Journal of Dan T. Cook - Fly Fishing the Globe
Traveling 75,000 miles around the world in search of fish and friendship.
Date: January 14, 2008 - Location: Coyhaique, Chile
Greetings from Coyhaique! I've been hanging out here in the trout fishing capitol of Chile for about two weeks now and have enjoyed every minute of it. The area around Coyhaique offers something for every fisherperson: 100 fish-a-day rivers, brown trout rivers, rainbow trout rivers, big trout lakes, bigger big trout lakes..... The point is that there is a lot of fishing opportunities. Oh....... and there is a nice King salmon river too!
Before I get too far into this update, I better mention that my laptop suddenly died. There was no warning signs, no ill symptoms, nothing. One day it is working just fine, the next day I pressed the "ON" button and nothing happened. Since I don't know computer CPR, I left it alone in the corner of the lodge hoping that whatever bad happened to it would miraculously reverse itself. It didn't. Subsequently, this update is short on the breathtaking pictures which normally accompany an update.
Okay..... so upon arriving in Coyhaique I meet Dan Herrig, a native Oregonian who guides part of the year at home, part of the year in King Salmon, Alaska and part of the year in Coyhaique. Dan then introduced me to his boss, Fred Yules. Fred was a long-time Alaska guide and now owns the Campo Chileno lodge just outside of town. Fred first came to Chile over 20 years ago to explore the fishing. He found it and ended up staying. Aside from one or two locals, Fred knows more about the fishing in and around Coyhaique than anyone.
After passing a few "can he keep a secret" tests (or perhaps I just couldn't remember?), Fred directed me to a few fishing spots. Many of the instructions were prefaced with "I haven't fished here in 5 or 6 years, but I used to catch 10 pound trout...." Fred's business is based primarily around dry fly fishing for Rainbows, so even though the fishing is incredible in some areas, they don't fit his business so he rarely (very rarely) visits them anymore. Bad for him, good for me! The first lake I visited yielded a nice 9 pound Brown (photo in the dead laptop). The next lake I visited was similar. Then I stopped by the Rio Simpson to pull out a couple of nice Rainbows and a 7 pound Brown. Then I decided to try the upper Simpson for King salmon.......
It was a typical day for the area; sunny and windy. I was fishing 350 grain sink tip, which was a bit much for the river and I lost 2 flies on snags and 2 more flies when I stupidly tried to "feed" the line into a couple of pools and found snags instead. The wind was howling and I was getting a bit irritated with the lack of evidence of fish. Dan had told me that I'd need to cover a lot of water, but after 5.5 hours of nothing but snags and wind, I was nearing the end of my patience. At the exact time I was thinking "Rio Simpson, the river of a 1,000 casts..." I felt a strike and lifted the rod. On the other end I could feel a big head shake. The fish seemed BIG! The fish was also not moving...... at all. I thought perhaps I had another snag. So I moved down the hole about 15 feet and applied some pressure and there it was again; a big head shake. Eventually the fish moved out of the hole and the chase was on! It made a move downstream and, although I hadn't seen it yet, I began running to the spot where I'd have to cross the river to stay in position to land it. After the crossing and the first set of rapids, I saw the fish. I've never seen anything that big on the end of my line (in freshwater, anyway). I was astonished and slightly disturbed at the same time. "How the hell am I ever going to get that thing to the bank???" The fish seemed perfectly happy just slowly swimming downstream, 10 feet off the bank. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get the 8 wt to turn the fish around. After another 100 yards of running, I thought I had a chance right before another set of rapids. But a single swipe of its big tail and it was heading right down the middle and onto the next pool. All I could do is run after it, holding rod high to avoid clipping the line on the rocks.
Now, about 20 minutes into the fight/run, I saw my opportunity: a small sandy beach. It would be my best chance before the fish got into another set of rapids and into another pool 200 yards downstream. I applied as much pressure as I thought the 13 lb. tippet could handle and it worked! The fish was beached in the sand. Because it was so enormous, I could only pull about a quarter of it up, but it was enough. I ran over, knelt in front of it and went to grab the tail. The problem was the "neck" of the tail was much bigger than my hand—my fingers didn't even begin to turn inward! As soon as I touched it, the fish went ballistic!!! I was trying to keep the big King from sliding back into the water while also trying not to get the snot kicked out of me by a fish. I guess it was sort of like trying to hit a home run with my eyes closed. The fish won.......it slipped out of my grasp, between my feet and back into the river. I grabbed the rod and spun around, expecting the fight to continue, but in our rasslin' match the fly had dislodged. After about 25 minutes and chasing it about a quarter of a mile, it was over.
I had caught a HUGE King salmon, probably around 55-60 pounds, but had no photo to show for it. I had even secretly wanted to catch an outrageously big King. Something that the locals didn't even know existed in the Rio Simpson--something that would shock them. As the wise old investment sage Dennis Gartman says from time-to-time in his advisory letter, "Be careful what you wish for because you might just get it good and hard!" (that was included for all you financial guys sitting at your desks!)
On the upside, I strongly prefer having missed the photo over unintentionally killing the fish. Hopefully the big King will continue on up the river and assist in the continuation of its species. The salmon runs around Coyhaique are still modest, but the recent escape of millions of King and Coho smolt from the fish farms offers the promise of more and more salmon. One day, Coyhaique could be "Kenai of the South."
I can strongly recommend that any serious fly fisherman visit the Coyhaique area. The scenery is incredible, the people are wonderful and the fishing is spectacular! A good place to start would be at Fred's lodge, Campo Chileno (www.campochileno.com). Fred can design a fishing program that suits the preferences of the "pescador."
A big thanks to Fred and his wife Amanda for their hospitality, great food, warm lodge and late evenings of fishing-talk. Also a big thanks to guides Dan Herrig and Phil Black for their advice, tips and beer. Finally, a thank you to Mike Crawford (and George) and Pam and Craig Goldman for allowing me to crash their fishing vacation and share the lodge with them.
Tomorrow I will drive back into Argentina and up to the Esquel area for a couple of weeks. There is no end to the great times in South America!
With the untimely death of my laptop, I will take this opportunity to respond to a few people's inquiries regarding the LandCruiser and details of its set-up and my living quarters.