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Both Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas are towns that were established in the 1550’s. More specifically, they were established as port towns. Puerto Varas is located at one end of a large lake, Lake Llanquihue. This port was an important link in a pathway to the interior of Chile until a road around the lake was constructed. Puerto Montt is a marine port that is the start of that pathway.
Puerto Montt is only about 15 miles from Puerto Varas and it is considered to be quite scenic with some reference to Switzerland. I did not see much of the area, in part, because the weather was a bit sketchy while we were there. Karel did take a tour of Puerto Montt and reported that it was pleasant and viewed the port area and fishing boats and enjoyed the tour of the fish market – I am sure I would have enjoyed a visit to the fish market but I was off looking for live fish.
We had no preorganized activity scheduled for this day but Karel and others quickly found a half day tour of Puerto Vara and the neighbor town of Puerto Montt but Jane and our local contact worked quickly and hard, with very short notice, to discover and arrange a day long fishing trip for me. This turned out to be not a magical trip highlight for me, but certainly, an interesting, unique experience.
We would float 15 kilometers of a 120 kilometer river and expect to catch rainbow and brown trout and possibly, Atlantic salmon. Nicholas, the guide and oarsman, spoke or understood very little English. In fact, I spoke more Spanish than he, English so you can imagine what a serious handicap we had in communicating.
The river itself was fairly nondescript. It originated from a lake just upstream from our launch site and a town was huddled around the stream outlet. Thus, the first ¼ to 1/3 of our trip included an exhibit of human discards: refrigerators, plastic bottles and bags, a sofa, and more. These diminished as we moved downstream but some continued to persist. This was not a bubbling mountain stream that comes to mind when one thinks of trout fishing but, rather, a jungle river. Most of the shoreline was solidly wooded with small, medium, and tall trees and dense underbrush. Much of the shoreline vegetation was flooded. There was little pool - riffle development and the channel was quite U-shaped with large cobble or streaming vegetation as a substrate. Surprisingly little woody debris in the stream.
As a balance between the fish and the conditions, the gear of choice was a 6 weight rod and 6 wt sinking line with a sink tip. The fly was an olive wooly bugger with a cone head, some flash and rubber legs. The cast was angling downstream, close to brush and into pockets. Try to get deep but retrieve with quick short strips. Pretty basic.
Solid rain as we started. It alternated with more rain, sun, clouds, and wind as we drifted downstream in our old, aluminum McKenzie drift boat. The oars were conventional length, old, wooden oars. The landing net was an old aluminum, short handle, frame with a knotted mono bag.
It seemed to start slow, but before too long, I landed a nice plump brown trout. About 10 in. Then rainbows. These came fairly frequently and often. Most were 10 in. or smaller in length. Most were in excellent condition and most showed more spunk for their smaller size. A couple proved to be smaller than their tugs and jumps would suggest. These, we dubbed “poco-grande”, or “little big one.” (At least, I think that is the translation. And Nicholas did chuckle over this.)
Another brown. A nice one. About 14 inches. The best fish of the trip so far but before long, a hard hit by a strong fish. A serious jumper. It cleared the water by 2 -3 feet. Silver bright. “Salar?” Dark spots along the back and tail. But it did not look not look like an Atlantic salmon. “Miliska!” “Steelhead!” about 16 – 17 inches. Some more rainbows. A long dry spell. Finally, another fish. “No mas.” No more. I had had enough. About 1/3 into the trip, a guide on the rod became loose. Nicholas had swapped out the 6-wt for a 9-wt (but still the 6wt line). I was tired. It is good news and bad news to be the only angler. Good news – you are always fishing. Bad news – you are always fishing. No taking turns and no breaks. Besides, I had caught enough fish for one day.
I said, “No mas”. Nicholas said, “no mas!?!” with incredibility. “Si, no mas.” “Okay.” But wait!! Look there!!! A whole pod of good sized fish that turned out to be more steelhead. I landed another six or eight fish; one, of which was a solid 24 inches long and “four or five pounds”.
It was a good day. Tiring, but good. Nicholas and I independently guessed that I had landed about 30 fish. The owner-operator could hardly believe that I had caught so many in one day.
This was a good experience. Hardly pristine, but another good day on the water, trying something different, and working with Nicholas as a fishing team, not just two people. Lots of birds: egrets, herons, kingfishers, ducks, cormorants… and many bird calls and songs almost constantly. The weather was mostly rainy but it alternated between benign, rain and clear most all day. I wore rain gear and kept dry until I took it off and sat back down on a soggy boat cushion.
It was a good day.