The fishing was excellent and the living sublime at this unique lodge and working ranch in Chilean Patagonia

There’s a spot in Chilean Patagonia near the confluence of two rivers, one aquamarine-clear and the other the color of earthen tea, where Pancho Salas and his family call home. Both rivers are lined with large, fallen southern beech trees, carnage that stems from a conflagration in the early 1900s that burned more than 7 million acres. This land of mountains and rivers on the west side of the Andes receives 115 inches of annual rainfall. Unlike western U.S. rivers that rely on winter snowpack to deliver cold summer stream flows, these Patagonia rivers receive a steady amount of rain.

Pancho has a thick salt-and-pepper five o’clock shadow, and coarse dark hair flows from under his camouflage hat. We spent the day floating the Aysen River, launching streamers with sink tips to the banks and stripping them back with frenetic energy, often having success. Large rainbows and browns raced after our marabou-laden flies more like saltwater predators than freshwater trout. We also found 20-inch rising rainbows in foam lines near downed beech trees. Still January, it’s a bit early in the season for the monster cantaria beetles, but with a touch of cloud cover gracing us, the daytime caddis and mayfly activity has been strong enough to entice healthy rainbows and occasionally browns to the surface. 

No fancy patterns or light leaders. I fished size 14 or 12 Parachute Adams and 3X or stronger tippet, which these fish tested. There’s no doubt the trout here are stronger than the fish in my Idaho home waters.

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Damn Near Perfect

Here at last was an almost-virgin, freestone stream that looked like the streams that Arnold Gingrich, Ray Bergman and A.J. McClane had written about.

Winter Brown Trout

Holy Water

At the risk of offending the people I fish and break bread with, I’m just going to say it: I don’t get Michigan in the winter.

A long escarpment of red sandstone and shale near Hole in the Wall.

Outlaw Trout

The worst part about driving through most of Wyoming is having to look at it. The state’s office of tourism dissembles.

West Yellowstone

Trout Bums Welcome

It’s clear from the moment I arrive that there aren’t enough dead bugs on my windshield or dirt on my car to be perceived as a serious fly angler here.

Stealth and sweat are part of the game when you’re looking for untrammeled water.

The Right Madness

Our wives told us: If you catch a king, kill it, and we’ll turn it into ceviche tonight. They said: We’ve got all the fixings at the house, then went downstream to fish for trout. Two beautiful women, late in the long Chilean afternoon, about to work up ample appetites.