Fly Fishing Patagonia Journal Part 1

Chilean Patagonia - Fishing like it was 100 years ago

When most people hear about fishing Patagonia they think of Argentina. This is because most of the Patagonia region lies within Argentina. However, some may not know that part of this region crosses the border into Chile. Chile is a much less populated and much less busy country in general having only 16 million people compared to Argentina at 80 million. For this reason Chile sees much less local fishing pressure and much less tourism via fishing. Don’t get me wrong Argentina still sees little pressure compared to your favorite Rocky Mountain fishery and it would be a surprise to see more than a few boats on a “popular section” of river in any given day. It’s just that Chile has even less fishing traffic.

The road system and infrastructure is fairly new to the Aysen region where I fished making it less visited than other parts of Patagonia. When I talked to some of the veteran guides who came here in the 80’s they told me that most people didn’t have cars and many of the gravel roads we were on didn’t exist. Many rivers and lakes are still only accessible by horse or on foot. The trout in this area of Patagonia were transplanted in the early 1900’s from Europeans and North Americans. Since then they have expanded to virtually every river system or lake in the region that can sustain trout life. This area is a fly fisherman’s dream…here is just part of my journal from a recent trip to Chilean Patagonia.

December 9 2017 – Day 0

Arriving at the lodge
Hernan picked me up from the Balmaceda airport; he was holding a sign with my name on it. I felt pretty special, through his broken English I learned that he was Eduardo’s father who is the owner of the Lodge. We passed fields of sheep and over spring creeks all surrounded by mountains. Each river we cruised past Hernan told me the name and about the fishing. I remember picking up a fly, a big foam beetle with teeth marks in it. December is spring in Patagonia and I felt like it was too early for them but I asked any ways. Holding the fly up “is this working right now?” to my surprise the answer from Hernan was “Yes, yes that is very excellent fly.” My excitement level rose and I couldn’t wait to get out fishing the next day!

Soon we were at the lodge, I unloaded my bags into my room for the next 12 days. The lodge is nice and cozy nestled in the hills and over looking a laguna or small lake. Everything about dinner was 5-star, appetizers, fresh baked bread, salad, main course, incredible wines, and dessert. All of Eduardo’s staff speaks Spanish and English; they are friendly and helpful, as you would expect from a place like Magic Waters.

Day 1

Fishing the laguna at the lodge
After breakfast my clients Don and John arrived it was raining and windy but that didn’t stop us from getting out to fish the laguna. I rowed them around for an hour with no fish before thinking maybe the wind has blown the food to one side of the laguna. I let the wind take us across and I’ll never forget the excitement in their faces as big browns started to yank their lines. They each caught a couple hard pulling browns on streamers the biggest being just over 20”. Cold and wet, we called it and headed in to dry out in front of the fire in the lodge. Tonight for dinner we are having lamb and I went out with Elvis for a few hours to watch as he slowly grilled our dinner over an open fire. At dinner Eduardo gave us the game plan for tomorrow. We would all go to fish a private section of a small freestone river Emperador Guillermo and be guided by Guillermo.

Day 2

Emperador Guillermo
Guillermo arrived at the lodge, as breakfast was finishing up. We loaded our stuff and drove out the dusty road. It was a beautiful drive purple, pink, and white lupines covered the landscape and bordered the river. The water was running high and off color, we all caught fish mostly on a dry and dropper. At one point I snuck up a back channel and caught four or five acrobatic rainbows on dries.
Then Guillermo and John met up with me and watched me miss five trout on dries. I guess the pressure of an audience made me struggle and each time I missed a fish Guillermo yelled “Sumbeech!, Sumbeech!” I finished the day with an Escudo a local cheep lager then we put our rods away and headed back to the lodge for dinner.

Day 3

Lago “Z”
Guillermo took his boat and I to fish a lake about an hour and a half from the lodge, while Jose took Don and John to fish a lake and river system.

Lago Zenteno is big and beautiful; we motored across to a rock face. I started fishing a streamer on a heavy sink tip and managed a few nice trout. As the day went on we saw more and more dragonflies and eventually big fish were coming air born for them! The dragonflies would land in the reeds and the wind would push them to the water for an easy meal or the big browns would chase them and try to snatch them from the air as they flew a few inches above the water. It was exciting!

Sometimes I would see the browns coming for my fly and other times they made me jump out of my skin from attacking the big foam fly so hard. Often times we would see a fish rise and cast over to it, twitch, twitch, and then the explosion! Despite fishing 1X fluoro I still broke a few fish off. If I gave them any line they would immediately wrap up in the reeds and break off.

For the rest of the day we switched between streamers and dragonfly dries. I caught most fish on the dragonfly. After 20 or more fish that were all 2-6 pounds I told Guillermo it was his turn. We watched a fish eat his dragonfly three times, each time I yelled “Ah! Sumbeech Guillermo!” as payback from yesterday. Finally the fourth time he pinned up on the fish another standard 20” fat brown! Of course this wouldn’t be a good story without telling you I lost the biggest fish of the day on a streamer. Strip, strip, POW he was on! Two jumps later my sink tip was flying back at me, “Ah F$%$!” Since we didn’t see it up close it can be as big as I want…it’s my story but I’ll let you imagine this dinosaur of a brown coming out of the water giving me the finger and disconnecting from my line just as fast as he connected.

Day 4

Beauty and numbers
(I’m not a counter but if you are you would have lost count!)

Today John and I will go up the Rio Paloma, we will then go into Lago Deserto, Rio Azul and eventually Lago Azul with Jose and his cat pushed by a 40 Horse Jet.

We fished the shoreline of Lago Deserto and did really well on the windward side with streamers. Many times we could see the browns chase our streamer to the boat and eat it right before our eyes! We then motored up the Rio Azul, a mile long river between Lago Deserto and Lago Azul. We fished Lago Azul and caught fish on big foam dries before meeting Don and Guillermo for lunch at a series of waterfalls. They came in from farther up the system and fished their way down to us. Don raved about how many fish he had already caught on a Goddard caddis; we all were having an excellent day!

This was the most beautiful day of the entire trip. Lago Azul is a large lake with turquoise blue water surrounded by jagged mountain peaks and water falls. The lake and river system is full of browns and some rainbows but lacks pressure from anyone. Jose figured we were the first boat on the system this year and said even on a busy day in the middle of summer it would be surprising to see another boat.
After lunch we floated the Rio Azul with a big dry and dropper. Together John and I caught about 15 trout in the first pass down the short section of river, barbless hooks made it easier to unhook them and keep fishing. We made a few more drifts down the river allowing Jose to catch a few while I rowed. We motored back to the truck and headed to the lodge after enjoying a cold Escudo.

John convinced me to fish the laguna behind the lodge since we had an hour to spare before dinner; we each caught a few on big foam beetles. The fishing and scenery made for an amazing day; I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I tried to go to sleep that night.

Day 5

Lago Frio
Don and I fished Lago Frio with Alex; a veteran guide in the area having came to this region of Patagonia in the mid 80’s to begin his guiding career. The lake was shallow and boasted a thick weed bed in most places, a recipe for tons of trout food.

We caught a few small fish slowly stripping nymphs then changed to a Goddard Caddis to fish for risers we saw. Casting into the openings in the weeds we twitched these bugs to skate them along just like a natural would do to lay her eggs. When we did hook up the take was usually a slow sip followed by an explosion as we tried to wrestle the big rainbows to the boat over the weeds. We caught a few large fish but broke off many more despite fishing 1 or 2x. It was a fun challenge for sure!

Day 6

The literal translation of Patagonia is Land of the big foot. On the drive to the river Juan our guide explained to us how the area got its name. “Spanish explorers saw big foot prints on the beaches, having not knowing what the print came from they (Magellan) came up with the name Patagonia. They later met the indigenous people who were in fact a bit taller than the average but wore large leather boots making there prints even bigger.”

We all put in at an access point that only Eduardo has permission to on the Manihuales River. A long drive from camp but worth it, one of the most beautiful rivers I’ve been on. The fish ate the usual large foam dry and dropper or streamers.

We caught many nice fish floating beetles along the banks, the biggest being a rainbow that came clear out of the water to eat Juan’s fly. Streamers also worked well and we were able to fool some really nice fish that came out to play from under logjams and the deep cut banks.

They fish us hard here and I appreciate how they take advantage of the long daylight hours having an early breakfast and late dinner.

Day 7

I went to town today to visit the artisan market and buy some Yerba Mate. They had many cool handmade goods and art at the market if you’re into that sort of thing. I bought some sheep slippers for my mom and a wool hat for my girlfriend from a cute old lady. They had some very cool wool sweaters and blankets for sale too.

Day 8

Nirehauo River
Today Don and I will fish the Nirehauo River. Monty our guide told us that it’s the first river in the area to grab the attention of the US and fly anglers to start coming here due to its easy wading and incredible dry fly fishing. Today we will fish farther up river from here in the braided sections, which is more like a spring creek. Monty told us he has seen browns come out of the water onto the bank to grab a hopper then flop and slide back into the water. They will do it over and over creating a small mudslide like a beaver.

This part of the river is in the steppe or semi arid area of the Aysen Region; we came down out of the mountains to a big open valley where the river braids through ranch lands of cattle, sheep, and horses. The river fished ok but I could see the potential it was deep and slow in this section and you needed to sneak along the banks throwing a streamer or foam dry down the middle of it. The fish we caught were aggressive and strong.

Tomorrow we will ride into The Rio Blanco Base Camp, my most anticipated part of the trip!…

Read Part 2