The world is a big place and time moves fast. Few activities rank higher in my book than travelling outside of Montana to explore new places, sample unique fisheries and meet great people. As much as I love to visit new destinations to cast flies for the first time in a famous river or on a saltwater flat – some places are just so special that you just need to keep going back. Chile is that place for me. There is something special about fly fishing in Chilean Patagonia that has produced a deep affection and a magnetic tug that is always pulling me toward this wonderful and wild land. The longer I go between visits the stronger the desire to return grows until I finally have to suppress the itch and make another visit south.
First impressions of Chilean Patagonia are dominated by the dramatic landscape filled with towering mountains, hanging glaciers, verdant valleys and rugged canyons. As I spend more time travelling in Patagonia I have found the people in this remote southern region have as much of a draw on me as the sublime vistas and trout filled rivers. One of my favorite destinations in Chile is Magic Waters which offers the perfect blend of everything Patagonia has to offer: jaw dropping scenery, high quality fishing and some wonderful people.
Over many visits to Magic Waters Lodge I have come to get to know many of the great guides that are regulars at the lodge such as Andy, Monte, Jose, and Guillermo. I am also fortunate to have built lasting friendships with lodge owner, guide and host Eduardo Barrueto and his wife Consuelo. Eduardo and Consuelo and their family built Magic Waters from the ground up and the pride they have for the lodge and the fishing program is evident as soon as you step through the lodge doors. Visiting Magic Waters feels more like visiting family than it does a commercial fishing lodge.
Our recent visit in March was a special trip on several counts. The fishing is always good in the Coihaique region of Chile but it is always the people you are with that make for a truly special trip and we had an awesome crew on this adventure. Our group consisted of 3 parties of long time Montana Angler guests – all of which were great folks and the kind of people that can truly soak up and experience and enjoy the many layers of Patagonia that I have come to love. The trip was also a special one for me since my oldest daughter (11 years) Ella accompanied me. Eduardo and Consuelo have two children close in age to Ella (Manuela and Martin) and so it was a very unique opportunity for her to engage on a big adventure and gain an authentic taste of South American culture by being welcomed into a Chilean home.
About half of our group stayed for a full week at the lodge and the other half, including Ella and I were with the Magic Waters team for 2 weeks. The Jason Cook crew of 6 spend the second week in a remote back country camp on the Blanco River “The River of Dreams Camp”.
We have been bringing groups of Montana Angler guests to Magic Waters every year for about 8 straight seasons and it is fun to watch how the lodge and the program continues to improve. Eduardo continues to invest in the lodge, his private access, and equipment. The lodge is exceedingly comfortable yet retains a warm and rustic feel. New additions since my last visit include a wood fired hot tub, a new asado shack for barbeques and a new building for staff quarters. Eduardo has also added a lot of new boats including several jet boats and lake catarafts with props that are left at various rivers and lakes in the area to minimize the need to trailer boats each day. He has also added several new estancias to the already impressive array of ranches they have exclusive access to. Even after visiting over several years I still found myself fishing all new waters near every day of the trip that I hadn’t seen in past trips.
Since we had a lot of anglers on this trip going different directions each day, I will focus on some of the specific fisheries that we visited over the course of the 2 week trip. We arrived for typical late summer early fall conditions (think late August and early September in Montana). In the mountains the massive 3” long Cantaria beetles were still flying and in the valleys hoppers were a favorite snack for the resident trout. Most days our crew through dry flies – often very large ones to entice big trout. On some of the windy days or when hunting for huge fish we also threw some streamers. This is the first year I also had some success nymph fishing, mostly on the Lower Simpson River. As always we saw very few other anglers over the course of 2 weeks – one of my favorite aspects of fishing in Chile!
Lago Barroso is the largest of the “home lakes” at Magic Waters. In all the years we have been visiting Magic Waters I’ve never had a chance to fish it. Eduardo mentions that people want to drive and go somewhere each day so we rarely fish it with guests. On our first full day we had some guests that had some luggage show up a day late so I stayed back at the lodge to help get Ella settled in and Eduardo and I spent a few hours on the lake when he returned. We took turns rowing and casting a mouse pattern. I absolutely love “mousing” on these big Chilean lakes filled with big browns. The browns love to hang near downed wood – it almost feels like largemouth bass fishing. We rowed slowly around the lake casting at the bank and skittering the mouse back to the boat. We enjoyed mixed interest with a few casual look along with a few “sippers”; but we also enjoyed a handful of explosive takes. We ended up landing 5 good fish over a 3 hour window. Although the biggest fish to the boat on my first day was 19” I managed to hook a huge 2 foot brown that went on several runs before jumping 4 feet into the air to throw the mouse. What a great start to the week!
Later in the week guests Barry Matlack and Wendel Cook opted to stay closer to the lodge and spent a full day on Barroso. When we returned to the lodge they both had ear to ear grins, they reported that the lake was on fire most of the day and they landed over 30 trout on large dries including a few in the 22” class. Ella and I stayed the next week and Eduardo went back for a short stint with another guest with mixed results. It just goes to show that these big browns act like big browns always do and feed in spurts; some days are spectacular and others are good enough.
Lower Simpson River
The Simpson is the longest river in the region and its character changes from a small valley river near the Argentine border to a fishery of significant size, similar to the Yellowstone in Montana in the lower reaches. Monte had reported some good fishing on the Lower river on the other side of Coihayque the week prior. He also mentioned this would be a great option for Ella as he knew of a few productive runs where she could have a good chance at some hookups nymph fishing. We teamed up with John Gerwack to explore the lower reaches of the river. Although I have fished different areas of the Simpson over the years, I had never fished this far downstream and was excited to see some new water. When we arrived several nice trout in the 18-20” class were rising to small mayflies in the riffles. John is a competent dry fly fisherman and Monte positioned him to target several nice trout working shallow waters. Since Ella is still a novice fly angler Monte worked placed her on a productive drop off where she could get closer to the trout using a Montana style double nymph rig. Generally when visiting Patagonia I end up fishing dry flies and occasionally streamers. The Lower Simpson is one of the most prolific fisheries in the region and nymphing proved to be the perfect match. Under Monte’s expert instruction she had some great action and caught her first trout on a fly rod. The trout in the Lower Simpson are amazing specimens. Both the browns and rainbows are well proportioned with strong shoulders and never fail to provide a fight that engages a few long runs off the reel. Ella broke a few larger fish off but was successful in landing several great trout. The day proved to be hot and sunny by Chilean standards with highs in the low 80s. The bright sun eventually took its toll and by 2pm the action slowed down significantly.
Normally when I visit Chile I fish a new water every day, since I had my daughter along on this trip we opted to head back to the Lower Simpson (albeit a new stretch of water) with Marcello. The second day we headed this direction provided a nice cool overcast day with a few scattered showers – perfect fishing conditions. Our second day on the Lower was truly exceptional and the trout were extremely aggressive the entire day. Every riffle we visited was filled with feeding fish and we fished dry dropper rigs. I let Ella do most of the fishing and sat back as a proud parent watching her relish in fighting big trout after big trout.
The Upper Simpson in the later summer is a small fishery that is easily waded. There river changes character frequently and offers areas with meadows, braided channels, and even a few canyon reaches. Eduardo has access on several different canyon reaches on the Upper Simpson. Although Ella and I didn’t have the opportunity to visit these waters several of the guests on the trip fished different reaches of the Upper 30 or 40 miles of the river on our visit with good results. One of the days proved to be exceptionally productive when brothers Jason and Garrett Cook teamed up with guide Noah to hike deep into a boulder strewn canyon. It was a bright sunny day and hoppers were in abundance. Both Garrett and Jason are accomplished anglers and had bell to bell action on small foam patterns.
Paloma River Gorge
The Paloma River is one of the world’s most beautiful trout rivers. It flows through a picturesque valley that is table top flat in many reaches but penned in by towering mountains flanked by hanging glaciers and waterfalls. The Paloma drains a chain of lakes at its headwaters which filter out sediments producing ultra clear waters with a hint of glacial flour that results in an emerald green hue. In the upper reaches of the fishery the river plunges into a steep gorge filled with technical class IV whitewater. Monte Becker is the only guide qualified to run the significant whiter in the Gorge. Monte is a Wyoming native that spent his 20s guiding the Rocky Mountain rapids as well as the legendary whitewater in the Grand Canyon. He moved to Chile over 30 years ago to chase the legendary whitewater in Patagonia and never left. Since Consuelo had offered to take all of the kids into town to visit the market and see some of the local sights, Eduardo and seized the opportunity to team up with Monte and fish the Gorge. This was a first for me and I was extremely excited to see this unique part of the Paloma. The trip did not disappoint, and we held on through a great ride through several rapids. Between rapids we strung up 7 weights with large sinking heads to get streamers deep to the huge browns that resided inside the narrow gorge. Although we spotted a few monsters in the 22-28” class lurking in the depths they weren’t actively moving most of the morning. As we exited the gorge and the river began to broaden and provide some great pocket water the river suddenly came to life. The last 2 hours of our float provided very consistent action on lighter colored streamers and we brought in over a dozen nice browns and rainbows. Late in the day Monte pulled over and we walked back up stream to an area he had spotted a large brown a few weeks ago. As we approached the shallow run near the bank we spotted some movement and located the fish. After a few casts the big brown, about 23”, slowly came up to take a casual look at my mouse pattern. One half hearted look was all we got and the big guy just as quickly dropped back to the bottom. We tried several other patterns and even raced a streamer past his nose but we weren’t successful in peaking his interest in anything we had to offer. A great day in a great place that I will never forget!
Small Freestone Streams
Eduardo and his team had a few new small freestone streams that they had gained access to since my last visit. I really love fishing smaller waters and jumped at the opportunity to spend some time on these small intimate waters. I won’t mention the names of some of these smaller waters. The first stream was with Ella and wasn’t too far from the lodge. We spent some time chatting with the gaucho that owned the ranch and then drove through a few fences and down a long two track until we came to a gorgeous little fishery. Ella had still not caught a fish on a dry fly so we rigged her up with a small hopper and began to look for some nice holding water. After 50 yards moving upstream we came upon a gorgeous hole where the stream piled up against a small cliff wall. We could see several trout laying on the bottom as well as a few actively rising in the tail-out. After sending a few fish scurrying in the tail-out with errant casts, Ella was able to make perfect cast along the rock wall and an eager 11” wild brown attacked her fly. After a spirited fight, our guide Yves landed the fish. Small trout aren’t always memorable but this little guy will forever be etched in our memories.
Later in the trip on a different day we were returning from a large lake chasing big fish. On the way into the lake we drove up a beautiful little stream. Yves had never fished it so on the way back we made a quick stop. I spent an hour with a small 4 weight throwing a black foam attractor dry fly and managed to excite a half dozen 12” rainbows that pounced on the fly. What a treat! The fact that most of these smaller fisheries with smaller trout are left completely ignored is one of my favorite aspects of fishing in Patagonia. I could spend days fishing these little streams watching aggressive mid-sized trout race to eat dries!
On one our other days when Ella stayed back at the lodge to play I opted to see yet another new fishery. This time we traveled about an hour from the lodge to Zenteno Lake. The lake is known for big fish and lower catch rates. Eduardo explained that most days you can expect 1-4 fish per boat and 6-8 fish would be a banner day. Most fish are 19-26” but are exceptionally fat so the large size makes up . I was fishing with Yves and we joined Tom Stark and Hardy Fields who were fishing with Guillermo. It is a very large lake so most of the day the other guys were far in the distance on the opposite side of the laguna. We started with a mouse pattern and I fished it hard for 2 hours with limited interest. We did have one nice trout take a look and a second big 20”+ brown sip it without a connection. The bright sun provided for spectacular weather but a lazy piscatorial attitude. I eventually switched out to a 200 grain sink tip on a 7 weight with a sparkle minnow. Sparkle minnows have always produced for me on bright days – I tend to adhere to the principle bright streamers on bright days and dark streamers on cloudy days. Within 15 minutes of switching to the streamer a nice fished grabbed ahold. It felt like a great fish and it stayed deep throughout the fight. I had high hopes this was one of those fish that exceeded the 2 foot mark. After a long and powerful fight I was finally able to hoist a nice 19” football of a brown to the net. The trout in Zenteno are incredibly strong and even though I wasn’t able to connect on one of the big boys this was one of my favorite days of the trip. The beauty of this part of Chile as you approach the coast is truly breathtaking. At the end of the day we reconnected with Hardy and Tom who recounted similar action as they had managed to land two fat browns in the 19-20” class. Not a terribly productive day of catching but the opportunity to be in the hunt for truly big fish is always worth while. I would love to make it back to Zenteno on day with heavy skies and lower light to try my luck again in hopes that the huge browns are out to play.
Spring Creek Fishing
There are several spring creeks in the broad central valley between Coyhaique and Balmaceda. I have fished a few of these over the years but there is a small fishery just 10 minutes from the lodge that I had never explored. Near the end of our first week Ella opted to stay back at the lodge so Noah and I headed to the nearby spring creek to give it a try. Noah just graduated from the University of Montana and was helping around the lodge as an apprentice guide. As soon as I gained a better view of the creek my interest continued to rise. This was very much a pure spring creek fed by 100% ground water. The lazy currents weaved through beds of watercress and other aquatic vegetation. Mayflies trickled off of the water and a few trout rose sporadically throughout the creek. Since the hatch was sparse we opted to adopt a spot and stalk strategy. I find on technical waters like this that blind casting can be counter productive since you are likely to spook trout and rarely provide just the right presentation. By locating trout before the cast is made your odds of success increase greatly. Trout in skinny gin-clear water have a low tolerance for an errant cast so it is important to develop a strategy prior to presenting a fly. Since the trout weren’t aggressively rising I dropped a small midge larva on 5X tippet about 2 feet below a size 16 adams. The adams would essentially serve as a low profile indicator and keep the nymph out of the weeds. The first trout we approached spooked as the back cast was raised – tough fish! The next brown was about 16”. I made a cast about 2 feet to his left his position with hopes of pulling the trout toward the fly. This strategy decreases the risk that the trout will get lined by the tippet and in this scenario the strategy paid off as the brown glided to his left and we saw a quick white flash of his gums as he inhaled the midge larva. After an acrobatic fight we quickly released the brown. During several hours on the creek we spotted about 10 more trout feeding and managed to hook about half of them. The biggest fish was about 17” but what a rewarding day of technical spring creek fishing! Since the day was already a success we opted to take a stab at “Zero Lake”. The aptly nicknamed lake is home to some of the largest trout in the entire region.
After a morning of spring creek fishing we tried our hand at Zero Lake in search of some of the massive trout that reside within its depths. This small lake is spring fed and is filled with weed beds, scuds and leaches. While the real name is Lamb Lake the guides all nickname it “Zero Lake” in honor of the number of fish you are likely to catch in a day. Every so often a lucky angler manages to tie into one of its trout and they are all massive. Several years ago Eduardo landed a 32” rainbow from the lake. We spent a few hours casting a large streamer above the weed beds. A few minutes after launching a huge bowling ball rise boiled the surface near the bank. That was our only sign of activity for several hours. As we were approaching the dock to take out a huge brown – I would estimate about 28” – followed the fly to the surface before vanishing back to the bottom. So we went home zeroed out but the opportunity to gain a look at one of the biggest browns I’ve ever seen in my life was well worth the visit.
Lago Atravesado is about a half mile from the lodge. This huge lake is filled with big browns. Eduardo's kids were heading back to school soon so we invited 9 year old Martin to join Ella, Guillermo and myself for the day. Guillermo is a talented angler and a fun loving guide. We spent a few hours with the kids fishing in the morning and landed a handful of nice fish including a nice 23" brown that Martin hooked and landed. After lunch we dropped the kids off to walk back on an trail back to the lodge and then Guillermo and I went back out to do some mousing. We motored into a small bay of the lake protected from the wind and manged to bring up a few mouse eating browns. This is an impressive fishery and it was the first time in past years one I haven't had a chance to fish - it is a nice bonus that it is in walking distance from the lodge!
New Zealand style fishing on the Magote River
One of my favorite fisheries near Magic Waters is the Rio Magote. The Magote drains a high mountainous area filled with glaciers. Much of the river is in a remote roadless area and it is only accessible by horseback. When the weather is right this makes for a great day that blends riding and fishing. We met the local gaucho that led us on a 2 hour ride. The weather and water levels were perfect and the trout were looking up. I managed a dozen on a small mouse pattern while Ella fished with Noah and caught a few nice fish on big foam dry flies. After fishing we enjoyed a traditional lamb asado before riding back to the lodge.
River of Dreams Camp
During our second week in Chile Ella stayed back at the lodge to enjoy more local fishing but several of the guys in the Jason Cook party headed into the remote “River of Dreams” camp on the Rio Blanco. This is a new program that Eduardo and his team added in the off season and our guests were the some of the first to visit the remote valley. The camp is located on the Blanco River where a large spring creek joins the river. There is also a medium sized freestone river called the Bongo Bongo that anglers can walk to from camp. The Rio Blanco is basically the lower Paloma River after it exits Lago Claro. The only challenge is that there is a massive white water choked gorge both at the exit of Lago Claro at the top of the river and near the bottom of the river before it enters the Aysen. In the middle is a long 40 mile valley that can only be accessed by horseback. Our team road 2 hours with a local gaucho over a mountain to meet Eduardo’s lead camp guide Andy and his team of guides and jet catarafts. After meeting the boats it is a one hour jetboat ride upriver to get to camp. During the next few days the guys enjoyed incredible fishing on pristine waters. They lost count of the number of 20”+ browns. On the spring creek skating mouse patterns and large foam attractors was the most effective tactic. On the big river guests would jet to different sections and then float fish – targeting wood structure with large dries and streamers. The big fish of the trip was a large 26” brown that attacked a streamer in heavy water.
I become more impressed with each visit to Magic Waters. The fishing options in this region are staggering. After numerous visits over the past several seasons I still find myself exploring new rivers, lakes and streams on each visit.