “tender”.   Tender is exactly how every bone in my body feels.

Boca de Leon on the 24th was a strenuous day of fishing.  It runs fast and is a snow-melt stream so it is very cold.  Fighting the current and lose of body heat makes for a tired body at the end of the day.  I woke up “tender” on the 25th. 

Gerlof was enthralled with my account of the Perdragosa and how, just maybe, around the next bend from where I stopped above the gorge it might become more of a pampas stream.  Well after climbing around over and through four gorges we turned back.  This one damn near stopped me, but if Gerlof thought we could make it who am I to say time to go back.  We finally turned back at the next gorge, mainly because of the time.  We make it back to Coyhaique just in time to order dinner before the restaurant stopped service at 9:00.

Remember my whining on the 23rd about no new place anymore.  While I’m sure that very few, if any other, “gringo’s” fished as far up the Perdragosa as we did.  So how was the fishing?  We caught a lot of fish but nothing over 14 inches and the average was about 10 inches.  We did see a couple of 18 inch plus fish, but all the fish were extremely spooky.  Nothing messes up a good pool like little fish running from along the banks or there fight when you hook on.  If there is a next time it will be longer leaders and a quieter approach.

Two hard days of fish and I was out of ibuprofen.  But Gerlof had heard that the Rio Toque was good so we decided to head over there for a day of exploration.  The Rio Toque is about 130 Km north Coyhaique.  I had been over there on my first trip to Chile but hadn’t fished Rio Toque because of its high gradient and a big mine – Zinc I think – about 15 Km up the river.  My experience around mines in Missouri suggested that even with the best environmental protections there are still generally some environmental issues that would affect the fisheries.  But, thanks to my friend Ray, the Chilean felon, I now have 1:50,000 scale maps of that area.  According to the map, above the mine the gradient was relatively low and the Rio Toque meandered.   Just maybe it would be like the Nireguao in the Valley of the Moon!  Well it was and it wasn’t.  We didn’t walk all the way up to an area of a typical pampas stream but it had a good mix of bend pools and rocky riffles.   For those of you familiar with the East Fork of the Encampment it 

reminded me a lot of that.  Worth going back for?  It was a long day driving and fishing.  If it was closer I’d go more often.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It has been a few days since I’ve let you know about the fishing, so let me get you caught up on the three places I’ve been.

Saturday the 22nd.  I went back to what is most likely my favorite river/watershed, the Guillermo.  Just after you pass Villa Ortaga you come to the first of several Route 7 bridges over the Guillermo.  I fished several kilometers downstream of the bridge a few days ago and I’ve fished it several kilometers upstream but I’ve always passed this section by.  I've stopped and looked up and down from the bridge the over the years but have always passed this section by.  It doesn’t look fishy – straight and almost with a channelized look with high banks of hubbie to larger rock.  (For those of you that don’t know what a hubbie is, it is a New Hampshire term for a rock that is bigger than a baseball but smaller than a softball.  You don’t throw hubbies, you chuck them.  Since it is long gone, as am I, I’ll now admit that as a kid I chucked more than a few hubbies at the Hame Shop hoping to break one of the remaining windows.)  

The Guillermo has both rainbows and brown.   Like any river that has both, you can fairly well predict which species you are going to catch with each cast, depending on the micro-habitat.  Pockets and riffles produced mostly rainbows and slower water and runs produced browns.  No more than a hundred meters above the bridge the Guillermo losses some of its gradient and starts to develop some broad brown trout bends with rainbow riffles at the head of the bends.  The way the Guillermo bends and snakes I have no idea of how far I fished and I didn’t bother to look at my watch when I started.  About 5:30 I told myself I would keep fishing until the next fence.  Ten minutes later I started the walk back along the river bank.  It took me about 40 minutes to walk out.  Typical Chile small stream day – a LOT of fish in the 12 to 14 inch range with enough 16 inch fish to keep the adrenalin running for the good possibility of a 20 incher.

Sunday the 23rd.  Chile is the salmon aquaculture for food capitol of the world.  Many of the rivers have salmon hatching and juvenile rearing stations.  Last year we explored over near Maniguales.  That exploration was a bust.  But after we crossed the rickety old suspension bridge over the Maniguales, we turned left.  What if we had turned right?  Over the winter I traced the right hand turn on Google Earth.  Upstream on a tributary of the Maniguales I found a hatchery.  The value of a hatchery is primarily the increase in fertility just downstream.  Chilean streams are not very fertile.  The hatchery is on the Pica Flora River.  It is a spectacular river to see.  So spectacular that I might even be willing to float it just to see more of it and to catch some of its fish.  It is crystal clear with big down and submerged trees and tree lined banks.  The only spot I could easily fish gave me a 13 inch brown on my only cast. 

Just about a kilometer north of the hatchery is a fork in the road.  The right fork takes you back to Route 7.  The left fork heads toward Rio Picacho (to see the area go to 45O 58’ south and 72O 17’ west via Google Earth).  Two gates and a stream ford after turning left, the “road” ran next to the Rio Cobarde for about 50 meters.  The Cobarde looked nice and there was space to pull the truck of the road.  Down I went.  I fished about 500 meters of the river.  Early on it was just the odd 12 inch fish.  I was fishing a big foam hopper like pattern with a 14 caddis about 24 feet behind it.  Either fly produced fish. 

Then I came to the best water of the day.  Three cast and 60 inches of fish!  (I just took a couple of sips of my coffee to let that sentence sink in with you!)  I did it the hard way.  The foam hopper would hit the water and a 12 inch fish would come up and take it.  Before I could land it an 8 inch fish would take the dragging caddis.  Three casts in a row it happened.  I’ve had more than a few two for’s with a dry - nymph dropper combo but only one other time with two dries.  As I climbed up on the bank to walk back I did see a BIG fish.  A fresh Chinook Salmon about 3 feet long shoot out from a root wad.  The Cabarde is a long way from Coyhaique – about 120 Km.  I might go back over there again before I head back.  Hell, just seeing the Pica Flora is damm near worth the drive!

Monday 24th.  Last year we meet a young Dutchman who comes over here for almost 5 months.  Nice young man and a kindred spirit.  We both prefer to fish the smaller streams and both are always looking for the “stream less fished”.  We connected Sunday night and off we went to fish yesterday.

Our destination was Baco de Leon, a tributary of Largo Elizalde.  My first year in Chile I caught a 24 inch rainbow from the Baco.  The Baco is a snow melt stream and there is still a lot of snow in the mountains.  It was running about 20 cm too high to fish well and a few degrees colder that French Creek Cold.  Made me wish I had worn my waders until we had to walk out.  The less than ideal conditions limited our success a bit.  Nothing over about 14 inches for either of us. 

In about an hour I’m going to pick up my Dutch friend and we are going to spend the day above the Pedragosa Gorge!  Let’s hope it gets “meadowy” with some undercut banks!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I may have been born at the wrong time.  I’d like to think I would have made a good member of an expedition to some exotic location or made it as a mountain man.  It is hard trying to fill that personality quirk in today’s world. But I try.  I always want to know what is around the next bend of the river or where the gravel road that goes off to the left will take me.   Fishing the Pedrogosa the other day gave me a sense of exploring.  But likely it is just a sense.  There will always be new places to me but just being new isn’t the same as exploring.

Getting to the gorge on the Pedragosa wasn’t all that hard a trip.  Most likely more than a few fishermen have made it.  The gorge was a little intimidating to navigate, especially for someone in the last third of their life, but passable.  I wanted to think that I was one of a few to do it.   By a few, I mean fisherman and not gauchos.  I know the gauchos make it there from the remnants of small cooking fires and occasional fence.  Even if I’m not the first gringo to have traversed the gorge I can still feel a certain sense of seeing and being in a place most other will never go to.

Friday after lunch in Bamaceda I studied my map to see if there was a way to get to an area of the Rio Blanco that was off the beaten track.  The lower sections don’t look that fishy.  But if I could just find the way to the upper section it had to be better.   My map showed a potential track but being by myself and without a 4 wheel drive truck I wasn’t going to be that much of an explorer.   I stayed on the road more traveled, such as it was.  The two wheel tracks with grass in the middle, twisted and turned along and up over a mountain and then down to a lake.   A couple of small homesteads dotted the lake side.  Nestled on the shore of one cove was something other than a homestead.  A new (the logs are still un-weathered) two story lodge, 3 upscale cabins and two rafts on trailers spelled fly fishing destination.

Twenty plus kilometers on barely a road, up and over a mountain, was an outpost of civilization.  Seeing it was like a pin bursting my bubble.  People are going there for an adventure.  I was going along the track in search of a new place and an adventure.   There may not be any more new places to be found or adventures to be had. 

Maybe I just should be happy with just going above the gorge on the Pedragos, where likely the only ones who go there are the gauchos, and have my Adventure being the only gringo in a local restaurant and trying to order diner when I can’t speak Spanish. 

On the 27th my son Ethan arrives.  E speaks great Spanish.  Dinner won’t even be an Adventure then.

Friday, January 21, 2011


How hard did it blow?  So hard that a 10 inch trout didn’t hang straight below the tip of my rod by at about a 60 degree angle!

I check the weather report for Balmaceda this morning and it wasn’t all that bad – partly cloudy with increased clouds and wind later in the afternoon.  Worth the 30 mile drive over with that kind of a report.   I’d fish until about 1:30 and then go to see if the great little eating place was still open.  At the bridge pull off a gaucho was trying to fix a portion of the fence that anglers likely messed up to get to the river.  He needed two more hands than he had.  Hey, I have two.  With gestures and mangled Spanish I helped and then asked if I could fish.  No problem.\-45.89471/\-71.74817

Asking was the easy part.  Fishing was the hard part.  All weathermen lie and thus all weather report are false.  It was a light rain at 10 and wind at gale force.  Two back of fleece and three hat hook ups.   Upstream about 200 yard above the bridge the river forks.  I’ve done about all my fishing on the right descending fork.  It is deeply incised into the meadow so I thought the wind might not be overwhelming.  Not!  Can you say: canyon effect?   No matter what direction the stream meandered the wind was always a gale slightly off my back.  Straight off my back would have made casting a bit more doable.  My fly went pretty much where the wind wanted it to go.   The only element of control I had was with short roll casts.  And to make matters every harder I had a 9 foot 4X leader.  A 7.5 foot 3X would have been much better – not good but better. 

So here is the final score:  Norm 4 nice fish and one 10 inch fish,  stream 8 including one BIG fish.

Oh the little eating place in Balmaceda is still open.  Basket of bread, bowl of beef soup with potatoes and winter squash in it, fish loaf – likely salmon – and mash potatoes, pitcher of peach juice