Fishing New Waters at Estancia de los Rios, Chile

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While on top of my horse, I peered off into the distance to where Marcelo Dufflocq was pointing. The black rock face standing against the pale granite peaks was where we were heading, and it was still hours away. Between us lay an undulating landscape of grassland, small nirre trees and deep forests of tall lenga. Marcelo was taking me to see two lakes that he had stocked with trout several years ago. He had caught the trout from the Rio Cisnes and transported by horseback into these remote waters. His efforts had led to the creation of an exciting fishing option that I did not expect to experience during my visit, but one that I was eager to see for myself. In my previous visits to the ranch, I had only fished the river, a couple small spring creeks and a half day on a lake. This trip was going to be different with more exploration of off-the-beaten path fishing.

My visit had already started off well. Upon my arrival, I fished a spring creek for the first time was about 30 minutes from the lodge. Marcelo and I walked through the grasses and peered into the gin clear water for cruising trout. Keeping a low profile, I would flick a dry fly into the middle of the pool and then work the edges. My first couple of holes where I dipped the fly did not produce a strike. After a cast toward the edge of one opening, I was rewarded with a brown trout that blew up on my fly. I was impressed with his strength and landed him in the grasses at my feet. Holding the beautiful brown into the long light of the late afternoon, I was able to view the colors against the blue sky, a perfect first catch at Estancia de los Rios.

During my horseback ride, I thought back to the previous afternoon and the several fish I caught. Bernardo (the gaucho who tends the lodge’s horses), Marcelo and I made our way deeper into the mountains on a clear blue day with wisps of white clouds in the sky. I could see for miles and gazed upon some impressive jagged Andean peaks to the south. One peak is called the “mano negra” or black hand due to its dark spines that look like fingers sticking up into the sky.

We reached the lakes, which are tucked in tight between two mountain ranges. Our camp was located off of the lakeshore and near the entrance of the lenga forest, which rose up to just below the peak. My two person tent was equipped with an air mattress, sleeping bag and a couple of warm blankets. The yellows and oranges appearing on the leaves around me assured that I would welcome the extra blanket and the warm cocoon-like sleeping bag that evening.

The lakes are not deep (about 12 feet at most), and are accessed by a cataraft with an aluminum frame that was brought in by horse months before. Both held strong populations of brown trout. That afternoon, Marcelo chose the larger lake for us to fish. I got into the raft and he positioned me into the bay closest to our camp. It was here that I saw some very large trout cruising in the shallows in search of scuds. They were skittish in the clear water and did not take my dry fly.

We moved around the lake and my first hit proved memorable. I was throwing a streamer on floating line and felt the bump of a strike. What I did not expect was the bend of the rod and the scream of my drag as the trout turned and went into the middle of the lake. After wrestling this fish for at least 10 minutes, I landed it on the shore line and was shocked at its size. This healthy fish was well over 24-inches and its deep back surely put it over five pounds. We moved along the shoreline and I cast into the rocks, stripping fly toward me. I caught several fish –all of which went crazy when hooked. Some dove deep into the lake and pulled like a train on the end of the line, others jumped and thrashed to free themselves but all were adrenaline pumping, beautifully colored fish.

That night, I ate a fine camp dinner, prepared by Marcelo and Bernardo, and enjoyed some fine Chilean wine under a blanket of stars. I could not help staring at the million bright twinkling lights, finding the Southern Cross, and following a satellite as it crossed low into the sky. Camping under the stars in this remote part of Chile where few people have been is an experience like no other. Being there in that environment made me feel part John Wayne and part extreme fly fisherman.

I awoke to the sound of the forest creatures waking up from the cool early autumn night. Birds chirped and flew from tree to tree and the horses spoke to each other in their own language. A thick frost covered the ground and stuck to my waders and boots. Bernardo had a cup of strong coffee for me. After a camp breakfast, Marcelo and I hit the lake once more. This day was more productive than the day before and I boated several nice fish before we broke camp after lunch and rode back to the estancia.

The road to the Magdalena Valley starts once you pass the complex of the working estancia buildings located about twenty minutes from the fishing lodge. This is where the heart of the ranch is located, and it contains its center of commerce and its hub of social activity. After visiting the general store and the one room church, Marcelo and I drove up into the hills, through several gates, and past a couple of small lakes in-route to our destination. For the next hour, we made our way deeper into the ranch before arriving at small three bedroom house that was built to access the Magdalena Spring Creek that flows nearby.

I knew that it was from one of the windows in the kitchen that a previous client awoke one morning to see two puma sitting yards away and staring at the activity inside. I know what a rare sight that would be and hoped that I would be lucky enough to see one of these large cats that live in the mountains. The cabin provides modest yet very comfortable accommodations that are steps from the creek.

The Magdalena Spring Creek flows for nearly fifteen miles through some incredible scenery. It snakes its way through the valley floor between two mountain ranges before it merges with another river miles away which, in turn, flows into the Rio Cisnes near the town of La Tapera. In between, the terrific brown trout are scrappy and can put of a fight.

After breakfast the next morning, Marcelo and I drove down the valley toward the confluence and contemplated where to start fishing. We decided to fish a section of river that Marcello hadn’t previously fished. It’s amazing how even after over 20 years of the lodge’s existence, there are still unexplored waters.

We parked and made our way down through the brush and trees armed with a 7-foot 4-weight rod. The small water offered beautiful drop offs, riffles and runs, and even the occasional pocket water. Some areas were tightly covered by the small willows. Back casts had to be watched and tucking the line under low branches had to be achieved in order to get the right drift. We watched mayflies and caddis emerge at first to see if they were ready to feed. Then as the water warmed, the trout’s noses broke the surface. The bite was on. Trout after trout fell to caddis dry flies or grasshopper patterns as an abundance of them flitted in the grasses around the stream. The fishing was more technical than I would have expected for a part of a stream that had never seen a hook. The trout were wary, and if we made a lot of noise or false cast too many times, they would spook, and we would lose the chance at a brown. However, the trout were scrappy and extremely pretty. I got to the point where I noticed that some trout had a red spot on their adipose fin, and I began to look for this genetic marker on the fish that I caught. The day quickly passed by as I lost track of time being in such a pretty area and catching good numbers of trout.

Marcelo and I left the Magdalena Valley and ended up stopping at one more lake on the way back to the estancia. We took turns throwing streamers with floating line into the dark areas of the lake shore to coax some large browns into striking. The fish were down but when they did chase the fly it was like watching an orca chase a seal into the shallows. All I could see was a massive wake charging at the fly only to peel off at the last moment. Marcelo did succeed in catching an impressive brown which was a great way to end our day together.

The Estancia de los Rios is a very special place—not only for its sheer size and the unique fishing that it offers, but for the experience that you can have while staying at the ranch. The fishing here is more than fishing the classic western-style river fishing on the productive Rio Cisnes. If you like technical fishing on spring creeks or fishing for large brown trout you can find it on this ranch. I came away from this adventure feeling as though I had a true Patagonian experience. I went to the far reaches of the ranch and was taken in by the indescribable beauty of the country. I explored waters that have rarely been fished and was exhilarated by what I caught. I felt part of the country and look forward to returning again soon.

By: Ben Hoffman