Trout Fishing in Patagonia – part I
Fly-fishing for trout in Coyhaique Alto
My previous employment with Marriott and Hilton had me regularly traveling to the Southern Cone, comprising Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, but always on business. I have rarely spent time in this region on holiday, and never for fishing. I had read that trout fishing in Patagonia is outstanding, and when a friend asked if I would join him on an excursion to Chile’s Patagonia region to fly fish for trout, I spent only a few minutes thinking about it before saying yes.
Chile is in the Southern Hemisphere, so our winter in the US is this region’s summer, which is the prime trout fishing season. What a delight it is to leave the frozen north to gallivant in the balmy south for large trout! And the climate during my visit was, luckily, very accommodating. But the wind can be stout, and we had our share of very windy days – more about that later.
Estancia del Zorro fishing lodge
I travelled to Santiago and connected to Balmaceda, where I was met by the owner of the Estancia del Zorro fishing lodge in Coyhaique Alto. The fishing adventure would begin the next day, but only after a fabulous welcome dinner featuring a miso pork shoulder and copious amounts of Chilean Carmenere wine, a varietal that originated in Bordeaux, but is now mostly grown in Chile.
Fly-fishing for trout in the Ñirehuao River
Our morning began with guide Hector driving us to Lago Juncos where we would drift reed beds (juncos) along the shoreline, tossing dry fly patterns up against the juncos. We were challenged by bright sunny skies and a stiff wind, which probably contributed to a listless morning. Thankfully, after soup and a charcuterie board for lunch, Hector decided we should move to the lower section of Ñirehuao River (aka Nireguao).
This stretch of the Ñirehuao is a freestone river and we fished upstream with medium-sized hoppers to the left-hand bank, casting to bank cuts and ledges where it was hoped browns would be lurking in the darker water. The bank vegetation was teeming with hoppers in the early afternoon and multiple rises were triggered by the insects dropping into the river. Thankfully, the stiff wind was at our backs and our 5-weight rods were sufficient on this day, but we would find that a heftier 6- or 7-weight would be necessary when casting into the wind on subsequent outings.
Fly-fishing for trout on the El Zorro Spring Creek
The next day we were scheduled to fish the El Zorro Spring Creek at the Estancia and we woke up to a howling wind with gusts of up to 25 miles per hour. The terrain was flat with nothing to break the wind and the water was skinny with a significant amount of aquatic grass. Needless to say, casting terrestrials (mostly beetles) to seams in between the moss beds while using clumps of juncos as cover was quite the challenge. The roar of the wind also made it difficult to hear the instructions of our guide, Pablo.
By mid-morning we had some reprieve from the wind gusts and began hitting our targets with more precision. A 21” brown lurking in a dark hole not bigger than the lid of a garbage can pounced on my fly. This would be a personal best brown trout for me. My fishing companion would hook up on a 20” brown a short while later just upstream. Before lunch we had multiple looks and subsequent refusals from nice-sized browns - one on a Mr. Humpy that the fish appeared to eat and promptly expelled just as I was attempting to set the hook.
Gastronomy of Patagonia
That evening back at the Estancia we were treated to a traditional Chilean barbeque, which featured a whole cordero asado (roast lamb) accompanied by roasted potatoes and, again, copious amounts of Chilean Carmenere wine. Because the daylight extended to ten o’clock in the evening, we decided to have one last fish on the El Zorro that evening and landed several good-sized browns on beetle patterns before sunset.
Fly-fishing the Middle Ñirehuao River
On our third day we were treated to the Middle Ñirehuao with Ronald, our guide for the final day in Coyhaique Alto. This water would also prove to be challenging as the water was very skinny in sections with high banks from which large clumps of juncos were suspended over the water. The lack of wind and meagre current made it easy to spook the fish, either by lining the water, being seen from above or not presenting the fly delicately enough. Bluebird skies and rising temperatures were also not helping.
We spent a lot of time sight fishing from the high banks and using the juncos for cover, but again there was lot of foraging into the juncos to retrieve those flies. After a while, I became selective of where I would fish, finding grassy embankments with a view to upstream rises and casting to those intermittently, hoping to a) not spook the fish and b) get a strike from the fish that seemed to be eating.
Again the guide used a plethora of hoppers as indicators of where the fish were hiding by sweeping the juncos and releasing hoppers into the water. We then would wait a moment and cast to where there had been a rise to feed on a hopper. The more successful flies were parachute patterns like Purple Haze and Adams, as well as some terrestrials, including medium-sized Chubby Chernobyl, PMX and Fat Albert patterns.
The strategy worked well as I hooked into quite a few fish by targeting rises, five of which were over 15” and 3 of those over 17”, one a 19” fish on a PMX. I spooked the fish from the bank above and watched it swim upstream out of sight. I waited about five minutes before I lowered myself to a grassy patch of embankment just below and held out a few more minutes while crouched low in hope the fish might return to its feeding spot. After several upstream casts in the direction of where the fish had moved to, it came back and pounced on the PMX.
Our Patagonia fishing experience would continue that evening at Cinco Rios Lodge close to the village of Coyhaique, which is situated on the Simpson River near to Rio Simpson National Reserve. So, we left the grassy plains (pampas) surrounding Estancia del Zorro to fish in greener forest containing glacier-fed waters!