Sunday, February 26, 2012


For the past week and a half things have been a bit inconvenient here in the Aysen region of Patagonia.  The people of the region reached their tipping point.  The issue that made the difference was the government’s decision to approve the construction of big hydro projects on the Rio Baker.   This decision was the spark that brought all the lingering social concerns to the surface.  The protests are spreading with blockades of tires – burning at night – at important intersections and in front of warehouses and truck parking areas.  In the outlying villages the locals are blocking the roads in sympathy and solidarity.

So far here in Coyhaique or the outlying villages of El Blanco, Balmaceda or Villa Ortaga I haven’t seen any violence by the citizens or the police.  As you approach each village here is a road block set up by the locals as part of the protest.  At each one they stop traffic for two hours and then let private vehicles through.  Trucks don’t get to pass.  On the road to the airport there are three road blocks but they are coordinated.  Outside of Coyhaique it is open on the even hour.  At El Blanco  it is on about the even hour and a half and at Balmaceda at about the even hour and 45 minutes.  If you time it right you can make it to the airport in Balmaceda with just a slight delay.  I heard there was some attempted looting by hooligans at the UniMarc (big supermarket) just down the street from me in Coyhaique.  There are some broken windows.  Newspapers are reporting clashes between police and protestors in Port Aysen, the choke point for al supplies coming into this portion of Chile.  It is just very very inconvenient.  I’m down to about ¼ tank of gas.  I have to conserve it so I can get to the airport on the 6th to get home.  

I support the Patagonians even though they are making it hard on me.  This is my fifth year down here and I don't, for the most part, see any improvement in the infrastructure from the first time here.  Lots of the bridges are still questionable and the roads are in no better shape.   I've traveled better on old US Forest Service roads in the states than the pan American highway toward Villa Ortaga or the road to Argentina via Coyhaique Alto.  There is no health care outside of Coyhaique.  If you live in Chile Chico you have an 8 hour drive to anything other than minimal health care.  Maybe you would get lucky and have your problem in time to make the once a day ferry from Porto Ibenaz (sp) which would reduce the time to health care by about 5 hours.  The people of Aysen have valid grips with the government.  They are small in numbers and isolated geographically from the developed north of the country.  All they have is hydro-electric potential and the north wants it and to give the Patagonians nothing but lip service.

So much for the editorial comments.  Now to the fishing.  No fuel and  cold, wind and rain has made it tough.  We have not been able to make it two several of the best – as in BIG fish – rivers and streams.  When we have been north near Villa Ortaga on a couple of small streams we have done very well with a lot of fish and a few big fish.  We – Ethan and I – have made the strategic decision to wait until the weather is good for a couple of days and then use our fuel to get to Villa Ortaga.  It is only about 35 or 40 Km each way but rather than come back to Coyhaique at night we will see if we can find a place to stay there for the night.  If we can’t find a hospedaje we will sleep in the car. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thanks to the Protestors

Late last week the Chilean Government decided to go ahead with project to dam the Baker and another river for hydropower.  These are BIG rivers and will generate 3+ gigawatts of power.  All to be send north.  This was the spark that has set off protests over long lingering social issues in Patagonia:  lack of infrastructure, jobs, educational opportunities and health care.   Everything here basically has to come in via Port Aysen.  This is the choke point.  Protests and barricades started there and now are in Coyhaique.  Most is for show.  The protesters block the roads with fires.  All at night, of course, because a fire in the street at night is good theater.  Here in Coyhaique there hasn’t been any real violence.  The police are there in riot gear but often talking with the locals.  It is an inconvenience.  There is basically no fuel available.  Lines are long – n the km range – for the rationed fuel.  People leave their cars in line overnight.  It is making getting out to fish very hard!  

Yesterday I had less than a quarter of a tank when I started out.  With that little fuel I was very limited to where I could go.  I had one OK option so off we went.  About 5 km out of town, trucks were parked along both shoulders of the road, flying Chilean flags   It was a solidarity protest.  There were two police officers there but they were just standing around.  I’m not sure what would have happened if another truck had tried to “Run the Gantlet” but we drove through without any problem.  In another few km’s we were at the destination.

The river we fished was the one where I caught my first Chilean trout 5 years ago.  That year I went downstream because of an upstream gorge right at the bridge.  I haven’t fished it very much since then.  Two years ago my son Ethan and good – no best – friend Duane and I climbed above the gorge and looked down at it.  The consensus was if we could get up in there, the fishing might be good.  We forced our way in yesterday.

The fishing was good.  Not spectacular but good.  Good number of fish with a couple of Ok fish.  The day was fantastic.  There is something very special about pushing on into areas that few people chose to venture into.  For a lover of small streams and roads less traveled like me it is what fishing is all about.  It is more than just finding a new place to fish, it is feeding the your spirit and soul.  And the fishing was Ok.  Thank you protestors.  If fuel had not been a problem I would have never done it!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feeling Like Lewis and Clark

I’ve been derelict in getting information about the time here in Patagonia down or you.   The best reason I have is I’ve been fishing too much and not had the time.  Last Saturday, the 11th was the first day since I got here on the 17th of January that I haven’t been out on the stream.

The weather has had a big impact on our fishing and our success.  Days with rain and wind have been good, days with just rain have been very good and the few days like yesterday with without either have been great!  Dealing with the wind has been the biggest problem for everyone.  Fifteen mile an hour winds are typical with gusts up to and over 40 MPH not uncommon.  If the river axis is just right it is OK.  Hell, I’ve made a few 60 foot roll casts.

Last week I found a way to go further up the Blanco than I had ever been before.  The river just kept getting better and better the higher I went.  Unfortunately it was late in the afternoon when I got into that gorge section.  The climbing and scarring over and around rocks was a challenge.  Knowing that most mountaineers are injured on the decent we decided not to push on further and risk injury trying to get out when we were tired and the light was fading.   On Sunday, while our legs were still relatively fresher, we reached the gorge.   It was well worth the effort to get there.  The section had everything you could ask for:  pockets, deep runs, and pools.  What makes it even better is that very few “gringos” have ever seen it or likely ever will.   With each step further in I got more and more excited.  I just wanted to see what is around the next bend.  I can only guess at how Lewis and Clark must have felt! 

Ethan, we have more river to explore!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Last Week of Fishing

The weather made a turn for the worst which over the long run might be for the better.  Of course that is hard to be happy about right now.  The area was getting so dry and streams so low that I was getting worried about water levels over the next two months. For the last week it has been cold, rainy and windy, yesterday was a nice day and we took advantage of it.  That is not to say we didn’t get out on the other days.

On the 28th the destination was a tributary of the Guillermo.  It was cool and a bit windy but all in all it was a good day.  We hit the stream a bit earlier in the morning than I generally like to be there, the water was still a bit cold, but by lunch it was getting good and kept getting better as the day wore on. We ended the day at our watering hole for that area by having a beer at what we call “Granny Bar.”

On Sunday we traveled to the Valley of the Moon.  All day we fished in wind and mist with a few periods of showers thrown in for good measure.  Artful casting is not possible under conditions like we had but thankfully if you could get your fly any place near you thought a fish would be there was a good chance that you could bring one up.

Monday we headed for the Manigauales.  The several days of rain had the river up and off color.  The section I wanted to fish, above the confluence with the Nireguao, was not fishable.  Back toward Villa Ortaga we went.  The Guillermo was running high and off color, as it tends to after a rain, but a tributary that drains a different geological area was fishable – barely.   After hard wading with only a few smaller fish to show for the effort we headed for Granny Bar.

Tuesday we headed toward Coyhaique Alto.   Last year Ethan and I had a great day up there.  In fact it turned out to be an award winning day, a photo Ethan took there was the grand prize winner at the FFF’s Gulf Coast Conclave PHOTO Contest.  It wasn’t an award winning day for us.  After only a couple hundred meters of fishing we only had two semi-decent fish.  Off we went back to the Valley of the Moon.  The wind was blowing about as hard as I have ever seen it blow there.  But the fish didn’t mind.  We fished up from the bridge and did well as long as we could get our fly tight to the banks.  Of course in a gale force wind that wasn’t always easy.

Wednesday was back to the new river that Gerlof and I had found.  It was cold (water and air temperatures), high, and slightly off color.  In spite of it all that the fish cooperated.  Early in the day nymphs worked the best but as the day warmed, Fat Alberts in pockets along the shore were killers.

Yesterday we were back at the Manigauales above the Nireguao.  The weather was perfect, and the fish cooperated.  All but one or two of our fish were 14 to 17 inch thick, feisty and healthy fighters.   

Rained out again today!