In early February, 2010, we had a fantastic 10-day trip with 4 anglers. Here’s the report!
Day 1: Balmaceda
The crew showed up at the airport early for the arrival of our group of 4 guests. Andrew, the owner of Deneki Outdoors, Whitey, a friend of the company and Dave and Jerry. Looking through the crowd at the Balmaceda airport, 4 gringos shouldn’t be hard to find, right? The first sight was Whitey’s hair, looking like a beaver pelt after the long journey from Colorado. Andrew, Jerry and Dave soon followed. The gear was loaded and the trip began!
As the first leg of the journey to La Junta embarked, Whitey and the guys gave reports on the football playoffs. Weather started in and the rain began to fall. Photo opportunities were slim with low light. Dodging potholes and a few stops for cattle crossings, the group had arrived. After check-in, a few beverages and steaks, it was time to turn in.
Day 2: Rio Tigre
After breakfast and coffee, we continued on to Palena. Jerry and Dave’s thoughts were slightly damp from constant rain since they arrived. We assured them the weather would be better in Palena, being east and so close to Argentina.
A short stop at the local “Queseria” to buy cheese for the trip and we were off again. The Rosselot River was high along with other streams but clarity was good. The 3 hour drive went quick as we pulled into the cabanas in the town of Palena.
Usually we would have drinks and appetizers, but we decided to do a short walk and wade on a small Brook trout river called the Tigre. We geared up and headed out on a 20 minute drive. We showed up to a “gin clear” river, slightly high but beautiful. The weather was sunny but crisp. There was a light dusting of snow on the peaks surrounding us.
Chris, Andrew and Mike decided to head downstream while Jerry, Dave and Trevor went upstream. With the temperature dropping rapidly, a usually fun river was a ghost town. Fishing water where we’ve seen numerous fish caught was only answered by unproductive drifts. Without embellishing one bit, this was a tough day of fishing!
Day 3: Rio Palena
After Trevor, Ronnie, and Javier set up the boats, the guys arrived to a beautiful river. The weather was flawless! Chris took Jerry and Dave and they pushed off. After seeing a king salmon roll out front, Mike and Andrew brought out the spey rods. They swung a long run with perfect speed for holding kings.
Fifteen minutes went by before Whitey hollered! A fish thrashed on the surface and we saw a nice bend in the 8 weight, but still couldn’t tell if it was a king or a big brown. He coaxed the fish closer and a large brown with defined shoulders appeared. This was a distinguished fish with characteristics of a trout with some years on him. After tailing the brown we guesstimated its length at 23 to 24 inches. What a way to start the day – a celebratory Escudo was in order. Little did Andrew and Whitey know, this would be a trip ritual for them.
Starting the float, Andrew and Mike pitched streamers at the banks with short jerky strips. Good action and toying with the occasional small trout was typical. Thoughts came to mind like “what do these small trout think when they try to eat an articulated sculpin that’s larger than they are?”
Chris’ group pushed on down to riffle that had produced a few fish the week before. Jerry flipped a stonefly out just after the riffle and immediately a nice brown pounced on his fly. Stopping and re-rigging, a few more were taken on nymphs. Chris has fishing style acquired after numerous seasons in Chile and matching the hatch is his passion. Action was steady for them.
Farther on down the river we stopped in a convenient lunch location with beautiful scenery and a nice run in front. The guides set up tables and chairs and the fishing talk began as we ate.
On down the river, the sun pressed down on the group from above as they entered the canyon. Trevor pushed the boat down the edge of the river as Andrew and Mike banged the bank with leaches in rapid fashion trying to cover every piece of water in their path. With the good light the anglers watched trout chase their flies away from the bank. After landing a few nice browns the boat approached the end of the run.
This section of river was littered with structure and shade. Trevor pulled on the oars to slow the drift, Andrew and Mike placing their flies in a strategic manor. Mike dangled his leech in front of a snag and popping his rod tip to dance his fly, a brown answered. As Mike pulled his fish towards the boat Andrew worked the same piece of water with a fly called the “Log Jammer”. A 5 inch, brown, articulated Sculpin pattern Trevor tied for big leopard Rainbows in Alaska. A large object came out from the logs to engulf the fly. It dove and flashed showing large proportions. Andrew battled the fish as the boat went down a fast section of water. Trevor pulled the boat in and Andrew slid the fish into the net. The fish barely fit! This brown had a large head and a jaw characteristic of a male that had a diet of small trout not insects! The fish measured 26 x 12 inches and was a testament to the gene pool. Pictures were taken and the Brown was released to the depths. They celebrated in the hot sun in Escudo fashion, still high from victory at hand.
Both boats met at the takeout and they made their journey back to the cabins. Pisco sours, appetizers and laughter, a sign of a good day on the water! Steaks and wine followed prepared by Ronnie, Javier and Chris’ wife Gloria. After dinner Chris and Trevor stocked the anglers’ boxes with the plethora of Idylwilde flies that Whitey had brought for the trip. It looked like kids in a candy store.
Day 4: Rio Palena
Pairing up like the day before, Chris, Jerry, and Dave shoved off. Mike and Andrew started as they did the day before, throwing spey rods and big sink tips, in the same style used for Kings on the Kanektok river at Alaska West. Mike swung with 12 feet of T-14 and a large pink and white bunny leech. With a long cast and big mend he stepped down the run. Tension followed by a sharp pull and Mike set the hook, however this time the line peeling off and the singing of the reel was a sure indication of a king salmon!
Mike battled the king as it bull dogged on 3 good runs trying to swim into the trees along the bank. Bringing the fish closer, Trevor tailed the fish. High fives and screams of joy echoed throughout the valley! A family who lived next to the run came out of their farm house to see what the commotion was all about. After a few pictures Trevor insisted on giving the fish to the people who lived on the land as a gesture of good will. These people lived off the land and graciously accepted the King with wide smiles. Bonked and bled, it was sure to be a feast as it weighed about 18 pounds. After more laughter and maybe another beer they pushed off.
Andrew and Whitey fished the same techniques as the day before. Casting at a rock wall in the canyon Mike let his leech marinate deep out of sight. His line came tight, he set and the battle was on. Mike said “I don’t know if it’s big or not.” Trevor and Andrew laughed because the fish was peeling line and going deep in a section of river where the bottom was nowhere in sight. Mike coaxed the fish back up from the deep to reveal a large brown. Trevor pulled the boat over and netted the fish. A fish measured about 24 inches with giant pectoral fins and a hump behind the head.
Down the river Jerry, Dave, and Chris were in sight. The wind began to pick up in Patagonia fashion. Casting was tough but the guys managed to land a few nice Browns during the day. Today was to be a mixed bag of techniques. Chris brought along the plug rods in hopes of hooking a big king. With the wind blowing hard they decided to do some back trolling with plugs for kings and give their arms a rest. Dave said to Jerry “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Dave was in the lucky seat today as he hooked four or five good Browns on the plug but still no kings.
Only a couple miles from the take out the boats were one behind the other. As Chris slowly rowed Jerry and Dave down the run, Dave said “Now all we need to do is catch a big king right in front of these guys.” Dave’s rod went down! Dave set the hook and stood up, cheers roared from Andrew and Mike in the boat behind as Chris turned and looked back at them with a grin that spread across the river.
The king ran and dove! Chris maneuvered the boat to shore coaching Dave through the battle that ensued. As Dave winched the fish into the shallows, we were finally able to get a good look at it. It was a huge buck! It ran 4 times back out to the middle of the river before submitting. Dave and Chris kneeled down and measured the King at 45 x 26. A river giant, and Dave’s first salmon ever! The smile on his face said it all. It was a great day on the Palena River.
Day 5: La Junta, Lago Jumpo
After breakfast in Palena, we packed up and drove a few hours back to the town of La Junta where we checked into Hotel Espacio y Tiempo. The weather wasn’t cooperating as the rain began. The La Junta area has a rainforest climate and resembles a dense jungle.
The had hoped to float the Rosselot River but it was still running high. Trevor took Dave and Jerry to Lago Jumpo while Mike and Andrew went with Chris to swing for kings on the lower Palena. Dave and Jerry showed up to the lake where Trevor and Ronnie had the raft assembled, geared up and ready to go. The wind picked up and the rain came down steady. With wind conditions, the guys started out throwing sink tips and leeches wihout much luck. Trevor switched them to dry lines and Damselfly dries. He rowed Dave and Jerry to a cove where the wind wasn’t so strong.
The reason for the name Lago Jumpo is because with the right conditions the trout will jump and take Damsels and Dragonflies right off the reeds. Dave and Jerry made their casts at the reeds where a couple fish were feeding. Jerry casted out his Damsel dry and 2 seconds later a big swirl! A Brown of about 19 inches grabbed his fly, Jerry kept good tension as it swam around the boat. A dark Brown with red spots, gorgeous! A couple pictures and the trout swam freely.
Conditions got tougher but Jerry managed to land two nice brook trout later, both on dries. Dave had a tough day but still satisfied from the giant King the day before. Trevor rowed back to the launch everyone soaked with thoughts of the warm hotel restaurant and a stiff cocktail. They met Chris, Mike and Andrew back at the hotel. No kings down low on the Palena with same conditions. Pisco sours awaited everyone at the hotel bar and the clients and crew sat down in calm settings for dinner. Tomorrow it would be the Rio Pico.
Day 6: The Rio Pico
We headed east to an area called Lago Verde with the same climate as Palena. A smaller river awaited, gin clear and good conditions. It was a nice break from the day before as it was warm. Trout were feeding out front as Chris and Trevor rigged the rods for the day.
Chris, Jerry and Dave pushed ahead catching fish on small dries. Mike and Andrew both had on a Chubby Chernobyl with small nymph droppers. The fish were eating both bugs, rainbows and browns alike. Trevor back stroked on the oars inching down the run. Andrew was in front placing his Chernobyl at the bank twitching it out towards mid river. A fish followed his dry and crushed the Chernobyl in aggressive fashion. Trevor pulled the boat in, and Andrew hopped out playing the larger fish keeping it off balance with every change in rod position. The fish came in towards the gravel bar and Trevor netted the Brown. A beautiful fish, light brown with large orange spots! Again proof that every Brown here in Chile has its own characteristics. We guessed it to be 23 inches, the most beautiful Brown yet.
Mike switched to the streamer, a small brown and yellow leech. Both Mike and Andrew had steady action. Mike threw his leech under some overhanging trees and stuck a nice Rainbow. There were times when a trout would miss the dry and then eat the leech. It’s a fool proof plan to clean up. Halfway through the float everyone met up to exchange stories and have a bite to eat.
The weather had changed now and for the worse. The rain was coming down and the temperature had dropped dramatically. Chris switched to bigger flies in hopes of bringing up some bigger fish but fishing was tough for them.
Chris, Jerry and Dave stopped for lunch under a big tree in hopes of getting out of the rain. Trevor and his group caught up and stopped to chat a bit as lunched finished up.
After lunch Andrew and Mike started working a nice run with large boulders. Andrew threw his Chernobyl deep into the bank and moved it out “Oh my god!” he said, Trevor and Mike looked over to see a brown tracking his dry like a slow moving torpedo. This fish was pushing 30 inches, a fish of a lifetime, huge! It chased the fly out and turned back when it saw the boat. The giant went back to the big rocks, blending in and disappearing like a ghost. Andrew looked to be in shock after what he just saw, they all were. Trevor said it was the largest fish he’d ever seen on that river. No second chances unfortunately, those fish are big for a reason.
Tricky rowing and more trout followed for all the anglers. Chris tied on the usual stonefly dry and Jerry and Dave finished the lower river with good success. At one point Jerry broke off as Dave hooked up. “Well, I guess that’s an eye for an eye.” Chris said.
Day 7: Cisnes
Packing up early the crew made the drive to Cisnes. This would be the 3rd stop on the trip.
Today Patagonia was showing her true colors with the weather! As we pulled up to Lago Los Torres, our choice of fisheries for the day, rain and gusting winds led to a group decision – casting and rowing would be tough on a day like this, so we made tracks back to our lodging destination.
It was a large piece of farmland with a quaint cabin resting in the middle. Rustic and cozy could describe this place best. A fire was built as everyone had Crisco’s and watched the weather through the large windows in the living room. Mike modeled the many ways to wear a Buff. A Buff is a great piece of clothing in Patagonia, either protecting your face from the harsh sun or wind.
As the weather calmed down, talks of driving up river to do some wade fishing started and everyone was in until the rain and wind came harder. Dave said “I know what I’m gonna do and I’m doin’ it!” He was pretty comfy.
Chris, Andrew, Mike, and Jerry decided to brave the elements. Chris took them on a walk and wade to the Cisnes river. Ronnie, Trevor, and Javier started preparing appetizers and the night’s meal. Congrio or Chilean Sea bass was a favorite in Chile.
The anglers showed up around seven, wet and in need of warmth. The river was rising and getting dirty. Mike and Jerry ran into a few hungry Browns as Andrew decided to swing for Kings. Darkness fell over Cisnes, being this far from the city it couldn’t get any darker. Full stomachs made for a good nights sleep, for in the morning it would be a float on the Rio Cisnes.
That night it rained hard and the wind blew harder. We weren’t in Kansas anymore!
Day 8: Upper Cisnes
During breakfast all thoughts were on the river conditions. Would it be out from all the rain? The program would be tested today as we were to drive east to a drier climate. From the cabin there was no way to see the river so we could only go on faith that the plan would hold true.
Trevor, Ronnie, and Javier took off upriver, to set up the rafts and Chris would bring the anglers up after the rafts were assembled. As Chris drove up, the river came into sight. The river looked cleaner! The farther up we went, the less tributaries, the less flow, and the more the sun peeked through.
Arriving to the river, the wind started off strong as both rafts worked down river. The first 3 miles of river was flat land and the wind was as can only described as it is in Tierra del Fuego. Rowing down river was impossible let alone trying to cast. The guides pushed down river and then drug the rafts until we entered into a canyon section with more defined water and trout written all over it.
Trevor walked the boat down a long drop off, water spilling into a deep boulder infested run. Mike had a fish eat his Chernobyl at the top corner of the drop while Andrew swung his small leech deep through the gut of the run. His line coming tight, a Brown took hold of his fly. Trevor walked the boat to the side, Andrew landing the fish with the other boat as an audience watching in the background.
Large rock formations surrounded both boats as they meandered through the canyon. Oars flexing against the water and steady breeze, the anglers hit pockets and boulder gardens in anticipation of another trout. Leeches, nymphs, and stonefly dries were all working. Rounding the corner a large rock spire split the river in two. This was one of the most spectacular sights of the whole trip, something out of Lord of the Rings! The pictures tell it all and this spot will be burned into the memory bank.
Deep holes that held some larger fish were fished through, Mike and Andrew both let their lines run deep hooking and losing a few. Getting off the float at around 9 the majority of the fish caught were all browns. All anglers returning to the cabin, a “Carne al Disc” was prepared. A round metal disc over an open fire littered with steak, chicken and pork chops. Chris seasoned the meats to perfection as all the clients enjoyed a drink of their choice. This was a long day but well worth the effort.
Day 9: The Emperador Guillermo
Driving towards the final destination of Coyhaique, the crew stopped at a small river called Emperador Guillermo. This was a walk and wade. The water conditions were a bit high but clear. Chris took Andrew and Dave upstream about 15 minutes by truck as Trevor took Mike and Jerry down to the lower river. They hiked down and set up in the first spot. Mike stuck the first fish in front of a boulder, a nice Rainbow about 16 inches. The fish ate a stonefly nymph named the 20 incher, an Idylwilde creation.
Jerry worked up a run to a drop off. He put on a trout clinic! He hooked about 6 trout, pulling 4 rainbows and having a brown come up to eat the Chubby Chernobyl. During this display he casted upstream next to the bank, the fly drifting 2 feet in front of him. A brown grabbed the nymph and jumped right at his feet, this was ridiculous!
Chris, Andrew, and Dave had great success of their own. Dave started out in the first run fishing a Chernobyl type pattern with a small caddis pupa dropper and caught 5 nice Bows. This was going to be a good day. Fishing on up the river, Andrew hit an above average brown for that river. The fish missed the Chernobyl a few times finally eating the stonefly nymph. Dave followed with a few nice Rainbows and Browns. The river was on fire!
Back downstream, Trevor took Jerry and Mike to a spot the guides called cable cross. This spot had remnants of a cable and large wooden box that was meant for carrying people across the river. Jerry threw his casts in a steady moving pool hitting 5 more Rainbows on the nymph. Mike stepped in just upstream, Jerry and Trevor stood on the bank watching him work the tree line. Like it was slow motion, a Brown trout came up from 4 ft and slowly took Mike’s Chernobyl down. Mike set, the fish coming out of the water eventually throwing the hook in an impressive display. The guys on the bank hollered “What a take!”
Mike made the same cast again with the same result, another Brown willing to tussle. Mike landed this one with a fine display of angling that only came with years of experience.
Both trucks met back up in Coyhaique at the hotel called El Reloj or “The clock”. Checking in, Chris made plans for dinner there, reserving a large private room for all the clients and crew. Pisco sours and fantastic food, eating like kings! The ice cream topped of the meal afterwards. The group decided to fish the same river in the morning after experiencing all it had to offer.
Day 10: The Emperador Guillermo, Part Deux
We decided to stick together on the last day, taking turns hop scotching each other from run to run. Jerry started off fishing a small drop sticking a nice rainbow on a Stonefly nymph. Dave and Trevor walked up to the next bend. Trevor had a client hook a goat that perished in high water here last week. Luckily Dave didn’t have the same outcome. He threw his dry/dropper at the bank holding his line out of the fast water for an extended drift. Just before drifting into some sticks the Chernobyl dove and the hook set followed, “Nice!” Trevor shouted as a Brown jockeyed around the hole.
Across the river with Chris, Jerry was working a nymph through a little cut. After numerous casts and mends he hit pay dirt. A beautifully colored brown took the nymph. Jerry landed his fish and pictures were taken proving that this fish had been caught the day before by Andrew in the very same cut. The tear drop spot on the left cheek was the give away.
The rain started in lightly as the group made their way upstream. Trevor took Andrew up the right side of the river hitting pockets here and there. The river started to rise and lose some clarity. Andrew made his casts with Trevor standing on the bank waiting, scanning the water. Trevor spotted a larger rainbow come up and eat something small in front of a rock. He changed Andrew’s rig, taking off the large Chernobyl and putting on a small green Caddis. Mike joined Trevor on the high bank.
“Watch this,” Trevor said to Mike. Andrew made one cast, nothing. However the next cast was a 15ft cast and the Rainbow came up slow and took the Caddis just 10 feet in front of Andrew. He set the hook and the fish went ballistic jumping and running putting a good bend in Andrew’s 7 1/2 foot Sage. Trevor tailed the fish and Andrew snapped some pictures.
Everyone met for lunch, where Ronnie and Javier had hiked in the “whole 9 yards!” Tables and chairs were set up for everyone with empanadas, soup, lots of appetizers, beer, wine and Crisco’s to be served.
After lunch, Trevor, Chris, Jerry and Dave headed on up river while Mike and Andrew stayed back to try and shoot some video if the weather would cooperate. The river continued to rise and lose clarity as the group fished what little pockets were available but still managed to catch a few more.
The sky had now broken up and the sun beat through. Jackets were shed and sunscreen re applied. In a matter of minutes it was now t-shirt weather! Jerry, Dave and Chris continued on up river as Trevor decided to go back and let Andrew and Mike know where we were.
Waiting for Trevor and the other guys to catch up, the skies grew dark. Jerry said “I hope Trevor gets back soon”, as he had given his rain jacket to Trevor to carry in his pack. Trevor came back and just in time too! Chris said “I think we’re gonna get wet!” Jerry donned his rain jacket and the four of them decided to head for the truck before the rain started. The trucks were only about 100 or so yards walk. The faucet opened and sideways rain ensued! Back to the trucks soaking wet, the consensus was to call it a day.
Arriving at the hotel the rain had stopped and the guys tailgated with a few beers and stories of the great trip.
The group went out to dinner, this time at Café Ricer, a rustic restaurant in town. Beers on tap and a fantastic meal was just the beginning. It was Saturday night so after dinner Chris had plans to take the group to a dance club called “Quilantal” that had live Chilean folk music. Half the group got there early to reserve a table. When they all arrived our table was right up front of the dance floor. After a couple rounds of Crisco’s the group decided to move on the disco. Jerry rose up out of his chair and the rest followed but Jerry, to our surprise was on his way to the dance floor! Javier and Trevor followed suit and Chris, Mike and Andrew watched the show.
Day 11: Ciao!
The guys were picked up at the hotel and we all drove to Balmaceda where the guys would fly back to Santiago and then on the States. Good byes were said and what a great trip it was. We hope to get the group together again!