Cascades, often a dozen side-by-side, formed intricate patterns across rocky pinnacles as they dropped 2000 feet into the canals below. We had traveled from San Juan, Puerto Rico, through the Panama Canal and down the entire coast of South America to reach the fabulous fiords of southern Chile. New Chance, my North American 40, left Puerto Montt fully provisioned and with its #1 crew aboard, Chuck Adams, Neill Martin, a.k.a. the ‘White Hunter’, and my son Jim Butler, all experienced small boat seamen and all ready to face whatever the Horn handed out.

We have always referred to Neill as the ‘White Hunter’ for his underwater spear fishing abilities. In 1974 I saw him shoot a two-pound yellow tail at a distance of 15 feet off a reef in Los Testigos, Venezuela. Now, ten miles south of Puerto Montt, we put him to the test when we came up to a school of jacks feeding at the surface. Out came his 5-pound tackle to which he attached one of his top secret lures. His first cast landed about 30 feet from the boat. He reeled the lure in slowly and cast again, about in the same spot. Half way in his rod bent in half. The reel whined as line paid out. With professional dexterity he coaxed the fish alongside the boat and into the waiting catch net manned by Jim. Three more followed. The Hunter would hook the fish and each of us fought it in.

With enough fish for lunch we headed south. We always trolled yet caught nothing as we wove our way around Isla Chiloe, out into the Pacific Ocean, across the infamous Golfo de Penas and back into the Chilean fiords. Hunter brought his gear out whenever anything stirred on the surface but caught nothing. Two fishless weeks followed, then three. We rode the Hunter heavy. The crew’s constant ‘We’re starving for fish’, wore heavy on the Hunter. He studied the charts and picked out a large lake less than a mile from the canal as a likely candidate to contains a ton of large fat trout.

We edged New Chance into the bottom of a small bay, tied her to trees ashore and hiked up a virgin forest towards where the lake showed on the chart. It took about an hour to hack our way through the growth and to the rim of a bright blue travelogue heaven. Hunter lost no time climbing down to the edge of the water, rigged his gear and cast. And cast. He moved into a stream where water ran off the lake and cast. Nothing. He tried every conceivable trick in his repertoire without luck. All he caught was the watchful eye of an eagle perched high over the lake. The crew, and in particular the skip, gave him no slack. All three of us developed serious stomach cramps from lack of fresh fish. We showed no mercy. The Hunter was desperate as we climbed back down towards the boat, our endless complaints digging into his marrow. Jim ferried Chuck and I back to New Chance while Hunter began to cast off the beach into the canal. Back on shore, Jim stripped and showered in the ice-cold runoff from the lake. Hunter kept casting until of a sudden he hooked onto something. In knee-deep water he played the fish to the noisy cheers of the crew.

Hunter took no chances as he gave the fish all the time needed to tire. Ever so slowly he brought in his catch as Jim watched nearby. Hunter backed up to the shore, the fish but ten feet away and in four feet of water. We no doubt drove him wild with all our yelling. Then Hunter screamed, “Jim, get him!” Jim wasted no time. He dove headlong into the water behind the fish, put his arms around it and tossed it up on shore.
I have never seen a more contented look on a fisherman in my entire life.

© William A. Butler, 2004