Montana Angler’s 2022 trip to Magic Waters Lodge in Chile marked our first hosted fishing trip to Chile since the COVID-19 pandemic upended travel. The trip came with many questions about the ability to travel from the United States to Chile. Fortunately for our group, Chile opened travel for the season just in time and provided us the opportunity to put together an amazing trip. There were still many hoops to jump through with Chile implementing a Mobility Pass to enter and travel within the country, but we were able to get the proper information to our guests to make sure all requirements were met.
The week leading up to our trip to Magic Waters Lodge was bitterly cold in Montana. With wind chill, temperatures plunged to minus-46 degrees. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the Coyhaique forecast in the mid-70’s. In preparation for the trip, I laid out enough gear on my garage floor to open a new fly shop. I was so excited to get away from the winter weather of Bozeman. After packing two suitcases it was time to set sail and embark on the journey to Chile.
Upon landing in Santiago, there was a lengthy line to have a PCR test to exit the airport. The staff at the airport were friendly and tried to speed up the process by having 40 individual rooms for testing. Chile has tackled the pandemic well, having vaccinated 92 percent of the population. The entire testing process was completed within an hour of landing and our Mobility Pass activated later that evening.
An evening in Santiago
I had the good fortune to meet up with two members of our hosted trip, Rich and Melissa, for lunch after we dropped off our luggage at the beautiful Castillo Rojo in the Providencia region of Santiago. Even after a night of travel, you could see their excitement for fishing new water in Patagonia. After a few local cervezas and some excellent cuisine, we walked back to the hotel to take a siesta and prepare for an evening of dining at one of the area's premiere restaurants.
That night we met up with the rest of the group, John and Jeff at Les Trois Bistro in the beautiful gated pavilion of the hotel. We all swapped stories of fishing travel and our hopes for our current endeavor. The food was exquisite and was only surpassed by the level of service afforded our group. The owners of the restaurant prepared a tasting menu feast featuring a combination of Chilean and Venezualan dishes paired with excellent wines from the region. The amount of talent and love for the culinary craft was truly appreciated by our entire group. We couldn’t have asked for a better opening to our hosted trip.
Welcome to Magic Waters Lodge
After some much needed sleep, our group met for breakfast in the lobby of the hotel and then began the final leg of our journey from Santiago to Balmaceda. After a quick flight South, we were met by the smiling faces of Tomas and Eduardo of Magic Waters Lodge. We had a quick introduction and began the 40-minute drive from the airport to the lodge. The drive from the airport had us excited about our opportunity to land fish, as the landscape is reminiscent of some of the valleys here in Montana.
Once at Magic Waters, we were met by the lovely Carolina who greeted everyone and gave us our room numbers. Immediately after dropping off luggage, we were whisked off to have an unbelievable lunch. The staff prepared a local dish that had us all in awe of the culinary skill that Esteban and Helen have in the kitchen. Often overshadowed by the fishing, the kitchen and service staff wowed us at every turn. We all left the table full and ready to explore the grounds of the lodge to walk-off some of the calories we’d just ingested.
Later that evening, we met up for appetizers and a beautiful cocktail hour by the fireplace. Wonderfully fresh seafood served on small plates were presented and paired with wines from various Chilean vineyards. As the sun began to set, we were ushered into the dining room for a meal that was truly one for the ages. The kitchen staff had prepared a feast of various meats for their “BBQ” night. Eduardo and his family told stories of how the lodge was developed and gave us more information on what to expect. This was a wonderful way to get to know the man behind this unbelievable lodge and to understand the program at hand.
Exploring the spring creeks
The next morning everyone met up for a quick breakfast and you could see the excitement in everyone’s faces. We were quickly met by Eduardo who had guide assignments for the day. We all suited up in the wader room and began our introductions with the guide staff. I was met by Guillermo, who grew up locally and had been guiding with Magic Waters for seven years. We took a short drive to some private access on the Rio Simpson and a local spring creek. After hopping a few fences, we spotted several fish rising to a midge hatch. Guillermo stayed up high on the bank, while I skirted around the back of the rising fish to present my cast. On my third cast I hooked up with a beautiful 18-inch rainbow that rose for a midge emerger.
After several nice fish, we broke for a streamside lunch. On a crisp morning, a lentil and kielbasa soup was just what the doctor ordered. The wind started to pick up and Guillermo got a mischievous look in his face and said “how would you like to find a big fish to eat a hopper?” To which, I immediately replied with an emphatic “Yes!” We began to stalk a small but fruitful spring creek known to hold giant trout. Within minutes I was hooked up with the brown trout of a lifetime. Guillermo dove through the barbed wire fence like a man on a mission to net the fish. The perfection of that fish is impossible to put into words, but will live in my mind forever.
A few trophy browns later, we decided to call it a day early so that I could greet the rest of our group as they arrived at the lodge. They slowly filtered in, each with giant smiles and stories of their first day. John and Jeff had a wonderful day of fishing in a canyon and shared photos of fish they had landed throughout the day. Rich and Melissa arrived shortly after and were very excited to show photos and share stories of what they learned from their guide that day. The stories and photos were a sign of a successful first day of fishing at the lodge.
Weather rolls in
The following morning, some fairly severe weather conditions started brewing and the wind began to howl. We all broke up into small groups to fish different types of water that would be conducive to the conditions. I was paired with Ives, another local guide from the Coyhaique area, to float the Rio Paloma. We floated the middle section of the river and I was immediately struck by the magnificent views of the valley. The water of the Rio Paloma is some of the most beautifully clear I have ever seen and I couldn’t wait to begin the float. While waiting for the shuttle, I set up Rich and Melissa to fish around the channel. I decided to take the opportunity to get some drone shots and was in awe of the surrounding views. While flying the drone, I heard a yell of excitement. Rich had already landed a nice rainbow.
Once Ives and Colin returned, we pushed off and began our journey downstream. The wind was blowing fiercely and you could see the guides thinking of what the best approach was going to be for the day. Ives quickly pointed to a spring-fed backeddy that he believed would hold a nice fish. We hopped out of the boat and spotted two brown trout laid up beneath overhanging vegetation. I dropped a 40-foot cast to avoid detection in the still water and was immediately rewarded by the fish rising to my small beetle pattern. Looking back on the day, the smile on both our faces made that moment stand out. That afternoon we alternated between throwing a sink-tip line with an articulated sparkle minnow and pulling over to sight cast beetles to rising fish. I lost track of the number of fish landed with a few beautiful 16- to 20-inch trout.
The following day, we were met with a steady rain and strong winds. We pushed back the departure time to see if the weather would subside, but it was very well set in. Eduardo set up a tour to the city of Coyhaique with the guides for the members of the group that didn’t want to endure the rough conditions. A few of us (the ones who wanted to suffer) decided to give it a try. We all broke off and went our separate ways to find fishable water. Fortunately, the lodge is located near an unbelievable amount of spring creeks and lakes that are protected from high-water conditions. Within a few minutes of casting, I was rewarded with a beautiful 22-inch brown that couldn’t resist a twitching hopper. We landed several more fish before the brunt of the storm descended on the valley. Rich, Jeff and I were all rewarded with beautiful fish for braving the conditions and we couldn’t wait to share our battle stories with the rest of the group.
With the major rain in the area, the following day meant we needed to make some strategic planning for the group. We split up to fish lakes and spring creeks in the area. Those who had already fished the spring creek were sent to a variety of lakes. I was paired with Hayden, who guides both in Alaska and Chile. He and I started off the morning sight-casting to hungry rainbows in the river mouth of one of the area lakes. One of the rainbows regurgitated a plethora of fry, which piqued our attention. We quickly switched to a tandem streamer rig of small fry patterns and proceeded to have an epic day of fishing. We lost count after more than 30 fish averaging 19 inches and finding a few fish in the 21- to 23-inch range.
Upon returning to the lodge, I was met by the rest of the group who had equally impressive days on the water. John and Jeff showed photos of trophy browns that had been caught on Barroso Lake directly behind the lodge. The excitement in their stories made it all the more rewarding to be part of such an amazing day. Melissa and Rich had landed several amazing fish on their boat using both dry flies and streamers. Rich was fairly new to streamer fishing and was about learning a new skill to add to his fly-fishing arsenal.
Exceptional lake fishing
We were still waiting for the water levels on the Rio Simpson to drop the following day, which meant we departed to various lakes and spring creeks for another day of fishing. Unbelievably, there are enough bodies of water that none of us repeated a trip to the same water twice. The ability to drive less than an hour from the lodge and have this many options, makes Magic Waters a truly special place. It was my chance to make the walking-distance commute to the lake behind the lodge with Colin on this day. The morning started off a little slow but that isn’t uncommon for this lake. The number of fish isn’t the main attraction, it’s the opportunity to land the brown trout of a lifetime. We started finding fish that were on the reed edges that were willing to chase larger white streamers. The third fish of the day taped out a whopping 23-1/2 inches. It was one of the most beautiful fish I have landed and made me feel grateful to be in such a special place.
After four days of throwing sinking lines, I was ready for a change of pace in the afternoon. Colin and I decided to walk a small stream less than ten minutes from the lodge. This creek is reminiscent of a great trout stream near my home in Montana. We targeted eager fish by throwing small hoppers close to undercut banks and deeper runs. Much like Montana, each deep run held a quality 15- to 19-inch brown trout. I could spend a full day just taking in the views from the valley and walking the banks of this little stream. Like most of the trip, we lost count of fish and just enjoyed the day.
Into the valley of the Rio Paloma
On our final day of fishing you could tell everyone was moving a little slower than the first day. With five days of fishing under our belts in tough conditions, we all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before heading out with our guides. I was with Jose, who grew in California but has Chilean roots and also guides in Alaska. We were heading to the upper Rio Paloma to fish the headwaters and the chain of lakes that feed it. We took a jet boat up the river and started the day by throwing streamers around some of the structure near the lake edges. Quickly rewarded with several nice 16-inch browns, we decided to turn our attention to dry fly fishing. We bounced from place to place and fed downstream casts to fish feeding on the surface. By mid-afternoon, I was happy to just enjoy the unbelievable views of the area.
A fond farewell
The final night of the trip was surely one that none of us will forget. Upon returning to the lodge we were greeted with the aromas of slow cooked asado wafting from the kitchen. Salivating as soon as I walked through the door, it was difficult to contain my excitement for the evening's meal. For the first time all week, there was pure silence as we enjoyed our dinner. It was truly a special meal that for many of the group was their first time experiencing Patagoinian asado. After dinner, Eduardo gathered the group in front of the fireplace for a special surprise of live music from a local band. You could hear the passion and feel the music as you watched them perform songs from the region. After the show, many of the guests stayed up playing pool with the staff and relaxed with that bittersweet feeling as the end of an amazing trip draws near.
The final morning we gathered for one last breakfast with the group. We exchanged contact information and discussed planning our next big trip. Eduardo and the staff came down to personally say their goodbyes and see us off as we took our shuttle back to Balmaceda to begin the journey home.
While it was hard to believe the week had passed so quickly, it was wonderful to know that we had started as strangers and become friends through such a unique experience in Chile. As we parted ways at the airport, it was certain that all of us will find our way back to Magic Waters Lodge in the future. I am excited to build our hosted trip for early 2023.