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Living My Dream
By Lou Lagrave

In early 2005 I returned from a trip which had many of my relatives and friends worrying that I would be  kidnapped for ransom, lost in the wilds of the jungle, robbed and killed by bandits, or all of the above.  

It seems that for as far back as I can remember I have had both a love of fly fishing for trout and the urge to travel and explore. As my life progressed, fishing stories from Alaska, New Zealand and Argentina turned my urges into dreams. 

It was these dreams which led me to type the words, “Fly Fishing – Patagonia” into my Internet search engine one evening a few months ago. From there I began exploring the possibilities of Patagonia in both Argentina and Chile. After some research and inquiries, I settled upon an excursion that would take me deep into a primitive region of the Patagonian Andes of both Argentina and Chile.

Fly fishing on the Rio Puelo in Chile - January, 2005

The trip to my destination, the Rio Puelo in Chile, began with a ride to the Phoenix airport at 10:30 AM one Thursday, and ended at 9:15 PM the next day. With the 4 hour time difference, it was almost a 31 hour trip involving a car, 3 planes, a taxi, a jeep ride and a 2 hour boat ride across a stormy lake, a river and another lake. Of my 6 scheduled flights on the round trip, 2 were 1-2 hours late and 1 was canceled due to an ice storm in Atlanta.  Was it worth it? You bet!

After arriving in Buenos Aires, I shuttled to the local airport and flew to Bariloche Argentina, an alpine type ski town on a large lake at the foot of the Andes. During the January to March summer it teems with a mixture of wealthy cabin owners from Buenos Aires, nature loving students and European tourists. Of the similar resort areas in the US, it reminded me of the Ketchum-Sun Valley area in Idaho.

I was met at the Bariloche airport by Kent Schoenauer, the American born 35 year resident of Argentina who pioneered boat travel into this region of Chile about 7 years ago. Prior to that, the only way to make the 30 mile trek was by foot or horseback, and many of the natives still travel that way. We drove about an hour and a half through the beautiful Lake District of Patagonia to the small mountain town of El Bolson. (Argentineans are like people in southern California. Distances are measured in time, not miles or kilometers.)

From El Bolson, we drove down to nearby Lake Puelo, and pushed off into the Lake, hoping to avoid an approaching storm. I’d like to say that we made it, but the wind driven rain pelted my guide, Eduardo, and me during the crossing. Two lakes, a short river and 30 miles later, we made it to the lodge, a small cluster of cabins on the Rio Puelo at a place called Segundo Corral. I was the only guest at the clean 2 cabin lodge, so I had the river and the 2nd lake, Lake Interior, to myself. A few locals from surrounding villages would occasionally be spotted along the river banks, fishing with tin cans, nylon line and a large spoon lure made to imitate a fish. I’m happy to say that with my $500 fly rod outfits I was actually able to catch more fish than the guys with the tin cans!

Pound for pound, these were strongest trout I have ever encountered. Ranging in size from 16 to 18 inches, the Rainbows and German Browns gave tremendous fights when hooked, making several long runs against the drag. I have caught 24 inch fish on the Kenai River in Alaska which I was able to land and release faster than any of the fish on the Rio Puelo.

Landing a Brown Trout on the Rio Puelo in Chile - 2005

A typical Brown Trout from the Rio Puelo

The big river is fished mostly from a small aluminum boat with a guide, although I was able to do some wading in the open areas. Every afternoon we would break for an incredible lunch at 2:00 PM, which I would usually follow with siesta. At 5:00 PM, we were back on the water until about 10:00 when the sun goes down. Evening hatches were great for fishing dry flies. Another epicurean meal prepared by the chef and off to bed around midnight. Our young cook, Tano, was an Argentinean who attended cooking schools in both Buenos Aires and France, and every meal featured some of his original and very tasty creations. I had hoped to lose a few pounds through mountain exercise, but after Tano’s cooking, I‘m afraid to check the scales.

For 5 days I explored the waters of the area with my guides, taking beautiful fish every day, regardless of the weather, which was sometimes windy and wet, and other times brilliantly sunny and calm. With clear skies, we could see the snow covered peaks of the Andes, many of which still harbor wild condors.

The bottom line was great fishing, great food, nice accommodations in the middle of nowhere and a beautiful wilderness covered with huge cypress trees and Douglas firs, along with other smaller native plant life.

We made the trip out with the wind at our backs on a sunny day, so it was much more pleasant than the trip into Chile. Kent again drove me from El Bolson to Bariloche, where I bid him goodbye and spent the night in a room overlooking the nearby lake. The next day was the end of the dream and back to reality as I made my way to Buenos Aires and the States. This was an experience which I will always remember and for which I will be ever so grateful to have had the opportunity to fulfill one of my dreams.

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