Just over a year ago, we had two very nice gentleman visit us at Mission Lodge for a week of Silver Salmon and Rainbow Trout fishing. Alvaro and Oscar from Santiago Chile. As their great week of fishing unfolded, they shared with us that they had just purchased an Island on a river in Southern Chile that had been a hunting lodge for wild boar. After seeing the magic that we call Mission Lodge, they asked us if we would be interested in helping them turn it into a world class fishing lodge. As they put it, the Chilean equivalent of Mission Lodge. A fly out operation using helicopters instead of planes, based out of grand lodge designed for comfort and camaraderie. A place where the focus is on the entire experience, with the understanding of what makes a great fishing program.
It had been ten years since we had managed & marketed operations in Chile and long, wash-board strewn shuttle trips to the rivers and back still haunted us. But the idea of being able to fly to each destination down there is what first attracted us to Chile almost 15 years ago. Back then we had inexperienced dreams of operating our Alaskan DeHaviland Beaver float planes down in Chile during our Alaska off-season. Dreams quickly shattered by numerous and insurmountable obstacles plus the usual logistics associated with float plane operations. An idea made even more difficult in the heart of the Southern Andes.
However, throw in a nice Bell Jet Ranger helicopter and you are talking a whole new dream. If it were not for multi-government bans on helicopters in Alaska, we would consider a fleet of these nimble craft for our own operation. Our interest in fly-out fishing in Chile was peaked and in March of this year we (Dale DePriest, Guy Fullhart and Nate Cornelius) set off on a mini-adventure that was as good of a fishing trip that we have ever had.
We flew into Santiago with a quick stop in Bogota, Columbia. We had to deplane so a local ‘hops’ sampling was in order, plus with entire-wall-advertising the beer and machine guns, it seemed appropriate. Once in Santiago we were met by Alvaro and escorted to his home to enjoy an incredible meal with Oscar. The tone was set as these two gentlemen were, as Dale likes to say, ‘the real deal’. The next morning we scooped up Nate (Mission Lodge’s head guide) at the airport and flew on down to Puerto Montt, a very familiar place to us and a town we have been to plenty of times.
This is where the similarities to previous Chilean trips for us stopped. We grabbed our gear and strolled out on the tarmac and boarded our Bell 540 and in ten minutes we where at Alvaro’s summer home, perched above Lago Llanquie (the lake that our former venture, Yan Kee Way sits on). A beautiful place with very modern design combined with a warm, lodge type feel. This would be our base of operations for the next week. Each evening we would land out front and be greeted by local wine and world class cuisine served on the veranda looking out at Osorno volcano. The food we enjoyed was truly amazing each day, thanks to the efforts of Chef Chester who is interested in working for Alvaro & Oscar’s new lodge.
Each day we visited the various rivers and streams around the island property that were all within 15 to 20 minutes flights. The actual river that surrounds the island is none other than Rio Puelo, first made famous by the Kohler family back in the nineties. This river is a very interesting fishery in it own right, but bigger than what most of us fly fisherman look for on a daily basis. It not only has very large trout, both Rainbow and Brown, but it now has a respectable King Salmon run that could provide a nice diversion from just trout fishing. There are a couple of very nice tributaries that come into the Puelo including the Rio Mansa. If you were to be limited to just the watershed of the Puelo, you would be in for a week of good fishing. If you then add all the surrounding options that the helicopter brings, you now find yourself with some incredible fishing opportunities.
Forget the long, long shuttle rides. And who needs the overpriced confinement of a mother-ship. This new lodge will set the bar much higher in Chile on so many levels, it is worth a look for anyone interested in trout. Stay tuned, as construction is just underway and it will be a couple of years before the doors are officially open. It will be worth the wait.