Chasing Monster Sea Run Brown Trout

Tierra del Fuego, Land of Fire, Southern Patagonia


sunrise in Tierra del Fuego
Tierra del Fuego sunrise


Box I flies I tyed for the trip

One of my fly boxes


Arriving at Cameron airstrip in Tierra del Fuego

We're here, lets go fishing!


early morning view of the Rio Grande in southern Chile

Rio Grande early morning view


Wild Guanacos roamed the landscape

A wild and wonderful place to visit


more guanacos

I was always happy to see more Guanacos

There were six of us on this trip including Niko, a professional photographer working on a fly-fishing book for a Chilean publisher. During the van ride to Cameron Lodge Niko checked his camera bags and seemed somewhat confused about catch-and-release fishing. "Cruel and unusual" he said. "Mankind has messed up this part of the world, non-native animals have been introduced, native species have disappeared and the rivers used to be full of life until these trout were introduced, almost a hundred years ago." "What do you mean, full of life?" I asked. "Well, there used to be prolific insect and smaller fish species until the sea-trout ate them all; these fish are nothing more than River Goats."

Graham with a large sea run brown trout

River Goats? Fish that consume every-thing in sight? This definitely sounded like music to my ears! The van pulled up to the lodge. I jumped out ready to pull a fly line through my rod guides and tie on a Size 4 Green Caddis, a beefy and hopefully tempting fly. The introductions were over, a glass of fine Chilean wine was chugged instead of sipped, and we departed in four-wheel drives for a few hours fishing before dinner.

The wind was calm, the sun was off the water and I started casting my 6 wt. that had tamed numerous NY browns to 17 pounds. Bam! My rod bent in half and the fish took off like a freight train. I was more accustomed to large brownies holding their ground while head shaking, rolling and occasionally jumping. I thought to myself; "you've got your 20-pounder on the line this isn't a numbers trip calm down, and if I don't catch anymore fish all week, it doesn't matter, this is it." Almost half an hour later the fish was finally landed.

First brownie of the trip

A Silver Female, weighing approximately 14 pounds. This fish had shoulders; muscles instead of fat, the green tint on the gills that I love so much, and was over 5 kilos, the minimum size to be entered into the Lodge logbook. Fifteen minutes later I had another one on, a Male dressed in full spawning colors that weighed about 10 pounds; unfortunately, too small for the logbook. My setup included a 6 wt. GLX fly rod, Teeny T-130 sinking line, five-foot, 12-pound fluorocarbon leader, 8lb tippet, and my unusually large green caddis nymph. This is going to be easy, I thought.

fishing at night was a great fun

The next day we separated into groups of two and were taken via four-wheeler to fish different holes in the Rio Grande. I was up early and ready with my 6 wt. and box of nymphs. A beautiful, sunny day, until the winds started blowing from the South. It was a strong, bone-chilling wind from Antarctica, and I was having trouble casting my 6 wt. into the gale. That morning was a struggle; no fish landed or even hooked. The memory of the prior evening kept me warm until we went back to the lodge for a delicious lunch of barbecued lamb. I took the reel off the 6 wt. and put it on a 9 1/2' IMX, a rod I had not fished with very often. That afternoon the winds remained strong and the Teeny T-130 line did not cast well with the 8 wt. rod. My struggling continued until dark, with no fish caught all day.

Luckily Jim brought extra boxes of his signature fly lines along. I brought several reels and promptly spooled up a T-200 fly line. Although I was exhausted it was hard to fall asleep that night, and I stayed up late drinking and talking to the resident guides. "Stripping rubber legged buggers is the key," explained Roberto. "The single day record in the Cameron Lodge logbook is six fish over 5 kilos, all caught on a black rubber legged Woolly Bugger, by a Frenchman" he said. Wow, I though, imagine that.

The next morning I was ready; 8 wt., T-200, with boxes of nymphs and buggers. I was taken to a hole a couple miles from the lodge called Arco Iris, which means “Rainbow” in Spanish. Roberto positioned me on the inside corner of a large bend in the river. It was obviously a deep hole because the surface appeared to have very little current, if any. Fifty-foot + casts up and across, with a powerful upstream mend, was typically the way to fish this hole said Roberto, as he removed my fly and tied on a black rubber leg Woolly Bugger of his own design, which even had a glow-in-the-dark head for night fishing. The weather was unusually warm. Guanacos would appear curious on the hilltop in front, while the occasional eagle or condor would circle overhead.

Guanaco watching from a hill top

Heeding Roberto’s advice paid off; stripping buggers worked and two nice fish were caught that day. The underwater currents were strong enough to be deceptive; many times I thought a trout had taken my fly but nothing was there when trying to set the hook. I figured there must be a sizable undercut on the opposite side of the river. I wanted to cross the shallower swift part of the river, below the pool, and try the other side, but I listened to Roberto and held my ground.

strong trout with big shoulders

The next day I was whisked off to fish the Frontier Hole, close to the border of Argentina, where Jim Teeny and two other anglers from our group had a great day, and even had triple hookups. Jim only fished his Teeny flies. No matter how persuasive the guides became, he wouldn't let them cut his tippet and put on “The Fly.” Jim caught his largest brown trout to date that day, which weighed well over 20 pounds.

Graham Owen and Jim Teeny in Tierra del Fuego

Jim also mentioned that his Ginger-colored nymph was working well, so I decided to pass on stripping buggers and fish some nymphs that day.The Frontier Hole was full of huge, rounded boulders, with large pocket water and riffles above and below. I drifted my Green Caddis for hours through every slot, around every boulder, without any luck. I looked into my box of nymphs and the only flies even close in color to ginger was a row of Golden Stoneflies.

Two fish were caught that afternoon using stoneflies and I decided that this stretch of river, which was apparently full of fish yesterday, was quite empty of fish today; they had moved on during the night. I remembered the bright moon from the prior evening and realized that migratory browns most likely travel through miles of skinny water at night and rest in the deep holes during daylight.

Arco Iris, the Rainbow Hole, where the fishing rocked!!!

After breakfast the next morning Roberto asked if I wanted to try a new spot or try again at the Frontier Hole. Arco Iris is where I wanted to fish today. Three of us pulled up, Roberto handed us our fly rods and I headed straight downstream and crossed over to the other side. With 8 wt., T-200 and a large Green Caddis in hand I cast straight upstream and let the line sink, slowly stripping to keep in contact with my fly. The hole felt like it was between 20 to 30 feet deep and about 10 feet in front of me the current would pull the fly under the bank. I figured out I was standing on a ledge that had an undercut, which had close to a 10 foot setback. It almost felt like deep high-stick nymphing beneath my feet, and just when I was getting a kick out of the weirdness of this drift, my rod tip pulled down violently.

Fish on! I yelled to Roberto, who didn't look too happy about crossing with his net and scale. My 8 wt. allowed for landing these powerful fish much faster than the 6 wt., but it still took about 10 to 20 minutes of hard pulling to lift them from the depths. This fish was a beautiful female brownie weighing 7 kilos, or 15 pounds. On my side of the river the sun was in my face, the warmth was appreciated and the wind was calm. I can think of no better place to fly fish, I thought.

my monster fish of the trip

Huge serun brown trout with fall coloring on the trees

By lunchtime I had landed 5 fish big enough for the logbook. The congratulations and toasting to my success at the lodge was invigorating. This trip was better than I imagined possible. After lunch I went back to Arco Iris and finished what became the best day's trout fishing I have ever had. Thirteen fish were entered into the book that day, more than double the previous record- and my largest was a silver and blue female weighing 9.8 kilos, well over 20 pounds. A couple of males weighing 17 to 18 pounds, spectacularly colored in oranges and reds almost as vivid as the sunset were weighed in that day.

beautifuly colored brown trout

The next day found our entire group fishing the ledge at Arco Iris. Even Niko seemed excited while taking photographs. For some reason, Niko thought we could, while fighting fish, make them jump at will right in front of him; luckily, Jim Teeny had a fish on that seemed to do just that. Niko’s talk of cruelty faded into jubilation; he was getting his fish jumping shots, guys “high-fiving”, as well as us all carefully releasing fish. We were a happy group, all catching fish.

These fish were appropriately nicknamed by Jim Teeny the “Ledge Hogs.” I now know why Tierra del Fuego is called “Land of Fire” and someday I hope to return. I will never forget my fishing trip to Chile. I even fished for a few days in the Andes near Puerto Montt but that’s another story. I came home knowing that migratory Brown Trout do INDEED feed while migrating, for once; a full moon is a good thing while timing a trip, and confidence and experimentation can pay off!

Keith, Jim and Gonzalo, witha huge monster sea run brown trout

Jim, Keith and Gonzalo with Keith's Monster sea run brown trout

Sunset in Tierra del Fuego

Land of Fire sunset, with a reflection on the water, of Jim fly fishing

fun group of guys to fly fish with

Our group

Niko, Keith, Graham, Gonzalo, John, Jim, John and Hernan


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