Chile and Argentina 2012 Trip Report

Montana AnglerMontana Angler Junior MemberPosts: 7 Junior Member
Patagonia Trip Report: Chile and Argentina Fly Fishing 2012: Montana Angler Fly Fishing

After much research coordinating we set out for Patagonia on March 9th. We had some hectic last minute changes to our trip in the final weeks. Our first hiccup was an unexpected airport closure in Esquel which is just across the border from the Futa lodge in Chile. A volcanic eruption near Bariloche had rerouted jet traffic to this smaller airport and had generated wear and tear on the runways so when the Bariloche airport reopened the Argentine government closed Esquel for repair. After some deliberation with our team we decided to spend our entire trip in Patagonia and forgo the Goldern Dorado fishing in northern Argentina at the Pira Lodge. Just before we set out for our venture we got word that there had been seven straight days of hard rain in Chile and the Futaleufu had risen to flood stage after a season of low water conditions. Our partners at Nervous Waters did a great job at setting up an option for fishing at the Carrileufu lodge in Argentina as a fall back which we opted for on the last 3 nights of our trip just in case. On March 9th most of our group set out which included Anthony Rosini from Denver, Bryan Hunt from Fresno and Randy Buckley from Houston. I had a 4 hour delay on my international flight and missed my connection to Bariloche which resulted in missing the first day of fishing. The rest of the guys flew in a day early and spent the night in BA to enjoy this great city that is often described as the Paris of South America. Our concerns of unfishable waters were quickly dispelled as our crew experience great weather which allowed the waters on the Futaleufu to drop quickly and bring back good clarity to the river.

The Futa lodge is located in the spectacular Las Escalas valley along the Futaleufu river which. The Futaleufu is a massive river that runs between about 10,000 - 25,000 cfs during its fishable flows and goes much larger when it is at flood stage. The river originates in Argentina and most of the upper drainage is found within the spectacular Los Alerces National Park. Previous glacial activity has resulted in a chain of large lakes interconnected by rivers. The lakes filter out all sediments resulting in aquarium clear waters with a magical turquoise coloration. I estimated clarity to be 15-20 feet once the river had dropped at the end of the week. The Futa lodge is located in a magical remote valley. The small estancia includes an old restored ranch house that serves as the main lodge along with three newer and well appointed cabins with picture windows overlooking the windows. Two of the cabins have twin king size beds and the third has two queen size beds. Horses graze the property as well as a healthy flock of sheep. There is a massive garden of roses, lupine and other flowers as well as a large green house where all of the vegetables are grown. Most of our meals came right from the estancia including the fabulous lamb asado. Each morning coffee was delivered to our rooms and a fire lit in the wood burning stoves in each cabin. When we returned from fishing we were always greeted with a local cocktail and a blazing fire in the fire pit.

The lodge was originally developed as a destination location by the legendary Jim Repine who was a famous alaskan fly fisherman. Well known anglers including Joan Wulff, Lefty Kreh and Mel Krieger have all made frequent trips to stay at Futa and it was a pleasure to visit such a fabled location. Nervous Waters took over the lodge in the mid 2000s and brought their trademark outstanding service to an already great lodge. Each day our host Brian McKnight and guide Royce Olney took us fishing on the many great floats near the lodge. This region of Chile receives very light fishing pressure and on all but one day of our trip we saw no other fly fishing boats and just the occasional local Chilean fishing from a bridge with their coffee can hand reels.

Day 1:
On the first day of fishing (the one I missed) Randy went with Brian McKnight to the Ramansco Poson de los Reias (the pool of kings). This massive eddy is about the size of three or four football fields and is in a spectacular setting where a tight canyon ends in a massive rapid that empties into this huge tranquil pool. Fishing the Poson is like floating on a lake with subtle currents. Trout magically seem to appear out of nowhere cruising just below the surface while sipping on midges and terrestrials. All of the rainbows in the Futaleufu seem to run between 17-19” with a few in the 20-24” class. Randy had a great day sight casting on the Poson which was a great place to be while the river was still very high and up in the willows along the banks.

Bryan and Anthony spent the day on the Limite float that begins at the Argentine border and terminates at the furious Inferno canyon class V whitewater run. The waters were very high and most of the fishing was limited to the eddies and backwaters where trout were cruising and sipping on dries. Even with the tough conditions the guys managed to boat about ten nice rainbows while sight fishing in the Aquarium and other large eddies.

Day 2:
This was my first day of fishing and I was excited to get out on this legendary river that I had heard so much about. I was encouraged by the clear waters, only a few days before the river was running milky white and was above the banks. I teamed up with Randy and Brian McKight to try our luck on the Limite float. The waters were already dropping but still very high. It reminded me of the Yellowstone at about 10,000 cfs when we first start fishing it (although it was probably closer to about 20,000cfs). We started in a wide riffle on the Argentine border. The guys dropped me off for some wade fishing which felt great after a few days of sitting on airplanes. This was one of the few places on the river where it allowed wading at these high flows and I was wading in waist deep water that just a week before was a high and dry gravel bar. I had several good hookups and managed to land for or 5 trout all on a large black beetle. Even in the faster water the rises were slow and deliberate. The ferocity of these trout on the reel was amazing - they are some of the hardest fighting trout in the world and even a 17” rainbow will make blistering runs on 3x tippet across the river.

Before lunch we floated down to the “aquarium” which is a large eddy/backwater where a smaller channel joins the main river. The big rainbows in the Futaleufu love this kind of water. It is hard to describe this type of habitat if you haven’t fished a really big volume trout river. The only other places I have seen trout behave this way is on the Yellowstone and Missouri in Montana and the Tongariro in New Zealand. These holes are often 15-30 feet deep and the fish are completely interacting exclusively with currents and not the bottom or shore. These current features pulsate and change and fish suddenly disappear and then show up 30 seconds later in a different location. They produce site fishing at its best and you must first get a visual on a trout and then make an accurate cast to lead the fish. The calmer the water the farther you need to lead the trout. In nervous water leading by 4 or 5 feet is enough but in glassy currents leading by 10 or more feet may be necessary. These trout seldom get hooked but the gin clear water results in spooky trout that are picky about presentation. If there is any drag they will nose the fly but not take which adds to the drama and excitement. When the fly is properly presented they almost always eat it even if it is a large terrestrial pattern. My favorite fly of the day was the gaucho which is a black beetle style attractor with an elk hair down wing for visibility. After lunch we hit one or two more productive eddies to site cast and then pulled streamers in the bigger water below. The river was still up so the water between the big eddies was tough to fish and mostly unproductive. By the end of the day Randy and I had netted about 15 trout between 15-20” - mostly high quality hookups on dries while sight fishing!

Bryan and Anthony stayed with Royce for day two. After a long night of strumming the guitar and enjoying the local brew “Escudo”, Bryan opted for a few extra zz’s in the morning while Bryan and Royce explored the upper reaches of the home waters. This float is completely isolated and the Futa guides have the only access. You start in front of the lodge and slowly eddy hop for about a mile up the river. Anthony had a great morning stripping streamers and site casting dries in had about ten trout to the net by lunch. Bryan joined in after lunch for the float down to the McKnights house on the other side of the river for the takeout. The lower waters were still high and produced slower fishing both guys got a few more fish into the net.

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