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El Saltamontes
The name of the lodge translated literally means “the grasshopper” and with 12 kilome- ters of the Rio Ñireguao winding through his 5,000-acre cattle ranch, Jose Gorroño may be sit- ting on the finest grasshopper river on the planet. The Ñireguao flows through high desert grasslands locked in a huge valley at the base of the Andes.
To get there, it’s a 90-minute drive from Coyhaique that climaxes with a dramatic canyon slot that separates the lower from the upper river. Above the steep canyon, the valley broadens into a wide grassy expanse where Jose’s pedigree Hereford cattle and prized alpacas graze.
The weedy spring creek was one of Chile’s first catch-and-release trout streams, and the site of the country’s first scientific trout population studies which estimated 9,000 trout per mile. At the time of the study the river was all brown trout, but in 2010 a flood washed stocked (and supposedly sterile) rainbow trout down from a pri- vate lake high in the watershed, and those fish have both thrived and reproduced.
Interestingly, the guides believe that the rain- bows don’t compete with the browns for habitat, and actually fill a void. You’ll still catch 99 per- cent browns in some beats where there is a lot of slower flat water filled with woody debris, and along sod cutbanks with deep slower water. But the rainbows have taken over the fast riffles and the few spots with bouldery fast water.
Most trout in the river are from 14 to 18 inches.
WH E N T H E F LY S H O P first set foot on the Gorroño ranch nearly
summer, truly sailing the South Seas. The two children, Natalia and Lucas, were only infants then, and Nico wasn’t even born. An Alaskan, Art Bloom, was host- ing fly fishing guests, using the Gorroño family home as his “lodge”, and we had been invited to take a look at the place. It was a rare chance to explore angling that had not yet been explored or
30 years ago, the family had left for the
Believe it or not, there was only one true Chilean lodge in those days, Dufflocq’s Cumilahue, far to the north in the Lake District where the rivers and streams near Puerto Montt had been made famous in the ‘60’s by visiting anglers and authors (Joe Brooks, A.J.McClane, Ernie Schweibert, and others). Fishing had been decimated by the time I arrived in 1978. The first trout planted in those streams decades earlier had initially thrived in the absence of angling pressure, and with no nat- ural predators the rainbows and browns multiplied exponentially, until (soon after being “discovered” by Brooks, et al) locals also took notice of all the fish. Chilenos native to the region had a simple harvest mentality and they did exactly that, harvesting the hell out of those trout ‘til they
were nearly gone.
A few whitewater fanatics – Art Bloom, Rex Bryngelson, Monte Becker, and others – rushed to Patagonia about the same time, to
challenge the rapids of the Bio Bio and a few other great rivers before they were dammed. Most of those guys were fly fish- ermen and found the rainbows and browns of the Aisén Region below Chaitén, near Coyhaique, Balmaceda, and farther south had been ignored and had prospered for half a century. Most of these guys fell in love with the country, its women, its
On a normal day you’ll have shots at a dozen fish over 20 inches, and the lodge record is 14 pounds, so you know “the big one” is always out there.
The Rio Ñireguao is a classic spring creek with gravel-bottom riffles filled with caddis and mayflies, and weedy flats with midges, crustaceans, and aquatic worms, but the trout here depend on hoppers for a huge part of their calorie intake.
I grew up in the Rocky Mountain
West and have fished for 30 years
in rivers known as great hopper
rivers, but never have a seen a val-
ley with as many hoppers as the
Ñireguao. On a hot, windy after-
noon, walking across a pasture is
like a summertime blizzard, and you cannot walk the banks without seeing hoppers falling into the river by the dozens.
While the natural resource of the river valley is a treasure, nobody would get to experience it without Jose Gorroño’s El Saltamontes Lodge, the culmination of a lifetime of work in an extremely remote region of Patagonia.
When he bought his first parcel of land in the valley in 1983 there was no electricity in the region, but luckily, Jose’s education as a mechan-
Val Atkinson photos
Jose Gorroño is a modern Renaissance man who built his own electrical generator and designed a wood-fired hot tub for his guests at El Saltamontes Lodge.
ical engineer allowed him to created a clean and sustainable hydro-electric turbine using the water pressure created by a small mountain spring, a pipe, and gravity. The same spring provides fresh water to the lodge.
Jose had excess electricity from his generator (and still does today) so he shared it with the other small farms in the valley, and in 1995 he built a small community center and church for the resident of El Gato (the local community of less than 100 residents) and power that with his own electricity as well. The spacious and comfortable
trout fishing, and they never left.

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