The new Chilean Fly Fishing Lodge, Chaiten Lodge, in the Chilean Patagonia has
donated trips to the FFF for next summer’s auction at the Conclave in Whitefish. Click
here to learn about what you can anticipate in the way of a great experience.
Chaiten Lodge-How it Came to Be-Why It’s Worth The Trip
The world is filled with beautiful places, must-see places, the Northern Chilean Patagonia
is one of them! One of the most untouched regions in the Patagonia, it is known as
“Region X,” and “the river district.” It is filled with old growth forests, glaciers, pure
water, hot springs, Jurassic-Park-like flora, and one more thing…fish!
In the heart of the river district lies the Yelcho watershed, the largest watershed in the
region. Its primary fisheries are Rio Futaleufu, Lago (or Lake) Yelcho, and Rio Yelcho.
For big water and big fish and a variety of tactics, it doesn’t get much better than the
Yelcho basin. Lake Yelcho is surrounded by glaciered peaks that drop straight into the
lake. The lake is known for an amazing dragon fly season with trophy-size rainbows and
browns and great streamer fishing near its tributaries with fast sinking lines. The lake
empties into Rio Yelcho, a large wild river that is as diverse as any in the world. The
river features huge back eddies where you will sight cast dries to huge schools of 18 to
20-inch fish lazily sipping caddis larvae. The big river offers big opportunities, too. If the
trout aren’t enough, you never know when you might get into a Chinook or a fat
steelhead as you pound the banks and semi-submerged logs with streamers.
It’s no secret-the fishing here is great! The Yelcho watershed has long been touted as one
of Chile’s best to fish. Gonzalo Cortes, the Chilean who wrote the book Fly Fishing
Chilean Patagonia, settled there.
Jim Teeney, reflecting upon his time fishing with Cortes, wrote that the “Chilean
Patagonia has a large number of rivers and lakes where the fishing for rainbow and
brown trout is beginning to be considered among the best in the world. Patagonia is one
of the few places where it is still possible to fish on your own, in the company of nothing
but silence and an impressive scenery.”1
Research also supports the Yelcho Basin as the hot spot for fishing in the Northern
Chilean Patagonia. A 2006 study by an international team sampled 11 large lakes and 105
rivers and streams. Fish abundance approximated in part by “catch rate per hour” showed
the Yelcho to be more than fives times more productive for rainbow trout than any other
lake sampled and the most productive for brown trout, too.2
This is just the beginning! There is the established fly water to the east in Rio Palena and
Rio Frio within a couple hours’ drive. North and south there are many more rivers close
by, most of which rarely see an angler in any given year.
Cortes, Gonzalo. Fly Fishing Chilean Patagonia. Santiago de Chile: Origo Ediciones, 2005
Soto, Doris, et al., “Southern Chile, Trout and Salmon Country: Invasion Patterns and Threats for Native
Species.” Trout and Salmon in Southern Chile. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural 2006; 79: 97-177
So when the opportunity came for Chilean-American Enrique Gaete to purchase land and
carve out a lodge at the end of the best drift on the Yelcho, it was more than he could
resist. Enrique’s close guide friends had long told him this was their favorite area in
Chile. One of them made the introduction necessary for a traditional Chilean land sale.
The Yelcho Valley was not just a good choice for fishing. It was great for logistics, too.
Puerto Montt is the fastest growing city in Chile and it is just about 100 miles north or 40
minutes by plane. Puerto Montt has a commercial airport that has dozen of flights daily
heading north and south, plus top notch medical facilities. Chaiten was the first stop of
the ferry system which could be utilized to bring in construction materials not available in
Chaiten. It also meant that guests had only a half-hour drive once they landed instead of
several hours on a narrow Chilean road, and there were medical, banking, and
communication facilities nearby.
Best of all, Chaiten is the gateway to magnificent parks that have been touched very little
by the hand of man. The ecological disasters in the central and southern Patagonia didn’t
happen here. From 1870 to the 1950s, the central and southern Patagonia were colonized
by fire with nearly 10 million acres destroyed.3 The northern Patagonia was spared in
part by its natural defense of ocean and mountain. Later it would be the home of the
Parque Pumalin, a 700,000-acre park purchased and protected by American
philanthropist Douglas Tompkins in 1991. The park features two giant fjords, Alerces
(the world’s second largest tree), thermal springs, some guest facilities, multiple lakes
and rivers, and the giant Michinmahuida glacier that spawns three rivers. That’s just to
the north! To the south is Corcovado National Park named after the volcano the rises up
from the Pacific. In the Corcovado, gulf blue whales come to calve each year. Further
south is Tic Toc Park with nothing but rarely explored wilderness in between. There was
a lot more to do here than just fish, even if the fishing is world-class.
This was a place that one could develop a family-oriented experience or a place for
people who had multiple interests. One could passively enjoy the area through
photography, bird watching, taking tours, soaking in a hot spring, and short walks to big
trees. More active ventures like rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and longer treks to
touch glaciers and take in views from mountain tops could be arranged, too. Even the die-
hard angler that wants to do nothing but fish can’t help but pause at the beauty around.
Enrique knew he had the support of his well-connected family. His two bright nephews
decided to join the effort, and today they are integral to the lodge’s affairs. Nestor, a
magna cum laude law student and now lawyer, has already argued and won major cases
in Chile. Nestor handles the lodge’s legal and tax business. His brother Ariel is a
classically-trained chef whose forte is the blend of French and South American cuisine.
Ariel’s menu features local specialties Chilean Sea bass, Argentinean Beef, and organic
local produce. Each week’s stay at the lodge will end with a traditional Chilean Asado, a
meal of friendship.
Rodrigo S. Patricio and Orrego S. Juan Pablo., ed Patagonia Chilena Sin Represas! Ocho Libros Editores:
Enrique’s guide friends introduced him to Matt Cocoran, who became the lodge’s
General Manager and Head Guide. An American and banker by trade, Matt was one of
those guys who had a great career going until he discovered fly fishing! He spent time
guiding between Idaho and Chile and spent several stints in Chile full-time, teaching
English during the off-season. At Chaiten Lodge, his love of numbers and fishing blend
where the air is clean, the water is pure, and there’s never a traffic jam.
Guide Jason Schuster joins the staff each year after spending the summer at Enchanted
Lake Lodge in Alaska. Jason learned fly fishing from his father and his toughness from
playing college hockey, both of which serve him well. Jason loves spey casting and he
has found he can get beginner fly casters to have more success with the longer rod. His
three years in Alaska have taught him to be skilled with conventional tackle for salmon as
Guide Marco Garrido teaches at the local high school and directs the “tourism pathway.”
Marco teaches English and teaches young Chileans skills they can use to work in the
ever-growing tourism industry. Marco joins the team during the season and his expertise
of the local parks rounds out our guests’ experience.
Victor Ruiz is a master builder, he can do a lot with very little. Much of the hand-hewn
work around the lodge is Victor’s work. His ingenuity is visible too. He raised our water
tower over 30 feet high using a team of oxen and block and tackle anchored in the top of
trees. Victor can do anything from fix water pressure to small engines.
Early on, Enrique realized that building a family-oriented destination in the Patagonia
from afar was more than a one-person job. He recruited longtime friend Robert Brossfield
as his business partner. Together they designed a central lodge with satellite cabins built
with a magnificent glacier view on the Michinmahuida near the confluence of the Yelcho.
They also maintain a port on the Yelcho for their fleet.
Most of the photographs and creative design in the Chaiten Lodge brochures and web site
were created by Robert. He also oversaw the construction from 6,000 miles away- not
something you’d want to do from home. For example, the showers had to be re-done
three times! It wasn’t a matter of planning, nor money. It was cultural and available
material differences that had to be bridged in order to create a modern yet natural end
result. Learning took place by trial and error to work through a culture barrier to achieve
the desired result The shower issue was resolved by using naturally smooth glacier-
created stones to create an American-sized shower with a natural touch from the
Robert was also instrumental in importing essentials to outfit the lodge. The fleet includes
three 2007 Lund wilderness series boats with Yamaha 4-stroke motors, and three X-14
three man drift catarafts. The first Ford Diesel Excursion was imported to Chile to
provide guests comfort and safety. Furnishings of down featherbeds and Italian-made
cotton-wool blend bedding, custom upholstery, curtains were brought, along with fishing
gear both fly and conventional, life jackets designed for casting, and an electrical power
plant with long-term battery storage and power inverters, things you won’t find at most
outfits in the Patagonia.
Beyond the logistics of building a lodge amidst thick Chilean bureaucracies, Chaiten
Lodge is the type of business the Chilean government wants to see grow in the Patagonia.
A business that will provide local jobs and solidify the economy through high-quality
tourism, which if successful will keep other more destructive forms of industry out of the
As a true mix of Americans and Chileans, Chaiten lodge wants to take a leadership role
in eco-conscious tourism. They are members of the Chaiten Chamber of Commerce and
have as their goal to bring modern standards to an unregulated tourism industry in an area
that is just beginning to develop.
The lodge is open and ready to take you on a trip of a lifetime! For the 2008 season,
Chaiten Lodge is booking just four fishing guests per week, based on double occupancy.
There are two large cabins each with an entrance room with wood burning stove to get in
and out of your waders, a large bedroom with two double beds and a private bath. The
lodge is offering incentive pricing, too. If you have ever wanted to go the Patagonia, you
won’t find a much better deal than Chaiten Lodge is offering this year.