Trailing cows to the summer pasture in the Big Belt mountains, I couldn’t help but daydream about being on the river. Summer in Montana was too short to be wasted on the back of a horse; it is better spent chasing trout. I spent the summers of my early 20’s guiding fly fishermen and doing ranch work. It was something I had always wanted to do having grown up in Montana. I really only knew three things at that age: fishing, hunting, and football, and roughly in that order. As the youngest son of an avid angler in Montana, I experienced some incredible fishing: salmon flies, clouds of caddis so thick you couldn't help but inhale a few with every breath, and, of course, trout big enough to haunt your memories forever.
No matter how great the fishing is, something about trout fisherman keeps them always searching for that shangri la of trout country. Growing up, I can remember my father spinning tales of trout that lived in far away exoctic places and grew to sizes that would dwarf any of the fish we ever caught. He would speak of trout that thrived at the foot of the Andes, of sea run browns that could only be imagined in your dreams; trout with gigantic features that swam with eels and had to be hunted like deer due to their incredibly low densities; rainbows that enjoyed vodka as much as their bipedal neighbors; and egg-eating monsters that ran wild in the land of the midnight sun.
I could only hope that one day I would get a chance to visit these far away places. This past January I was able to check one of these dream destinations off of the list: Chile. When a hole opened up on our of our Montana Angler trips to Magic Waters Patagonia Lodge I was quick to volunteer to join the crew headed south.
Magic Waters Patagonia Lodge is owned and operated by Eduardo Barrueto and his wife Consuelo. The rest of the family is ever present in the kitchen and helping to maintain the lodge. It is nestled in a secluded valley along a chain of lakes filled with large browns and within striking distance of some of the world’s most amazing trout rivers.
Day 1: Rio Simpson
Driving in from terrain that reminded me of my high mountain desert home of Montana, we headed south and quickly entered a rain forest ecosystem. Such drastic changes in landscape seem to only happen in folklore, however, here I was was seeing it come to life. We left the dry climate and entered the rainforest canyon, following the Simpson as it snaked along. Then, suddenly, the canyon walls disappeared and the Simpsons entered a majestic valley.The scenery is breathtaking, my heart pounding, wondering what monsters were lurking below the surface. I looked around at the sky-piercing mountains in awe, distracting my fishing brain momentarily.
As Monte readied the raft, I wondered what the future entailed. Just looking at the water, you can see why big browns call this water home—logs and rocks riddle the river and I couldn't help but think that there is a 25-incher hiding under every one. This is where, as a trout fisherman, you come to an impasse. It would be easy to tie on a 6-inch articulated black nasty and hurl it until it was met with vengeance, but something about that buzzing of the larger-than-life members of coleoptera tantalize your spirits in ways that are difficult for fly fisherman to express. Instead, I decided to take a moment to let my surroundings soak in and let my fishing partner try his luck at raising a croc. I tried my best to work the camera, to somehow someway capture the moment in a click of a button. There are individuals among us who seem to have the innate ability to do so; I envy their abilities.
The weather was ominous. Dark clouds, weighted down with rain, tried their best to crest over the towering peaks, driven by a furacious wind. This was our welcoming to the Aysen region of Patagonia. The fish eluded us for most of the day, but our guide was confident. And Monte, in his wisdom, found fish for us to work over. In the midst of the chaotic atmosphere, we were able to tighten our lines with some acrobatic rainbows, but continued to be eluded by the loch leven's this stream is famous for.
We pressed on into our day after a brief rest for nourishment, to hound the waters for the fish we knew were just a cast away. Then, at the same moment, as it so often seems to happen, Monte and I visually connected with a rise of a fish that was more than deserving of our attempts. Ron made a great cast to the fish in its last known location. The drift was good, but he was not rewarded. Another cast to the beast yielded nothing. A third cast to the fish and our hopes of seeing a rise diminished. When suddenly, the fly was flushed, disappearing into the abyss. The hook was set, perhaps eagerly, and that is where it ended. Heavy-toothed, leopard-printed trout, can humble any angler at a given moment. That was us. What a way to start a six-day excursion in Chilean trout waters.
Day 2: Lago X
I awoke on the morning of the second day feeling rested and fulfilled. If the trip ended today, I would be satisfied. The dinner that Eduardo and his amazing staff had put together the night before was hearty and soul soothing. The breakfast table was filled with colorful fruits, fresh bread, meat and cheese. I was set on staying here for some time.
Shortly after breakfast we were informed that we would be heading to a chain of lakes, with guide Jose, to chase cruising browns with dries. As we packed our gear my mind raced with vivid imagination of what was to be our day. Driving to our destination, I honestly expected at a T-rex to step out of the trees at any moment. The area is so pristine; I envisioned that this was what it must have looked like when dinosaurs roamed our planet.
We arrived at our destination. The beauty of the water was overwhelming. The turquoise water that flowed through the canyon looked more like a rare jewel than flowing water. I was wondering how I could bottle it up and take it home to my wife.
Jose prepared our jet-propelled raft for our journey up river to the first lake. He gave me the controls, as he had forgotten something on shore, and bailed off to retrieve it. Ron, my fishing partner, must have thought I had been hitting the bottle during the entire drive. It’s easy to say my motor skills were a bit rusty. At that moment, I was glad not to be at the wheel, for the steering of this tank-of-a-raft deemed to be quite difficult for me. Our short journey up river opened up into one of Chile's true gems. I couldn't get over the magnificent color of the water. Now, to catch a fish or two and seal the deal.
As Jose set us up, Ron made short work of the first fish of the day. His aggressive movement of Jose’s signature pattern caught the attention of a lurking brown. As Ron ceased his retrieve, the larger-than-life foam beetle came to a rest and then was soon removed from its perch atop the water, ending up in the mouth of our first victim. The day would be filled with multiple subtle takes from large brown trout that seemed to appear out of nowhere and then disappear to the depths, pulling with a strength not matched by many fish of their size. We finished the day with sore arms, burned fingers, and eager to return to the lodge to share our day and find out what gastronomic adventure awaited us.
Day 3: Emperador Guillermo River
The first two days of cool rainy weather were, for me, an easy transition from the winter in Montana to summer in this hemisphere. The third day, however, would see a rise in the mercury. The sun shone bright as Carlos, our guide, took us north to the Emperador Guillermo River. The Guillermo is a medium sized wade fishing stream and we accessed it on a huge Estancia that Eduardo has access to. As we got closer, Carlos pointed out a rock formation that strangely looked like a rider atop his horse. With every angle, it became more and more realistic, almost as if man had something to do with it.
We passed over streams that looked to be teaming with wild trout. I thought wherever we were headed must be unreal. We stopped along a small stream that looked similar to many that I have fished back home. One difference though: this stream seemed to have fish in every inch of water. From the deep pools, to the shallow riffles, they were literally everywhere.
As the day wore on, the trout still fed on top and never seemed to stop. Unlike my home waters, where the fish are likely to give you only a short window to target them with dries, these fish were so eager to eat on top, it was almost surreal. From the starting bell to the finish, they never quit eating on the surface. I was transported to my childhood; I casted to every fish I could find and was so enthralled to get rewarded time after time. It was the first wade day of the trip. I was so consumed with rising fish that when I finally looked up, I expected to be miles away from Ron and Carlos. I found myself a mere bend away. I couldn’t believe how many hook ups I had over such a short distance.
We reconvened at the end of the day to cast to a few more trout before we threw in the towel. A short trip home, watching the light fade, was a great ending to an unreal day.
Day 4 Rio Paloma Canyon
On the morning of the fourth day, we would again be paired with Monte. I truly admire Monte and his abilities, and on this day, I learned just how incredibly talented he truly is. After some discussion, Eduardo and Monte decided that floating the canyon section of the Rio Paloma would send me and Ron over the top. We had seen pieces of the canyon from one of our previous trips; the rapids we were about to embark on were slightly nerve-racking. I had seen the bottom of the canyon and the top, and somewhere in the middle laid a section that included four rapids. My mind raced thinking about how serious the rapids could be.
There was a lot of ground between the top and the bottom, mostly vertical feet. Monte and Eduardo assured us that the rapids were serious, but enjoyable, and we would see some incredible fish. When we arrived at the put-in, I stood in anticipation. I had my 6-wt rigged up with a sink tip and was prepared to throw uglies until my arm fell off.
Ron and I looked down river wondering what lie before us as Monte prepared us for the float. His stoic character consumes you. He could have told us we were going to go over a 50-ft waterfall, and Ron and I would have nodded our heads in agreement, knowing that he had the ability to do so. There are no 50-ft waterfalls to go over, but there are four intense rapids that Monte had thoroughly prepared us for. His attention to detail and delivery radiates of his time spent behind the oars. Monte navigated the rapids so effortlessly, I couldn't have been more impressed.
As we drifted along, Monte seemed to know where every fish was. We would pull over at certain spots and he would put Ron on fish as I scrambled around looking for a giant to throw my streamer to. On the second-to-last rapid, Monte pulled off some Jedi-like moves to squeeze us through the narrow canyon walls and set us up on a moon-sized boulder in the middle of the river. Monte and Ron scurried up the rock to get a bird's-eye view of the deep pool behind us. There, on the bottom, lay one of the fish we were looking for. We had found our fish; now how to catch him?
The beast was at least 15-ft deep and he was facing the same direction as the flow of the surface current. At the bottom, where the fish was holding, the current was rebounding off a monstrosity of a rock that we were dallied to. A difficult situation to be in: surface water flowing downstream, but as you got deeper, the flow actually began to go upstream, making it difficult to get a fly in front of the fish. Try to imagine the surface current bringing your line and fly downstream, but needing to get 10+ feet deep and in the other current to even have a chance to entice the fish. I had seen this scenario play out before, usually with cast after cast to no avail. However, Monte and I discussed what the proper approach would be. We concluded that if we could get the fly far enough upstream, there may be a chance with the sink tip for the fly to get down deep enough.
One big problem was the giant rock in my backcast, interfering with my ability to cast very far. This is where we, as fisherman, get inventive. I searched for a crease in my back cast and found one. My first couple casts were short and the fly only got a couple feet deep. I was beginning to think the current was too swift even for my sink tip to get my fly down. I made a third cast, my farthest yet. The fly began to sink. At six feet, some smaller fish keyed into my streamer and gave chase. In my peripheral, I saw the big fish move. My initial thought was that I lined him, as I had feet of line swirling around willy-nilly. I stripped rigorously, trying to bring life to my feathered fly. As the fly was nearing the surface, I was about to pull it out of the water when in slow motion I saw the jaws of the leviathan opening wide and speeding toward my fly. Then, in the blink of an eye, he engulfed the articulated pattern. I set the hook and he exploded to the bottom.
I knew this old beast would head for cover and I braced myself for what might be a quick release. I put the heat on trying to keep him from going under the rock. He shot to the right and headed for the channel on the opposite side of the boulder. If he reached the corner, it was over. I pressured him, trying to turn his head, hoping the 1x tippet would hold. I turned him and he shot to the left, peeling line and heading for the opposite channel. Again, I was able to turn his head. He dove, looking for something to rub me off or wrap around. But someone was smiling down on me that day, for the giant tired before he could free himself.
As always, there was a moment of chaos as the fish came to the surface. Any experienced angler knows too well that getting them in the net can be the biggest challenge of all. If you have fished for any length of time, you’ve knocked a big fish off while trying to softly scoop them up. Monte, like a pro, netted the beast. Finally, I took a breath. After a short picture session, I released the fish. Watching him head straight to the bottom in search of cover to regain his composure. What a moment that fish shared with me. That I will hold on to forever.
Day 5: Guillermo River
The second to last day found us back at the Guillermo but to a new beat. As we drove into the valley, Carlos, our guide, told us that the bridge we would cross over Guillermo Creek was built by his father. The bridge was built over a deep canyon, fairly narrow but very deep. This small stream, over the years, had cut this canyon, only to spill out into a small valley below. Carlos took us downstream and as we approached the water, his trained eye picked out a rainbow holding in the shallows, in maybe 4 inches of water. Ron was up. He made a stellar downstream cast. As his dry got close to the fish, the rainbow excitedly took his fly. Jumping and cartwheeling the 17-inch fish gave Ron all he could. Ron posed for a few pics with his catch, then I was sent on my way downstream.
I dropped in below Ron a few hundred yards. It's hard to start fishing here, because you always want to see what's around the next corner, every bit of water looks so enticing. I finally settled on a long deep run. Carlos gave me a few pointers and I was on my way. Deciding not to fish right away, I watched the pool for a bit. Fish were feeding everywhere. Seeing this many trout feeding on top in one pool was quite enjoyable, so I decided to sit back and watch the show for a spell. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore. Some nice fish were working throughout the pool, so it was time to try my luck. My first few casts resulted in takes, however, I was slow on the draw and missed my opportunity. Fatigue was starting to set in. Fishing hard for this many days, I hadn't allowed myself any time to recover. Having put the larger fish in the pool down, I managed to bring up some nice fish to the fly even after my miserable beginning effort. I skipped ahead to the next pool, focused this time. When the greedy rainbow took my dry, I was on it. He raced up and down the stream before I was able to corral him. A bright, fat, healthy fish.
Ron did especially well that morning. He was on point and seemed to catch every fish in a run. When I caught up to him and Carlos, I just watched in admiration as he worked the water. It was also quite nice to take a break in the shade out of the relentless sun.
It was hot that day and having come from Montana with a foot of snow in my yard with the daily high around 20, this 80-degree weather was wearing me out. I watched Ron fish until it was time for lunch. We sought refuge from the sun under a shade tree along the bank where Ron had just caught a dozen fish. As we ate lunch and chatted, fish began feeding again. I have never seen anything quite like it. A 15-minute rest and fish were already on the eat again. They were safe from us. After we filled our bellies, we all crashed under the tree. I can tell you this was one of the best naps I had ever taken: stream side, listening to trout feed on the surface. I do believe I would have slept there until morning if the shade had not faded away to the rising sun.
The three of us collected ourselves and started back at it. I ran upstream a ways to give Ron some water to work. Every pool I came to was plum full of healthy trout. We caught our fill, and in no more than an hour, it was decided that it was time to head back.
In all the years I have fished, I can tell you that you don't come across days like that very often. Fish willingly eating dries from sunrise through the heat of the day and into evening. We left early, in hopes that we would not use all the magic of that day in one sitting.
Day 6 Paloma River
The final day would find us floating again. I was excited to conserve some energy. Ron and I both agreed it was the best option for the last day, as we were both physically worn. It's a good feeling to be tired out from fishing. It's hard to explain, but if you've ever reached it, I can only relate it to that of the feeling after a wonderful meal where you've had a bit too much, but you feel content.
We put on that morning knowing that the wind was supposed to be a factor that day. We had been lucky; in the 6 days we were there, today was really the only time the wind would come into play. As we floated down the Rio Paloma, Ron and I worked the water, looking for that giant we knew must be lurking just below the surface. Ron was casting a dry with success, as I was hucking a streamer and waiting in anticipation for it to drill me square in the head. With the wind surging and my arm feeling like I had thrown an 11-inning no-hitter, I was finding it difficult to chuck without ducking every time. So I decided to save myself, Ron, and Monte and switch to a dry.
We were connecting with fish as we floated down river, every corner looking better than the last. The color of the Rio Paloma can not be expressed enough. It is truly a sight to see. The beauty of the river is a jewel in itself; add large brown trout to the equation and you have something that only dreams are made of.
We pulled over at a tributary coming into the Paloma and Monte sent me searching upstream to see what I could find. It was a tiny little stream, more of a trickle really, that pooled up ever so often. At every pool there was some piece of structure: a log, rock, or both. The fish were spooky, so you had to cast from quite a distance away from the stream. When the fly would hit the water, browns would appear out of nowhere to investigate the disturbance. I hooked and lost every fish. I was in disbelief that some would actually come back and eat my dry a second time and I still couldn't hook them.
I looked up from the water for a moment and saw I was half a mile away. I decided I better return to the boat. As I reeled up line to secure it for that hike back, I noticed my hook had broken off from the fly, replacing some of my confidence. While walking back, I thought about what had just taken place and it occurred to me that I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Watching those fish come back to eat my fly a second time was more rewarding then hooking and landing them. And drifting down the river, the truth that today was our last day of fishing was starting to set in. Part of me wanted it to start all over again from the beginning, but the other part also wanted to return home. Ron and I soaked up as much of the last quarter mile of the Paloma as we could. In silence, we reflected on the trip.
Dinner that evening would send me over the top: roasted lamb over the fire, Chilean-style. The group enjoyed the last meal together and we shared our favorite stories from the week. It was capped off by some local musicians who came to the lodge to play for us. What a way to end a trip!
Eduardo and his staff really go all out to ensure that your experience is truly fulfilling. Every detail is taken into account from the moment you arrive until the minute you depart. His guides and staff are very accommodating and go all out to ensure your stay is truly memorable. Our other guests also had a rich and diverse experience fishing many waters that I was not able to visit - a great excuse to return! You will enjoy your time at Magic Waters Lodge. I know that I will be looking forward to and hoping that I will, again, get the opportunity to join Eduardo and his staff. Big thanks to Terry, Don, Kurt, Larry, and Ron. Until then, salud!
Written By Jared Arnold
NOTE: If you would like to sample some of Chile’s best fishing we invite you to join us on two hosted trips scheduled to Magic Waters for 2017:
Week of January 14
Week of March 11