If variety is the spice of life then life is pretty good when fly fishing in Chile near the central Patagonia town of Coyhaique. In our travels to different regions of Patagonia over the last several years the Aysen region of Chile has proven to offer some of the most diverse opportunities for fly fishing for wild trout of any region on earth. I was certainly impressed last year when we visited Magic Waters Patagonia, an Orvis endorsed lodge near Coyhaique, in 2014 when we fished 8 different fisheries in 6 days. On our return visit to see Eduardo and the rest of the team at Magic Waters I was expecting another diverse trip which included floating big rivers, wading small streams and site casting on lakes. What I didn’t expect was to see entirely different fisheries from our visit a year ago. We fished all new fisheries this season – all equally as productive as those from the prior year. And just like 2014 the lack of other guides and anglers was truly magical. In 2 years of fishing out of Magic Waters I have fished 16 different streams, lakes and rivers and have only seen one other group of anglers.
Magic Waters is a family run lodge located about 45 minutes south of the small town of Coyhaique along a string of 5 private lakes filled with large trout. It is located in the heart of Patagonia 45 degrees south of the equator (Bozeman, Montana is 45 degrees North). Eduardo Barrueto has assembled the most seasoned team of guides we have found south of the equator. He grew up fly fishing on his friend’s estancia near the small town of Balmaceda and has used his local connections to secure exclusive access for his guests to over a dozen massive ranches throughout the region. The end result is an incredible diversity of waters with extremely little fishing pressure. For our January hosted trip 9 guests joined us for another adventure to Patagonia along with Montana Angler guide Bill Buchbauer and photographer/outfitter Bret Seng (check out Brett’s work at Brett Seng Photography – several of the photos in this post are his work).
Day 1: Arrival in Santiago
Castillo Rojo Hotel is an old castle in the heart of Santiago's historic Bella Vista neighborhood
Our crew arrived in Santiago mid morning after our overnight flights. We cabbed it to the lively Bella Vista neighborhood and our unique accommodations at the Castillo Rojo Hotel (the Red Castle), a historic old manor house in one of Santiago’s oldest neighborhood. After dropping luggage at the hotel we headed to Galindo’s to enjoy some cold local beers and great Chilean pub cuisine. In the evening we headed
back out after a nap at the hotel to enjoy an incredible seafood restaurant called El Meson Nerudiano. Bella Vista was filled with life and block after block of street café was filled with locals coming out to enjoy a Friday night. Enjoying this great city is always a great start to the trip and this year was no exception.
Day 2: Flying South to Patagonia And Arrival At Magic Waters Back to the airport the next morning we caught our 2 hour flight south. The scenery out the window quickly changes from the arid landscape similar to Southern California to lush mountains, glacier capped peaks and numerous conical volcanoes. Eduardo and Consuelo were waiting with 4 vehicles to take us back to the lodge. A weather system was pushing in from the Pacific and wind and rain soon engulfed the lodge shortly after arrival. After settling in an enjoying a wonderful local soup prepared by chef Saundra (also Eduardo’s mother) we debated whether to try our luck on the laguna. Finally Marcello, one of our guides for the rest of the week, talked Geoff and I into trying our luck. After gearing up in Gore-Tex from head to toe we headed into the storm and managed to each get a hookup before heading back in to enjoy the warm fire and a cold beer.
Day 3: Wading the Rio Huemules
In the morning the rain was still falling and the wind blowing. Luckily our enthusiasm for our first day with the guides fueled excitement and we all headed in different directions. Eduardo and the guides decided to send most of our crew to the fisheries in the valley near the Argentine boarder. Brett and Bill headed to the Paloma system in the mountains where it rained heavily throughout the day and blew out the river. Randy Buckley and I headed to one of his ranch leases on the Huemules River. The Huemules begins in Argentina and flows across the border to join the Rio Blanco Chico to form the Simpson River. As we headed east into the dryer pampas climate the rain abruptly changed from a shower to a mild drizzle and our excitement level grow.
After driving for 20 minutes across dirt estancia roads we dropped into the river corridor. The Huemules is spectacularly beautiful with dramatic scenery punctuated by multiple river wide waterfalls. The geology of the valley is defined by large basalt lava flows that form several ledges (producing the water falls). I haven’t travelled to Iceland but the river cooridore reminded me of many of the Icelandic rivers I have seen in photos with the volcanic terraced waterfalls. The river bottom is also very unique with large basalt flats that drop off into defined ledge channels. The Huemules is often warmer than the surrounding mountain rivers which was a smart choice for a colder than average day. Although the river caught on fire on later days it was still very productive for Randy and I.
The cool rainy weather produced a sparse hatch of drakes but surprisingly the trout still favored large size 6 fat alberts which they took with aggression. Browns dominated the fishery and each trout I landed was well fed and fought aggressively. We spotted a nice 20” plus brown while hiking and managed to land several in the 18” class. Most of the trout were in relatively skinny water – with several hugging the banks.
I did experiment with stripping streamers and had very good luck on small black wooley buggers but the big dries seemed to draw equal numbers of trout and larger ones. At the end of the day we had 2 other groups on other parts of the Huemules (Eduardo has about 10 miles of the river) and they all had a great day as well.
Day 4: Wading the Emperador Guillermo Although the weather was breaking and the sun was shining on our second day of guided fishing. Eduardo was still nervous about sending guides into the mountain rivers since Brett and Bill had observed them on the rise from the rains earlier in the week and the weather was still cooler than average. Since the valley rivers had fished so well the day before all six guides headed to valley rivers including the Emperador Guillermo, Huemules and Simpson. Bill, Randy and myself joined Monte Becker our guide for the trip north to this beautiful meadow and canyon stream. Monte helped to pioneer Chilean fishing and whitewater boating. Originally from Wyoming he cut his teeth on the oars over 35 years ago guiding in the Grand Canyon. The attraction of big unexplored whitewater brought him to Chile where he pioneered several first descents on rugged canyon runs. He eventually opened his own fishing lodge which he ran for over a decade before teaming up with Eduardo.
Bill and I were hoping to get some nice photography of the region so we had Monte point us in the direction of a rugged canyon section and we let Randy and Monte focus on the productive riffle run waters. The Guillermo is a gorgeous medium sized trout river – too small to float but big enough that wading across the river is only possible in tail outs. Monte primed us in the morning that the trout concentrations were very high and if the fishing was slow to avoid covering lots of water – better to wait until the fish become active. True to Monte’s word the cold nights from the cold front had put the fish in a reluctant mood in the morning. Billy had to work hard to rouse a few fish on nymphs.
About an hour before lunch we started to notice some caddis and mayflies emerging and within about 15 minutes after seeing the first bugs the river came to life. Suddenly trout appeared in every riffle, rock seam and bank eddy aggressively taking the mayflies that resembled pale morning duns. As the hatch intensified so did the action. We experimented with some of the massive dry flies that work so well in the mountains but mouse patterns were completely ignored. These trout were definitely keyed in on the mayflies emerging. Surprisingly we received a few refusals on our first stab at fly selection with a larger purple haze. Once we dialed into our Montana spring creek strategies and switched over to some CDC emergers we enjoyed plenty of “catching”. It was a great testament that even in waters that rarely see flies trout can get selective during thick hatches.
Most rivers in the program at Magic Waters have trout that will top out well over 20” but the Guillermo is an exception. It is dominated by rainbows (unusual in the region which is dominated by brown trout) with a very high trout density. Our biggest fish of the day were in the 17” class. The scenery was fantastic with wild lupine carpeting the valley floor and rugged snowcapped peaks towering overhead. Bill and I explored a rugged canyon that reminded us of Willow Creek here in Montana (without the rattlesnakes!). When we met up with Randy near the end of the day he had a big grin on his face after a fast action afternoon.
Day 5: Simpson River Canyon
The Simpson is the only river we fished on our 2014 trip. Although last year we fished a private access ranch upstream and only for a few hours since our plan A that day were spring creeks that got windy after lunch – it was our last day and we were pretty worn out after a week of fishing and left after an hour so I was very excited to spend a full day on this productive river.
Randy and I teamed up with Monte Becker again to float a rugged canyon section of the river. Monte is one of the few guides in the valley with the class V skills to navigate the daunting whitewater on this run which keeps it very pristine and lightly fished. We started the trip in a run and gun boulder garden section of the river. I rigged up a large articulated streamer and enjoyed one of the best streamer eats I’ve had in a few years as big 17-20” browns rocketed out of rock eddies to crush the streamer with reckless abandon. I throw a 200 grain sinking line on a seven weight with a short 3 foot 0X leader. Action was great and in the morning the sun was low.
As we moved into the afternoon the sun rose and we moved deep into the canyon with much larger deep pools and less pocket water. The streamer bite slowed down but we started enjoying some great action on large rainbows surfing in eddy lines. Some back eddies had as many as a dozen 17-23” rainbows cruising the seam just below the surface. Site casting to the big rainbows was challenging but exhilarating and Randy had several nice hookups on these silver bullets. The sun was now shining strong and high pressure set in producing an incredible day in this cathedral like canyon.
When we returned to the lodge it sounded like everyone else had banner days. One group only moved 200 yards on one of the valley fisheries with intense hatches bringing trout to the surface throughout the day. Bill and Brett fished the Lago Elizalde outlet river and the Rio Paloma and landed several nice browns over 20” on giant dry flies.
Day 6: Cerro Castillo Lakes
We opted to head to the Cerro Castillo region which is home to over 40 trophy lakes filled with wild browns and rainbows. This was a long 1:45 minute drive from the lodge but we liked the idea of huge trout and wanted to see a new valley. Eduardo informed us we were headed to a lake he had access to that had monster browns in the 8-20lb range. We were warned that catch rates were low and getting skunked was possible but if we landed one it would be huge.
The drive was spectacular – after leaving the lodge we headed toward the dryer pampas near Balmaceda before turning south onto the Austral highway. We immediately started climbing up a spectacular pass and the scenery became mountainous. Unlike the terrain farther east this area had dryer vegetation and reminded me like the Summit county region of Colorado – big mountains and dryer forests. Eventually we rounded a bend and the dramatic vista of the Cerro Castillo valley unfolded. Cerro Castillo is the name of a large peak that is also visible from the Paloma valley behind the lodge but on the backside it is incredibly dramatic with massive hanging glaciers dripping off of razor like peaks.
We dropped our boats in after passing through a few locked gates. Although not a huge lake it wasn’t a pond either and there were both shallow reed filled back bays and deep rock cliffs to entertain us. Randy and I fished our sinking lines with large streamers. Our guide Alex used a drift anchor to slow the boat and we drifted rock faces while quickly retrieving our flies. After about an hour I spotted a massive brown following my streamer all the way to the boat – my heart was suddenly in my throat as I realized it was the biggest wild trout I had ever seen in my life. I was now a true believer and was hell bent on hooking one of these behemoths. After 30 more minutes another big brown – probably in the 8-10lb range followed but again wouldn’t take. I decided to drop a smaller damsel nymph behind my streamer just in case. The boat then blew into a shallower bay where the water depth was only 10 feet with weed beds at the bottom.
On my next cast I saw a massive dark shape that looked to be about 3 feet long rocket across the bay in fractions of a second before destroying my fly. I’m not sure what came out of my mouth but I know it isn’t something I could repeat in front of my kids when that fish hit. It was by far the biggest trout I had ever hooked – the take nearly ripped my arm out of socket. Luckily I was loaded for bear with 0X tippet and freshly tested knots. The fight was intense with the huge brown rocketing out of the water in tall jumps. Eventually Alex netted it – a quick take in the net indicated 26” but I think if layed flat this fish was an honest 28”. I landed a 28” brown in New Zealand about 15 years ago but this fish was much, much heavier – probably 8-10lbs. We had one other follow later that day but the big brown turned out to be the only fish to the net that day. Marcel also joined us on the lake with two other guests from the lodge and Jack was able to hook one monster that got off just before the net. So the lake turned out just as Eduardo described – low action but high reward. That one trout was certainly all I needed and was my big fish of the trip (and my life)!
Back at the lodge it sounded like the rest of the crew enjoyed another great day at various locations. Reports of fast action days and big fish were shared around the large stone fireplace. Bill and Brett joined Monte on an adventurous first run exploration through a remote gorge on the Paloma complete with class IV rapids, big fish and stunning scenery.
Day 7: Lago Claro, tributaries and Rio Blanco
In our continued effort to explore new waters our guide Andy invited us to his home waters. Andy and his wife moved to Chile from Germany about 20 years ago and found 40 acres of land on the banks of Lago Claro. They built their home on a remote part of the lake, hauling building materials in a plywood motorbuilt they built themselves. Lago Claro is fed by the spectacular Paloma River. On the other end of the lake the river exits with a new name – the Rio Blanco.
In the morning we started in drifting some floats on the lee side of the lake searching for cruising trout. After landing a few medium sized browns on dry flies the wind started to build so Andy took us to a small tributary stream that entered the lake. After some careful stalking we spotted some nice browns in gin clear water.
I hooked and landed two smaller browns in the 18” class and Randy had a few shots at larger fish. We eventually spotted a nice brown holding in strong current. I was up and cast a small stonefly nymph on a long leader without and indicator to get the fly down to the fish. On the first cast we saw the fish move and I set the hook – the trout turned out to be even larger than I expected and put up a fantastic fight as I had to run back and forth across the tailout of the run to keep it from diving into undercuts. Eventually Andy netted the monster which I estimated to be about 23” with thick shoulders – great fish!
After lunch the wind on the lake was still up so we motored to the outlet of the lake where numerous 18” browns were sliding onto a flat to feed on a caddis hatch. Randy set up on the outlet and hooked several nice fish on dries that were feeding over a gravel bottom near a weed bed. After enjoying 2 hours at the outlet we hiked through the rain forest into the upper reaches of the powerful Rio Blanco and past a massive unrunnable class VI rapid where the entire river exploded off of a rock face in a 90 degree bend. Below the rapid we spotted a nice brown over 20” sipping on small dries in the back eddy. Randy took a turn at this fish and managed to bring it up without a hook set. Andy switched flies and we let the fish rest – a few minutes later we saw it feed again and Randy took another shot and managed to bring it up a second time but this time the small hook opened on the hook set. All and all a truly memorable day!
Day 8: Rio Blanco (Chico) Since this was our last day at the lodge, Randy and I discussed options for the next day. Since we were both headed for another week farther south along the Baker River with lots of big water float fishing and large lakes we opted to spend one more day wading smaller waters which we both enjoy. Again we headed to a new fishery that we hadn’t seen the year before. We headed back toward Cerro Castillo and into the lee side of the mountains that are so reminiscent of the Maroon Bells area of Colorado (without the ski resorts and condos). We drove across yet another ranch and hiked into a spectacular canyon where we found a gin clear medium sized trout stream complete with azur waters, dense forests and towering cliffs. Randy headed down stream with our guide Guillermo while Brett Seng and I headed upstream to focus on photography. Brett is also a guide and outfitter here in Montana but is also a very talented photographer (see his work at Brett Seng Photography).
We hiked up into a very rugged and remote canyon – often with Brett hundreds of feet above the water running around like a mountain goat to gain dramatic shot angles. The fishing was an absolute blast with medium sized browns in the 10-17” class aggressively taking small fat alberts. It was readily apparent that these fish had probably never seen flies. At points we had to latterly scale the sides of small cliffs to get to the next run. This was easily one of the most beautiful little trout streams I have had the opportunity to fish. What a treat! Back at the lodge we enjoyed a traditional lamb asado. The lamb is slow cooked over open coals throughout the day and is a traditional Patagonian delicacy for special occasions. Eduardo and Consuelo’s children Martin and Manuela passed out party hats and we enjoyed a final festive evening around the dinner table.
Day 9: departure day A week certainly goes by too fast. At breakfast we noticed a boat out on the laguna: it was Eduardo rowing Phillip Edison, one of the Chicago boys, around for a few more shots before leaving the lodge. Most of our crew was heading back to the states while Randy, Bill and Brett and I were heading farther south to visit the Patagonia Baker Lodge for a few more days of fishing. Check out Part 3 of our Patagonia Trip Report. We have 2 more hosted trips with a few spots in March and April of 2015 and 4 trips to Magic Waters in 2016 scheduled and spots are going fast. Contact us if you are interesting in joining us in this great Patagonia adventure.