Trout Fishing in Patagonia – part II
Fly-fishing for trout in Coyhaique
This is my first visit to South America to fish for trout and the first half of the week in Coyhaique Alto exceeded expectations. We were treated to gastronomic delights that comprised pork and lamb dishes, as well as fabulous Chilean wines. We also witnessed some spectacular wildlife that included condors, guanacos (cousin to the alpaca and llama), rhea (related to the ostrich) and flamingos. This region comprised dry grasslands and wide-open spaces epitomized by the Valley of the Moon, which we traversed each day to reach the waters that we would fish.
For the second half of the week, we moved to a greener part of the northern Aysén region, proximate to our port of entry at Balmaceda. Coyhaique is known as the ‘Cow Town’ of Patagonia and we were reminded of that daily as we passed the local livestock market when leaving our base of Cinco Rios Lodge. The landscape here is robust with evergreens, undulating terrain and bigger water than we witnessed in Coyhaique Alto.
Rio La Paloma float trip
The fishing excursions here would consist predominately of float trips on glacial waters – both rivers and lakes. Our first was a float down Rio La Paloma to Lago Caro on a cataraft, which is an inflatable, twin-hulled raft. I liked the combination of drifting the La Paloma River, casting large hoppers to banks and structure, and then motoring down to Caro Lake to fish rock walls within sheltered coves and inlets. Our hopper flies were large and the wind quite stiff, so we opted for 7-weight rods with stout leaders (2x).
Simpson River float trip
The following day we floated the Simpson River on a cataraft from Torreones to the confluence with the Mañhuales River. On this water we would fish a combination of dries and streamers, so both the 5- and 7-weight rods were packed in the drift boat, the latter rod with a sink tip line to fish streamers in deep holes. Our guides, Andres and Tanner, reside in Chile during the Southern Hemisphere summer and then return to their homes in Fernie, British Columbia to fish the North American summer season.
This section of the Simpson reminded me of fishing the rivers near Squamish and Whistler in British Columbia, characterized by glacial waters of ice blue and green that flow along rocky banks that are backdropped by giant evergreens. In this case the river-side sentries were great willows and massive cottonwood poplars. Cattle grazed in adjacent pastures that were being picked apart by Magellan ducks, and large kingfishers swooped overhead.
Our catch that day along the Simpson River was a mixture of browns and rainbows on a variety of patterns, including hopper / dropper rigs, dry tandems (on the 5-weight) and streamers (Kreelex / Sparkle Minnow hybrid and Slumpbuster) on a sink tip line (using the 7-weight). Most of our fish were hefty and in the 15-18” range, with one rainbow of 19”.
Wade fishing for trout on the Simpson River
Wade fishing the Simpson River at Santa Elena on the last day would prove to be the most productive on the trip. Our guide, Gabriel, took us to a private section of the Simpson that he had been fishing since he was 7 years old. The owner of the estate was a boyhood friend of his father who allows only trusted friends to fish on his property. This water was a mixture of runs and riffles with the occasional deep pool that at this time of year would hold spawning Chinook, or King Salmon. We would primarily cast dry tandems (Hoppers trailing Caddis and Parachute Adams) from 5-weight rods, but carried the 7-weight rods to prospect the big holes for Salmon.
It was a listless morning of fishing, but later the temperature warmed up and the fish began to feed. In one stretch of water with a bushy bank creating dark shadows over deep cuts we had a field day with numerous large browns, sometimes missing the first take only to hook up on the same fish on the second pass. That section produced a handful of rainbows and browns between 18” and 20” in a span of about 45 minutes. Our guide proclaimed it to be the best hour he had ever spent on this water.
After a delicious lunch consisting of a charcuterie board, a salad of potatoes, pork shoulder and greens, and Chilean wine, we sought out one of the deep holes that this section of the Simpson is known for. We rigged up the 7-weight rods and cast streamers and hoppers up against a grotto wall. For the better part of 30 minutes we delighted in hooking up monster fish that summarily raced into the grotto and broke us off against the rocks. We never did see these behemoths, but I nearly had my rod pulled out of my hand on a couple of occasions. It was a rush!
The final dinner at Cinco Rios Lodge was impressive, comprising a salad of puyes al pil pil (fried baby eels in a chili sauce) followed by a roasted pork shoulder that was unbelievably succulent. Besides the epic fishing, this trip would be known for the memorable dishes served by our hosts at Estancia del Zorro and Cinco Rios Lodge.