by Scott Sadil
It’s a dusty half-day drive from the bustling town of Coyhaique to the Rio Baker, deep in the high peaks and snow fields, glaciers and jagged ridge lines, that make this part of Patagonia as wild and scenic as any place the mind can conjure.
Our driver, Kail, young and professional as a budding investment manager, makes short work of the steep graded roads, swinging his car into four-wheel drifts with the confidence of a dirt biker.
“My father was a rally driver. After I wrecked my first car, he taught me to drive.”
“Your first wrecked car?”
“My only wreck,” declares Kail, as we skip towards the edge of the road, plunging into another cloud of dust raised by trucks squeezing us toward a soft, precarious shoulder.
No matter the risks or effort to get there, the Green Baker Lodge (www.greenlodgebaker.com) is one of those must-see stops on any Patagonia fishing adventure. Has there ever been a more brilliantly colored river, a kind of surreal turquoise off the palette of a painter steeped in the absurd?
The fishing itself may well enhance this sense of leaving the known world and entering an atmosphere of extreme absurdities. The showcase piece of lodge water is a long turbulent rapid where anglers are expected to toss six-inch-long articulated streamers, called gatos (cats) by the locals, for brown trout that explode out of eddies and pocket water, fish that can push the thirty-inch mark and leave the angler wondering which is worse, hooking one of these beasts or tumbling out of the boat in a river that makes my home river, the Deschutes, look like a pussy cat by comparison.
One thing about Chile that continues to surprise me: the amount of water and the size of the rivers and lakes surpasses anything I imagined. Those are the Andes, after all, looming directly next to the Pacific.
And these big waters grow big trout.
The Rio Baker, for example, seems to produce both browns and rainbows that average over 20 inches, every one I saw as fit as a futbolista.
During my stay, Franz Scheel, owner of the lodge, landed a 27-inch brown that looked as thick as a pitbull, an average “good one” for a guy who goes after big fish like his guests reach for their pisco sours.
Franz owes a lot of his success to a staff of terrific guides, led by Rafael Barroso, who seems to know more about the Baker than some of the trout there.
And then there’s the Cochrane.
Marc Whittaker (www.rodandgun.cl), who put together my whirlwind tour of Chile, tells of getting skunked on the Cochrane with Brian O’Keefe, a better angler, by far, than most of us can ever hope to be.
Kail drives Marc and me to a secluded turn-off and down through heavy brush that brings us to more of backpacking campsite than a parking spot.
We cross the river, the current lapping at the tops of our waders. The water is slow, clear, lined with wild roses and thick stands of old broadleaf evergreens. The pools are tangles of deadfall – perfect brown trout habitat and doable, perhaps, if you can launch a 30-foot bow-and-arrow cast.
We fumble around all morning with dry flies and dries and droppers, until somewhere along the way I say the hell with it and tie on a Vanilla Bugger, a choice that seems fairly obvious, if a little less elegant, than more delicate approaches.
Fish begin immediately to agree with the choice.
Marc follows my example – and thanks to some athletic net work by our young guide, Kail, often after plunging from the bank and landing waist deep in the river, we end up landing over two dozen good trout, some kind of Cochrane record we hear later back at the lodge.
Granted, Marc and I both feel a wee bit sheepish, as if we’ve broken open a fishery that has given so many visiting anglers fits.
Sometimes the best choice is the obvious one.
Like Chile, for example. It’s has been sitting here just waiting for trout anglers for a long, long time. I only regret not finding my way here sooner.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil can’t seem to figure out north from south in Chile. Yet he hasn’t found the trout seem to care, either.