I feel a breeze on my face as cars pass on the dirt road exiting Coyhaique. I stick my thumb out, wait patiently and just like a fish swallowing a fly, a car stops, pulls over and picks me up. I feel an immense rush as I open the door of the old 4×4. The gaucho makes room for me in the front seat by sending his herding dog to the back of the cab. He initiates friendly conversation. We are off.
Transporting oneself around Southern Patagonia is a challenging quest. Buses are both sporadic and unreliable, and renting a car is neither in the budget or legal for a 21-year-old like me. But I found a simple—though, likely not parentally-approved-solution: hitchhiking.
When I arrived in Patagonia, I had a freshly purchased Chilean fishing license burning a hole in my waders but no car or transportation to move me to the famous streams of my casting dreams. I didn’t have the funds to stay at a lodge, feast on asado, savor a gourd of mate, or hire a guide to select my flies and tie my knots. I was on my own. So finally, one sunny day, I walked out onto the dirt highway to stick my thumb out.
I wouldn’t say I’ve completely overcome the fear of hitchhiking. People scare me and rightfully so. I question my safety and the honesty and goodness of others. I think about “what if” circumstances as I stick my thumb out and wait for cars. What if I put myself in physical danger? What if the wrong fish takes the bait? But after catching dozens of rides on the way to the river and arriving safely each time to my destination, that worried voice in my head loses some of its intensity.
I have met countless friendly gauchos, city folk, and families. They have shared flavorful stories and have inquired about my adventure. Asked if I am scared to hitchhike alone, I calmly reply, “Yes, yes I am.” Most of the time however, they aren’t taken aback at all by my solo traveling.
A car picks me up at the edge of town and gives me a ride a few kilometers away. Then I stick my thumb out and wait for another car to take the bait. It is a wonderful routine. After a few car rides, I arrive at the winding stream. It is the beginning of summer, and the surrounding landscape is green from all the springtime rain. I hop over a barbed-wire fence, careful not to puncture my waders. The land must be private.
Now I muster up the courage to knock on a stranger’s door to ask permission to access the river. In the past, they have charged me a couple of thousand pesos, equivalent to a few dollars, but this time they are happy to let me pass free of charge. In addition, they introduce me to their pigs, chickens, and a dozen dogs. They even show me their favorite fishing spot and return to their home.
Their trout heaven is completely surrounded by heavy brush. My amateur roll cast would be challenging to perform here. This family is accustomed to fishing with a “tarro” or a tin can, not fly fishing. Chileans often wrap fishing line around a can and tie bait and a hook to the other side. From what I’ve seen this technique might just be more productive than fly fishing, and much cheaper. I continue down the river to a hole with more room for casting.
Once I reach a good spot I am free to fish as long as I please and I seem to forget that I am in a foreign country. I am totally in the present and all the fears of solo traveling alone as a woman disappear. A river is a river, wherever you go; there is nothing foreign or daunting about that.
Patagonia fishing is world renowned and that title is well warranted. With little pressure compared to the States, fishing is not only relatively easy but size and quantity are sure not to disappoint. The fish are hungry for anything; they will take nymphs, streamers, and dry flies. The smaller fish especially don’t seem to care too much about presentation which is helpful for a sloppy angler like myself.
I explore the river for a full day alternating between fly fishing, snapping photos, and napping next to the lupine flowers. A professionally guided trip, it is not. I definitely don’t catch as many trophy trout, but for a college student hungry for adventure and fish, it is the perfect plan. After a full day of fishing, it’s time to cast my thumb out again.
A bearded man with curly black hair and a smile that extends from one cheek to the other picks me up from the river wondering why I don’t come carrying fish. “But bring home one for me to cook up for my family,” he exclaims while laughing. Catch and release fly-fishing isn’t a common hobby and few residents understand they live in one of the most coveted fly-fishing destinations in the world.
His name is Marcelo. He seems friendly enough, and despite my first-grade stranger danger lesson I agree to come for dinner at his house with his family and friends. We prepare a gran asado with various meats. Sharing sips of mate from the same bombilla (mate straw) around the parilla (grill), we compare our various ways of extracting fish from the water, always agreeing that the tug and fight of the fish is one of the greatest sensations. I guess I did get my trout, my mate, and my asado—the full Patagonian package.
Article by Gloria Goñi, a content creator based in Bozeman, Montana. Check her out on Instagram at @lapescadora.