We got our first look at the Rio Yelcho as we motored across a bridge spanning its mouth on the way to the lodge from Chaiten’s small airport. We’d been driving through Chile’s northern Patagonian rainforest for the better part of an hour, our attention diverted by the Jurassic flora and mountain scenery that just kept getting better with every passing bend.
Since we had arrived at sea level, an hour or so prior, our host from Yelcho en la Patagonia, Sebastian, had been a font of local knowledge, filling our travel-tired brains with details about his little corner of the trout universe. As we traveled through the town of Chaiten, he relayed tales of the 2008 eruption of the Chaiten volcano, which had layered the town with mud and ash up to a meter thick, destroying much of it. A week or so later, the Chaiten River rerouted itself around the fresh volcanic deposits, carving a new path directly through town, wiping out much of what the mud and ash hadn’t. Almost a decade later, Chaiten is still largely in shambles, with recovery only coming slowly.
As we left Chaiten behind, Sebastian’s focus turned from volcanos to tales of precisely what we had traveled across the globe in search of—big brown and rainbow trout. But the excitement of being half a world from home and only a couple dozen miles from our destination began to wear off and the bone-weary exhaustion of the better part of two days spent in airliners and commuter planes began to kick in. The car ride served to lull us into a state of semi-consciousness, and only when we saw the river—and the lake that fed it—were we able to perk up and focus. There, below us as we traversed the bridge, were the deep, green waters of Rio Yelcho, flowing out of Lago Yelcho on its way to the ocean. To our right, we saw a wading fly fisher casting into a tail-out, and to our left, a small boat held steady in the outflowing current while an angler appeared to be trolling with a fly rod.
“The baby salmons,…