Patagonia is a bucket-list list destination for many fly fishers, including me. But when I got an invite to Melimoyu Lodge, an ultra-high-end lodge in Chile, I almost turned it down. I only picked up a fly rod in earnest last spring, and I continue to struggle with my casting. At this point, me traveling to Patagonia to fly fish was like a beer-league softball player suddenly being inserted into game seven of the World Series. But my desire to throw myself into the middle of this vast gorgeous wilderness once again won out.
Both the lodge and the river running through the property are named after the Melimoyu volcano that towers overhead. Owner Segundo Gomez originally built the luxurious four-bedroom domicile as a vacation home, but after a few years, decided to turn it into a fishing lodge. Once a popular spot for domestic fishers, Melimoyu has pivoted toward a new audience within the last year — well-to-do American anglers and adventure-seekers. I’m one of the first gringos to visit.
Touching down in paradise
Given Melimoyu’s location, getting there took some effort. From the connecting airport in Dallas, it took nine hours to reach Santiago, Chile, where we transferred to a private jet for a nearly two-hour flight to a tiny airport in Chaitén. From there it was a two-hour drive over a mix of smooth highway and rough gravel roads to reach the lodge.
The Melimoyu Lodge itself is stunning, constructed of wood harvested from the surrounding land. Caretaker Ruben helped construct the lodge more than a dozen years ago and today oversees its upkeep. The lounge area is incredibly airy and inviting, with massive windows showcasing the surrounding natural beauty. My room, specifically the king-sized bed, was almost too comfortable. At the end of the night, I’d slip under the covers determined to read, but immediately doze off to sleep.
Given its start as a private home, the Melimoyu is a bit small — a maximum of eight guests at any given time — but that means the staff are able to cater to visitors’ nearly every need. Francisco Escobar, the consultant responsible for the lodge’s pivot to the luxury market, rattles off a virtual laundry list of activities available on the property, from hiking to mountain biking to off-roading to fishing, and tells us they’re all available to us. (Much of the staff spoke immaculate English compared to my no bueno Español — apparently six weeks of intense DuoLingo lessons weren’t enough to make me proficient in Spanish.).
Almost everything from food to experiences on the property are included in the price. (Although use of the helipad — built recently for a visit from a famous American actress and her producer husband — may cost a bit more.) Each meal is a three-course production, every dish a delicious piece of art paired with amazing Chilean wines. Given this region of Chile, most of the main courses were freshly caught seafood; the scallops and creamy rice may have been my favorite. For both luxury- and outdoors-loving travelers, this may be the journey of a lifetime.
A river runs through it
The Rio Melimoyu runs through the heart of the property, passing by two wood-fired hot tubs and the quincho, an outdoor barbecue area where we will dine on a local delicacy of roasted lamb on our last night. While easing my way down into the steaming water of the hot tub, almost on cue, I see a huge trout jump from the river, almost daring me to toss a line in. It’s a good reminder that, ultimately, I’m here to fish.
My guide Fredrico Dall’Aste has split time between his native Italy and Chile for two decades. When he’s not tending to his olive groves, he’s in Patagonia, landing monster salmon and trout. Just turned 50 years old, Dall’Aste’s lean and wiry from decades of adventure on the water. He’s concise with both his words and movements, like he’s conserving that energy for when it’s absolutely needed. When he’s not guiding, he’s out exploring the river and its tributaries, looking for new fishing spots. Dall’Aste has an air about him that makes you want to try to impress him, or at least not embarrass yourself too badly. I fail at both.
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I knew in my mind the mechanics of my cast — with a straight wrist, snap the rod backward to the 2-o’clock position, pause long enough for the line to unspool behind me, then flick the rod forward to the 11 o’clock position, resulting in a tight loop and a perfectly straight line on the water. Seems simple enough. But when it came time to actually do it, my mind was immediately overruled by my body, as if it were saying, “Nah bro, I got this.” Instead of a long, straight cast, my attempts would more often result in the line looking like a long, tangled strand of over-cooked spaghetti haphazardly tossed onto the river. The occasionally gusty winds didn’t help matters either.
Speeding down the nearby Rio Palena on a boat, I take in the views. The river is a an almost-too-perfect shade of aqua, like a photographer had dialed up the saturation setting in Photoshop. Foothills of thick, old-growth forest line the shore, while larger snow-capped mountains loomed in the background. Dall’Aste waves his hand at our surroundings. “These days,” he says in his low, monotone voice, “I love the beauty more than the fight.”
Off the beaten path
Most of the 66,000 acres surrounding the lodge is unexplored, not just by the property owners, but by anyone. Ever. During my visit, a guide and two other guests apparently discovered a couple of new waterfalls on the property. Dall’Aste tells me that a mountain near Lake Rosselot has been climbed exactly once. Other alpinists have made attempts to summit other sides of the mountain, but were turned away by the impassable old-growth forest. The forest is so thick, it feels claustrophobic and disorienting after just a few steps.
Melimoyu owns the property on either side of Rio Palena for several miles, so few, if any, non-guests fish here. Dall’Aste says we’re likely the only people to fish this section of the river in at least a year.
We drift onto a rocky sandbar, only to immediately reenter the water in our waders. He points to a spot in the current where he wants me to cast, and I watch as the drift takes the midge downstream. After multiple unsuccessful drifts, I finally feel a tug on the line and pull back on the rod. The rod tip bends with the weight of a hooked fish trying to escape. I don’t know who was more surprised — me, Dall’Aste or the fish.
I excitedly strip the line, careful to keep the rod tip up, and bring the fish closer and closer as Dall’Aste prepares the net. When he scoops it up, I see a gorgeous 12-inch brown trout staring back at us. It’s just then I realize my phone is in my pants pocket underneath my waders, so there’ll be no photographic evidence. We take the trout out of the water just long enough to remove the hook, then release it back into the water; none the worse for wear, but maybe a bit wiser. I’d catch just one other trout that day, but that was enough to keep me on a high that evening.
Over the next several days, I split my time between the water and a host of other activities, including a hike in nearby Parque Nacional Queulat. The trail to view the Ventisquero Colgante glacier was only a couple of miles, but sections were steep, the kind of steep that makes your voice deepen while stretching out the vowels for emphasis. But the reward was a gorgeous view of a retreating glacier tucked into the grey granite mountains with multiple waterfalls cascading down into the valley below.
After unsuccessfully fishing the next day, we met up with some other guests at a private hot spring located just a mile or two off the Rio Palena. Ruben and an assistant built the trail to the hot springs, as well as several soaking pools. To make things even more perfect, we had our own personal bartender for the afternoon; the only time I left the hot springs was to get yet another fresh cocktail. The steaming water helped relieve my aching muscles from all the soreness caused by the nonstop activities.
While slowly boiling in the hot springs, I think about the week I’ve had. I’m typically not comfortable with opulent hotels or overly attentive service; I’m much more at home sitting in a dive bar waiting for the chain-smoking bartender to decide if I’ll tip enough to be worth taking my order. However, after spending time at Melimoyu, I can see the appeal. A stay definitely isn’t cheap, but between the experiences, scenery and service, it can definitely be worth the splurge.
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