by Zach lazzari
It all started off on the wrong foot. I was a little burnt out on the travel sequences; guiding, serving, working the rivers more than I was fishing them. The social aspect, the endless game of show and tell in a pasttime where secrets are gold leads to wondering and second guessing your means of spending time on the water. But it was my choice and a good one to make, return to South America for a second summer of guiding (or a fourth summer depending on how you count them). If anyone reading this had the option, they might wonder how I could have had any doubts about the decision. The money swings, work loads and drain on relationships are all swirling around the cerebrums of most career guides. That and the fact that I miss the hell out of my dog when I leave the country. But then it happens...Well, it happens a bit later. Let's backtrack for a second.
After being grounded in Dallas for mechanical trouble and missing the Miami connection, I immediately sought out the nearest airport bar and ordered their tallest IPA along with a double Bushmills. I made quick work of the two while weighing the options and leaving messages on the dead phone of my fellow guide, friend and travel partner. He was already a few drinks deep, seated on the plane we should have been sharing. I could hear a hint of time spent at the airport bar in his last message, ”I'm next to your seat...on the plane...where the hell are you?”
I talked to the boss seeking solutions, fought with the airlines and made the next connection to Santiago. I had a two hour window until the next flight so I doubled back for another round before settling into a 10 hour ride to Santiago, followed by an uneventful 2 hour ride to the midway city of Puerto Montte. Miraculously, Mark and our Chilean manager Patricio were waiting at the airport, in our lodge truck. The year prior, we followed the long flight with 10 hours of grocery and hardware stores before a 14 hour ferry ride to Chaiten (our base town with limited supplies). This year, I was hoping to skip the ferry and jump another plane to our locale. No such luck.
We were lucky though, the missed flight disrupted the shopping schedule and we spent the night in a comfortable hotel. We even had time to walk the city and track down a pitcher of Escudo (great beer) although I did spend a good chunk of the evening battling a language barrier to explain the value of ranch dressing to the new Dominoes Pizza Chain next to our hotel.
We met Patricio at the truck at 5 am and he told us the ferry to Chaitan was broken, taking away our option for a direct route to the port. We hit the road (option 2), driving the bumpy dirt Austral Highway with intermittent short ferry rides for the entire day. It was a long beautiful haul.
So here we are, back to the, “Then it happens...” The climax. Truth is, settling back into the rhythm of a lodge takes a few days. You sleep weird (dreams are an odd thing), the food tastes different and the work load is large and sudden. We had a short four day trip with some Chilean clients. The fishing was great for them and between fish caught and poor attempts at deciphering their Spanish conversations, my immediately reality took hold.
I was sunburned in December, surrounded by glacier covered mountains and clean water. I watched an 8-pound trout sip rusty mayfly spinners off a glass lake surface with the same casual nature as I eat dinner rolls during Thanksgiving dinner. The next day I watched a 5-pound brown chase down a streamer in the river with the same intensity as an MMA fighter swinging for a knockout. I ran a boat under power through dangerous, log strewn sections of the Yelcho River for the first time since last season here and I found my rhythm with the river again.
The season is just getting started but all of the sudden, it feels great to be in Chile again. Patagonia has exceptional scenery, great fishing and a culturally rich environment. It is a place where small segments of new asphalt provide short periods of relief from long dusty stretches of the Austral Highway. Where the occasional gaucho on horseback crosses paths with the occasional backpacker from the United States or Europe. They might nod heads to say hello and if both speak Spanish, they just might talk about the fishing.
Zach is a freelance writer, photographer and fly fishing guide from Missoula, Montana. He spends his winters guiding in Patagonia and is a featured contributor to The Journal on FlyBox.