Good fishing with Fran Berrocal

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 Photo: Daniel CasadoPhoto: Daniel Casado

Editor's note: The following is from Issue 28.
In a sport long dominated by men, Berrocal is making her mark as one of Patagonia’s lone female fly fishing guides.
By Luis Goycoolea U.
Since her first casts on Lake General Carrera when she was just 8-years-old, Francisca “Fran” Berrocal has become much more than one of the first, few, female fishing guides in Chile; she embodies change and inclusion in the sport, and stands out for her commitment to environmental conservation and education.
"Fly fishing is more than a sport for me; it's a way to connect with nature and find inner peace," Fran, 25, tells me as she recalls her days learning to fish with her brothers using only very basic rods on rivers in the Coyhaique area, Aysen’s capital city and where she is from. But it wasn't until she was a teenager that Fran figuratively took the plunge: "I fell in love with the tranquility and the challenge that this sport entails." Soon she bought her own equipment and started expanding her fishing knowledge and skills.
Fran's decision to become a fishing guide was not only a professional choice but meant defying those unspoken rules that regulate this discipline. "I was aware of the lack of women in this field and that inspired me to change the status quo," she said. With the support of some of her childhood friends, she carved her own path as a guide, earning the respect and admiration of her clients and colleagues.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing. In the beginning, she was overlooked by potential clients in favor of other male guides. She recalls one British client, who initially adopted a very cold attitude toward her. "He was an older man and wouldn't interact with me. He openly expressed his dislike of being guided by a woman, saying that fishing was an escape from the women in his life, from his daughters, his wife, all 'those problems,' he would say. It was quite a shock for me to hear that said so bluntly. However, after sharing a few fishing days with him, his attitude began to change. In the end, he apologized to me and acknowledged that he'd been mistaken, admitting that he had enjoyed the fishing and had been impressed by my skills on the river."

“I was aware of the lack of women in this field and that inspired me to change the status quo." 

Fran believes women bring a unique perspective and skill set to the sport, enriching the overall experience. Through her work at Posada de Los Farios lodge and in the fishing community, and as a brand ambassador for the Patagonia outdoor gear company, she demonstrates that women can not only participate, but lead and teach in this field.
What are her favorite fishing spots? "I am especially fond of the Futaleufú River, which is where I went on my first fishing trip. Another incredible place is the Cisnes River, which has great fishing, is a beautiful river and very few people fish it. It also has some pools with brook trout and is in a magical Patagonian setting surrounded by forests, mountains, and horses," she says.
Looking to the future, Fran is focused on educating and nurturing new generations of fly fishermen and women. She envisions creating a certification system for guides that will raise professional standards and make it easier for women to enter the industry. "Other outdoor pursuits such as rafting, skiing or mountaineering, have certifications that validate your skills and allow you to work with an established knowledge base. However, fly fishing still lacks this structure," she says.

"Fran has become much more than one of the first, few, female fishing guides in Chile; she embodies change and inclusion in the sport."

Sustainable fishing
Over and above her role as a guide, Fran has become an advocate for conservation and sustainable fishing in Patagonia.
"As a fishing guide and environmental activist, river conservation is a critical part of my job. People often question why we should protect trout, which are an introduced species, but today they have become an integral part of our river ecosystems. They have been here for more than 100 years. They form part of the food chain, which benefits other native species," she emphasizes.
Fran believes educating people about the importance of trout and their role in the ecosystem is key. "For example, while working on the Cisnes River, I noticed trout with markings that I initially couldn't explain. After some research, I discovered these were signs of lampreys, a bio-indicator of clean and healthy waters, a native species that is also endangered. This made me realize the importance of protecting healthy habitats," she said.
The Cisnes River flows from the Argentine Pampa to the Pacific Ocean in the Aysén Region and is under threat from mining. "Having trout in these rivers strengthens our case for protecting them," says Fran.
"As Chileans, we have to assume the responsibility for taking care of these species that form part of our national identity,” says Fran. “Sustainable fishing requires keeping a balance, ensuring the health of our waters and the survival of the species that live in them. This requires conscious and careful management, not only for us but for future generations.”
With young fly fishing leaders like Fran, Aysen and Patagonia are in good hands.

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