A fishing trip to Southern Chile is much more than just another bit of piscatorial madness that will see you pack your bags and travel half the way around the world just for a chance to feel the convulsive shake of a trout’s head and get a solid bend in your rod. Of that you will have plenty however truth be told there are many places closer to home where you can receive a similar experience. What makes Chile a quite extraordinary destination is the unbelievable scale of the surrounding wilderness, combined with the emerald clear waters that trace their course from the Andes to the ocean.
Until you have visited Southern Chile it is difficult to put words to the overwhelming backdrop that surrounds you however the image that kept on coming to my mind was that of a setting resembling a scene out of Jurassic Park – except without the dinosaurs! All around you are vast towering mountains, many of them raw and often capped in snow. Volcanic peaks spring up everywhere and yet rather than the usual barren landscape that comes with such terrain here they are coated in an unbelievably thick temperate rainforest jungle. If this serves to soften the features of the landscape one is continually reminded of the ferocity of the land by the savage black scars which run down the otherwise strikingly green precipices.
The rivers teem with both Brown and Rainbow Trout which thrive in the fast flowing clear-water. The Trout are not actually native to the region but were introduced along with their larger sea run relatives on the Argentinean side of the Andes. Alongside the now resident populations of Trout the rivers also harbour growing populations of not just King Salmon, which can be seen in increasingly large numbers and often weigh more than 50 lbs, but also Atlantic Salmon and even Sea Trout. Whereas in Europe escapee fish are more commonly associated with the problems they have brought to native stocks of wild fish stocks in Chilean Rivers the reverse has been true. Barren of native runs of wild fish Chilean rivers have been the net beneficiary of the aqua-culture business. The escapee fish not only provide added action to the fishermen but the natural life cycle of the King Salmon has also benefited the Trout. All King Salmon will die once they have spawned and consequently their eggs and decaying bodies vastly increase the bio mass in the rivers.
If this goes someway to helping the trout they are by no means dependent on it. The Trout feed hungrily on the natural food sources in the river and even if the surrounding animals have not undergone a similar increase in size, proportionate to their mountainous surroundings, this cannot be said to be true of the insect life. Stoneflies are 2 inches in length, beetles are as big as bottle tops and there are all manner of flies that should come with hazard lights!
What this does do is make conventional fly patterns, appropriate for the clear waters of an English chalk streams, almost redundant. Dry fly imitations are tied on size 4 hooks. Fine feather hackles are replaced with deer hair and buoyancy for these creations is as often as not a result of foam bodies. These can be fished very effectively with a nymph, New Zealand dropper style, (tied to the bend of the hook). Sometimes the dry fly will act as an indicator to a take on the nymph hidden in the turbulent water but as often as not the dry fly will result in an explosive surface take. If this is not visual enough you will almost always see a flash of bronze or silver as a Brownie or a Rainbow dashes from its bolthole and chases the fly down. Dry flies can be used throughout the entire season however large streamer patterns are also very successful. Fished on an intermediate to fast sinking line it allows one to reach into some of the deep nooks and pockets behind boulders or fallen trees or in the fast flowing water of the larger rivers.
In terms of the fishing styles and techniques required they are matched to suit the huge variety of waters that are available to fish. The larger rivers, which generally run clear with an emerald green tinge, are fed by large lakes, which in turn collect glacial melt-water from the Andes. The only method of fishing these effectively is to float down them in a raft. The undergrowth is impenetrable and the sides unwalkable. The other reason is that the fish often sit very tightly to the bank in the numerous pockets, riffles, eddies and drop offs. It is absolutely classic trout water and as often as not the tighter you can cast to these areas and the more inaccessible they are the greater the reward. Alongside the natural breaks in the water are hundreds of trunks of fallen trees providing unparalleled structure for wily trout to hide behind.
On the smaller streams and rivers it is possible to walk and wade. These rivers are equally abundant with the debris of countless floods with an even mix of fast streamy water and deep clear pools where it is possible to stalk fish, cruising both near the surface and in the depths. Horseback is often the best method of accessing these waters and you will find yourself picking your way along steep wooded trails which snake along the sides of the rivers. Led by a local guide wearing traditional sheepskin chaps and poncho it makes for a remarkable fishing experience and it is hard to feel more in tune with nature in this wild environment.
A Chilean experience is not complete without its share of rain. There is a reason for everything and the impossibly luxurious undergrowth is a result of a high annual rainfall. The season runs from November to April with equally good fishing available throughout. The start and close will see a preference for streamer patterns over dries although not exclusively. The climate is temperate and while days of blazing sunshine are common it is equally possible to experience wildly changing condition during the course of a single day. Throughout the season the rivers can be prone to floods and it is here that the value of your guides and the resources available to your outfitter or lodge are paramount. The lakes fish well in almost all conditions while the larger rivers take a longer time to rise due to the giant glacial lakes that feed them. Just remember that if you are caught out in the cold you can always retreat back to a warm log fire in your cabin or a steaming hot tub, in some cases over looking the river.
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