Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chile, Part 2

This is the second of two blog posts describing our visit to Chile.  This post will cover our time fly fishing in Patagonia.

We first heard about the Patagonian Basecamp from our old friend, John Landis, in the summer of 2013.  John is an avid fly fisherman, and has fished in many remote places around the world.  When he heard that David had given Gretchen a fly rod for her birthday, he told us about the Basecamp, and  suggested that we join him for the trip he had already scheduled in early 2015.

We found the Basecamp website at, and were enthralled by the pictures and descriptions of the program.  This is a very pricey vacation for our retirement budget, but we were approaching our 30th wedding anniversary, and decided to give the trip to each other as part of the celebration.  The Basecamp is run by Marcel Sijnsesael, who is passionate about trout, fishing, and keeping his guests happy.

That was all very good, but neither of us knew how to fly-fish, and David had no equipment at all.  To the rescue came Jon Toft, a British man who at the time ran a small business in Switzerland, “Have-a-go-Flyfishing,” which specialized in fishing lessons.  During 2014, we spent two full days with Jon,  and found him to be an excellent instructor.

We left Santiago, flying south toward Patagonia.  Our first leg was to the town of Puerto Montt.  This small city (about 350,000 inhabitants) is at the center of the main agricultural region of Chile, and supports a very large and growing fish farming industry.  From Puerto Montt we traveled by taxi to the tourist resort Puerto Varas, where we spent two nights.

We liked Puerto Varas a lot.  It is on a large lake, Lago Llanquihue. On a clear day, you can see the peak of the volcano Mont Osarno across the water. 

The town is almost exclusively dependent on tourism, and treats its visitors very well.  The tourist office gave us a map that showed a walking tour that highlighted the oldest 10 or 12 buildings (mostly homes) in the city.  We had a good time walking through some of the less-commercial neighborhoods, and seeing the old buildings.  They were constructed mostly from 1890 to 1910.  Each house had a placard that explained the original owners, and the kinds of wood that were used.

This region had many immigrants from Germany, starting around 1850, and their influence is easily seen in the architecture.  Almost all buildings are made from wood, and the style very reminiscent of German villages.  A couple of times, when our Spanish was too poor to get by, we were able to communicate using German.

From Puerto Varas, we took a charter flight to the village of Chaitén, which is the doorway to Chilean Patagonia.  Chaitén had been the provincial capital, but the town was almost completely destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 2008.  It is being reconstructed, but is much smaller now.

From Chaitén, we rode in pickup trucks about two hours to the Basecamp.  At the moment, the main road is mostly gravel, but there is a big project to pave it, supposedly to be completed this year.  That will make the trip to the Basecamp much quicker and easier on the guests.

Each day, we traveled to a different fishing spot.  There were always two guests and one professional guide.  Usually we had a boat to fish from, as well.  Here is a brief description of the places we visited.

Lago Rosselot
Our first fishing day, the lodge wanted us to focus on improving our casting, so we fished on a large lake where we didn’t have to worry about catching our lines in trees.  The scenery was exquisite.  We could see trout approaching our flies, but they always refused them.  We fished hard all day, in many different parts of the lake and using many different flies, but never did land a fish.  Our guide that day was also named David.

Rio Rosselot
The second day, we drifted down the river that exist Lago Rosselot.  Our guide was Craig.  This is a spectacular stretch of river, and we were thrilled to catch our first fish of the week.  Gretchen caught a nice rainbow trout first, and David followed up with a (very) small rainbow a few minutes later.  We both caught several additional fish through the day.  This river features some serious rapids, and we were impressed with Craig’s skill at maneuvering through them.  We were a bit surprised to find that we had to don life preservers and helmets before we went through the white water.

Rio Claro Solar
The lodge uses this name for the stretch of river after the Claro Solar joins the Rio Quinto.    Our guide was Zack.  We each caught several rainbows and a couple of brown trout.  Again, quite a bit of whitewater.  The river level was lower than it had been earlier in the season, and it was interesting to see Zack mentally picturing a way through the rocks before we attempted the pass.  Another truly beautiful stretch of water, and we had it all to ourselves.

Rio Quinto
We had asked for a bit of a break from the “all fishing, all the time” routine, and this was the compromise that Marcel offered.  We would fish, but instead of driving and boating to the site, we would hike.  Our guide was the very young but very enthusiastic Donovan. We walked along the edge of the river for about two hours, and then came to some very good fishing spots, where we each caught a couple of rainbows.  A quick lunch, a few more minutes of fishing, and then 2 hours hiking back.  A very nice change of pace.

Upper Figueroa
The Basecamp offers a couple of much-more-rustic secondary camps, and we were fortunate to be able to spend a night at their Temple camp.  We drove quite a distance to the camp, dropped off our gear, and drove a bit further with a boat to the river entrance.  That left plenty of time for a drift down the river, fishing as we went.  Zack was our guide again.  The river here flows through an amazing rocky canyon, not too high but very rugged and extremely beautiful.  Again, we had significant rapids to traverse, and had to get out the helmets again.  Several fish found their way onto our lines in the spaces between the rapids.  Again, we were impressed with Zack’s technical expertise and physical skill in managing the whitewater.

Rio Pico
We spent the night in Temple Camp, which is about as luxurious a camping experience as you will ever find.  The guides call it “Glamping,” glamour camping. Each tent had a propane heater, hot-water shower, and a flush toilet.

The final fishing day of our trip was on the Rio Pico with Donovan.  We decided to put on our waders and walk the river, fishing whenever we got to a suitable spot.  We had to cross the river twice, and found the first crossing very difficult, trying to keep our balance on big rolling boulders in a fairly strong current.  Donovan scouted out an easier spot to cross back, fortunately.  We had a great day.  On the last cast of the last day, David caught this:

Home Again, Home Again
On Friday, we drove by truck and Subaru back to Chaitén, caught the charter flight to Puerto Montt, and flew back to Santiago.  By the time we arrived, it was after 9:00 pm.  We had booked a night in the airport hotel, which allowed us a good rest before flying back through Bogota and Curaçao.

We are really glad we took this trip, it was definitely something to check off on the bucket list.

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