Excerpted from an article by John Randolph in Fly Fisherman Magazine 2005
When you pass barns and sheds along the Rio Baker in southern Chile you sometimes see things that concentrate your attention—scary gape-mouthed trout heads mounted like trophy deer horns on a Montana barn. You hit the brakes for a closer look. The question lurks in your mind: “Where did trout like that come from?” That is the question that exploring American fly fishers have been asking for decades. The answers may be found soon as the fishing explorers push southward from Coyhaique into vast glacial drainages and lake systems. Things are changing. The fly-fishing gringos are coming. (See also “Trout Under the Condor,” September 1998 issue at www.flyfisherman.com/chile/
The Republic of Chile is a geographic sliver, extending 2,650 miles north to south on its Pacific coast but only 250 miles wide at its fattest east-west point. Its Andean ribs contain some of the tallest mountains in the world. It extends like a bony finger from warm latitudes nearly to the world’s coldest continent—Antarctica. Its coast contains some of the world’s most abundant, beautiful, and dangerous fjords. Its 16 million population—with the exception of the 5.5 million in Santiago—is sprinkled throughout 12 mostly rural provinces, with 3.9 million cattle, 80 million chickens, 3.2 million pigs, 3.1 million sheep, and a million goats. And it produces some of the world’s finest wines and most beautiful women. But that’s not quite the entire picture: Thanks to the mountains and their reliable snowpack, Chile contains some of the world’s best (and least explored) trout fishing.
That is changing quickly. The Coyhaique region in the past ten years has become Chile’s most rapidly developing fly-fishing destination…Spring Fishing
Spring hatches are sparse and consist primarily of Baetis and chironomids. Anglers float in high-quality inflatable rafts and johnboats and fish streamers and large rubber-legged nymphs and small nymph droppers (#18 Copper Johns). Rods should be 4, 5 and 7-weight (and 10-weight for king or silver salmon) with fast actions to handle the large flies and winds that often whip the region. Tippets are heavy (2X and 1X mono or fluorocarbon and 3X and 4X dropper tippets) to handle the large, powerful rainbows and browns, and a quality reel should include 75 to 100 yards of 20-pound backing. Spring and fall clothing should include moisture-wicking synthetic layers from light to heavy with a hooded storm jacket, fishing gloves, wool cap, and 30 to 50 SPF sunscreen. Strong wading boots, with high quality felt bottoms, are needed for the hiking and wading.Summer Fishing
The rivers and streams in the Coyhaique region have excellent summer dry-fly opportunities, but it is seldom match-the-hatch fishing comparable to the best North American rivers. Mayfly and caddis hatches provide exciting small-fly/big-trout challenges in summer evenings, especially on the Simpson. The region is rich in beetles and grasshoppers, with as many as 11 beetle species providing food for trout. That explains why most of the fishing is hopper-dropper style, with foam rubber-legged beetles or hoppers followed by small-nymph droppers. The takes by strong, heavy browns and rainbows can be spectacular and for many experienced dry-fly anglers, this fishing may offer the first opportunity to use their backing.
When fishing the Paloma and Simpson from boats, you pound the banks or stop to wade fish long gravel runs or the deep, boulder-filled stretches on the lower Simpson. When the water is clear, the sight-fishing to large, powerful trout here is a world-class visual experience. And increasingly, Pacific salmon (kings and silvers) are spawning in these rivers, providing a powerful challenge when they are on or near their redds.
Trout—rainbows and browns on the Simpson and browns on the Paloma—range in size from 6 to 30 inches. Most smaller stream trout range from 6 inches to 20 inches... providing exceptional 4-weight dry-fly fishing when the winds are down in the mornings and evenings.
The lakes include Frio, Pollux, Castor, Azul, Desierto, Elizalde, and others, and they are full of large browns or rainbows. The shorelines are sight-fished from boats or wade-fished, both to cruising and rising trout. Pancora crabs (a crayfishlike creature that dwells under rocks, swims backwards, and is imitated with an olive Whitlock Near Nuff Crayfish) are a primary food item for these large trout. Their bellies can be crammed hard with pancora, which also occupy the streams. The lake fish also rise to massive chironomid hatches, and small riseforms on calm surfaces often conceal large trout.Fall (March-April)
Fall brings colder weather and rainstorms off the Pacific, and river water temperatures quickly fall below the 50-degree F. mark. Trout take drys and nymphs sluggishly, and sporadic Baetis and chironomid hatches do not begin until the late afternoons on sunny days. The rivers occasionally go out in spate for two to three days, but when the weather remains stable, drift-boat fishing can be spectacular, especially fishing large foam drys with a nymph dropper or sight fishing to large rainbows and browns with streamers or rubber-legged nymphs.
Small-stream fishing can also be spectacular on 4- or 5-weight, fishing drys (foam ants and beetles and olive nymph droppers to match the pancora) to browns and rainbows ranging from 6 to 20 inches. Lake fishing can also be exceptional to both rising fish and deep-feeding large browns and rainbows fished on sinking tips (200- to 350-grain integrated heads) from boats or float tubes. Afternoon winds can make this fishing a challenge.Choices on Water
The Rio Simpson is the crown dry-fly jewel of the Coyhaique region. It comprises three distinct river types: the smaller upper river with its gravelly runs and pools and the occasional deep pools that hold larger rainbows and browns, its middle stretches contain long gravel bars where king salmon spawn and long, deep pools that hold very large rainbows and browns and where anglers can wade and sight-fish with drys to large fish, including kings (up to 35 pounds) and many 5-to 10-pound rainbows that have escaped from estuary commercial fish farms and run upriver. The lower river, characterized by long deep, boulder-filled runs, provides some of South America’s best match-the-hatch fishing to large browns and rainbows rising to caddis, Baetis, and chironomid hatches and host of terrestrials—all day in spring and fall, during evening hours in summer. Float- and wade-fishing on this river are exceptional, at times comparable to the Malleo in Argentina. Foam rubber-legged beetles and grasshoppers are also favorites on the Simpson.
Recommended flies include #16-18 Stimulator, #10 Madam X, #10 Near Nuff Crayfish, #14 Stocking Sedge, #18 Troth Elk-hair Caddis, #14-16 Royal Wulffs, #14-18 Parachute Adams, #16-18 Bead-head Pheasant Tail Nymphs, #18 Copper Johns, #16-18 Hare’s Ears, #10 Chernobyl Ants, and Whitlock Hoppers, Renegades, selections of ants and beetle imitations, and trout-fry imitations including Matuka Muddlers and black, olive, and white Zonkers tied on relatively heavy wire.
Summer hatches include Pale Morning and Evening Duns (#18-20) and, in the evenings, gray- and green-bodied caddis. The guides tie and supply most of the flies that are needed for fishing the Simpson and other area rivers.
The Rio La Paloma is a complex river system born in a snowfield, with the snowmelt running into Lago Azul, then into Lago Desierto, the outflow (boca) of which becomes the Rio La Paloma, which runs some 14 miles downstream to the Rio Simpson. The cathedral-like river and lake settings compare with the scenery of British Columbia, and the aquamarine lake waters grow large trout. They travel to and from the lakes via the interconnecting streams, including the Paloma, the De Leon, and the Azul-Desierto-Paloma connecting bocas. Tributary streams such as the Megote are worth days of exploration and dry-fly fishing, as are the Rios Deseques, Azul and Alto.
Each water type on the Paloma provides a different experience, including sight-casting streamers and large drys from boats to bank-cruising browns on the lakes and in the bocas; wade-fishing and sight-casting to flats-cruising fish; float-fishing the Paloma from rafts, jet-boats, or johnboats; rapid-fire casting large foam hoppers and beetle imitations to shore cover as the boat drifts; or wade-fishing freestone reaches such as “Gringo Bend” and fishing hopper imitations upstream to large browns in clear water. The takes to the large flies by large browns are heart stoppers, and the unique feature of the large browns is a blue-green halo on their gill covers. Accurate casting to 40 feet from a moving boat can make the difference between so-so success and breathtaking experiences. (Practice casting large drys accurately at 30 to 40 feet before you go.
The Rios Aysen and Manihuales are guide favorites for large trout fished on large streamers while drifting. Of the two streams, the Aysen has more large browns and rainbows, but the Manihuales is the more picturesque float.
Wade- and sight-fishing small flies to large cruising trout in the lake shallows can be one of life’s most thrilling and demanding challenges, like stalking large bonefish tailing on quiet flats. The best fishing occurs during summer on the food-rich shorelines of Lagos Frio, Pollux, and Castor; and the rainbows and browns are large and powerful, requiring 4X or 3X tippets and 12-foot leaders. For fly fishers who enjoy technical fishing—small drys, nymphs, and emerger imitations—this is the place to do it. The bocas of Lagos Elizade, Azul and Desierto can occupy you for hours stalking, casting and playing large lake fish.