Dear Joe & Kathleen

by Scott Sadil

Good news, my friends.

Shortly before I left home, Joe mentioned the two of you planned to head to Chile sometime in the coming year.  Would I keep an eye out for places you should visit?

I generally hesitate making recommendations of this sort.  What do I know about the needs and wishes of others?  Then again, sometimes we stumble upon a place that immediately strikes a chord, the vibrant notes of a song you know by some primal refrain will enhance the lives of others—friends, family, even a lover—who’ve been known to dance to the same spirits that so often enrich your own quaint and humble angling life.

Arturo Espinola

Patagonia East River ( is a brand-new lodge located high in the Río Puelo watershed, far off the beaten track.  The Puelo, like so many Chilean rivers, is big—bigger than almost seems possible from its short descent from the Argentine border to the fjord-like Estuario Reloncavi.  Sixty miles, perhaps, as the crow flies.  But the route to the headwaters is a lot longer, and a lot more remote, by way of getting there—even if you include the option of a helicopter or chartered plane—which is just a very small part of the appeal.

Patagonia East River

Let’s see: I found my way by car, boat, and rugged gravel roads to the lodge, built in native cypress and southern beech forests near the confluence of the Rio Correntoso and Rio Ventisquero, tributaries of the Puelo, by Arturo Espinola and his extended family out of downed trees found on their property and milled on-site by local tradesfolk.  Though new, the lodge seems to have grown out of the land itself, with a series of raised wooden walkways running from clusters of well-appointed rooms to a homey kitchen and dining area, a playroom, sauna, and wood-fired hot tub.

You’re going to like that hot tub.

Patagonia East River

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  What about fish, the fishing?  Glad you asked.  Although the lodge is equipped to cater to outdoor folk of all persuasions—from kayakers, cyclists, and trekkers, to bird-watchers, mushroom hunters, and everyone in between—there is sport aplenty for fly fishers, as well.

Have you heard about the salmon now in Chile?

Before reaching the lodge, after a ferry ride across Lago Tagua Tagua, Arturo and I took a short detour up the Río Manso, where we found clusters of Chinook salmon spawning in the freestone shallows.  How these fish naturalized in Chile is a story to be traced elsewhere.  Their presence, however, suggests an age-old game, popularized in Alaska: Behind spawning salmon, rainbow trout feed, and a small egg pattern, tied on a tippet, perhaps, beyond an egg-sucking leech, will delight those of us not opposed to penetrate this peculiar “hatch” included in any genuine notion of the circle of life.

Fun, after all, is fun.

I could go on.  Clobbered the following day by nearly three inches of rain, we were unable to take the helicopter to the Río Traidor, Arturo’s favorite Puelo tributary. Next time. Instead, we managed a day on the Puelo itself, rising and off-color because of the weather, although we did find trout at the mouth of smaller tribs, plus a jack while I swung a big articulated streamer with the two-hander.

Garden at Patagonia East River

Enough.  Well, maybe I should tell you about the trip up to Lago Inferior, the first enormous pool-like lake of the Puelo after it tumbles, full-size, directly out of Lago Puelo, just across the Argentine border. (I know: drainages that flow to the Pacific are supposed to be within the borders of Chile—another story we’ll have to get to later.)  This trip entailed another rough road, followed by a ride on the back of an all-terrain quad, then a fantasy trip in a genuine panga to the top of the lake, gazing up at the Andes, between casts into dark, spooky water for big rainbows and browns lurking in the inky depths.

Rainbow, Lago Inferior

You get the picture.

Give Arturo a call.



Gray’s angling editor, Scott Sadil, is still trying to pull himself away from Chile so he can get home and see how the potatoes and peas are doing during another chilly Oregon spring.