by Scott Sadil
The Rio Simpson wanders out of the open high country above the town of Coyhaique, nestled in that peculiar and often confusing portion of Chile lying east of the Andes.
Below Coyhaique, however, the river seems to finally make up its mind and do what all rivers in Chile eventually do, tending westward and plunging toward the sea.
Along the way, the Simpson skirts the reaches of Los Torreones (www.flyfishpatagonia.com), the legendary lodge and working ranch owned and operated by Pancho Salas, another legend of the region.
For nearly three decades now, ever since Coyhaique first began gaining worldwide fame as the center of trout fishing in Chilean Patagonia, Pancho Salas has lived an extraordinary (if not always exemplary) life as both fishing and hunting guide, cowboy and roustabout — a colorful existence that, like the Rio Simpson headed to the Pacific, seems to have answered some sort of fated or gravitational force, one that has brought Pancho and his family to this fabulous spot along the river.
Before I write another word: What you need to know about the region, and perhaps all of Chile, is just how young it is in terms of its history as a fly-fishing destination. No doubt things have changed, and they’re changing as I write. Still, I dare anyone to show me anyplace that has more good water, and more good trout, with so few anglers chasing them, than where I am right now.
Approaching dusk on the day of my arrival at Los Torreones, we crept in Pancho’s truck past cattle and sheep, goats and horses and, off in the distance, a swarm of hunting dogs. Heavy wooden gates swung open and closed again; stands of broadleaf evergreens punctuated the lush pastures. Pancho and his son, Sebastian, will be giving Marc Whittaker and me a look at this section of the Simpson.
A first glimpse makes my eyes bulge.
It’s such classic dry-fly water, the kind every traditionalist or classicist or old fogey loves to see, that I have to pause and wonder what I’ve done in my life to deserve it.
Rises show long before I’m able to come up with an answer.
“Right up there,” says Sebastian, pointing toward a spot where current curls around a grey log poking into the river. “It’s a good one.”
We both search the bank, looking for a spot free of obstructions, somewhere I can launch a cast. Downstream, Marc and Pancho wade across the river, pulling up the tops of their waders. The bank below me is steep, sandy clay to water’s edge.
One step and, whoosh, up to my ankles – a lucky descent that impresses Sebastian once he hears from me, in a whisper, that I’m not hurt in any way.
A couple of decent casts slip below the tip of the log, the line landing too far into the current, dragging the fly away from the lie.
Then one drops as it should, the fly stays right where it needs to stay, and the trout, oh my the trout, eats just as we always wish it would.
Back at the lodge, we sit in over-stuffed chairs under high vaulted ceilings, drinking pisco sours while awaiting another late meal that means we won’t be getting to bed again until tomorrow.
Gray’s Angling Editor Scott Sadil has decided this year that white Christmases are highly overrated.