When in Rome, do as the Romans do. That's the proposal
from this Chilean angler, who shares the secrets that
locals have for superb fishing in Chilean Patagonia, at
half the cost of fishing lodges!
My job with a US multinational based in Chile requires frequent travel. With that comes a lot
of time spent at the Santiago airport, where I usually run across, and deeply envy, travelers
carrying fly rods instead of laptop computers. Curious as I am, I often approach them. The
vast majority of this (admitedly not representative) sample of fishermen tends to be
Americans, staying at some five-star lodge in the south of Chile. I hear these lodges usually
have the whole season booked, which means demand is strong. My guess is that most of the
foreign anglers that travel to Chile stay in these lodges.
On the contrary, when I ask fellow Chilean fishermen about their fishing destinations, the
answer is very rarely a fishing lodge. Do we settle for second class fishing? Absolutely not.
So where and how do we locals fish? We hire fishing outfitters. Outfitters offer a full service to
anglers that are not willing to pay the rates that Lodges charge. For about half the cost, you
get a similar package. Transportation, fishing guides, meals, drinks, and of course, great
fishing! The accommodations are evidently not as spectacular, and the wines are not
awarded by international magazines. But hey, if you want a fancy service, you might as well
go to a five-star, all-inclusive beach resort. If you are actually interested in good fishing, an
outfitter is definitely your choice.
This is my account of a fishing trip done last year with one of Chile's most experienced
outfitters, Julio Meier. It will give you a flavor of the kind of experience you would have if you
decide to check out for yourself the famous fishing in the Chilean Patagonia, and want to do
so without getting a second mortgage!
As is the case with many other outfitters, Julio has been
involved with fishing most of his life. His father worked for a
hydroelectric company: his job was to monitor the flow of the
rivers in the region, so Julio would go with him and so, since
his early childhood, he started learning about the secrets of
the water. He started guiding very young, and soon realized
that tourism was the engine of growth in Chilean Patagonia.
He set up a travel agency that later evolved into his current
"outfitter" operation. He has guided hundreds of Chilean
anglers, and in many cases converted them to fly fishing.
Language is not a barrier for foreigners: Julio and many other
outfitters normally hire bilingual guides among their staff,
many of them Americans that have come to spend a season,
or a lifetime, in this beautiful place. His customers return season
after season, and he has developed a reputation even beyond the
country, having received guests from countries such as Spain,
Brazil, Colombia and France.
Julio bases his operation in a zone called Ñirehuao, a
couple of hours north of Coyhaique, in the Chilean region called
"Aysén." Some say this name derived from "Ice Ends,"
and indeed this is where the ice ends, as south of this region the
glaciers abound. But what actually matters is not what ends here,
but what starts. After you land in Balmaceda and get onboard
Julio's truck, you enter a land of meandering rivers, rolling hills,
and green meadows spotted with lakes and lagoons of
all sizes. And after a 3-4 hour drive, you arrive at Lake Misterioso.
A comfortable cabin sits right on its shore, beaten by the
constant Patagonian wind. The cabin has all the amenities that
fishermen need. Electric power, hot water, two bedrooms with
their respective bathrooms; the cabin accommodates 4
passengers (Julio and his staff use an adjacent cabin). The living and dining
rooms are very welcoming, with a nice view of the lake and located
of course right next to the wood stove that provides the much needed
warmth in these latitudes. Julio's daughter, Cecilia, is in charge of the
kitchen and she delighted us on each meal with delicious recipes,
many of which she has learned from previous guests. Each of the
dozens of fishing memories, scattered around as decoration, add
a special touch to the place, from the "herofly" display to the many
letters, photos, and even books that satisfied customers have sent to
share (some might say boast) their catches.
Lake Misterioso, and the neighboring Lake Los Juncos are home to some magnificent trout.
We rarely hooked browns of less than 20", the usual was between 22" and 25". Julio has
arbitrarily determined that trout over 27" qualify as "trophy," and several of these were
hooked, pictured and released on this trip. The browns were always close to the shore, just
beneath the undercut, sometimes in such low water that their dorsal fin would rise above the
surface. Rainbows were more scarce, and we usually found them cruising in the middle of the
lake, and didn't see any larger than 20".
Dries, nymphs and streamers all gave good results. In the case of
dries, Lake Los Juncos was the preferred location. The preferred technique
was to use a chernobyl ant, or a similar large, rubber-legged fly that would
land rather clumsily on the water, always on a promising spot very close to
the shore. This disturbance in the surface was the key to get the attention
of those huge browns that apparently were waiting for lunch to fall right next to
their noses. Once every few casts, the fly would suddenly disappear. Sometimes
gently sipped from below, sometimes swallowed slowly from behind,
and sometimes gulped with a large splash. The real quality of the fisherman
as evidenced during the fight that ensued right after, as these monsters could
break a tippet all too easily. Julio rigorously counted the times that the local
team (the browns) won and the times the visiting team (us fishermen) scored.
In my case a full morning of fishing ended up in an appalling 15-5 loss. My
buddies did much better, in one case winning 14-12. Regardless of what this says
about my skill (or lack of) as a fisherman, the important point is that over 20
strikes in 4 hours of fishing means by any account a very active and fun time
on the water!
But unanimously the highlight of the trip was fishing
with nymphs and small streamers. The water in Lake
Misterioso was so clear that you could spot your prey
and literally hunt it. Aided by our guides, we would
every so often see a long shadow moving in the water,
or sometimes a fin shining above the surface, always
very close to the shore. The fly had to land gracefully
and hit just the right spot. Too far and the trout would
ignore it. Too close and it would swim away spooked.
The sweet spot was about 3 feet ahead of the course of
the moving trout. And when you casted right there and
started slowly retrieving, you knew right away that action
would soon follow. You could perfectly distinguish the moment
the trout became aware of your fly. It would slightly change
direction or speed, cruise towards the fly, hesitate sometimes,
but finally strike. Those are the unforgettable sights that you
remember for months after the trip. That silver flash beneath the
surface when the trout moved. The white inside their open mouth
just before they swallowed the fly. The riot in the water when the
beast was hooked. If only the pictures that were taken
to mark these victories could express half the joy and intense
emotion of those moments.
Such was the fishing experience we had in this
trip with Julio. It is hard to imagine a better one.
For sure it is an experience that spoils you,
causing you to lose your sense of dimensions
and dismiss as insignificant any trout below
20". Luckily this only lasts for a limited time, so
you can actually enjoy future fishing
experiences even if they involve lesser trout.
Anyway, the point is that a good outfitter from
Chilean Patagonia, such as Julio Meier, will
provide you an unforgettable trip, with plenty of
fishing, the quality of which can hardly be
matched. So if you want to fish the very best
waters of Chilean Patagonia in an inexpensive yet
do as the Chileans do! ~ Germán