A Willing Horse and a River Full of Fish
By Gary Lewis
When I booked a February trip with Coyhaique River Lodge in Patagonia, I told owner Gaston Urrejola, that I hoped to ride horseback to access a stream on a nearby estancia. A few days before I boarded the plane to Chile, I told him I wanted to catch a wild trout, on a dry fly, from the back of a horse.
After making sure he heard me right, Gaston chose a stretch of the intimate Coyhaique and a steady Chilean gelding.
I chose a grasshopper/dropper combination on 4x tippet.
It took a few minutes to introduce the fly rod and the net to the horse. After that, the horse was not concerned about the fishing tools.
In the water, simple geometry and concern for the horse dictated we position the animal perpendicular to the current. This allowed a right-handed cast with the fly and line over the rear of the horse. Because of the high position, and the spooky trout, long casts were in order.
Casting upstream and gathering line back caused the coils to gather around the horse's legs, a liability that could have provoked a rodeo. On subsequent casts, I coiled the line in my left hand.
Two fish took the Pheasant Tail, but shook the hook. In the third pool, a trout grabbed the hopper. At the hook-set, a 14-inch rainbow took to the air.
After the second run, I brought it close and then dipped the long-handled net. The trout didn't like the look of the horse and the horse didn't like the look of the fish. They each tried to get away from the other, but my 4x tippet brought them back together.
The horse's handler stepped in to calm the gelding while I concentrated on staying in the saddle and bringing the fish to the net. On dry land, the horse calmed enough for us to net the trout and release it.
Gaston Urrejola and his brother Claudio, the owners of Coyhaique River Lodge, take pride in showing their clients different water every day. Seldom does any lake or stream see more than three or four days of pressure in the season. The guides, Ricardo Ellena and Alejandro Trepiana, speak good English, are adept with boats and are accomplished fly anglers.
The lodge is fully staffed, spacious and comfortable with large rooms and private baths. Breakfast and dinner is served in the formal dining room. The chef prepares meals worthy of the finest restaurants. Lunch is set on the river with tablecloth, silver and wine.
Peak season is January through March when the rivers are in summer shape. Best dry fly and hopper action is in February and March. Temperatures range from the high 50s to the mid-80s.