Rumbo Patagon Destination Report by Ken Morrish

Ken Morrish June 24, 2024

When our longtime outfitting partner and owner of Coyhaique River Lodge Gaston Urrejola informed us that he was starting a new operation on the outskirts of the legendary Torres del Paine National Park, we were listening carefully.

Gaston's plan was to make this more than a fishing operation and to have a developed eco-touring program that would make his little base outside of Puerto Natales the perfect venue for couples and families. The idea was that in addition to guiding the seldom fished waters of the region there would be thoughtfully guided hikes both outside of and within the park, boat-based glacier tours, puma tours, birding and more. When he committed to opening shortly after the new year in 2024, I grabbed the second week of the season and invited three couples with roots from my hometown of Oakland, California.

Getting There
Most of us flew through Houston to Santiago, Chile. Several members arrived a few days early to check out the capital city. All of us spent at least one night on the front end in Santiago where we stayed at the Hotel Cumbres in the Lastarria district. Everyone was quite pleased with the bounty of restaurants and points of interest within easy walking distance of the hotel. On Saturday morning we took a three-hour morning flight to Puerto Natales, where we were met by the lodge staff and then driven 10 minutes to the Borries House overlooking the golden grassy fields and a bright blue whitecapped inlet of the Pacific.

Where did you fish?
The four anglers of the group fished four days on regional streams, rivers, and spring creeks. Many of the systems are rarely (if ever) fished and all were on private property. The nearest system to the main lodge we fished was 25 minutes away and the most distant was over a two-hour drive (but absolutely worth the time). Some of the rivers were intimate and forested with native beech trees, others were open spring creeks with dramatic back drops. The Rio Penitente was magnificent, we fished down low on one estancia, and then higher upstream on a separate estancia. It is a remarkable river and the largest system we fished with a lovely cobble stone bottom, lots of rifles, flats with weed beds, and cut banks. It was a remarkable river and highly productive.

How was fishing?
Our fishing success overall was solid and like most trips, some days we worked hard for a few fish, but the in those cases the fish we caught were healthy specimens in the range of 17–22 inches. We also spent two days fishing the beautiful Penitente River. On our first day on the lower river, after a particularly slow morning, I mistakenly got the feeling there were very few fish in the system. As a result, I convinced my fishing partner to explore a nearby spring creek that the guide had expressed some interest in. It was a great outing, but my move proved to be a big mistake, as after lunch, the water warmed up and the Penitente really came alive! The two anglers that had the good sense to stick with the program crushed fish all afternoon on dry flies and dropper-nymph set ups. My great friend Ned said he had experienced around 40 strikes after lunch and landed fish of all sizes with some topping out at about 20 inches. This was the only day we ever saw another angler, as the estancia has multiple large fishing beats that they make available to only a select number of anglers.

The rest of the week we never saw another footprint, let alone an angler. On the last day of our trip, we headed into an even more remote section of the upper Penitente. This was our longest drive of the trip with many locked “gaucho gates” deep within a vast forested estancia that is never fished. When we reached the river, it was picture perfect; broad, semi-shallow with great rifles, buckets, steep banks, and small boulder gardens that were easy to navigate. As soon as we arrived it was game on! While my friends were all fishing dry-dropper rigs, I swung flies all day. I caught fish on small soft hackles, little leaches, and experienced amazing success on a small, unweighted baby trout streamer swung just beneath the surface. On one long flat I aggressively fished a large top-water wounded baitfish fly and blew up a dozen fish but only hooked two of them. Then I went back and fished the same run slowly pulsing a Morrish Mouse and caught all those fish plus several others. While we did not see the largest fish that the system offered, we caught many in the 15-to 20-inch class. When our group was reunited at the end of the day, everyone experienced amazing fishing, and John Murray, with whom I have fished often said, it was the best day of trout fishing in his life. I released close to 50 fish.

Touring & Adventuring
Our group was comprised of four couples. Most of the women were interested in hiking and touring while the guys all primarily wanted to fish. Rumbo is the perfect place for these types of multi-faceted trips, as the goal is to have these types of mixed groups comprise the foundation of the client base. Likewise, I was committed to spending a minimum of two days touring in the park, as being on the doorstep of one the planet’s most impressive massifs and not stepping all the way through would be a lifelong regret. The women in the group did multiple great outings including several hikes outside of the park among a diverse plant eco systems with dramatic vistas and condor viewing. They also toured the small town of Puerto Natales, and enjoyed a dedicated birding day where they saw a wide range of species including the team’s favorite, Chilean flamingos. Our entire crew elected to do two inner park touring days together. The first was an afternoon boat tour of Grey’s Lake to the foot of Grey’s Glacier. This is a weather dependent trip that normally only happens in periods of reduced wind. Mother Nature had other plans for us as is often the case. As the story goes, we hiked for 10 minutes through an old-growth beach forest and then another 30 minutes across a pebble beach at the south end of Grey’s Lake and boarded a large sightseeing boat. From there we headed 45 minutes up the lake to the foot of the brilliant blue glacier that calved into the lake. The crew netted some massive chunks of ice, hauled them on board, and hacked them up for a cocktail of your choice that was included in the package. It was a memorable and beautiful experience, but the real fun began when we again landed at the southern beach to disembark. As the wind really started to blow (at over 100 km) the adventure properly began! As folks in our group descended the gangplank and hit the beach, they were tossed around wildly. Despite the wind coming off a glacier and down a frigid lake, the downdraft was warm even as it tore the surface of the lake into heavy sheets of flying spray. Our crew was delighted and amazed by the novelty and power of the situation as we staggered down to the beach leaning hard into the wind. For me, this was the defining moment of the trip and one that had all of us smiling for weeks thereafter. As is true of any experience when abroad, the adventure begins when the plans change.

The other must do trip is the two-hour Mirador los Cuernos, also known as Cuernos del Paine (Base of the Horns) hike. This is not to be confused with the Mirador las Torres (Base of the Towers) which is an aggressive eight-hour trip with plenty of elevation gain and hundreds of daily participants. We coupled our hike with a 4am departure from the lodge to reach a specific area outside of the park known to have the greatest puma density in the world. Our hope was to see one or more pumas moving about in the early morning hours when they are active. The guests the week before had seen pumas but we failed to spot any. Irrespective, the morning light was magical, the terrain was surreal, and the viewpoints were stunning. The hike was even better, and I rank it as the most dramatic and scenic short hike I have ever done. There was a huge waterfall, turquoise lakes with wind generated waterspouts, and mind-blowing peaks.

How did you fish?
We fished exclusively with 5 and 6 weight single hand rods and floating lines. My group primarily fished dry dropper rigs and I primarily fished mice and streamers. All our fishing was walk and wade but on the rare days when the wind dies down, they head to several lakes and fish from boats for the region’s largest fish.?

Where did you stay? 
Rumbo Patagon's base is a quaint older estancia-style home overlooking the Pacific, 10 minutes out of Puerto Natales. It’s full of authentic regional charm, with old, seasoned wood floors and three bedrooms with attached, recently remodeled bathrooms. My wife and I stayed in a fourth room, that is not often used with a shared bathroom. The operation is really designed for three anglers (or three couples) so we gave them a good introductory challenge with a party of eight. They handled it wonderfully and we enjoyed the coziness of the complete set up. One of the lodge highlights is their outdoor sunroom, which sports wood stove, couches, area rugs, a little bar area, and big windows all around. The views of the mountains and ocean are great, and you can watch the local lama graze in beautiful wind-swept grasses right outside while enjoying a delicious Pisco Sour.

What equipment did you use and how did it perform? 
I used a 9-foot 6-weight Sage R8 Core. It was the perfect tool for the region and performed well in the wind with 6-weight RIO Elite Rio Grand floating fly lines.

Explore Rumbo Patagon

Rumbo Patagon is the latest venture of the Urrejola brothers who created one of Chile’s finest lodges, Coyhaique River Lodge. While they didn’t need a second operation, the angling opportunities presented by the greater Puerto Natales region 1000 km south of the waters they know so well was simply irresistible.

Jake Crawford - South America Destinations Manager

Click below to find out more about Rumbo Patagon by reaching our South America Destinations Manager Jake Crawford.