World Wide Fishing!

Futaleufu Chile, March 2004

By David Briscoe

My brother Harry Briscoe is the owner of Hexagraph Fly Rods and invited me to accompany him on what has become for him an annual trip to Futaleufu Lodge in southern Chile. Harry met lodge owner and author Jim Repine at a trade show years ago and have become good friends. This will be Harry's 9th season. Our trip lasted a week and took place in late March 2004.

Jim Clarkson who is the owner of Raptor Rod works in Chico, Ca. and is my brother's rod builder for Hexagraph would be traveling with me. He started his trip earlier in the day in Sacramento and he and I hooked up in the waiting area for our flight from DFW to Santiago. After a few pleasantries and conversation about what to expect on our trip we boarded our flight and split up since I was lucky enough to have upgraded to business class and Jim relugated to the back of the plane with the peasants.

Business class is nice; the only way to go. Unfortunately it's a night flight departing at 10:00 pm and it's not possible for the early to bed early to risers like me to take full advantage of all the perks. Perk number one was a preflight drink, not something I normally do but it is included. Perk number 2 came as a small toiletry kit that contained all anyone needed for an overnight trip; everything from a toothbrush and paste to socks, ear plugs an eye mask and a small spray bottle of face refresher (my wife said it was a spritzer, whatever that was, it did feel good).

Next came a menu with the 3 choices of entrée's, various appetizers and deserts all of which I wanted but chose to pass on in lieu of sleep. Sleep was a good idea, since by the time this flight and the connecting one was over I'd have been up for 36 hours, but the flight attendant had other plans, as she came down the isle with a portable DVD player and a library of about 20 titles for my own personal use. Again this was in direct conflict with my plans for sleep but it was a perk, so I picked one, plugged it in and enjoyed the viewing pleasures of a 7" screen.

Now I had done a little nibbling on a few food items that I could not resist but I was pushed over the willpower edge when along came hand scooped hot fudge sundaes, I figured what a better bedtime snack and I was right.

Sleep at last, not a lot of sleep, but sleep. Even in the big leather covered reclining foot-rested seats sleeping is not the easiest thing to do, but a soft pillow and fleece blanket do make it a little easier. Jim told me later that he tried to muscle his way into the vacant seat next to me but I was out cold and the flight attendant apparently protected me from the nefarious riff-raff from the rear of the plane.

Friday morning I awoke somewhat refreshed and thanks to an attendant with a cup of coffee and my handy new toiletry case full of the nice variety of refreshing toiletry items I was quickly re-refreshed and ready for, that's right, more food.

Breakfast was somewhat of a let down given all the choices from the night before but I settled on what appeared to be a cross between an omelet and a ham and cheese croissant, fruit and some unusual orange type juice, which continued to re-appear from time to time during our trip each time I expected orange juice. Breakfast is complete and we were ready to land.

Jim and I hooked up again in the terminal and promptly got into the wrong line for Customs and entry fee but Jim quickly identified our error and we headed to the pay $100.00 (American) that is required before entering Chile and before you get to go to any other line. Chile requires all visitors to pay upon arrival; it's seems kind of like getting into Disneyland. Pay once and that's it. (It is good for 10 years should you ever go again.) We decided we needed some Chilean money so we stopped at a kiosk and did that and from there picked up our bags and went to Customs where Jim was in a quandary on a question on the entry form as to whether his cigarettes constituted a plant he was bringing into the country. We got through with no problems but even though your baggage is checked through to your final destination you must pick it up prior to going through Customs then recheck it before your next flight. We were greeted by a nice baggage man who wished to relieve us of some of our newly acquired Chilean money in exchange for getting us to our next gate. This turned out to be a good thing since we really could not afford the time of getting lost or misrouted.

Flight from Santiago to Puerto Montt

The plane from Santiago to Puerto Montt is operated by Lan Chile. They used to be state owned but now are 80% private and do a fine job. Good people and good service and my second encounter with the unusual and still unidentified orange drink.

 Hotel O'Grimm Arriving in Puerto Montt around noon we were met by Eugeno, the son of Virginia, a local travel agent who serves as a handler in Puerto Montt for the lodge. Eugeno took us to the Hotel O'Grimm, got us checked in and told us he'd see us tomorrow around noon for our flight to Chaiten.

Jim and I cleaned up and hit the town. Our first stop was to try to find the local farmers market to buy some local items to appease the generous souls we live with back in the states (and who were kind enough to allow us to make this trip). Our first attempt at a cab took us to the docks where the cruise boats load and unload and though this was not what we expected, we did find an open-air "phone store" where we were able to check in with those we left back home.

Puerto Montt waterfront

These phone stores are generally a shop where you go in, give the proprietor the number you want to call; they dial it and send you to a booth where you pick up the phone and are connected. This one however was a guy on the dock with a bank of 15 cordless phones where he dialed the number then handed you the phone, .50 cents a minute. Not a bad deal. A guy overheard our talking about the market that turned out to be a cabbie that spoke more English than we spoke Spanish and was able understand where we were headed. He took us there and kindly relieved us of more of our Chilean money.

Fish market The market begins with a fish market at a boat dock that is comprised of a series of small kiosks some with fish only and others with fish and a small, and I mean small, restaurant.

The restaurant might consist of only one table and a few chairs where I guess the special of the day depends on whether the boats back yet.


Both sides of the street leading up to the fish market are lined by small wooden kiosks which house various versions of the same things, Wool sweaters, carved wooden items and other nick-nacks that are aggressively hawked to the bus loads of tourists apparently from the cruise ship that anchored in the harbor.

After we had walked the entire line of shops and decided that each was about the same as the last, we settled on a couple of items and headed for some local libation. We found a small bar, I guess, that had about 5 tables filled with smoking locals drinking beers, sodas and some of that unidentified orange stuff I referred to earlier. We sat and were promptly waited on by a kindly old gentleman who fully understood my command of the Spanish language, "cervesa's por favor."

Water Taxi We caught what we thought was another cab driven by a young man who did not understand us and did not understand where we wanted to go but we did drop off the kid he had with him when he picked us up so we figured we had just done our good deed for the day by paying for this kids ride. After a wild ride though the back streets of the city we emerged into an area we recognized so we decided we had gone far enough and talked him into letting us out. We figured the costs of the 3 cab rides up to that point were about the same as buying the car outright.

Eugeno had told us about a great restaurant where he worked and recommended we have dinner there. Unfortunately not another resident of Puerto Montt had ever heard of the place and even though each tried to tell us how to get there, we never did and wound up back at our hotel where we enjoyed a fine dinner. Well at least I did. Jim had attempted to sample every variation of tequila that was lined up behind the bar but unfortunately the tequila lasted longer than Jim did and the bartender performed the last rites on what was left of him at about 9. I pushed him towards his room and hoped I'd see him in the morning.

It's Saturday morning and I feel Jim looks surprisingly agile considering what he had gone through the night before, not to mention what had gone through him. Anyway, I was in the restaurant when he flowed through the door and began the day in a considerable different manner than he had ended the one before.

We sat there admiring the fog covered morning and talking to Felix O. Grimm, the owner of the hotel who was with his wife. Felix is a very interesting fellow who is a local guy who went away to school and returned to buy this hotel and become a successful businessman.

Marching band My brother Harry, who had been fishing at Bella Vista in Tierra del Fuego the week before and was arriving from Buenos Aires that morning so we were wondering if we'd see him before we were to leave on our next flight. Jim and I were enjoying our complimentary breakfast of espresso, cheeses and pastries when Harry walks into the restaurant. Eugeno had picked him up at the airport and dropped him with us until time for our flight to Chaiten about three hours later. We finished breakfast, packed and wandered the streets while we waited for Eugeno and our next flight.

eet's a guud plane

The type of plane for the flight to Chaiten depends on how much is going; that means luggage and people. The schedule is dictated by how full the plane is. Our entire batch of luggage was weighed when we checked in and an additional fee is paid for going over whatever their limit is for the day. For this trip it was the 3 of us, another person we did not know, and the pilot so that meant the smaller plane which is a twin engine 6 seat job which the pilot announced when we climbed in "eet's a guud plane".

The luggage is distributed between the 2 planes that were going and was stuffed into every open crack crevasse in the plane. We all climbed in and then stuffed Jim into a seat next to all the luggage. He never could find his seat belt but I told him if we crashed, he'd most likely be found with the luggage and besides it might be good padding.

Puerto Montt to Chaiten

Runway in sight The overcast had not yet lifted so the hour long flight was somewhat uneventful as far as sightseeing went but we could still see the mountains and some coastline from time to time and as we approached Chaiten we made a sweeping banked left turn against a mountain at the end of the runway and curled our way into this very tropical looking coastal town.

When we landed a small group of folks immediately attacked the baggage and unloaded it from the 2 planes. We then made mad dashes around both looking for ours and getting them into the hands of the infamous Juan Carlos, driver extraordinar.

Light lunch

Juan Carlos has been with the lodge quite a few years and apparently knows about 80% of the people in the entire country. I'll bet we didn't pass a half dozen people in the week we rode with him that he didn't honk at, roll down the window and yell at or otherwise make contact with. He owns a mechanic shop in Futaleufu and can fix anything, anywhere from whatever is on hand. He immediately announced that it was time for lunch so we headed into Chaiten to his favorite lunch spot.

Of course he knows the lady who runs it and sat us down and ordered a slab of fresh pan fried fish filet and fries and a Fanta to wash it down. They love the orange stuff down there.

Chaiten Harbor

Jungle Chaiten is a small fishing village of about 1500 souls nestled in a flat spot on the coast surrounded by heavily foliaged mountains. I say foliaged because it's comprised of trees, bamboo, large leafed plants and who knows what; very dense, very thick, very much like a tropical rain forest but not quite as tropical. We wondered if you could get even 30 yards walking into it.

Last of the pavement

The road to Futaleufu starts out as a nice black top but after about 10 to 15 miles turns to well maintained gravel.

They still call it a highway but it's just your basic gravel road. For the next week the only pavement we'll see will be on the bridges. As we drive inland the mountains continue to rise on all sides and it is not long before we began to see glacier after glacier.

Our 1st glacier This is where all the water comes from and boy is there lots of water. At one point we pass the remains of a DC-3 airplane that apparently landed on the road some years back and could not take off again so the locals moved it across the ditch and turned it into a house, fireplace, curtains and all.

Just a plane house

We come to a unique bridge at the outflow of Velcho Lake (yell-co). A huge natural lake surrounded on all sides by glacier topped mountains.

Lake Velcho bridge

This natural lake is almost 30 miles long and we continue along side of it for quite a ways, then leave its view and return to it in another 10 to 15 miles.

Lake Velcho

The lake and surrounding mountains were cut by glaciers and you can readily see the many unique "U" shaped valleys one after another.

At the small town of Villa San Lucia (the site an old Chilean military compound that we feel has never been attacked) we turn towards Futaleufu and arrive about 4:00 pm. Juan Carlos takes us for a quick spin around the place honking at each and every passerby waving and yelling at most of them. We pass his repair shop were a half a dozen guys are almost working and he honks and yells again. A young girl is biking down the street and we stop and meet his daughter Nagalie. After a stop at a couple of shops looking for film for Jim's camera we head towards the lodge.

Just outside of town a military officer flags us down and J.C. (who of course knows him) discusses things with him and on we move on. The Argentine government closes the border (which is only a few miles distant) each day at a certain time and since Futaleufu is the last town before the border the officer does not let anyone through that cannot make it before the closure. We're turning off this main road as soon as we leave town so we're not affected.

Just outside of town we cross the bridge we turn downriver and begin what is one of the most unique stretches of road (if you can call it that) we'll travel all week. The valley is split into a few different parts separated by steep mountains that the river has cut through making for some very dramatic canyons and whitewater. The road leads into a valley that is home to about 30 families. Since the suspension bridge down river fell in a few years ago, this road is the only way these people can get to and from town and they have only 3 methods of which to do that; 4 wheel drive vehicle, horse or on foot and to my knowledge the lodge has the only motor vehicles in the valley.

The Road? The word road is stretching that description to its limit. The first few miles the road is a road, a rough one, but still a road, then it becomes a wide trail that has been hand made, cut into the mountain side and shaped with shovels, tree trunks rocks and boulders. At times it's just up and over bare rock; at others it's through deep cuts and gouges where the side of the road is a few inches from the side mirrors. We have to pass through a few gates from time to time but as steep as the cliff is and as thick as the foliage is on either side, I can't imagine how anything could get around if not on the road.

Walk about

At one point we're forced out of the truck to walk over a particularly sensitive spot. This spot has a log laid horizontal to the cliff side of the road supported by a vertical upside down tree trunk wedged into the mountain below the road. This supports the road that has been filled with rock and dirt. It seems Sonia, the lodge owner's wife, had a dream once of a group of fishermen going over the 500 foot cliff here and since then, everyone walks. Where you'll end up if you go over Everyone that is except for Juan Carlos who must drive the truck. Harry suspects that in Sonia's dream J.C. was apparently expendable. The river far below is a piece of the stretch that is F5 whitewater that is almost impassable; it's quite a way down, you wouldn't stop for a while if you went over here. It's a nasty spot but the guides tell us there are other spots that are more unstable than this.

Just a few hundred feet from Sonia's drop off is an interesting spot. If one had not just come down the road you would swear it ended here on the rock face. It doesn't even remotely resemble a road or a trail for that matter, barely wide enough for the truck. The driver hugs the vertical side of the "road" as the outside wheels spin and catch on the solid rock ledge. As soon as we round the corner a gate appears. A gate, here? To keep what out? A billie goat would have a hard time negotiating this.

These gates are unique too, as with almost everything down here they're hand made from what ever is available. All of the lumber is cut on sight. The gates are constructed like most board gates except with a round log on the pivot side of the gate. The hinges are either cut from a tree trunk with a right angle or a solid piece of plank lumber; a circular hole is then cut into it and that becomes the pivot point. The log end of the gate fits into the 2 hinges with the bottom hinge at a slight angle that allows the gate to swing shut by it own weight.


After a few more miles of your shoulders bouncing off the window, almost stopping, downshifting and an average speed of about 4 miles an hour we hit another piece of the valley, deep ruts in the hand built road, past a few farm houses then towards a sign that says "Welcome Harry Briscoe and Group" Jim and I are apparently "Group."

The Lodge A final gate to open and our world looks little more civilized again. As we round the last corner dusk is settling in and a large group is awaiting our arrival. All hands on deck to greet the new guests, as we begin shaking hands and meeting people, Marcelo (I hate to call him a waiter but...) asks what we'd like to drink. Beer, wine, Pisco Sours, whatever we want and whenever we want. Paz, the lodge owners daughter and Warren a lodge host from Canada who is helping out this summer, both welcome us and begin our orientation to the area. The drivers and lodge workers are busily unloading gear and sorting out who's is what's and what belongs where.

In a few minutes Wayne Bradshaw and Tom Prettyman walked up from the river with their guide G.B. where they had been getting in a little extra fishing time before dinner. Tom is a photographer friend of Harry's from California and Wayne is the sucker he brought with him. Actually Wayne is a wonderful guy, (an investment counselor from southern California), but he'll appreciate the previous remark, so you can imagine how the week went, we hit it off immediately.

We found our rooms and sat around the fire getting to know everyone and had a few drinks, Marcelo brought around appetizers and more drinks and then we were called to dinner. Meals down here are fabulous, period. Everything down here is fabulous.

Next time, the fishing! ~ David

More South American Fly Fishing:

Peacock Bass in Brazil (Brasil)
Dorados in Argentina
Argentine Patagonia - Introduction
Argentine Patagonia - Part 2
Argentine Patagonia - Part 3
Argentine Patagonia - Part 4
Argentine Patagonia - Part 5
Argentine Patagonia - Part 6
A True Chilean Adventure
Futaleufu, Chile, Part 1
Futaleufu, Chile, Part 2

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