Recipe for Adventure: Baled-Out in Chilean Patagonia

Written by: Seth Berger, Orvis Fly Fishing Travel Specialist

The rivers around Coyhaique offer shots at some gorgeous trout.
All photos courtesy Seth Berger

My Recipe for Adventure has all the classic elements that compose a memorable fly-fishing experience: an exotic locale, mystery, and a bit of dumb luck.

Have you ever been in a familiar situation, and then all the sudden see something so out of place that your mind starts to race, working to understand what it could be? That’s exactly what happened to me while I was wading in a canyon in central Patagonia near Coyhaique, Chile, a few years back.

The Patagonia region of Chile is cattle country, reminiscent of the American West.

I was hosting a group trip at Orvis-endorsed Magic Waters Patagonia. One day, after breakfast, a few customers and I set off with two guides to fish the upper Simpson River. To get there, we had to drive through a farmer’s cattle fields, opening and closing cattle gates along the way. We parked high above the river, rigged our rods, and made the dusty hike into the canyon. As we switch-backed down the canyon wall-the speargrass brushing against our waders–we eyed riffles and pools up and down the river. Our excitement grew. Once we reached the bottom of the canyon, half the group headed upstream, while the rest of us fished downstream.

The Upper Simpson River is a fly fisher’s dream.

We crisscrossed the emerald-green pools to get downstream. As we turned a corner, I could see two enormous shapes, with perfectly flat tops, in the water. My initial thought was that they were boulders, but that couldn’t be right. I stared at them as we walked closer, my brain going into overdrive trying to figure out what they were. I was stumped. Finally, once we were about 50 yards away, I realized what they were. Two massive bales of hay were sitting in the middle of a huge pool like rocks, flat side up. The legendary high winds of Patagonia had blown them from a nearby field into the river. You know what hay bales look a lot like? A casting platform.

Seth’s makeshift casting platform helped him deliver a fly to the feeding trout along the opposite bank.

We carefully made our way to the platforms, inadvertently donated by local farmers. We waited quietly, studying the water. A single fish was on the far side of the river, picking off nymphs and occasionally rising. My first plan was to use the hay bale to hide my presence as I made some casts, but the feeding trout was just too far away.  Logically, the next step was to utilize the hay bale as a casting platform. I slowly crept up on top, trying to stay low, and made a cast. The fish moved to my fly but ignored it as it drifted by. I changed flies and cast again. Same result.

What could I do? I couldn’t waste this opportunity, so I opened my fly box for inspiration. Then it hit me: the Evil Betsy. I had been introduced to this caddis-style fly by a customer on the same trip, the year before. I don’t recall the reasoning behind the name, but my gut told me that she would be the fly. I tied on a size 14 and made a cast. I gave the fly a twitch as it hit the water, and then let it dead drift. I saw the fish as it slid to its left, rose, and gently took the fly.

Hay-bale rainbows are a special treat.

This wasn’t the biggest fish of the trip, buy you can tell from my smile that it was one I wouldn’t soon forget. After the day of fishing, we headed back to the lodge. As is tradition, we were greeted with the local cocktail, a Pisco Sour. We sat around the fireplace and swapped our fishing tales from earlier in the day as well as from other travels, near and far.

Seth Berger is an Orvis Fly Fishing Travel Specialist. Look for an upcoming blog post on how to tie the Evil Betsy.

3 thoughts on “Recipe for Adventure: Baled-Out in Chilean Patagonia”

  1. Seth,
    Nice story….
    That Pisco Sour contraption looks like a still! Is Eduardo up to making hard liquor now?

  2. Hi Seth:
    The story on how the Evil Betsy got its name is. A friend of mine designed the base fly while he was in college. Having minimum funds and a desire for fly fishing he had to use whatever he on hand to tie flies. Consequently he came up with a fly using only peacock herl, calf tail and hackle. For lack of a better name he used Davy Crockett’s rifle name “Betsy”.
    Many years later while fishing on the North Platte River he gave me a couple and I used it “as is” for a few years. Then I read a book called What Do Fish See, as a result I decided to incorporate fluorescent green floss as a tail and body segmentation. I tied some, gave a couple to my friend, he used it for few days with such success he said ” this fly is evil”. Ever since then the fly has been known as the EVIL BETSY! I then gave you a few of them when Randy Sindelir and I (Kenneth Messick) met you at Magic Waters in Chile.
    I am so pleased you used it again with such success in Chile as described in your article! I enjoyed your article and am glad my fly is still enjoying such recognition. Take care, your friend Ken Messick

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