The Trip, Day 25: Southern Chile’s Monster Browns

Alberto Rey is a longtime Upstate New York steelhead guide, 2021 Orvis-Endorsed Fly-Fishing Guide of the Year, and a Distinguished Professor for Research and Creative Activity at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He and his wife have embarked on a round-the-world trip, and they have generously agreed to share occasional updates from their travels.

Southern Patagonia is a magical place where turquoise-colored streams and lakes—home to enormous brown trout—lie at the bottoms of beautiful valleys in the glacier-covered Andes. A few years ago, a guide for Patagonia Baker Lodge landed two 30-inch-plus browns in a single day, and the week before we arrived, a 27-inch brown had been caught on a dry fly on the Rio Baker in front of the lodge. So we knew that we’d have shots at some very big trout.

Fishing in heavy winds, rain and moving chop, my 23-year-old son, Diego, dredged up one of these behemoths from the fast-moving stretch of water that connects General Carrera Lake and Lake Bertrand. He was stripping a heavily weighted, articulated flashy black streamer on a fast-sinking line when a massive fish started to follow the fly to the boat. At the last moment, the brown saw the raft and made a quick exit, leaving the angler stunned and in shock. Not believing what he had just witnessed, he tried to explain, with his eyes wide open and a heavy stammer in his excited voice. He quickly got the line back into the current, but we knew that it was all in vain. These rare creatures do not make lapses in judgement twice in a short span of time. He would be haunted by that moment, as we all are by that one special fish that got away, leaving only a false memory of what could have been.

Lake Bertrand lies at the feet of the summits of the Cordón Contreras.
All photos and paintings by Alberto Rey

According to our guide, Marcello, ideal conditions for casting a topwater fly or streamer are warm, dry days with a light wind to blow hoppers and beetles onto the water and to provide a slight disturbance to the water’s surface.  Although we did not experience such conditions, given that it was early fall, we still had some great days on the water. We were able to each land several 20-plus-inch browns on chilly days with heavy rain and wind. While it made for exhausting days of casting sinking lines and streamers into oncoming wind, we were happy to celebrate our results at the end of the day with beers or pisco sours.

A beautiful brown trout rests before heading back to its watery lair.

Every two or three days of fishing, Diego and I took a day off to do some family activities with my wife, Janeil, who is not an angler and to give my aging shoulder a break. This gave us an opportunity to raft the white-water rapids of the Rio Baker, hike a tiny part of the more than 500 square miles of Patagonia National Park, and visit small towns in the region. The rapids are visible from the lodge with a launch 10 minutes down the road, the park is about 30 minutes away, and the town of Cochran is within an hour’s drive. I enjoy these days off the water. Not only do they provide special moments to build family memories and connections, but they also provide opportunities to experience the culture of a region beyond the curated environment inside a lodge.

Leaving the luxuries inside the newly redesigned and reconstructed Patagonia Baker Lodge can be difficult.  Eduardo Barrueto and his wife, Consuelo Balboa—who own Magic Waters Patagonia, which is a six-hour drive away—are also part owners of this lodge, so their attention to detail is consistently incredible at both locations. The new redesign of the building and grounds by Consuelo’s brother, Manuel, makes one feel immersed in the beautiful environment outside, while still experiencing the warmth of the building and staff. While there is more work planned for the accommodations before next season, including a spa and outside hot tub, the lodge started taking clients this year.

Previous Dispatches

  1. The Trip: Around the World in 5 Months
  2. The Trip, Day 18: Exploring Chile
Guanacos at Patagonia National Park.
The conditions called for big, heavy streamers and full-sinking lines much of the time.

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