“Do you have anything bigger” was Eduardo’s response when he looked at my attractor dry fly box after we arrived at his fishing lodge in Chilean Patagonia. As a Montana fly fishing guide I pride myself on my collection of “big ugly” rubber legged, foam laden dry flies. Apparently my copious supply of size 6 and 8 just weren’t quite as big as Eduardo would have liked to see.
When he pulled out his box I felt like I showed up to a gun fight with a sling shot – it was overflowing with massive size 4 and 2 fat alberts, gypsy kings and even larger mouse patterns. Apparently when you spend most of your time casting to big browns on waters that rarely see flies bigger is better.
I met Eduardo here in Bozeman while he was touring the US to drum up business for his lodge. His infectious personality and obvious passion for fly fishing are what I look for in our own guides. Chilean fly fishing is still very young with the first lodges arriving in the early 90s. Eduardo is part of the first generation of Chilean fly fishers that have been chasing wild trout since he was a kid. As a youth he walked up to 4 miles every day from his home in Balmaceda to fish spring creeks and mountain streams on his friends estancias. Eduardo’s local connections are astounding – he seems to know everyone in Chile and I have to imagine he has more private access to more estancias than anyone else in the country. He and his guides also pride themselves in working harder than anyone else to access hard to get to locations. The combination of his network of private access combined with a remote location and the use of horses and rough put ins result in thousands of miles of trout waters that are nearly devoid of other anglers. On our 7 days of fishing with fished 8 different waters, all with massive dry flies. The best part about Eduardo’s operation is that no one at the lodge saw another angler on the entire trip!
The Magic Waters lodge itself is in a dramatic valley sandwiched between 5 private lagunas (ponds) and one large lake. The two lagunas in front of the lodge are filled with wild browns and rainbows that average 18-22” with large browns going to 28”. Lago Barroso just 50 yards from the lodge has massive browns to 35”. Eduardo and his team have exclusive access to all of these impressive stillwater fisheries. The lodge is central to some of the most diverse fishing options in all of Patagonia. Just to the south is the plethora of glacial lakes and gin clear rivers and streams found in Cerro Castillo National Park. This forested region is home to cyrstal clear waters, huge trout and mountains filled with hanging glaciers. To the east you can enter the dryer pampas that are filled with productive spring creeks. Just to the north is the fertile valley of the Rio Simpson and its tributaries. The amount of water and the variety of wade, float and lake options are staggering. The smaller lodge can accommodate up to 8 anglers. The guides and kitchen staff all stay that the lodge as well which fosters a wonderful family atmosphere. Eduardo and his guides are highly experienced and include Eduardo who has been guiding locally for over 15 years, Andy – a trilingual German that has 10 years guiding experience and is now a permanent resident of Chile and Monte, an American, that also resides in Chile and was one of the original pioneers of Chilean fly fishing in the early 90s (Monte has been guiding for 35 years).
Day 1 – Santiago
One of the perks of staying at Magic Waters is you can spend your first night in Santiago. Randy Buckley and I stayed near the lively Bella Vista neighborhood that was alive with locals and travelers alike in the evening enjoying the countless outdoor cafes and restaurants.
Day 2 – Fishing the Laguna at Magic Waters Patagonia Lodge
The next morning we caught a 2.5 hour flight south where Eduardo met us at Balmaceda airport. The flight was impressive as our route took us along the foothills of the Andes. We passed numerous large volcanoes, huge fiords and countless massive glaciers. When we arrived at the small airport in Balmaceda Eduardo was waiting for us to make the one hour drive to the lodge. The valley near Balmaceda is reminiscent of the Upper Madison Valley – a big broad plain flanked with large mountains.
We passed numerous spring creeks and mountain streams on the way to the lodge. Each time I asked, are their fish in that creek? Eduardo would reply “Yes, that has lots of fish and a few browns to 24”. After a day or two of repeating this question the only difference in the answer is that sometimes the biggest trout would go to 30” – it seems like every patch of water in this part of the country has at least a few trophy trout.
We arrived at the lodge in time for lunch and after enjoying a great meal of Chilean raised salmon with the extended family Randy and high hit the laguna in front of the lodge. Eduardo mentioned that even though it is right in front of the lodge it is lightly fished since so often other days are spent exploring the thousands of miles of water nearby. The sun was shining and hundreds of dragon flies were hatching in the reed beds. Large trout were catapulting themselves several feet into the air in an attempt to catch the large airborn insects. In about 2 hours of fishing we hooked 15 trout in the 18-23” range – all were explosive takes on size 4 fat alberts!
Day 2 – Lower Rio Paloma and Lago Elizadad Outlet
On our first full day we ventured into the nearby Rio Paloma Valley. The scenery is spectacular was we traveled past the lower end of the huge Lago Elizadad (Lake Elizadad) with towering glacier filled mountains just behind.
We were fishing with Andy who lives on the other side of Lago Caro – the next lake in the chain where the Paloma ends. After an adventurous ride in Andy’s land rover we put his motor laden cata-raft into the river using a private access on a large remote estancia. The first few hours of the trip we cast giant size 4 Gypsy Kings and Gauchos to imitate the massive Cantaria beetles that are native to the region. The Rio Paloma is one of the world’s most beautiful rivers with clear glacial blue waters, lush bank side vegetation, gorgeous cliff holes and lots of downed logs that big browns love. We had lots of action on big foam dries including some nice takes by 20” class fish. In the late morning we put the motor to work and Andy effortlessly navigated the cataraft upstream through the outlet of Lago Elizadad. The outlet was teaming with huge browns and a few rainbows. We spotted several trout in the 26-28” class holding in 4 foot runs. When we reached the lake there were fish erupting in the gathering currents of the outlet along the reed beds.
We did a few slow drifts though the currents of the lake exit, hooking big trout on each try. Just before lunch we drifted back into the outlet river and I tried a small wooley bugger to imitate the dragon fly nymphs and quickly hooked a big rainbow followed by a 20” + brown that broke off in some timber. After lunch we hit the main lake and slowly worked the clear waters of flats and cliff walls. We were back to giant dry flies and had lots of action on big browns that would materialize out of the depths to crush our massive flies on the surface. The biggest trout in the net was Randy’s 22” brown that ate a large beetle pattern.
Day 3 – The Rio Nirehuao in the Valley of the Moon
On day three we traveled through several climate zones and eventually drove over a small divide to the pampas near the Argentine boarder to fish a small but productive spring creek called the Rio Nirehuao. Eduardo has permission on several miles of this fishery. The dry grasses of the pampas were reminiscent of the Cody, Wyoming area including waves of hoppers.
Randy went upstream with seasoned guide Monte Becker while I went downstream. The Valley is spectacular with huge basalt formations rising from the valley floor like giant eggs. The fishing was equally spectacular – easily some of the best hopper fishing I have ever experienced. The creek has surprising slow and very deep pools with small currents linking one pool to the next. Twitching hoppers was the key and surprising large browns would crush the flies in aggressive takes. On several occasions I watched multiple trout rushing for the fly immediately after splatting the fly on the waters surface. These fish fought incredibly hard and several broke off when bulldogging into down timber.
After lunch I opted to though a big size 1 deer hair mouse pattern. Mousing produced less action – I only landed 5 trout in the afternoon session – but the quality definitely increased. The water I targeted in the afternoon was very slow moving and deep. The strategy was to cast the mouse towards the reeds on the opposite bank with a loud “plop” and then quickly skitter it a few feet before casting to fresh water. Periodically the water would explode with an aggressive take of an angry brown. Even trout in the 12” class were willing to take a swat at the rodent but the prize of the day were three fish in the 19-22” class.
Day 4: Rio Magote Horse Pack Adventure
Sometimes a fishing trip is about more than just the fishing and our trip to the Rio Magote was certainly evidence of that. The Magote is a spectacular remote tributary of the Paloma and Eduardo and his group of guides are the only folks that fish it. In the morning we took an aggressive jeep rode up the bottom of the Magote to the end of the road where we met the local gaucho, Alfredo. Alfredo definitely looked the part with giant goat skin chaps.
The horses were saddled and waiting for us and soon we were on our way upstream. The Magote reminds me a lot of New Zealand rivers – crystal clear waters with towering mountains and lush forests. The Magote has a nice mix of browns and rainbows with a few monsters. It is a typical mountain freestone fishery with lower trout counts than some of the pampas streams. I decided to stick with a mouse pattern and was rewarded with a few nice trout over 18” including a gorgeous hard fighting 22” brown. The river was one of the most beautiful I have ever encountered with huge blue cliff wall runs, productive banks, and braided channels. It was relatively easy to wade with lots of gravel bars. Fishing remained good until the middle of the day when the action began to taper off. Once again we were impressed with the spectacular diversity of the fishing that this region has to offer.
Day 5 Lago Azul and Lago Paloma
One of the toughest aspects of fishing at Magic Waters is deciding which option sounds the best. For this day we decided to take one more shot at one of the big lakes since we had so much fun during our afternoon at Lago Elizidad. This is such a unique type of fishing that we just don’t have in North America. These big lakes with clear water and huge trout willing to take big dry flies is a lot of fun. I don’t love to fish stillwaters unless there is good surface action so having a shot at huge trout willing to eat on top was too good to pass up. In the morning we fished Lago Azul or blue lake.
We motored across Paloma and there is a small channel connecting the two. Paloma is gin clear but Lago Azul has just enough glacial silt to give it a mesmerizing blue color tint. The fishing was spotty first thing in the morning and gradually improved as the day warmed. At lunch we started spotting the huge Cantaria beetles that resemble humingbirds in flight. Our biggest trout in the morning was in the 17” range. After lunch we moved back to Lago Paloma and drifted what seemed like a mile or two of a sheer cliff wall with a few small coves and inlets of tiny streams cascading from the glaciers above. As the waters continued to warm the fish became more active. We also started seeing larger trout and both Randy and I had steady action on some big fish up to the 20” class. About mid day I spotted a huge trout laying against a cliff wall in a shallow cove with downed timber. I tossed the mouse about 4 feet away hoping to draw him out of the timber without luck. The next cast was 2 feet away with the same result. Finally I smacked the mouse right on tip of him and gave it a few twitches which resulted in a casual but deliberate take. The big brown steam rolled for deeper water and we Hector worked aggressively on the oars to pull the boat into deeper water to keep him out of the network of logs. After a long fight we brought a magnificent hook jawed 25” brown finally came to the net for a few photos and a quick release – amazing!
Day 6: Upper Rio Paloma
On Day 6 we returned to the Paloma River, but this type the upper waters where the valley floor is open with huge mountains towering above on either side. The river here is more braided than the float on our first day with numerous side channels. We were fishing with Monte again who is a true master on the oars with 35 years of guiding experience.
We were once again the only anglers on the water (amazing!) and once again throwing giant dry flies. The action was steady with a mix bag of smaller trout and a few up to 17”. Browns are the dominant species in the Paloma but we caught several rainbows as well. I stuck to the mouse yet again and had a blast casting this massive fly into small nooks and crannies along the downed timber along the banks.
Although we pulled some decent trout out of mid river runs the big browns definitely show an affinity for nasty log jams. Every now and then the methodical rhythm of casting into pockets was disrupted by a heart stopping take. When a few clouds drifted in a tied a streamer on for about a half an hour (one of the few times we deviated from anything besides big dries). In a large crystal clear backwater eddy I thought I had snagged the logs when the rod tip began throbbing with the tell tale shake of a big brown. A few minutes later and a nice 22” brown with spectacular color was in hand for a photo. The Paloma is truly a special water with the perfect blend of amazing scenery, big trout and virtually no pressure.
Day 7: Balmaceda Spring Creek and the Rio Simpson
On our final day we rallied for a grand finale. We fished with Eduardo and he took us to a huge estancia near Balmaceda with a beautiful spring creek and a few mountain streams. The weather was changing and the wind was already picking up in the morning but luckily the spring creek had enough meanders that we were often able to put our backs to the wind.
We saw several large browns up to 20” and Randy hooked up on a large 18” brown within minutes of starting in his first run that ran him into some brush. We spent the morning and early afternoon leap frogging and fishing one deep undercut run after another. We were in the pampas once again and the grasshoppers were abundant. The fish were typical spring creek trout and generally offered just once chance in the smaller flats before they would spook. With each patch of new water trout were either flying away for your fly spooked or flying towards it to inhale it. Although we saw a few whoppers our biggest trout to hand were in the 16” range. As the wind continued to blow harder we opted to leave the spring creek after lunch to head to the Rio Simpson that was more protected.
We drove onto yet another big Estancia using Eduardo’s connections in the afternoon. The Rio Simpson is a medium sized river with about 6 different float sections. We were heading to section of water that Eduardo’s guides have exclusive floating access to based on private put ins and take outs.
Today we were wade fishing in a small canyon that we hiked into. It seems like every Chilean river has the same crystal clear water and the only variable is whether there is a hint of blue or green. The Simpson had a hint of green and we started fishing at a huge run with rainbows finning just below the surface feeding under a bubble line. We worked our way upstream with decent action from both browns and rainbows but the huge trout that the Simpson is known for weren’t willing to play.
The Aisen province of Chile is 45 degrees south of the equator, an almost exact mirror image of Montana at 45 degrees north. In many ways the landscape is strikingly similar with a huge diversity of waters ranging from spring creeks to big float rivers. There are also many unique aspects of Chilean fly fishing including the abundance of huge lakes with huge trout that have also have a large influence on the streams and rivers that feed, connect and drain them. The most amazing contrast is the shocking lack of other anglers. The lack of fishing pressure results in big fish eating huge flies. After our visit it is hard to argue with the tag line used by Eduardo’s lodge “the best dry fly fishing in the world”!
Interested in joining us in 2015? We have prime dates for hosted trips that begin on Saturday January 10th and also February 7th for lodge arrival. Contact us to inquire about details.