“Oh, I'll never leave Montana, brother.” This is a line from Norman Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It” that I have rehearsed and have assumed to be true since I moved here over 20 years ago. This February, I was lucky enough to get to spend two weeks fishing in the Aysen region of Chilean Patagonia, which has me questioning how true I still am to that idea.
The first week was spent at Magic Waters Lodge. Although this was my first trip to both Chile and Magic Waters Lodge, Montana Angler has been visiting and sending guests here for more than 10 years. The second week was spent on the Baker River near Puerto Bertrand about four-and-a-half hours south of Balmaceda. The second week our plan was to head further south to sample the waters of the Patagonia Baker Lodge program. Eduardo recently purchased the river front lodge and was busy completing a full remodel and rebuild of the location. While visiting the Baker region we stayed down the river at the comfortable Green Baker Lodge.
Both lodges were spectacular in their own ways. At times when traveling from Magic Waters Lodge to visit various fishing locations I felt like I was in an undeveloped part of Montana, while other places felt like mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest. Of course, you also have glaciers sprinkled around here and there, which adds its own unique flavor. The area around the Baker River is unlike any other place I have experienced. The color of many of the lakes and rivers in the region have an amazing green hue that reminds me of Belize. There were times when traveling over lakes I felt like we were hunting down permit in the Caribbean flats, then I’d remember to look up and there would be a glacier with a giant waterfall cascading into the lake. The cooler temps were also a reminder that we weren’t in the Caribbean.
The Magic Waters trip took place over the third week of February 2023. Conditions were comparable to August in Montana, just a bit cooler and wetter. I shared the week with nine Montana Angler guests and a handful of others that were not booked through Montana Angler. The group was made up of singles, couples and a pair of brothers. About half of the group were return guests to the lodge.
The owners of Magic Waters Lodge are Eduardo and Consuelo, who doubled as our hosts and go out of their way to make guests feel like they are part of the family. The lodge is big enough for everyone to spread out and have their own space, but small enough that we all were able to socialize when we weren’t on the water. The lodge is in a small basin facing west toward a small chain of lakes and beautiful snow-capped mountains. Most days there were a small group of horses grazing out front of the lodge and you could sometimes spot rising fish on the nearest lake. There is a great deck out front to enjoy the views as well as a wood-fired hot tub.
The north wing of the lodge is where the guest rooms are located, the center of the lodge contains the living area or great room that has comfortable seating, a warm stone fireplace and a gorgeous view. The south wing is where the dining room, kitchen and bar/pool room are located. The dining room is one of the coolest I’ve ever seen with fly fishing accents all around. In the bar/pool room you will find an open bar with a variety of spirits, a beer fridge, a pool table, a dartboard and couches. In the dining room you would usually find a bottle or two of open wine and the hosts/servers were always available to make Pisco Sours, which is one of the preferred regional cocktails common in many Patagonian fishing lodges. Pisco Sours are of Peruvian origin and are usually made up of the liquor Pisco, citrus, sweetener and garnished with bitters. The bedrooms are large, cozy and share the same amazing view as the rest of the lodge. The lodge is hooked up to the electric grid, but also has a large backup generator in case of power outages. The lodge has recently invested in Starlink, which provides a reliable internet connection. I was able to communicate with my family via WhatsApp all but one night after a big storm knocked out the local power grid for a few hours.
It is impossible to include detail about all guests’ fishing experiences in one report, so I will do my best to share with you my experiences and would suggest looking at previous Magic Waters fishing reports located on the Montana Angler blog to gain a broader understanding of the fishing options available. Every morning Eduardo would assign guides to pairs of guests (some fished as singles) as well as where they would be fishing for the day. For the week I had the pleasure of fishing with Lisa, who had traveled from Tennessee. Although she had extensive fishing experience in the Western US, this was her first international fishing trip. We fished creeks that were small enough to jump across in spots, medium-sized spring creeks and rivers that are maybe 20-40 meters across. We also fished smaller lakes that you could row across in a few minutes and large lakes that we motored across and never saw the other end of. On rare occasions we would fish lakes that were walking distance to the lodge and the longest drive I recall was maybe a little over an hour. The average daily commute was 30-45 minutes.
Upper Rio Simpson
The Rio Simpson is approximately 88km long and varies from a small stream where it originates to a medium-sized floatable river downstream. All the guests that fished the Simpson during our stay focused on the upper and middle parts of the Simpson where the river was best accessed by foot. On the first day, Lisa and I were paired with Sebastian, a long-time guide out of Coyhaique. We prepared for a cool day with the potential for rain. For most of the week the high temps hovered around the 50s with some cooler and warmer days thrown in. I got the impression that it had been a cooler than average summer already and the front that had just moved in turned the temp down another notch or two. The guides were excited for the moisture and increased river levels, but they also knew there was a potential for fish activity to decrease with cooler water temps. My experience in Montana has taught me that grasshoppers need sunny, warm days to become most active and this was hopper season in Patagonia.
We fished a section of the river located on a private ranch. The river was about 20-30 meters wide in most places and easily crossable at the tail of most runs or riffles. At these levels it was a relatively slow-moving river with a few scattered weed beds, deeper runs and relatively shallow riffles. The best fishing happened in the afternoon when air and water temps increased, and most fish were found in both the deeper runs and shallow riffles. I found success slowly working Sparkle Minnows and brown Sex Dungeons in slow, deep runs.
In one run I could see that if I crossed the stream, I would have access to an area where the river hit a rock cliff and a deep drop off. I decided it was worth exploring with the streamer. When I approached the hole. I could see a few rainbows working, occasionally sipping something off the surface. I quickly tied on an ant pattern as I couldn’t tell what was hatching. The fish were in a run with challenging currents and were moving around. They would move in and out of view as they moved up and down through the water column. Long story short, I struggled to present my fly naturally and after a few casts I had one refusal. Eventually, I must have put the fish down as they disappeared. I decided to go back to the brown Sex Dungeon and my original plan. On my first cast, I shot my fly at the top of a drop off. Almost immediately I was hooked into something big. The fish’s first reaction was to go deep under the rock ledge that I was standing on. I had to try to work the fish downstream into easier water to land it. I was able to bring the trout to net. It wasn’t my first fish of the day, but it was far more memorable than the others. A solid Chilean brown trout with a four-inch streamer hanging out of its mouth.
I was able to hook up with a couple more fish on the streamer before I decided to walk upstream and explore new water. The next run I found was a relatively shallow riffle. The bottom of the run was shallow with only a few inches of depth, but the top reached a depth of three feet. It was mid-afternoon, I had seen some fish on the surface on the last run, grasshoppers were starting to move around. I found the shuck from a stonefly that closely resembled the nocturnal stonefly that hatches in Montana mid- to late-summer. I tied on a Water Walker September Stone that I felt would easily pass for the hoppers that were present as well as the adult version of the stonefly shuck I’d found. I was right! This run produced multiple fish who were eager to eat the dry fly. I caught a mix of rainbows and browns from eight inches to surprising large brown trout that broke the 20-inch mark.
On day two Lisa and I were paired with Hayden, a long-time fishing guide originally from the States. This was forecast to be the coldest and wettest day of the week. Lago Barroso is a medium sized lake that is just a few hundred yards from the main lodge. There was a pontoon with an outboard motor located at a makeshift dock that we were to use as our mode of transportation. Hayden requested that Lisa throw big dry flies out of the front of the boat and that I throw streamers with a sinking line from the rear. The lake is lined with lily pads and cattails, so we were to aim for the edges. Hayden encouraged us to take some risks with our casts to ensure that we landed our flies where the fish were. The idea was to get as close to vegetation as possible, hopefully without hooking it, but knowing that we would occasionally. At one point one of us apologized for getting hung up on a cattail and Hayden tells us, “You’ve gotta risk it for the biscuit.”
The drop in pressure had put a damper on fish activity, we had a few short strikes on various streamers, but fish just weren’t into it. Hayden rowed us to the far side of the lake when the winds started to kick up and the rain increased. We tucked into some trees for a few minutes until there was a break in the wind. He fired up the motor and decided that it was time to switch gears. Since we were so close to the lodge, we were given the option to eat lunch in the truck (too rainy to eat outside) or at the lodge. We opted for the cozy lodge. We decided to take off our wet gear and sit next to the fire where Hayden served us lunch. We counted ourselves lucky when strong winds with heavy rains moved in. As quickly as it moved in it was over and clouds parted enough to motivate us to get our gear back on and head to our next adventure.
Some other guests found themselves on Lago Barroso later in the week and were much more successful than Lisa and I. They reported consistent action and some large trout. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen and feels like a very fishy place.
The Rio Arco was small stream that you could jump across in many areas. It snaked its way through private ranch land home to cattle and horses. Despite the stormy morning the weather had improved, and this place was home to lots of grasshoppers. The fishing felt familiar to small trout streams you’d find in the Western US. We found a few bigger runs that were chock full of little trout that were eager to eat nymphs. I found a run that had some fish working on the surface, so again I switched to a small ant pattern, which the trout found acceptable. We eventually hit a wall where the trees were so overgrown that it would have been nearly impossible to wade through, so we slowly worked back through farmland and barbed wire fences designed to keep livestock managed.
As we were walking, we found a deep slough with some cruising fish working the surface. The water was dead calm and the casting challenging as there were trees everywhere. We spent much of our time watching and planning a way to target these fish. We took some chances, but eventually the fish just stopped showing themselves. It was a fun little fishery that provided good action and entertainment. I heard later in the week that some large fish are occasionally caught there.
The Rio Huemules is one of the primary tributaries of the Rio Simpson and is named after the local deer, the huemul. The huemul is extremely endangered and is one of only a few large land mammals found in southern Patagonia.
The river is relatively small with an average width of 15-20 meters across. This river felt like the Upper Simpson, so we treated it similarly. On this day we were paired with Luciano, who is a younger Chilean guide. Early in the day I found what I believe to be shells or exoskeletons from crayfish. I asked Luciano about them, but I didn’t know the Spanish work for crayfish and with my broken Spanish and his broken English all we were able to establish is that they are called pancora. After asking questions later at the lodge, I learned that pancora are a type of freshwater crab that live in some of the waters in Patagonia; something I will keep in mind for future trips.
The fishing was a little sluggish out of the gate, but I saw that Luciano and Lisa were finding some success subsurface with nymphs. For the first time on this trip, I decided to tie on a nymph. Not that I have anything against nymphing and rather enjoy it most of the time, but I prefer to keep my nymphing to a minimum seasonally when fish are more willing to eat dry flies. And I figured streamer fishing would fill the blanks when fish weren’t eating on the surface. But it was finally time to give in. I had tied a few Thread Frenchies the night before at the fly-tying table located at the lodge, which is well stocked with a wide variety of materials. I had a single small indicator with me that would allow me to adjust my depth, so I rigged up with about three inches between the indicator and fly. And of course, it didn’t take long before I found fish willing to eat. The first run I nymphed produced several fish. We bounced around for a while and found a nice grassy bank to eat the lunch that Luciano packed. You could tell the weather was warming and I felt like fishing was only going to get better for the remainder of the trip.
After lunch, we continued to fish upstream until we found ourselves at a beautiful waterfall. We had heard about this place from Chuck and Gloria, guests of Montana Angler. Chuck is well traveled, but felt the waterfall was one of the most beautiful places he had ever seen. Most of the water we had fished up to this point was relatively shallow, but at the base of the waterfall the water was deep. I pulled out the 7-weight with a sinking line and tied on a Sparkle Minnow. While I fished the streamer below the waterfall, Luciano and Lisa set up in another deep run just downstream. Before I had my fly rigged, I could hear Luciano yell. I turned and I could see him holding his hands on his head, looking both excited and disappointed. When he noticed me looking his way, he spread his hands in a way that signaled a big fish, but unfortunately it was not on the end of Lisa’s line. I continue to rig up and position myself as close to the falls as possible. It wasn’t long before I had a big fish on. The fish fought hard, but there weren’t many obstacles to keep me from getting it to the net. It was a beautiful specimen of a brown and caught just in time to start heading back to the truck. I kept the streamer handy and was able to find a few more trout. Undoubtedly, the fishing was going to continue to get better as the weather improved, but we had some ground to cover to get back to the lodge.
On day four, Lisa and I got to fish with Hayden again and his plan was to take us back to the Rio Simpson. This time we’d fish a different section that promised to offer a new experience. Hayden prepared us for a relatively short, steep hike. We had heard reports that the Simpson had continued to improve every day, so we were game. At the truck we made sure to pack in only what we needed, as we were fully committed once we got into the canyon. We left behind some of the heavier items that weren’t critical and began our hike. After a few minutes we arrived at the rim of the canyon. It was a beautiful sight, so I had to hold back for a bit to take some photographs. It reminded me of the canyon of the Rio Grande near Taos, NM. The hike down was relatively painless. Once at the bottom, we rigged up our rods. Hayden explained to me that this area can see king salmon this time of year, so encouraged me to fish the 7-weight. The river downstream was fast, deep and full of car-sized boulders. He acknowledged that fact to illustrate the challenges one would face if they were lucky enough to hook into a king salmon in that area.
The canyon was unlike any I had experienced. In addition to the steep canyon walls, there were large boulders, evidence of lava flow that ended when it reached the river’s edge and fossilized ammonite scattered along cliff walls and trapped in the lava flow. Lupine was prevalent with some plants reaching heights of six feet. Most of the lupine had bloomed already. I can only imagine how stunning this place would be when the flowers are in bloom.
This stretch of water proved very distracting for me, so I spent more time gawking and poking around the first half of the day, making some occasional casts here and there. It wasn’t until we came upon an especially long and deep run that was especially stunning that I regained my focus. Hayden and Lisa were upstream, and it was obvious they had some fish in their sights. There was a large overhanging boulder that Hayden was able to climb on to spot fish and direct Lisa where to cast. The sun was shining, temps were perfect, and we were in a beautiful place. After a few casts I could see Lisa was hooked up. Lisa had a grin on her face from ear to ear.
After some photos and high fives, Hayden told me he was able to see a pair of king salmon from the boulder. I later climbed up with him and I eventually noticed two very large shadows moving slowly at the bottom of a deep run. It seemed unlikely that we would be able to get any flies to these fish unless they moved up in the water column, so after admiring them for a bit I decided to move upstream. I had switched to a Fat Albert and was blind casting to more subtle holding water. I made a cast to water that was maybe 18m inches deep off some boulders and a brown trout, like a small submarine, slowly rose to the surface to gently sip my dry fly.
We took a quick lunch along the river, and I decided I would find a place to cross so that I could move upstream without catching any of Lisa’s fish. The afternoon was perfect hopper fishing. Fish were spread out everywhere and willing to eat. I covered a ton of water and kept casting and the fish kept eating. I eventually found myself in a very large riffle that was deep enough to provide some shelter for fish, but shallow enough that most fish would be able to see flies on the surface. It was a honey hole. I didn’t land them all and they weren’t all big, but it was a ton of fun. As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun,” and before long it was time to hike back. The walk out felt twice as long as the hike in as we had to climb out of the canyon, but the reward was well worth it. We had some cold beers waiting for us back at the truck.
On this day, Lisa and I were headed to a chain of lakes that required a bit of a drive, then a boat ride up rivers and through Lago Desierto and Lago Azul with the goal of reaching Lago la Paloma. It was a gorgeous drive that took us along some beautiful rivers. We arrived at a medium-sized river with an inflatable pontoon boat rigged with a jet outboard. Our guide Jose quickly jumped out of the truck to start getting the boat ready for the day. Lisa and I got our stuff organized and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.
Once ready we loaded up. Jose pushed us out into the river where we began to slowly drift downstream, then jumped on the motor. He throttled the outboard just enough to keep us from floating downstream but gave the engine some time to warm up. Then was go time. I’ve never experienced being in such a small river with an outboard and even stranger was the idea of traveling upstream in a river. What a cool and different way to experience a river. It was a perfect day, the sun was climbing over the mountains, it was crisp, but not cold. The river was gin clear and the scenery was spectacular in every direction. It took us a few minutes to ride upstream until we reached Lago Desierto. Jose had no intention of stopping, so we kept motoring until we reached another short river channel and then arrived at Lago Azul.
Jose started to head towards some cliff walls once we entered the lake and cut the motor once we were close. With a few words he implied that we would start fishing in this spot. He tied a large rubber-legged beetle pattern that he had tied onto Lisa’s rod and directed me to start with some sort of streamer pattern. We were in the shade, and he directed us to get as close to the cliff wall as possible with our casts. My job was to strip my streamers back and Lisa was asked to twitch her dry fly once or twice before recasting. Jose was constantly moving the boat along the cliff’s edge. It was important that Lisa keep casting to keep her flies along the cliffs.
“Set, set, set” yelled Jose as a fish devoured Lisa’s fly. After a short battle Lisa brought in a gorgeous rainbow that had a slight bluish-greenish tint like the color of the lake. In short order, Lisa had several strikes, some rather violent ones too, but I hadn’t touched a fish. It was time for me to switch to a dry fly. This was a nice change of pace from the slower mornings we’d had, and it was awesome to see Lisa enjoying some great dry fly fishing. Although I couldn’t keep up with Lisa’s pace, I started to get some action as well. Jose, who had been quiet up until this point, was smiling and laughing as we continued to move fish. As the sun creeped higher in the sky the dry fly bite started to slow, so we decided to fish streamers again. Jose handed me a simple leech pattern with a bulbous head. It looked kind of weird, but I decided to give it a try. The fish loved it. The fly didn’t have any flash and the big head gave it a lot of action in the water.
At lunchtime Jose motored over to the opposite side of the lake to an amazing spot with towering Andean peaks in the background including the Cerro Castillo, glaciers and an amazing group of trees that we quickly learned was a small cherry orchard. The cherries were brilliantly red and perfectly ripe. We were like hogs in slop eating cherries as quickly as we could pick them. After our first lunch, we ate our second lunch provided by the lodge, which was delicious as usual. During lunch Jose explained to us that there was a change of plan and instead of motoring up the final lake in this chain, Lago la Paloma, we would continue to fish Lago Azul, which was fishing especially well that day. We continued to have a great fishing day, but fish were more interested in the streamer versus the dry fly in the afternoon.
On our final day at Magic Waters Lodge Lisa and I were headed to the Rio Mogote where we were in for a special treat. We were to meet an old Vaquero named Alfredo that was going to guide us on horseback up the Rio Mogote. We were once again paired with Luciano and the drive was nearly identical to the day before. It was the warmest day of our trip, but still cool enough that waders were recommended, and it was easier to wear them on the ride versus packing them on the horses. We met Alfredo at the confluence of the Rio Mogote and Rio Balboa where his horses were already saddled and waiting patiently for us. We loaded up the food and drinks and found a nearby stump to load up on the horses. Even Alfredo used the stump to mount his horse, which made me feel better about myself.
On the ride up Alfredo and I chatted to the best of our abilities. My Spanish is rough, and his understanding of English is minimal, but once we figured each other out we were able to communicate about some flora and fauna, family, stories and other important matters. Alfredo was a real treat to spend some time with and made me wish I spoke better Spanish. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess we rode for 45 minutes or so before we reached a nice grassy area along the river where the horses would graze until it was time to head back. Luciano, Lisa and I got our rods put together and headed to the river.
The river was relatively small, averaging about 10-20 meters across. Although this river was thousands of miles away from home it felt like something I had fished my whole life. I decided to start with the same Water Walker September Stone that had treated me so well on the Simpson days before. There was a downed tree in the river that had fallen from the far bank, which naturally slowed the water down directly below it. I had heard a splash come from this spot a couple minutes earlier while I was rigging, so I decided to explore. I made my first cast as close to the tree as possible without hooking it. The water was only about 12 inches deep in this spot. The fly drifted for a couple of feet when it was smashed by a trout. Another strong start to the day. It was a nice brown, that was surprisingly big for the size of the river it was in. In Montana I would expect to catch fish mostly in the six- to 10-inch range when fishing a comparable stream, but this brown was in the upper teens. I felt like a kid in a candy store. The fishing just kept getting better and better throughout the day as the temps warmed up. Fish ranged from about eight inches to 18 inches, mostly browns. Fish were spread out behind boulders, in riffles, in larger runs and it was hard to do anything wrong.
Today was set up differently than other days and the plan was to have a late lunch, then it would be time to ride back. As we were fishing the last run of the day, we heard a rustle come from the nearby woods, coupled with the sound of hooves and a few moos. Suddenly a small herd of cattle pushed out of the forest and b-lined it right in between where Lisa and I were fishing. They were being pushed by an older gaucho on his horse and a few of his dogs. They pushed through the river right in front of us and quickly disappeared back into the woods. This was a perfect ending to a great fishing day.
We hiked back to camp where Alfredo was tending to a small fire with half a lamb on a steel spit, known as asado (South American BBQ). He also had a rustic table and benches set up in the trees with horse blankets organized on the benches for us. Luciano and Alfredo got to work serving drinks of our choice, setting the table and laying out the other sides, such as homemade sopaipillas (fried dough) that were made the night before by Alfredo’s wife. After the table was set and we were ready Alfredo, pulled out his knife and got to work cutting off pieces of the lamb that he placed on a serving dish. I’ve always believed that food tasted better on camping trips and although we weren’t sleeping under the stars the sentiment was very similar.
Wrapping up at Magic Waters Lodge
The ride back to the lodge was quiet. When we arrived, we cleaned up like we usually do after fishing and had another amazing meal. The wine was flowing this evening and stories were told. I was grateful that the fishing ended on such a high note for the entire group. Outside of the fishing the service and hospitality at Magic Water Lodge was amazing. The food was delicious and served with great pride. There is no doubt that a lot of passion, blood, sweat and tears has gone into making Magic Waters Lodge what it is today.
Eduardo and Consuelo had one last surprise for us after dinner. As per usual, we all funneled into the great room to find a group of local musicians hauling in several different musical instruments that were mostly unfamiliar to me. I could see a special excitement in Eduardo’s eyes. The type of music was not familiar, but they were amazing performers that played with such passion. They were skilled at working the crowd and getting us to sing and play along with various instruments that they passed out. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the week.
Rio Baker Region
Saturday morning after breakfast the Magic Waters crew parted ways with most of them flying back to the States. I however, had another week of adventure planned about five hours south on the Rio Baker and other nearby lakes and rivers. I headed back to Balmaceda where the next crew was due to arrive. There, Eduardo and I met Rafael who is the head of the fishing program at Green Baker Lodge. Rafael, another driver and I welcomed the Montana Angler guests after they retrieved their luggage, and we loaded up for the long drive ahead.
The Route to the Baker
The region we were headed to is serviced by the same commercial airport as Magic Waters Lodge, but instead of an hour-long commute to the lodge we were looking at a four- to five-hour drive depending on road conditions and breaks. The southern region of Chile is serviced by the Carretera Austral, which is a 1,200km highway that stretches from Puerto Montt to the north to Villa O’Higgins to the south. The total length of the highway is a mix of pavement, gravel and even a few water crossings via ferry. The commute to Green Baker Lodge and PBL doesn’t require any ferry crossings, but most of the commute is on gravel roads. Five hours is a long time in a vehicle, but the mix of meeting new people and amazing scenery made it very palatable and even quite enjoyable. I would go as far as to compare it to an informal driving tour of Yellowstone National Park or Glacier National Park, but without the bison jams and on roads that are not as well maintained.
Much of the drive takes place within the valley below the Cerro Castillo, a large mountain that resembles a castle. We were fortunate to have beautiful weather, which allowed for amazing views of this fantastic valley and the surrounding mountains, which appear to go on forever. Along the drive we chatted, learned about the area from our driver, took pictures and even napped a little. The road wound through a relatively unpopulated part of the country with occasional smaller towns that appeared to mostly be driven by a tourist economy.
The Rio Baker is the largest Chilean River by volume, which flows out of Lago Bertand, which in turn is fed by Lago General Carrera, the largest Chilean Lake by volume. The Rio Baker also runs along the eastern edge of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. One of the most unique qualities of the Rio Baker and many of the nearby lakes is its striking green-blue hue. The color is a result of finely crushed sediment that is washed down from melting glaciers. The flour is very fine, so it easily suspends in the water and interacts with light in a way that results in the unique color.
Both Green Baker Lodge and PBL are located just a short distance downstream from the outflow of Lago Bertrand. There isn’t a dam controlling the outflow of the lake, so it is possible to float out of the lake and fish the river downstream to the lodges. It is a relatively short section of water that has a significant section of rapids at the very top that eventually mellow out about halfway down to the lodge. From that point on, the river is made up of larger runs and big eddies. Most of the fishing takes place by fishing the large eddies, either by casting into the smaller ones while you float downstream or by floating inside of the larger ones. We’d target rising fish, cast to likely holding water with streamers or blind fish with dries. The guides explained to us that when the water levels are low there are some exposed islands and shallow sections of water that can fish well with nymph rigs.
The river flows a few kilometers downstream of the lodges before it intersects with the Rio Nef where there is a waterfall with a 10-meter drop. It is common for guides to fish a ways downstream, but they seem to stay a very safe distance upstream of the falls. The fishing boats are large catarafts with outboard motors and rowing frames. The guides will row the boat when folks are actively fishing and switch to the outboard when they need to cover water up or downstream. The river is deep and wide with an average width I would estimate at maybe 100 meters across. At the time we visited the average visibility was maybe two to three feet, so only near the banks were we able to see the bottom.
The first evening we arrived at the lodge we had some quick appetizers and were given the opportunity to get our fishing gear together to do a little fishing before dinner. That was a pleasant surprise, especially after seeing a few fish working from the high deck at the lodge.
On our first fishing session I was paired with guide Bill who was from the States. They had mentioned the possibility of caddis, as well as an ant hatch, so I tied on a small parachute ant pattern not knowing exactly what to expect. Bill was excited as there had been some fish working close to the lodge, so instead of firing up the motor we just pushed out and Bill started rowing. Within a couple of minutes, I was casting to rising fish and had my first Baker River fish on the end of the line. When we started fishing the sun was still relatively high in the sky and fish that were working close to the surface were relatively easy to spot making it easy to know where to cast, but it wasn’t long before the lighting became challenging, and the fish were like ghosts. You’d see them one second and they’d be gone the next. They also started to rise with less frequency, which made finding them challenging.
In the mornings it was common to start off fishing large dries on Baker. The large dries they fished often resembled large beetles or dragonflies. Large Fat Alberts were a common pattern fished in a variety of color combinations. The most common method of fishing large dries was to get to the large recirculating eddies and fish them primarily by floating in the current of the eddy and either casting to foam lines or along the bank to visible fish. Most of the time you floated around this giant river you couldn’t see fish, then suddenly you’d be right on top of a handful or a few dozen. The key was to get a good upstream cast to any fish you could see as quickly as possible before they disappeared, or you floated away from them. Generally if you had a good presentation fish would gladly humor you by eating your fly.
Another surprising thing we learned is that these trout are relatively unbothered by boats and people. We chatted about this phenomenon quite a bit throughout the week and what we realized was they have very few natural predators. There are a few birds of prey in this part of the world, but relatively few. These fish had nothing to fear and if they did, they usually only had to descend about a foot or so before they disappeared completely from human sight.
The Baker is a bit deceptive. When you look at it from a distance you see a wide, slow-moving body of water, but I can assure that the current is moving with more speed than is usually perceived. This adds to the challenge of putting your flies in front of a trout or at the top of a run when you are traveling downstream. Opportunities present themselves often on the Baker, but where your fly lands and how naturally it drifts is critical to success. In addition, it is not always obvious which way the current is traveling. Typical for eddies you have currents that are changing constantly and traveling in multiple directions on the surface. The bank side of a large recirculating eddy is usually flowing more slowly and is more predictable than the outside faster edges of the eddy, so if you missed your opportunities when you first approached you were usually given more chances once the boat was inside the eddy and traveling in slower water.
Another common way to fish the Baker is with medium- to large-sized streamers. For streamer fishing I brought along a Sage R8 7-weight with a Rio Predator medium/fast sink line, which was a good fit for this river, although a faster sink rate would have been nice. You could make a good argument for the use of an 8-weight as well at these levels. The streamer fishing was a more straightforward on the Baker. All you really had to do was aim for the banks, slower water at the head of eddies, etc., and retrieve back. Again, the river and boat are moving deceptively fast downstream, so that adds to the challenge. It was also on this trip that I discovered I had developed “fisherman’s elbow,” which should in no way be confused with “tennis elbow,” since I don’t play tennis. After 30-plus years of fly fishing, I guess I was finally due for a fishing specific injury. Casting dry flies with the 6-weight didn’t really have a noticeable impact on my elbow, but the addition of a heavy sinking line that was often coupled with a heavy streamer really made casting challenging. I pushed through, but it wasn’t always easy.
I can recall an outing when we were fishing the inside of a slower moving eddy. I had stripped my line in and was lifting on my rod to bring the tip of the line and streamer out of the water before my back cast. Just as my fly was coming out of the water, this beast of a brown trout comes flying out of the water to chase my streamer. As quickly as I could I recast into the same water in hopes that the fish would reappear, but it was never seen again. This got everyone’s heart pumping and surely was a reminder to make sure I saw my fly before recasting.
Another favorite outing took place in the rapids section of the Baker. This was an evening mission and we put the boat in on Lago Bertrand, fishing the lake to the river mouth. At this point Rafael beached the boat and made sure that we tied everything in and ensured that we had easy access to our life jackets. We had a little safety talk before heading down. Basically, the name of the game is to cast your streamer into as much fishy water as possible without falling out of the boat. Easier said than done. I did my best to stay standing for as much of it as possible, but there were some rapids that I just couldn’t keep my balance. I had decided to go big for the rapids, so I tied on a black Menage-a-Dungeon or Triple Dungeon, which measures at six inches in length. I think this was the equivalent to trying to ride a bull at a rodeo and stay on for at least seven seconds. Casting a six-inch streamer isn’t easy in general, but add a busted elbow, an aggressive sinking line and rapids that are sometimes multiple feet between the trough and crest and you have yourself a fly-fishing rodeo. I think, at most, I was able to land a couple of trout in the rapids in one run, but they were some of the most enjoyable moments of the trip. There are undoubtedly some monsters that live in this river and many of them are likely hiding in this stretch of water.
Lago Bertrand was a common itinerary throughout the week. This was usually a half-day commitment that involved a short drive to Puerto Bertrand to a small dirt boat launch. From here guides would often motor to parts of the lake that had rocky banks or cliff walls. These rocky banks seemed to be the most desirable places within the lakes to search for trout. From this location you also had the ability to travel to the red bridge or “Hanging Bridge” which spans the narrow gap where Lago General Carrera flows out creating Lago Bertrand, or to the point where Lago Plomo and Lago Bertrand meet. The rapids are such that the pontoons that are used by the guides would not be able to safely navigate upstream to the lake. As the river channel narrows upstream of the rapids there is a bit of structure to fish, such as large, submerged boulders, riffles, etc.
It was on Lago Bertrand where I finally caught a native perca trucha (trout perch), which is one of the few native fish of Patagonia. Trout were introduced in the 19th and 20th centuries to this part of the world.
The Hanging Bridge was a regular destination throughout the week. It is a steel suspension bridge, which is likely how it earned its nickname. It is painted red making it somewhat reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike the rest of the fishing where you are generally casting toward the banks, this section offered some opportunities to fish deeper water. The guides at the lodge were most motivated by the desire to catch large brown trout and it was obvious that this was a good place to find especially large specimens.
If you’ve ever heard about the one that got away, this story was retold after a trip to the hanging bridge. In this story, the fish was so powerful that it swam straight to the bottom of the lake and never made it to the boat. Guest Dave was responsible for hooking and fighting this fish and was sure it was the largest fish he had ever tangled with. Although disappointed that he never got a good look at the fish, it sparked an even stronger desire in him and the fishing guides to keep chasing after “the one.”
There are opportunities nearby on both Lago Bertrand and Lago General Carrera to cast along the banks. On windy days a ride out to the middle of one these lakes can end in an adventurous ride. There were a couple of days where guests returned with stories of riding waves, often whilst still attempting to catch fish.
Rio Leones/Lago General Carrera
Rio Leones is a short river that is fed by Lago Leones, which gets its water from the glacial melt of Glaciar Leones. The sediment being deposited by the glacier is especially dense in glacial flour, which makes for a light tan color that has zero visibility as it enters Lago General Carrera. The river itself is unfishable due to the level of turbidity, but what is desirable is fishing where the river and lake water mix.
This was another one of those locations, which the guides would target in the hopes of something especially large. The plan for this day was to get up early enough in the morning to be fishing by sunrise. There was a bit of a drive to make this happen, so our guide Rafael made sure to grab us some coffee and breakfast to go. Keep in mind that we fished the evening before until it was so dark, we couldn’t see our flies anymore. When I asked the guides about sleep during the season the most common response was there is plenty of time to sleep in winter.
When we arrived at the lake the sun was just about to peak over the horizon. It was a beautiful, calm morning. We loaded up, rigged up our rods and motored over to the mouth of the river. We started casting before we reached turbid water from the river and slowly worked our way over. The lighting was such that I didn’t even notice the dirty water until we were right on top of it, but it is as obvious as the yin-yang symbol. Sometimes we would hang out in the clear water and cast into the turbid water stripping our flies into the clear water of the lake and other times we did the opposite. In the end we did not find “the one” on this mission, but it turned out that one of the silver rainbows I caught was not a rainbow at all, but a sakura salmon also known as the cherry salmon, native to the North Pacific. Salmon have been introduced to this region relatively recently to increase sportfishing opportunities and as part of the salmon farming industry along the coast.
From Rio Leones we took the long road home. The motor was used to move long distances from spot to spot. While fishing the motors were never running and the guide was on the oars either moving along lake banks or navigating the boat downstream while in the river. On this day we fished various rocky banks in both Lago General Carrera and Lago Bertrand, we made a stop at the hanging bridge and some of its nearby waters and fished through the rapids back to the lodge. We considered spending some time where Lago Plomo and Lago Betrand meet, but we had some time constraints, which had us b-lining it back to the lodge. The color of Lago Plomo is like that of Rio Leones, so I imagine the fishing techniques are comparable.
Most of the fishing in this part of the country takes place from a boat, but there are a handful of smaller rivers that do allow for some unique walk and wade experiences. One I was fortunate enough to experience was the Rio Cochrane. Where we fished was located about 45 minutes south of the lodge beyond the confluence of the Nef and Baker rivers, near the town of Cochrane. Although it wasn’t very far away, the climate felt a little warmer and dryer and the scenery quite different from that near the lodge, which is lush with tall trees. The Rio Cochrane is surrounded by Calafate and wild rose bushes. It felt more like the high desert climate found in the Southwestern US, but in the middle of it all was a river oasis.
The Rio Cochrane was an optional fishing location that was explained to us with some fine print. It was described as a walk and wade fishery with challenging casting and limited opportunities. They wanted to make sure that we understood the challenges before agreeing to the adventure. Gary, one of the group of clients that traveled with Montana Angler, was the first one to take the bait. The rest of the group then agreed that they would decide if they were up for the challenge depending on Gary’s report. When Gary returned from the trip, he talked about it with a sense of excitement and felt like it would be a good experience for everyone. He was also honest about the amount of walking he did that day and a relatively low fish count, which led to some hesitation in the group. I was fully on board however, so took my opportunity when it came.
After driving to the river, we had a 10-minute hike or so to get to the river. The hike was easy but required some navigation through dense brush. My guide for the day, Agustin, in addition to carrying our lunches and beverages, had a float tube, float tube fins, manual air pump and two significant lengths of rope. The reason for this extra baggage became obvious when we got to the river. We needed to get to the far side of the river, but it was too deep to wade. The width of the river at our crossing was maybe 30 meters across, but you couldn’t see the bottom in most cases. The bottom of this river is also very muddy and soft, so even if it were low enough to cross you might not make it across due to the soft bottom.
Agustin got to work inflating the float tube. When ready he dragged it to the riverbank along with the rope and everything he needed to get across. At the bank he put on the float tube fins and got in the water. Both lengths of rope were attached to the float tube, but my job was to hold on to one as he maneuvered across and the other stayed with the boat. He faced downstream and kicked upstream as hard as he could to maintain, so that he didn’t get pushed too far downstream and together we would occasionally mend the rope upstream. When he got to the other side, he unloaded all his stuff and asked me to drag the boat back. He held on to his length of rope. It was my turn to load up my stuff and get in. I did not have the float tube fins, so relied on Agustin to get me across by pulling his rope as quickly as possible. For whatever reason this ferry experience was one of the most memorable parts of the trip and a clever way to get to the other side of the river without getting ourselves wet. This might be a good time to remind folks how important it is to travel with dry bags on fishing trips, such as these.
The river is like a giant spring creek, but much deeper than any I had ever experienced. It was lined with trees and shrubs that made access difficult, especially for the fly angler. The objective for the day was to cover ground until we found a large enough opening in the overgrowth to either make an overhand cast, or more often a roll cast. Even roll casts were made difficult as it was challenging to wade into this river either because it dropped off too quickly into deep water or it was too muddy to easily navigate. The water color was beautiful but had just enough turbidity that we only had a foot or two of visibility, making it difficult to spot fish or know what was below the surface of the water.
Most of the time Agustin wanted me to cast to the far side of the river, which was much easier said than done, especially when there wasn’t room for a back cast. I would estimate that the ideal average cast was about 60 feet. We mostly fished the sinking line as well, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. The weight allows you to shoot line more easily, best done with an overhand cast. I quickly learned the challenges of roll casting an aggressive sinking line.
We aimed for any obvious structure or cover we could see. Trees and bushes were often overhanging on the far bank, occasionally we were able to see weed beds and drop offs. There was also a fair number of downed trees and limbs in the river that created a ton of structure. Although I am not certain this is a true spring creek, the level of skill required to fish it well is up there with many of the technical spring creeks of the American West.
Almost every spot that Agustin put me in produced at least a strike if I was able to deliver my fly well enough into the best water. Sometimes I was rewarded with multiple strikes and occasionally I was lucky enough to both hook and land a fish. Many of the strikes I got were when the fly was downstream of us, which on average leads to far fewer hookups due to direction of the hook set relative to the fish’s mouth. Also, there are a lot of obstacles to navigate once the fish is hooked. Although there were a fair number of hoppers in the grass and along the banks due to the cooler weather this area had been experiencing, including rain, the hoppers never really became active, and we did not notice any hatching aquatic insects. We only witnessed a few sporadic rises. I can only imagine what this place is like when the fish are looking up. In the end I agreed with Gary’s sentiment that the Rio Cochrane should be experienced by all, but you must be willing to walk, scramble through brush and be ok with challenging casting conditions.
The Baker River Lodges
The folks at Green Baker Lodge worked their butts off to host our group and we are grateful to them for their time and hospitality. We also had a chance to tour the work being done on the extensive renovations at the Patagonia Baker Lodge. From there, it is obvious that the view from the lodge will be spectacular as it faces upstream towards the rapids. One of the days Eduardo made the long drive down to check on the progress of PBL and give me a quick tour. Although located in a very different region of Patagonia the lodge felt very similar to Magic Waters Lodge with an equally impressive view. The layout is very similar, and I am confident that it will have the same great feel. We are confident that Eduardo and Consuelo will have this lodge finished and ready for guests for the next fishing season.
It was a wonderful couple of weeks spent with great people sampling some of Chile's best fly fishing rivers and streams. I had an amazing time getting to know our guests, new and old, fishing guides and lodge staff. The guides and lodge staff worked tirelessly for us and seemed genuinely happy to be doing it the entire time. It was a pleasure, and I cannot wait until my next opportunity to visit again. Magic Waters Lodge offered a wide variety of fishing opportunities, with most days either spent on foot fishing small to medium sized rivers and streams or fishing lakes by boat. The Baker River region offered a wide variety, but with most of the fishing taking place from the boat on the Baker River and area lakes. Both lodges require some effort to get to, but from the airport in Balmaceda, Magic Waters Lodge is only a 45-minute drive, while the drive to the Baker River is significantly longer. The effort is well worth the reward in both cases.