Fly Fishing Chile -Andes Mountains

Rio Puelo & Rio Petrohue - Northern Patagonia


Please excuse low quality photos, my film was cooked by airport x-ray machines

fly fishing for trout in Patagonia's Chilean Andes

A much dreamed about adventure was becoming reality

While boarding an American Airlines 777 in Dallas, bound for Santiago, Chile, I noticed several passengers carrying fly rod tubes, which helped confirm my belief that this trip would be everything I had dreamed about, lush green mountains flowing with pure clean water, filled with trout eager to accept my flies.

It was surprising viewing the dry, dusty brown landscape from my window seat as the plane approached and descended into Santiago. The surrounding mountains looked spectacularly naked of trees, reminding me of the parched landscape back home in southern California. Clearing customs and immigration was remarkably quick and uneventful and now I needed to find the other six members of our group, of which I only knew one, Jim Teeny. The airport was bustling with crowds, taxi drivers insisting on taking my luggage and providing my transportation, while my lack of Spanish translations made communication difficult. Shortly thereafter I spotted Jim accompanied by the others members of our party. We had time for quick introductions, then all headed towards the Lan Chile airline terminal for our flight to Puerto Montt.

The food served on Lan Chile Airlines was first class, even in coach seating, and accompanied with fine Chilean wine. There must have been at least twenty passengers with fly rod tubes, including General Chuck Yeager who sat several rows behind us. During the 600 mile flight south the landscape changed dramatically, the mountains became taller and steeper, including snow capped volcanoes and everything was green, a luxurious inviting landscape that looked pristine, even from the air. The mountains, rivers and fiords dramatically paint the coast and give themselves to the sea, which is why the name Puerto Monnt, or Mountain Port in English, is such a fitting name.

Aerial view of Chile's Patagonian mountains, rivers. glaciers and fiords

The air was fresh and cool, the airport was small and tranquil and we immediately boarded two four wheel drive vehicles for the ride to Victoria Lodge. The ground transportation took about three hours, all the while driving through magnificently rugged and spectacular scenery. We passed though a number of small towns that had buildings with German and Swiss mountain chalet style architecture, which was rather unexpected. Soon enough we were driving through very remote countryside, along bumpy gravel roads around the feet of volcanoes, mountains and fiords, crossing emerald rivers all dropping together into azure blue salt water bays. This is a wild, unspoiled and relatively unexplored area with a bountiful richness of fish.

Rio Puelo flows with amazingly blue and emerald colored water

We pulled up to Victoria Lodge, a small comfortably rustic fly fishing lodge on the bank of the Rio Puelo, a large turbulent river that looked intimidating at first. The wide large water flowed rapidly with tongues of gray, emerald and turquoise the likes of which I had never seen before. The air was warm and humid, the surroundings thickly cloaked with temperate rainforest and the water was icy cold originating from glaciers higher up in the Andes.

View from one of the out cabins looking at Victoria Lodge

The rush to get into our gear and string fly lines was on and several guides with Zodiac boats were waiting for us with the motors warmed up.. We had several hours to fish before dinner and we promptly headed up stream bouncing across powerful currents towards slower wadeable waters with freestone bottoms. This surely was not dry fly water so I tied a glass bead woolly bugger onto my tippet and started casting a 6 wt floating line. Casting up and across and allowing the fly to sink and drift resulted in a couple of missed strikes. The flow was strong enough to quickly pull my fly towards the shore down river. I decided to walk about 50 yards upstream and fished from a small rocky peninsula allowing more time to drift each cast. I could drift my fly longer and then strip it in while keeping it in deep water, a strategic position giving me an advantage. This pocket of water graciously gave up a four to five pound rainbow trout that was so silver it almost looked white, except for the glowing pink stripe. The fish was amazingly full bodied, bright and healthy looking, but had a small worn looking tail. My guide thought the fish might have escaped from one of the fish farms in the bay. While driving earlier that day we passed a number of fish pens made of netting in the salty bays where Chilean trout are raised. This rainbow trout was not destined for the table, and was released.

Nice rainbow trout from Rio Puelo in Chile

That evening logs crackled in the fireplace, the sky was full of stars, we enjoyed a delicious dinner, and contentment finally began settling in. We had all caught at least one fish, Jim caught a number of fish, which didn't surprise me; he's a living fish magnet. Then it struck me, I had not called home to tell my wife I had arrived safely. I borrowed a satellite phone and called home from deep in the Andes Mountains, this also lent to the thrill an exotic remote fly fishing trip.

A fine group of fly fishermen

Next morning we inhaled breakfast and headed back out on the Zodiacs. We traveled much farther up river than yesterday, and the first stop was a long rocky beach. My glass bead bugger enticed a number of willing fish, including several rainbows and even an Atlantic salmon. The salmon was not large, in fact the body was rather slender, nevertheless this fish was wild, magnificent and a welcomed unexpected bonus. While stripping my fly through amazingly clear water, which looked barren of fish, the salmon grabbed my fly about 5 feet from my feet, taking me by complete surprise. Unlike some of the rainbows that fought half of the battle out of the water jumping and dancing on their tails, this salmon wanted to get back into the deep swift current. The struggle was on and I had to be careful. The water was so clear it was hard to gauge the depth so I backed up onto shore and did my best to balance the pressure needed to hold the fish, without breaking the tippet. Soon enough the silvery fish was in the rocks by my feet, eager to be released.

Atlantic Salmon


A rare Atlantic Salmon, caught and released on the Pacific side of the Andes mountains

Moments later a fat bodied rainbow rose up from the rocks to take my fly and was more than willing to jump and dance. As far as I was concerned, I had made it to fly fishing paradise. I was surrounded by mountains; the water was crystal clear, waterfalls and feeder streams were everywhere, and no sign of other anglers anywhere

Average size rainbow trout from Rio Puelo

I asked my guide to take me to a decent sized feeder creek a bit further down river, where I noticed long riffles dropping into a deep pool. I walked a few hundred feet upstream and fished my fly through the riffles and into the pool. My guide mentioned that it was possible that no one had ever fly fished that stream before. My first cast was rewarded with a 16" brown trout that exploded out of the water most likely being as startled as I was. This was intimate fishing at its best and I deeply regretted leaving my boxes of dry flies back at the lodge. The brownies in the pool were aggressive even with the sun high in the sky. I would have been content spending the rest of the day exploring this stream, but my guide suggested we mover further up river, below some treacherously swift rapids, in search of bigger fish. I didn't catch any fish over 5 pounds, and actually caught many small trout, which were prettier than any piece of jewelry or art I've seen back home. Nature at it's best.

Beautiful river, too bad my film was cooked and the pics look terrible...

Keith Drnall enjoying a day on stream

Graham with a nice little brownie

Darkness was enveloping the Andes and the shadows grew longer across the darkening restless water of Rio Puelo, it was time to move on, and we departed for another lodge by the Rio Petrohue. This lodge was on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, (pronounced Yan Kee Way) a family run establishment with a feeling reminiscent of a bed and breakfast. The surrounding landscape is dominated by Mount Osorno, a massive conical shaped volcano that looked magnificent and menacing. We had all been looking forward to this evening because a dinner at one of the finest restaurants in Chile was planned and we would dine with General Chuck Yeager. It was truly an honor meeting an American hero, especially in such a remote setting. The meal was fabulous, one I'll never forget, basically a well rounded special evening.

Lodge on the shore of Lake Llanquihue

Early the next morning 4-wheel vehicles were waiting for us and the trek through the rainforest began. We drove through seemingly impenetrable forest, along an extremely rough bumpy muddy road, all the while towing drift boats behind us. I think we were all relived upon reaching the launch site, where General Yeager was preparing to depart in a sizable craft with two large blue inflatable pontoons.

Gold Bead Bugger fly that worked very well for catching trout in the Andes rivers

Rio Petrohue was considerably larger than Rio Puelo, with wide strong currents and I assumed fishing streamers would most likely work best. After casting and drifting downstream for about 30 minutes we pulled into a side bay with a flat calm surface disturbed only by rising trout. My guide, Roberto, positioned the boat just inside the calm water and suggested fishing nymphs along the edge where fast and slow waters kissed. This area was loaded with rainbow trout eager to taste flies regardless of size, shape and color. These willing fish were all about 16" and readily inhaled caddis and mayfly nymphs. Roberto mentioned that salmon, rainbows and browns had started migrating up from the ocean and the larger fish were displacing the resident fish. This presented a challenge but hooking a monster was possible. I replaced my tippet with 10 pound fluorocarbon and tied my glass woolly bugger back on. I caught a couple more small rainbows on the bugger and Roberto kept telling me to "strip it faster". It felt like I was flogging the water, eager to feel the pull of a heavy muscular fish. Casting a and stripping as fast as I could eventually resulted in one hookup, that seriously bent my rod, an experience not to be forgotten, even though it only lasted for several seconds, and the fish was gone. I spent much of the morning drifting down river picking up a smaller fish here and there on the bugger.

Lets race


Jim's Guide opening a bottle of wine with lunch

I had not seen the other boats and anglers from our party until we pulled to shore where we all had lunch together. We were all happy, had caught beautiful fish, and enjoyed a meal, washed down with smooth Chilean wine, under the shade of the rainforest canopy. The river was mesmerizing and relaxing as well as wild, cold and invigorating. I knew it would take a lifetime exploring and learning the numerous fly fishing opportunities this part of the world has to offer. I had a feeling the guides felt the same way, it was difficult to know where to start, and unfortunately easy knowing when it had to end.

Wanting to relax and savor the scenery and experience I decided to put away the bead bugger and nymph the shoreline as we drifted downstream. This was the last day of a brief visit to the Andes before traveling another 900 miles south to fish for monster browns in the Rio Grande.

Overall my experience fly fishing the Andes was exceptional, hopefully to be done again, with more time exploring smaller feeder streams, casting dry flies to browns and rainbows that have yet to taste the sting of steel.

For those who seek an exotic fly fishing trip, immersed and surrounded by magnificent scenery, where mountains reach into the sea, spilling emerald rivers of cold glacial waters, full of trout and salmon, where locals are happy and smiling, northern Patagonia in the Chilean Andes is the place to be.

A friendly Llama at the lodge by Rio Petrohue

A friendly Llama at the lodge by Rio Petrohue


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