When the previous blog ended, Parker and I were readying ourselves for a day on a newly discovered body of water with Benjamin Beale.
When will left the Encuentro Lodge mid afternoon and began to ascend a small pass to the secret stretch of water, we found ourselves in the middle of snow flurries. Not to be deterred by freezing temperatures, we continued on towards the river. The three of us got a very late start to the day but it was immediately apparent that Ben had taken us somewhere very special.
Not more than ten casts into the day, I had moved the first fish and within another ten minutes we were reeling in our first monster brown. The day continued in much the same style...blasting fast pocket water with massive streamers and watching enormous browns explode on our offerings. The river was very reminiscent of one of my favorite creeks in Montana and instantly took it's place as one of my favorite rivers in Argentina.
The Caraterra Austral (two words synonymous for the best f#@*%ing touring cycling on the planet) lived up to it's reputation and offered up some of my favorite stretches of road to date.
The scenery and fishing provided us with the two biggest distractions. I found it difficult to go a full kilometer without jumping off my bike to take photos. We spent time at every river crossing to evaluate the water and look for feeding fish. It was not unusual for one of us to impulsively rig up a fly rod and go crashing through the thick vegetation (still wearing our helmet) to place a cast into the most enticing waters. To date there has only been one location were we did not move a fish.
This sea run brown was caught in an estuary while standing no more than three feet from the roadway. It was my first sea run to date and from what we have been told a “pretty damn good fish” for the area.
When we arrived in Coyhaique we once again met up with Justin who was forced to resort to old fashioned hitch hiking after his bike and gear had became so water logged that he could no longer pedal. We settled into a local hostel and by some sort of divine intervention I received an email from a Montana friend who wanted to see if we had reached Coyhaique. As it turns out he had a local buddy, Carlos, who was ready to meet up with us, show us the town and take us fishing. It's phenomenal how these things work out sometimes.
Within minutes we were in Carlos' car headed to a local establishment, to share some stories and plan the following days fishing trip. Excited to mix things up and jazzed at the prospect of hooking into something huge, we made plans to go after a local run of Chinook Salmon. A run that has slowly started to take hold in a small river just outside of town. The day was great but we were preparing to walk away skunked when Carlos came though in the clutch with some massive spinning gear and triggered an explosion of a hit from a healthy chinook. Thanks to Carlos' fishing skills and hospitality we left Coyhaique having over indulged and over eaten. Once again chance placed us into the life of a new friend and once again we were overwhelmed by generosity. We both hope to see Carlos' again soon.
Fortunately our time with Carlos transitioned flawlessly (save a massive hangover) into our visit to Tomango Lake Lodge with Skip, the owner and proprietor of Nic Fin Outfitters. A friend of a friend put us into contact with Skip and something about our adventure struck a cord with him. Skip offered us a once in a life time opportunity to join him at his lodge. We helped Skip with a few minor chores and in return he blew our minds. Nothing could have prepared us for the experiences that Skip shared with us.
Without talking too much about the specific fisheries I will say that Skip has access to fishing and fish that I only dreamed existed. I am talking about browns as long as your arm that would want nothing more than to eat your hummingbird sized dry fly. Our time on the water with Skip was semi limited due to the insane “w” word. See photo:
But we were able to get more than a sampling of something so, so special.
There is something so wrong but so right about a 20 plus inch brown doing aerial acrobatics to eat a huge foam dry fly. The lodge has it all, the scenery, the fishing, and the comforts but does not jeopardize a true South American / Patagonian experience.
We left Coyhaique on the second half of the Caraterra Austral. I wasn't sure if there was anyway to top the scenery of the first half but true to form the Austral continued to get better and better. The pictures can do it more justice than my descriptions.
By the last day of the Austral we resorted to actually riding with rigged fly rods in hand which allowed us to hit every body of water we crossed. It does not get much better than only spending five minutes on your bike to get to a completely new fishery. Every drainage ditch, every creek, every pond and every lake held fish.
This fish was particularly memorable because it was spotted while riding and hooked from the seat of my bicycle.
Where the Careterra Austral ends in Villa O'Higgins; our adventure began.
South of town we hopped onto a ferry that shuttled us across Lago San Martin, visiting O'Higgins glacier on the way and dropped us at the beginning of a horse track that lead over the Andes and back into Argentina.
There were large sections of road that were unridable by loaded touring bike but we were prepared for it and were able to take our time and really enjoy the experience. Once again I will rely on the photos to do the talking...
Our first glimpse of the mighty Mt. Fitzroy
When we arrived at the north end of Lago Del Desierto we were greeted with surreal views of Mt Fitzroy.
We liked the spot so much that we decided to hang out for an extra day even despite the fact that we were totally out of food. Thanks to the abundance of rainbows in the lake we easily sustained ourselves.
From the lake we had a short ferry ride and forty kilometers of dirt to El Chalten. We arrived in El Chalten on New Years Eve and spent and uneventful but perfect evening with some Argentinian wine and a couple of kilos of steaks.
As it turned out our friend La Paz Kevin was also spending New Years in El Chalten and despite our attempts to spend the holidays together Justin had somehow managed to end up in Villa O'Higgins (the southern most town on the Careterra Austral) with no money for the ferry of food. Kevin, Parker and I hit the road on New Years with plans to reunite with Justin somewhere close to Puerto Natales.
Leaving El Chalten marked a dramatic change in the scenery. We traded the jagged spires of Mt Fitzroy...
and the lush vegetation near Lago Del Desierto....
for the pampa, which reminded us a lot of the altiplano in Bolivia, leaving us completely exposed to the elements, particularly the WIND. By mere chance we managed to avoid the wind for the first couple of days. As we approached Puerto Natales it decided to rear it's ugly head. For roughly 170 kms we battled through head and cross winds which topped out at about 100kms per hour. Thanks to our naïvety we thought we had seen the worst.