Tom Litteral came home from his latest vacation with a painfully sore right wrist and forearm, and he received no sympathy from family and friends. Litteral needed to rest after catching 50 to 60 aggressive brown trout a day during six days of fishing in the fjord country of Chilean Patagonia.
The fish were typically 18 to 20 inches long and strong enough to run upstream in the swift current of the Rio Cisnes (Swan River). Litteral, who is almost as happy bird watching as he is catching fish, never got tired of catching Chilean trout from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
As a matter of self-defense, he learned to reverse his reel so that he could switch hands and play fish with his left arm while reeling with his right hand.
Litteral's fellow Steamboat Springs anglers will understand why his aching muscles failed to generate any pity on the home front.
Litteral's trip to Chile had everything to do with a Steamboat connection -- he was the successful bidder on the trip at a benefit auction. His host and guide was former Steamboat Ski Area snowmaker Rex Bryngelson, who owns and operates La Posada de los Farios (Lodge of the Brown Trout) near Coyhaique, Chile. Frequent Chile travelers Gretchen and Peter Van de Carr of Steamboat are acquainted with Bryngelson, his wife, Maikay, and son Ky. Gretchen, who leads the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps here, established a chapter in southern Chile, and Bryngelson responded by offering a fishing trip at his lodge as an auction item at last year's Snow Ball, which benefited RMYC.
Recruiting an old friend from Michigan, Tom Smith, to join him, Litteral left for Chile on Nov. 7. The two friends took a nine-hour flight from Dallas to Santiago. With seven hours of traveling still ahead of them, the two men chose to lay over in the Chilean capital for a day, where they enjoyed wandering among locals.
The next day, they flew from Santiago to Balmaceda, then traveled by car for another four hours. Within an hour of their arrival, they were wade fishing and catching trout in front of the little lodge at La Posada de los Farios.
La Posada de los Farios, which has three double guest rooms, is situated within a 100,000-acre private estancia, or ranch. In late spring (remember -- we're talking about November in the southern hemisphere), the weather and terrain reminded Litteral of home.
"I just swapped weather," Litteral said. He brought along all of the outdoor clothing he would have brought on a late autumn fishing trip in the Rockies, the only difference was that in Chile, the season was heading out of spring, into summer. The rivers in the region are fed by melting snows in the surrounding volcanic peaks, which dominate that part of the Patagonian region of Chile.
The fishing in the Rio Cisnes was athletic -- Litteral chooses to call it gonzo fishing -- and when he made a few adjustments, he hooked and landed fish after fish.
"There was no delicate casting," Litteral recalled. "You wanted to make a good cast with the biggest, gnarliest, ugliest fly and make it work. The idea was to make it look like it was worth going after. You wanted to make 21-inch strips as fast as you could. The faster you stripped, the more likely you were to get a hit."
Any time Litteral allowed his fly to drift with the current, he found the fish lost interest. As a result, he tugged his rod back and forth to make streamers, such as the Zonker and giant rubber-legged nymphs, zig and zag through the water.
Some of the most exciting fishing came with a pattern that has grown familiar to every Steamboat angler who makes the pilgrimage to Utah's Green River in June. Before his departure for Chile, Litteral tied a couple dozen of the large foam-bodied dry flies known as Chernobyl ants (as the name suggests, they resemble mutants).
On the Green River, anglers typically cast the giant terrestrial insect pattern over a riffle and wait for a trout to come up and slurp it. On the Cisnes, Litteral learned to drag the fly so it created a motorboat wake inciting the Chilean brownies to strike. Then, he hung on as they ran upstream.
Litteral's favorite action of all came when the brawny fish missed the fly as they exploded out of the water, but nailed it as they arced back into the current. At first, he broke off a lot of fish. But when he cut his tippet back to 3X fluorocarbon and picked up the speed of his retrieves, he began hooking and landing a high percentage of his fish.
At times, he paused from the float fishing to add to his lifetime list of bird sightings -- there were Andean condors, black-necked swans, green-backed fire crown and Austral parakeets. But then he would spot a big trout lying in a seam of the current and had to put down his binoculars and pick up his rod.
Smith and Litteral spent three days float fishing with Bryngelson or another guide, another day fishing on local lakes, and two days wade fishing along the ocean coast of Queulat National Park. While fishing the coastal waters, they hooked up with sea run rainbows ranging from 16 to 22 inches. Smith, who didn't catch nearly as many browns on the Cisnes as Litteral, redeemed himself by catching the biggest fish of the trip, a 27-inch, 9.5-pound rainbow. While Smith played that monster, Litteral caught and released three other fish.
The daily routine on the Cisnes began with coffee served at 8 a.m. and a full breakfast at 9 a.m. They departed for fishing at 10:30 a.m. and typically caught their first brown at 11:30 a.m.
The anglers stopped for a shore lunch at 3 p.m., and resumed fishing until dusk at 9 p.m. (their latitude was 50 degrees south, the equivalent of being at the U.S.-Canadian border in North America). Then, it was back to the lodge for appetizers and the finest Chilean wines at 10 p.m., followed by one of Chef Fernando's abundant dinners at 11 p.m.
The rugged Chilean fjord country enthralled Litteral, but in the end, it was bringing trout after trout to hand that really got to him.
Would he make the long journey to La Posada de los Fario again?
"I really enjoy fly-fishing with its artistry and skill, but I like catching even better," he said.
The answer is a resounding "yes."