Flyfishing Patagonia

TUR_0026 copyDepart Salt Lake City 11:30am, 5 hour layover in Atlanta, red-eye to Santiago, overnight in Santiago, 4 hour flight to Balmaceda Chile, topped off with a 2 ½ hour drive and we had arrived at the Patagonia Drifters Granite Canyon lodge just outside the small town of Mañihuales in the Aisén region of Chile. Just over 48 hours of travel and we were ready to break out the gear and get a line wet, well, maybe after a nap.

Why?, you might ask yourself, would anyone travel over 7,500 miles to fish for brown and rainbow trout when the blue ribbon waters of the Provo river is a scant 40 miles from their front door? This is a fair question, but one that would only be asked by someone that has not succumbed to the addiction of flies fishing, so it is difficult to answer.  A large number of people find pleasure in activities that “ordinary” people just don’t understand. Climbing the tallest peaks in the world, riding monster waves, skiing the impossible chute, and paddling raging water are a few that come to mind. Mine, and many like me, find pleasure in trying to trick small brained aquatic vertebrates, or trout, into eating a hook designed to look like one of the estimated 900,000 insects found in the world, or Fly Fishing. Before you rush to judgment on this seemingly silly ambition I think it is important to note that for what this pursuit lacks in adrenaline, characteristic of many of the others, it makes up for in the senseless money spent on unnecessary gear, an extravagant vocabulary created to describe what it is we do, and a general snobbish attitude adopted about our pursuit. All of these help us fly fisherman overcome the obvious – ours is a quest of embarrassing simplicity – catching fish.  Fortunately we have also agreed that this simple pursuit should not be geographically limited- which is the real answer to the question- and what took me to Patagonia Chile this last winter, one of the prettiest places I have ever been.

Martin copyThe allure of Patagonia, both Chile and Argentina, for fly fisherman extends beyond the fishing. While it is generally acknowledged as one of the premier fly fishing destinations in the world, this is not just because of the excellent fishing, but also for the beauty, incredible food, excellent wine, and overall gentleman type fishing experience. There are trips for virtually every type of fly fisherman in Chile, from the swankest of lodges to the more basic fish camps.  While I certainly was not looking to “rough it”, like I had in Russia a couple of times previously, I did want the emphasis of the trip to be on the fishing, both amount of and types of. With the help of the knowledgeable travel staff of The Fly Shop, located in Redding, CA, I found myself, a little worse for wear, at Patagonia Drifters Granite Canyon Lodge on the banks of the Mañihuales river in Aisén region of Patagonia Chile this last February.

A true family operation, Patagonia Drifters is owned and run by outfitter Monte Becker and his wife Paola. Paola’s mother, sister, and brother Hector- chef extraordinaire, run the kitchen from which 5 star meals, no exaggeration, are served from at breakfast and dinner. Monte and Paola’s two young sons, Pascal and Lucas, round out the family and are the most well mannered boys I have ever met with a unique quality of only being seen and heard when appropriate, which is still a mystery to me. Of course it would not be a fishing lodge without fishing guides. Unlike some lodges in other parts of the world that hire North American guides for the season (off season back home) Patagonia Drifters’ guides, Sebastien, Martine and Javier, all grew up in the area and have mastered their skills on the local waters.

Lodge 1 copyFishing guides can make or break your fishing trip, after all you’re spending 10 – 12 hours a day with them, and I can tell you that in this case they made it. In addition to their expertise as fishing guides, Martine and Sebastien made excellent tour guides for us during the week we spent with them in their country. Their knowledge of the region and its customs was always welcome and enjoyable conversation. In some cases this knowledge was a bit critical as when Martine, after a few days and with some hesitancy, informed me that Pisco Sours were for girls. This may not seem critical to you but considering Pisco is the “national liquor” of Chile and Pisco Sours the most iconic cocktail in Chile, it was critical to me for a couple of reasons. First, I was not particularly fond of Pisco Sours, and secondly, and more importantly, I certainly did not want to be referred to as “that girly angler last season” by Sebastien or Martine. From there forward I was able to enjoy the manlier, and infinitely more enjoyable Piscola, a very heavy handed pour of Pisco mixed with coke, the Chilean Cuba Libre of sorts, minus the lime. Of course Sabastien and Martine excelled at other equally important aspect of the fishing guide job during my trip like putting me on trout day in and day out, tirelessly rowing down rivers and across lagoons, preparing spectacular stream side lunches and even humoring their guest in an impromptu game of all American quarters one late night in the guide shack (embarrassingly I was schooled by the rookies in this particular pursuit and paid dearly for it the next day).

The day at Patagonia Drifters starts at 7:30am at the lodge for coffee. Breakfast is served at 8:00am and I was en route to the day’s fishing destination by no later than 9:00am. One of the unique aspects of Patagonia Drifters is the variety of fishing offered. I spent about half the days floating larger rivers in inflatable rafts or drift boats (Monte builds his own in the off season) and half the days wading smaller rivers on foot. In the week we were there we fished 4 different rivers and one private lake, technically a lagoon due to it smaller size, and never the same water twice.

Lunch is served streamside around 2:00pm but it is not your typical fisherman’s box lunch. Rather ,it is a sit down, fine dining affair complete with table cloth, china, real glassware and if you so choose a fine bottle of Chilean red wine – very gentlemanly fishing indeed.  I enjoyed everything from beef kabobs with potatoes cooked over a fire, to empanadas, a traditional Chilean turnover type sandwich similar to the Italian Calzone. These delicious turnovers are typically filled with spiced beef or lamb, and contain raisins and hardboiled egg, served hot or cold. Interestingly each empanada contains one, just one, olive with the seed in it.  While my local fishing and tour guides, Martine and Sabastien were not able to explain the reasoning behind the one lonely olive, “just is how they are made” was their helpful explanation, I learned later that the one olive is included as a deterrent of sorts to “wolfing down” your lunch rather than savoring it. The ever present fear of breaking a tooth on an olive seed breeds prudence when it comes to table manners.

I returned to the lodge each evening around 7:00pm for cocktails (no Pisco Sours for us men) at 7:30pm and dinner at 8:30pm. As previously mentioned dinners were truly a fine dining experience, both from a quality and presentation standpoint.  While fishing trips to Chile are known for quality food I was not prepared for the level of quality I enjoyed during my two weeks there. From the cocktail appetizers to desert the food was incredible. As a big fan of beef I particularly enjoyed the numerous Chilean beef dishes Hector and crew created accompanied by garden fresh vegetables and salads not to mention the ever present Haas avocados.  Thankfully the days were long enough and most of them included substantial walking and wading, otherwise I am sure I would have come back 20 pounds heavier than when I left. Cocktails after dinner if you so choose and lights out, and I mean lights out as the generator is turned off, at 11:00pm. Next day get up and do it again, a fisherman’s paradise to be sure.

With the focus on everything but fishing you might be thinking the fishing was not all that great. To the contrary, the fishing was excellent, as expected. While there are destinations that offer higher probability of catching monster size trout, Alaska and Russia for example, if you like to fish big dry flies on top of scenic freestone rivers to relatively unselective wild brown trout in a true wilderness setting Patagonia Chile is for you.  Action was very consistent throughout the trip with our average fish between 14-16 inches. The largest fish of the trip for me was a 21 inch Brown trout.  The real kicker is the sheer number of trout I caught each day and the fight that a 14 inch wild Chilean brown trout puts up when hooked.

driftboat lagoon copyAlas, after 11 days of solid fishing it was time to go home and back to work. While I am sure some people would be ready to get home after 2 weeks off fishing in Patagonia I was not one of those people. I would have gladly stayed longer to trick a few more small brained aquatic vertebrates into eating my foam bug imitation. Unfortunately, the trip had come to an end and it was probably time to get back to work. After all I need to pay for the next adventure. Without having to overnight in Santiago and better connections, the trip home was a breeze; just a scant 30 hours of travel and I was back in cold snowy Salt Lake City, anxious to get up to the Provo River.

The fly fishing season in Chile is November through April which provides an added bonus for the winter nymph fishing blues if you are pre-disposed to them as I am. With no poisonous snakes or spiders, no grizzly bears, and virtually no mosquitoes fishing in Patagonia is heaven compared to other exotic fly fishing destinations. Patagonia Drifters is a relatively small lodge accommodating a maximum 6 anglers. As previously mentioned the variety of the fishing is awesome. During our stay we fished, both wading and drifting, the Emperador Guillermo, Nirehuao, Picaflor, Rio Blanco, and Mañihuales, rivers none of which were more than a 45 minute drive from the Lodge’s front door.

My 5 weight Sage Z-Axis rod with floating line and 6 weight Sage XP with sinking tip covered all of my needs during the trip although don’t forget a backup rod- which I was glad I had when I snapped the tip on my XP in a total rookie move un-snagging my line from a log. While you can leave your heavy duty deet at home don’t forget the sunscreen as the southern hemisphere sun is relentless, even behind a curtain of clouds.  The weather was very mild in February with days typically in the 65 degree range and nights dropping down to the low 40’s. Less than 80 miles from the coast, the only predictable thing about the weather is its’ absolute unpredictability so good Gortex rain jacket is a must.

I booked my trip through The Fly Shop in Redding, CA as I have other fly fishing trips. The travel staff at The Fly Shop are superior in every way and working with a reputable and knowledgeable booking agent for this type of travel is critical. The itinerary for my trip was suggested by Ryan Peterson based on a conversation we had about what I was looking for, what I wasn’t looking for, and other trips that I had enjoyed. Ryan had visited Chile, including Patagonia Drifters Lodge, the season before so he had fresh first-hand knowledge of the various destinations they offer in Chile and was able to match my preferences perfectly.

Darrell Tate is a Utah native who resides in Salt Lake City–when he is not chasing small brained aquatic vertebrates in and around Island Park, ID–where he lives as much as he can. For what he lacks in fly fishing skills, which is significant, he makes up for in gear.

Brown trout were introduced to Chile in the last century.
Chile is 2700 miles long and never more than 150 miles wide (109 miles on average) with just over 285,000 square miles (3.3 times the size of Utah).
Just over 16 million people live in Chile with roughly 50% of them living in or around Santiago
Chile is Home to the driest desert in the world: Atacama
Chile claims over 480,000 square miles of Antarctica as their Antartica Territory
Chile’s number 1 export is copper

One Response to “Flyfishing Patagonia”

  1. Loved your article and would like to speak to you more about going on a dream trip to Patagonia…..Please email so we can connect and talk fishing……I run a veterans Fish camp I started 4 years ago on the Nushagak River in AK…. so fishing is a passion of mine as well. Also had a balst going to fish Lees ferry in AZ.. Stayed at the Cliff Dwellers Lodge and was into fish all day there….Lets talk . I appreciate your time. Please email me this article….
    Dan Wald
    206 714 0080

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