Patagonia Baker Lodge trip report for March 13th - 17th 2017
Arrival / Baker
Having heard and read about the mighty Baker River in southern Chile for years, it finally fell into the crosshairs for myself to host a trip with 3 great fishing buddies. As we walked through the doors of the Patagonia Baker Lodge we were not disappointed upon first sight. Through the large windows of the lodge the deep glacier blue water seemed to just jump right into the room. It appeared the river was flowing directly in the window. We stumbled out onto the porch, jaws dropped at the sheer size and beauty of the Baker River. We all stood there for a few moments just taking it in. Rafael, the lodge manager and guide, stood back and only smiled as he knew how we were feeling. That special moment when you first glimpse a new piece of juicy looking water. And this was some of the prettiest and fishiest water I’d ever laid eyes on. We immediately spotted half a dozen or more trout in the large eddy just off the deck. Seeing the fish moved us from our awe struck state to let’s get wadered up for an afternoon fish. Rafael showed us around the nicely appointed lodge area and just down the boardwalk to where our rooms were located. Like the lodge our rooms had large windows that looked out over the river and distant snowcapped mountains.
We unpacked our gear and rigged rods before heading down the stairs to where the boats were tied. Here the guides run catarafts with jet motors mounted on the rear to get up and down river in order to fish different sections. No shuttles here. We shoved off and ran just up river to some gravel bars and a small side channel still within view of the lodge. The opportunities here were endless, like to nymph? Great! Like to throw dries? Perfect! Want to chase big fish with streamers? Done! Pick your poison and you are going to catch fish. We opted for dries up front and a streamer in the back. It wasn’t long before we were spotting fish along the edges to toss dries at and getting swipes on the streamer as well. Most of the fish we were seeing and catching were 16”-18” rainbows, healthy, fat, and shiny. It wasn’t until Rick switched up to a streamer up front that we got a glimpse at a brown trout. Thick and beautifully colored around 18”. After a few hours of working the amazing structure along the banks and the big riffles just above the lodge we called it a day and headed back into the lodge for a hearty dinner, nice wine, and eventually a good night's rest.
Day 1 - Baker
With a river the size and dimension of the Baker you know that there is a code to be broken to unlock the biggest and best potential of the fishery. Luckily we were fishing with Marcelo who was born and raised on the banks of the Baker, so he knows the area like nobody else. We again ran just above the lodge to fish the “small” side channel on foot from the gravel bar. Rick striped some line off his 7wt rod rigged with a large yellow and orange articulated streamer tied to some 15lb tippet on a sink-tip line. He made a few false casts to get enough line out to place a cast across the side channel to the opposite bank while Marcelo and I discussed other tactics for the top of the channel. Rick let the streamer sink a bit before stripping it across the channel in a jerky retrieve. About ½ way across Rick stopped stripping to fiddle with something on his reel and looked away from his fly, which was now lazily dead drifting along about 6 feet deep in the aqua blue water. Marcelo and I’s conversation trailed off as we watched a massive brown trout slide up from the depths and inhale his fly. We both started hollering at Rick to set the hook but by the time he did it was too late. The fish spat the fly free and slide back to the depths of the channel. The could haves, should haves, and what if’s are always a major player in the daily fishing battle. I love them, it keeps me coming back with renewed enthusiasm and tactics every time. The blood was pumping in hopes of some truly large fish now.
We finished the channel off with the streamer with no other big boys appearing. We then walked up river towards the rapids that spill out of Lago Bertrand which is directly connected to Chile’s largest lake. Lago General Carrera. This outlet forms the Baker with stunning beauty and size. We worked the protected pockets along the edges and inside corners as the main current ripped passed in a torrent of whitewater and standing waves. Still working the streamer patterns we turned a few fat and average cookie cutter rainbows in the 16-17 inch range. This fish are as clean as they come, shiny, healthy and unscathed with a will to fight. All the fish so far were not shy to put a bend in your rod with their mass from battling the Baker’s powerful currents. It’s a delicate balance to fish heavy enough tippet to control the normal fish along with the possibility of a monster while still needing to keep it light enough they don’t see it in the clear blue water. Thankfully we were mostly fishing streamers at this point and there isn’t nearly enough angling pressure that these fish were leader shy. We would only need to ratchet down once the dry fly game started later in the day.
Back in the boat floating downstream with the current we worked the edges and current seams with our streamers. Moving plenty of the average rainbows with each bend in the river we kept up hope for the behemoth brown to come take a swipe at one of our flies. Marcelo finally pulled the plug on our streamer fishing and fired up the motor on the rear of his cataraft. We were headed downstream to some very large recirculating eddies where Marcelo knew there would be a good dry fly bite beginning. Marcelo cut the motor on the edge of a massive eddy and hopped back on the oars to pull us into the bottom of the re-circulating current as quietly as possible. He skillfully drifted us back up stream a good 30 or 40 yards scanning the boils and surges of the eddy before it pushes back into the main current. There’s one! And another! As our eyes key in on the area we start to notice more than a dozen thick 16” to 18” wild rainbows delicately breaking the surface sipping down small mayflies. Marcelo holds the boat within casting distance with steady and consistent back strokes on the oars. In the glacier blue water we could see 2 pods of fish surfing back and forth and in and out of the surges and currents, using them to their advantage while expending as little effort as possible, barely flicking their fins. All the while steadily pushing their the surface tension of the water with their noses to slurp down countless mayflies. The timing of the surges would push the fish far out of reach before surfing them back to within easy casting distance. Marcelo knew the system holding us steady as we timed our casts and drifts with the ebb and flow of their location. A lesser experienced guide or fisherman would have slide with the pod as it glided away only to become to close when they would begin to work back and spoke the whole lot. I personally had not experienced this effect on any other river, at least not to this magnitude. Timing the push was a good challenge and great fun! Not only were you dealing with the normal current but also this diagonal coming and going that was almost unperceivable until you realize your drift never lines up with your targeted fish, upstream 3 feet and to the left side of them by 2 feet, that was the ticket. Once we figured out the code they happily ate our dry flies again and again, we picked our way through the school of Rainbows until they finally became wise to us and sank into the safety of the depths. Marcelo kicked us out into the current to continue down river. As we floated we worked the streamers again. Along the edges, in the seams, over the shelves. Searching. Cast, strip, strip, cast, strip, strip, cast again, strip, pause, strip, pause. It all looks so fishy, there has to be one lurking. Cast, strip, strip, pause, strip. There’s a shadow, strip, definitely a big fish, pause, it’s on it. The water is so clear I can see it, a massive, orange, brown trout. I can see the white of the inside of his mouth as he calmly eats the fly like it has eaten thousands of smaller fish before, I wait, I can still see white, I can’t wait, my body takes over and rips a hook set. NOTHING. I watch the fish slide back out of sight into the deep blue. I can’t move. What just happened. I blew it. The rest of the day is a murky memory as I couldn’t shake the memory of that fish appearing out of the blue to only disappear back into it after missing my chance.
Day 2 - Cochrane
When I hear murmurs about a location that is difficult to get to as well as difficult to fish, my ears perk up. It means two things to me A) It’s probably good B) The challenge and adventure of such places hold a higher meaning. I enjoy testing myself and skills, it makes one’s self better both mentally and physically. We loaded up in Marcelo’s rig and headed down the dirt road. For being the main and only road that goes anywhere we didn’t see another vehicle for 45 minutes. The drive traces the Baker river to the right for much of the drive only pulling away to negotiate other side draws/canyons or steep banks/hills that fall into the river. As we cross a bridge high above a medium sized river Marcelo slows to check the color and level of the water. He gives a slight nod and states perhaps in a few more days it will be at a fishable and wadeable level. Then steps back on the gas as we climb into the high arid pampas and out of the canyon below. Cut into a steep hillside high above the Barker we can see towering snow capped peaks in the distance to the west. The Northern Patagonian Ice Pack looming on the backs of the massive mountains.
To the east is an immense landscape of high arid desert making up the bulk of a new and in the process national park. We finally branch away from the Baker and into the town of Cochrane where the only bridge across the Cochrane river is located to then traverse back out towards the open valley of the Baker. The town of Cochrane with a population of about 2500 people is the regional hub for the rural area. As we break into the wide valley panoramic views explode in front of us overlooking the Cochrane and Baker Rivers kept hidden in the brush below. Marcelo and the lodge have access to multiple estancias along the Cochrane to gain access to the most productive stretches. The Cochrane is known for it’s solid population of larger than average browns and rainbows. BUT it’s also known for being inherently difficult to fish do to clear water, picky fish, overgrown vegetated banks ie no back casts, and the inability to be able to wade into the water because the banks don’t gradually fade into the river as a normal river might. The Cochrane’s banks drop directly off from zero to over your head. So maneuvering into casting position on a spotted fish is sometimes the most difficult task, sometimes impossible and you have to pass up the fish to search for one you can actually cast to. For that reason sight fishing New Zealand style is the main technique for fishing the Cochrane. Don’t go to the Cochrane expecting any sort of numbers, go for the hunt and with some luck (and skill!) a trophy fish or two. Don’t get me wrong there are places you can wade in and fish or open back casting space, you just need to cover some ground in between to find them.
We park alongside the the road in a small lightly used pullout to rig up and make a short walk to the river. We immediately spot a smaller brown lazily sipping the occasional mayfly off the surface in the shade of a tree. We continued watching it enjoy its meals while we discuss the day's plan, before heading further upstream in search of a better fish, leaving him/her undisturbed. As we walk the bank upstream the characteristics of the Cochrane are clear, I had yet to see a place we could cross let alone step into wade. On a few places in the brush and trees opened up enough to through an overhead cast. In the places it did open up we did not spot any fish. We opted to not blind fish these areas quite yet. Along an outside corner a large submerged root ball was creating a nice seam in the otherwise uniform current, where we caught sight of a decent rainbow steadily swing back and further feeding subsurface. The bank was open with plenty of casting room. Rick and Marcelo re-rigged his rod with a dry dropper in preparation. Rick’s first cast was right on the money, slightly upstream of the fish and directly in the seam. The flies slide by the fish with no reaction. One more drift by and nothing. Marcelo switched flies. Another on point cast, but this time as soon as the fish saw the nymph it immediately moved into it’s path and ate it. Rick set the hook causing the fish to explode out of the seam and into the air. This fish was feisty, breaking the surface multiple times showing us consecutive jumps, then changing tactics and driving straight down going for the depth. It wasn’t a large fish but it was bending Rick’s 5wt to the cork. He overpowered him and Marcelo was able to get the net under him where we could see it was a very clean healthy 17” rainbow. A few quick fist bumps were exchanged before we were off again in search of the next fish.
We spotted a few more medium sized fish that were in hard to reach or impossible places so opted to continue moving in hopes of find a bigger fish. After a bit Marcelo walked us into a larger oxbow bend that was open and wadeable and had us blind fish it while he headed upstream to continue the search. Rick worked through the pool with his dry dropper mostly concentrating on the opposite bank which had a large cut bank and some submerged structure. With no interest showing I took a few casts with a large streamer near the top of the bend. I let the fly and sink-tip get down in the water column before starting a slow but jerky strip back. Half way through the line came tight so I quickly strip set but the fly started again, but there it was again, a small quick nip that tensioned the line before it was gone again. I stripped the fly all the way into where I could see it and jigged it with the rod tip to see if I could entice a strike from a following fish. But nothing was tracking it. I cast again to the top opposite corner of the pool in hopes it would again eat the fly. My imagination was drifting to thoughts of big brown trout when I was jerked back to reality when my line tightened again and this time it stayed tight! Whatever was holding on to the other end felt heavy, but was pulling differently than a trout does. Something was off, but I wasn’t going to chance it so played the fish carefully but forcibly. As it drew near the guessing started is it rainbow, no wait brown, rainbow. I couldn’t tell. With Marcelo upstream stalking fish Rick stepped to net the fish. With both peer over the top of the net while the fish splashes around inside. “What the hell is that?” we both say to each other. “Looks like a Walleye or something. Do they have Walleye down here?” “Dunno...” A voice recording of the moment would have been hilarious to play back, the two of us in the middle of nowhere staring into a net debating what had just been caught. As if on queue Marcelo marches out of the bushes and notices what’s going on. When we tell him we don’t know what it is he picks up his pace and hollars “Don’t touch! Don’t touch it!” At this point Rick and I are half giggling half pulling away from the net now thinking it’s going to eat us. Marcelo reaches into the net very carefully with his pliers and removes the fly from it’s wide and sandpaper textured mouth, while explaining it’s a sort of native Perch. He didn’t want us to touch it as the spines in its fins and on it’s back are very sharp and produce a sting similar to a jellyfish. He then returns it to the water where it swims away back to depths. He turns with a grin, that was a good one too. It was 20” plus. Apparently rare as well. Looking back on it I was caught up in the moment and didn’t even think of snapping a couple picture of it, but now know I definitely should have! Marcelo announces he spotted a very good fish feeding a couple hundred yards up river. So off we go through the brush. As we scramble through the densely treed and brushed terrain he lets us know that although it's a good fish it’s not in a good location. There will be no casting room but we’ll try our luck. We arrive at the spot and can immediately see the fish about 10 feet off the bank happily feeding. There is definitely no casting that will be happening. The trees overhang the river’s edge a good 6 feet, the bank immediately drops off to over my head and we are standing in a small brush tunnel basically. We discuss a few tactics before settling on a two man “bow and arrow” cast. The distance was too far for a normal bow and arrow cast, I would be the rod man and Rick would be the line man about 15 feet back into the bushes. Between laughs we take aim, rod is bent locked and loaded. The cast fires out but piles up short of the fish about 5 feet. Amazingly it doesn’t spook. Rick loads it up again with more elevation in hopes of more distance. He lets it fly, the relatively tight loop sails out landing a few feet upstream and just shy of the line the fish is on. As it drifts towards the fish it slides over and inspects the nymph but refuses it. Okay switch flies, and now we’ve got our cast down. We launch another, but the two man bow and arrow cast is not a science and the flies pile into the waters surface on top of the fish just as he is rising to sip a bug off the surface. The fish explodes and disappears down stream. We burst out laughing and reel up shaking our heads. It was worth a shot and well worth the experience. We decide to head back to the truck to eat some lunch and enjoy the sunshine before heading back towards town to a small chunk of water Marcelo has spotted a couple big fish recently.
After lunch and a short siesta Marcelo pulls off the road and we grab the rods to make the short walk through a pasture to the river. We are on a high bank overlooking the gin clear water. The river is wider and slower here but still limited casting and wading opportunities. The high vantage offers us the chance to easily scan the depths in search of fish. Marcelo spots a nice one off the tip of a sunken log but as we make our way down the bank we spook some ducks that cause a good deal of commotion and the fish spooks into the weeds along the bottom and never reappears after waiting a good 5 or 10 minutes. We continue walking the bank peering down into the water. Rick spots a rising fish on the far bank next to and under some bushes. We can’t quite see the fish only the when it breaks the surface every few seconds, steadily feeding. The only casting lane was directly across from the fish so an upstream presentation would not be in the cards. It will be a long cast and tough drift but doable. Rick is able to wade out into the river through some moss and weeds up to his waist before setting up his cast. The bulk of the current was dead center between Rick and the fish so a big upstream reach cast would be needed to get a decent drift. Rick is equipped with a double dry set up, a Purple Haze and a Elk Hair Caddis. He makes the first cast placing it well above the fish so has to mend the line which in doing so pulls the flies off the line and away from the fish. His second cast and reach is on the right line but the timing was just off as the fish slid with the current back under the bushes as the flies past by. Next cast is solid but the reach was enough and the flies drag so the fish pays no attention. Rick takes a break to let the fish re settle and it continues to rise. Another few casts to no avail with some good drifts and some drag but nothing that enticed the fish. Again a break to let the fish feel comfortable. Rick casts again, good drift on the line and the fish eats the back fly. Rick rips a hook set as there is a good bit of slack line and it’s a solid 40 feet away, the fish immediately launches itself out of the water and directly into the willow tree branches overhanging the river, snagging the top fly on a branch and busting off the fly he was hooked on. Well mission accomplished, got him to eat anyway. Rick reeled up breaking off the other fly in the branches to add insult to injury.
As we re-rigged his rod I notice a nice fish downstream suspended in the mid river current sliding in and out of the weeds. I am already rigged with a dry/dropper so make my way down the bank to get within roll cast distance. There would again be no traditional casting. My first roll cast is short a few feet, second roll isn’t upstream enough so the fly doesn't get down to the fish's depth, third roll has the distance and the line but the fish swings slightly out of the way as my fly drifts past. Did he see it and not like it? Did he swing over to eat or inspect a different natural bug? I hold off on my next cast to let the fish re-settle. I personally don’t like to put too many casts or drifts over a specific fish in a row, the chance of tipping them off comes into play and this was a brown that was worth putting the time into to catch. We watched him swaying back and forth eating a few submerged nymphs along the way, each time seeing the white of the inside of its mouth. I make another roll cast and kick a bit of slack line into the drift. The fish lazily opens its mouth, just as it had each time before as we watched, and my top dry fly sharply goes under. SET! The fish immediately blows up out of the water thrashing it’s head. Then turns and screams downstream in a panic. He tries to bury himself in the weeds along the bottom. My rod is doubled over putting as much pressure as possible on the fish without breaking the tippet or pulling the fly loose. Bending the rod to that fine line I coaxed the fish slowly towards me where finally Marcelo was able to get a net under it. A fine specimen, a solid 20 inch plus brown that was eating plenty! We walked the banks a bit more in search of sighted fish or risers but non appeared so we called it a day and headed back to the Patagonia Baker Lodge.
Day 3 - Cochrane
After such a fun day on the Cochrane I opted to head back there again this time with Clark, Cole, and Marcelo. We made the drive towards town and and around again but this time we would be fishing a slightly different stretch of river a bit further upstream. We bounced down a gully that looked as if the two tracked road hadn't been driven on in a few years, which is always a good sign. We parked and geared up, no waders today as the weather had warmed more than normal for the area and we'd be doing a bit of hiking. I climbed a hillside nearby as the rest of the guys disappeared into the invasive roses covering the landscape surrounding the river and snapped a few quick photos of the valley floor and snow capped mountains looming in the background. I was quickly falling in love with the Cochrane the fish that swam in its waters. Not only was it fun to fish but scenic as it gets. I marched down the hill and into the roses fighting my way through the thorny maze in search of the other guys. After a few small tears in my shirt and a couple scratches on my hands I finally caught up to them BSing on an overlook spotting fish in a deep even run below.
We continued downstream as a group stopping again to take in the view and enjoy a sip of cool water after the short hike. We made our way down to the stream side poking our heads out of openings in the brush to search for fish. Clark found a nice brown feeding below a 3 or 4 foot cutbank he was above. Clark quickly re-rigged quickly with a single dry and made a short overhead cast upstream of the fish. He fed slack into the drift for the downstream presentation until the fish sipped his dry off the surface. BANG! First cast, first drift, first fish. The start to a great day ahead! A nice 18 inch wild brown trout.
We wandered our way down stream further until we came to a bend that we were able to actually cross at so headed for the opposite bank, as we had spotted some more open terrain and fish on that bank during our walk down. It wasn't long until we spotted another nice fish feeding along the edge. Clark stepped up to the bank and made a long cast with his dry placing it gently down a few feet upstream of the fish. As the fly came into the fish's view it slide over and rose towards the surface, just before breaking out of the water to eat the fly it stopped and drifted downstream with the current to inspect the fly. Milliseconds seemed like minutes until the fish finally broke away and kicked its tail to slide back up stream into its feeding lane. Denied! Clark a view patient and experienced angler never lost his cool and didn't make another cast, he brought the fly in to change it and allow the fish to resettle. The same scenario planned out over the course of the next few dry flies, the fish would look but wouldn't take. Cole, Marcelo and I started to heckle Clark about everything from his skills to his fly selection, one of us hollered it only wants worms! Fish a worm! So Clark's comeback was, ok f you guys, and tied on the worm. Fish had continued to feed but only subsurface, never rising to the surface. He pulled an additional arm's length of line off the reel for a longer cast so the worm would have a chance to sink a bit to the fishes suspended level in the water column. As soon as the weighted worm hit the waters surface and created a small splash the fish bolted from it's feeding lie out into the depths of the middle of the river. We exploded in laughter as Clark silently reeled up his line and cut that damn worm off his line.
As we continued upstream the remainder of the day continued similarly, spotting, working, and either catching or not catching plenty of fish in one of the more unique fisheries I have had the pleasure of exploring. I could continue with plenty more tidbits and stories that make for a great adventure with great friends but I'll let a few pictures tell the story of the day.
Day 4 - Chacabuco / Maiten
I awoke to the prospect of another great day and adventure. I would again have the pleasure of fishing with Marcelo and he had a bit of a tour planned of for the day. He wanted to give the Chacabuco a try. The past two days we had traveled to the Cochrane passing over the Chacabuco and he thought it would be worth a half a day or so, his hopes would be that we would be able to cross back and forth enough times to get downstream far enough to make it a day but for sure half a day. The hike started mellow enough as we peered over the edge of the canyon walls, watching the teal blue water push downhill, but quickly turned to billy goat status when we started over the edge and towards the river deep below.
After some slipping and sliding and careful foot placements we made it to the water's edge where we were not disappointed. The clarity was down right gorgeous . Marcelo's smile said it all for me, he was happy to be there. I wanted to clamber around a bit more and talk some photos of Marcelo fishing, he wasted no time to get after it, immediately stepping into a run with a large boulder and hooking up on a small brown almost instantly from the front pillow of the rock.
He worked his way downstream through the pocket behind the large boulder and tailout catching another couple medium sized fish before getting cliffed out along the edge. With the water being a bit high still Marcelo had found a solid wading staff stick and we locked arms and dual crossed the tail out together for safety. After a few tippy toe slip and slid steps we made it across without swimming. Marcelo worked the now near side of the large boulder and got a nicer 18" brown.
As we continued to fish our way downstream we picked up a few more nice wild trout swinging streamers along the big deep slow run against the cliffs. The preferred retrieve seemed to be the downstream swing with a long slow strip on a weighted yellow and orange streamer. The bite was pretty good landing 6 or so fish and multiple other grabs in the one run that was maybe 30-40 yards long. I was excited to see what was around the bend!
Once we reached the tailout of the pool we waded out into the slow current to test the chance of crossing again. We couldn't quite see the bottom so we knew then it was still a foot or so too deep to cross. We assessed the options of scaling the cliff/hillside to get up and around but deemed that option more dangerous than a swim across in chilly water so we called it a day on the Chacabuco and headed back upstream to start the steep hike out of the canyon and back to the truck.
After enough rests to rest my weary calf muscles and lungs we made it back to the truck in time to head for our next spot and a riverside campfire lunch. The Maiten was the afternoon venue. I had only heard bits and pieces about this smallish freestone river that drained out of the high country and icepack, but it was all things good. Cookie cutter rainbows of 16-18 inches on dries, whether it was attractor terrestrials along the banks in the summer or small mayfly hatches in the shoulder seasons it wouldn't disappoint a patient and discerning dry fly angler. But lunch was was own our mind first, it was a 20 minute drive across a neat old bridge over the mighty Baker and then up and over into the lower Maiten Valley. We first needed to stop and check in with the landowner that Marcelo knew in just so he knew we would be around that afternoon. Marcelo was welcomed in the yard by a few barking dogs and scattering free range chickens while I was investigated by a group of young colts looking for some treats from the way they were nuzzling my pockets. I felt like I was back home in Montana for a few moments. We headed down near the river and started a quick cooking fire to cook our breaded chicken lunch over while I enjoyed a glass of red wine and fresh green salad. Life was good.
After lunch and a short nap we headed for the river. We marched past a fair bit of faster pocket water but Marcelo was on a mission. A high cloud cover had rolled in and it was warm so he had a spot on his mind where he hoped fish would be stacked up sipping small mayflies. He would have fished the pocket water all day with a hopper or beetle in mid summer but not today. We eventually rounded a bend in the river and crossed a wide shallow shelf that spilled into a deep slow run that created a 90 degree bend in the river. I could immediately see the dimples on the surface from dozens of fish steadily breaking the surface. The rises were subtle but even and continuous. We stood and watched the pool for a few minutes, it was alive with life. Mayflies hatching, fly, floating and the fish accepting their gift by filling their bellies one tiny insect at a time. We rigged one rod with slightly lighter tippet, 4x (Chile is awesome!), a size 16 purple haze parachute. We slowly approached the top of the pool wanting to present our fly from the upstream side so we wouldn't have to cast over the fish. When you have picky fish or a good mayfly hatch it's usually best to give the fish a downstream presentation. This is to your advantage twofold, one you can fish a slightly heavier tippet usually because the fish sees the fly first, not the tippet, two you don't have to worry about spooking the fish by casting over them with the leader or fly line. The biggest aspect you need to be cautious of is your approach to get into casting distance, keep a lower profile if needed and move slowly. The fish may be keyed in on the hatch and feeding but they are still very aware of their surroundings. Marcelo and I would trade off fish for fish, whether it was a miss, a loss or a land, all or nothing one chance at a time. Marcelo started us off with a laser cast downstream 40 plus feet but a nice gentle set down of the fly a few feet above the top fish. Without hesitation the fish rose to his fly, he slightly hesitated on the hookset being that it was downstream and then bang! Once cast, one drift, one fish. The rainbow of about 16-17" inches jumped multiple times showing it's acrobatic skills before Marcelo brought it to hand. Gorgeous clean healthy cookie cutter rainbow that I would be satisfied with anywhere in the trout fishing world.
After an hour or more working our way down through the pool and pod of fish we were all smiles having had a very successful time. The hatch was starting to wane when we asked each other if we needed to catch anymore of the fish. We both agreed that we did not need to bother any more fish as we were more than content having caught more than a dozen rainbows over the course of the hatch. Multiple flies had to be replaced from being chewed apart along with tippet replaced numerous times all of which allowed the fish to resettle or continue their ritual of dimpling the surface of the water eating tiny mayfly after tiny mayfly. Marcelo said there was a very cool canyon upstream if we wanted to hike for 15-20 minutes. I didn't hesitate, let's go! I could see the hillsides on either side of the river dropping down to a shared vantage point creating the unseen canyon cut between them. As we got nearer to the mouth of the canyon the river slowed and rock walls appeared, with the additional depth in the water the vibrant blue color was surreal. We stopped at the exit of the canyon and peered into the pool below. Marcelo spotted a larger fish at the head of the pool just beneath a large rock ledge a few feet underwater. He spotted it so he fished to it. The fish was suspended just far enough into the water column that it was fading in and out of view as it slide around in the current. Marcelo made a beautiful cast up onto the rock ledge with a smaller streamer and let it sink before twitching it back on the retrieve trying to induce a strike. We both looked on in anticipation of the line coming tight, but with each strip the feeling faded. The fish never showed himself on the fly or again below the submerged rock ledge. We got ghosted.
Marcelo opted to stay where he was to wait and see if the fish showed itself again, while I wandered up into the canyon for a look. I love canyons, something about them call to me. There personalities are so much different from what surround them, the can sometimes hold untold secrets that you have to pry from their rocky walls and dark depths. I wandered a couple hundred yards up into the canyon clambering up on rocks to peer down into the vibrant blue holes in search of trout. I never made a cast in that canyon but it didn't need to, the sheer experience of being there with only the sounds of the rushing water plunging from rock pool to rock pool and the sight of a few hardy fish living their life in such an environment was more than enough. I just sat down at one point and watched a nice fish finning back and forth at the tailend of a rushing pool, surfing its way forward and back, side to side waiting for the next morsel of food to be swept into it's zone. At any moment it seemed as if the fish would be swept over the rock pour over and into the next pool but at the same time how effortlessly it was able to stay just on the upstream side that fine line. I'm not sure how much time past before I snapped back to but I had been suspended in a trance watching that fish for quite some time. I picked up my rod and camera before make my way back out to the mouth of the canyon where Marcelo was waiting for his fish to return.
The sun was starting to get low in the sky, we had fished two completely different locations, and hiked a good bit so we called it a day and headed back to the truck. On the drive home we stopped by a neighbor and friend of Marcelo's to check up on him and his small rural farm but he was not home so we left him a few cold beers in his ice box in hopes he could enjoy them that evening as a surprise. On the drive home there was little said but then again not much needed to be said as we basked in the thoughts of such a unique and varied day.
Sadly our trip to Patagonia Baker Lodge in southern Chile had come to an end much too soon. We had barely scratched the surface on what was there. Our departure gift was a beautiful sunrise as we eat our breakfast and packed our bags. I knew that I would be back to visit Rafael and Marcelo, soon hopefully! In the meantime Montana Angler will have a variety of hosted destination fly fishing trips that we'd love to share with you.