Monday, February 4, 2013

Fly Fshing in Chile and Unofficaly in Argentina


Initially fishing was a little slow here in Patagonia.  Very HOT for this time of year.  Saturday the 19th it was 95 when I fished the Airport stream.  But there was no wind.  I’ve had days with wind gusts of 45 mph on the pampas.  Less than a dozen fish in 4 hours and only one good fish.  All took a size 6 foam hopper.  

The next day I fished one of my favorite smaller streams that has a nice mix of browns and rainbows.  First fish of the day was a brown about 16 inches.  May have been the broadest fish of that size I’ve ever caught.  Almost looked like a body builder.  Not quite as hot as Saturday but still near or at 90.  Water was warm by 1:30.  Early on a size 16 caddis was the fly of choice but later in the day a size 8 fat Albert worked better.

Streamside Adventures Chile Fly Fishing

I’m teaching a teenage Chilean how to fly fish.  He is going to “work” for me – do the shopping for lunches and the like.  Benjamin is a fencer and quite good I understand.  He understands timing and grace as opposed to brute force.  

Fly fishing Chile

He is doing very well on his casting.  On Monday I took him to a small river/big stream that is full of 8 to 10 inch browns.  It was like fishing for brook trout in the western mountains – how many do you want to catch!  The best way to learn to catch fish is to catch fish, so this was the place to take him.  Benjamin takes coaching very well and soon understood where the fish were and where they weren’t.  I bet he got 20+ fish on a little caddis.


On Tuesday the weather was distinctly cooler and we went to one of my top three rivers in the world (Hameshop Brook in New Hampshire where I learned to fish and French Creek in Wyoming are the other two).  This stream has nice pools separated by stretches of pocket water.  Some of the pools are below vertical rock outcrops and are likely 8 to 10 feet

Fly fishing a small stream with Streamside Adventures

deep.  For some reason this is a stimulator stream – orange or yellow in size 12 or 14, it doesn’t matter.  You will get a few on a caddis or a fat Albert but the most and the biggest are on the stimulator.  I’ve checked the benthos and there are more green caddis than anything else but it is still stimulator that get them.  I gave Benjamin all the best locations and most of the stream.  He did OK for himself.  

 On the 26th my Dutch friend Gerlof and I headed north to fish.   Last year we fished a river near the Argentinean boarder.  It was fantastic.  Over the winter we both studied Google Earth views of the region and found a tributary that drained a remote area of the Argentina pampas without any visible road access.  Our plan was to drive as far as we could and then walk/fish our way up to the tributary.  We camped that night in Argentina at the mouth of the tributary and the next morning planned our assault.  

Google Earth is a great resource for adventurous fly fishers.  But it does have a few drawbacks.  It only gives you a plain view.  You can get some idea of topography but not the intimate details.  In the Andes topography is critical.  Most rivers, once they leave the pampas, flow through a deep, steep gorge at one or more locations.  Some of them are passable by careful wading, swimming or in some cases you can “mountaineer” your way around them.  Most of them end up being impassable.  That was the case with ours.  We gave it our best try but finally turned back when we started to think that if we did manage to make it to the other side we would have to make it back!  Most mountaineers die on the descent and not the ascent. 

Now it was time for Plan B.  Since we couldn’t reach that area of the pampas why not try another?  The “other area” would be the Argentinian pampas region of the main river.  When most people think of international border crossings they vision a distinct location.  In truth it is rarely like that.  Generally the respective immigration/passport control points are some distance apart with a kind of “no man’s land” between them.  I could tell you about Turkey but that is another story! At the point where we wanted to go in Argentina the control stations are nearly 50 Km apart and only get 2 or 3 passages a day.  Most of that 50 km are on the Argentinian side of the frontier.   The Chileans had no problem with letting us make an “semi-official” entry into Argentina.  If we got caught by Argentinian authorities, the Chilean authorities would, in all likelihood, deny any knowledge of our crossing and likely say we were smugglers.   Of course they did hedge their bets by keeping our entry/exit form.  On we went, fording several streams, until we reached the river after about 25 Km.

Over the years Gerlof had fished this river a few times, officially, closer to its headwaters.  The only access in – other than our backdoor entry – is across the big ranch that owns the area. Because it is so remote and roads so bad the area is rarely if ever fished. We fished the main river all afternoon and into the early evening, getting more than a fair share of 14-16 inch browns. He knew of one tributary, something over 5 Km from where we camped, that is often rated as one of the world’s best small, non-spring, creeks and his favorite Patagonian small stream locations.  There is a lodge associated with the ranch.  Some clients make the drive in but many fly to the ranch’s airstrip.  Every few days they float clients down the river.  During the float they stop at the mouth of this special stream and let clients fish the first 0.5 to 1 Km of the stream.   Since we didn’t know when the next float day was, we started our hike early in the morning to be the first ones there and avoid any confrontations with the floaters.  

We didn’t run into anyone and had the stream all to ourselves.  Within the first 100 meters I understood why this stream has the reputation it does.  The water is vodka clear (why does gin get all the props?) and an easy wade.  Most of the day was sight fishing to big browns and rainbows that are almost cutthroat dumb!  When we didn’t see a fish it was no big deal.  Just slap a hopper on the edge of the willows and let it float a foot or two.   Near the willows 

Chilean river fished with Streamside Adventures

having an exit strategy was critical!   Realizing we had a long trudge back to camp over many Km of loose gravel bars and through brush, we finally forced ourselves to quit.  

Nice Brown caught in Chile with Streamside Adventures

There were a few more days of fishing, all good, but now I’m back in Coyhaique waiting for the next adventure.

The Fly Fishing Season: When is runoff over?

In the American west there is no hard and fast date for when runoff from snow melt is over.  It varies from year to year based on the winter’s snow water equivalent, and from location to location due to regional climatic differences.  Of course the best way to know the optimum time for summer fly fishing is to have some years of experience and to have either a written or mental logbook of when runoff is over and the rivers have reached their fishing peak.

But what about trying to get your timing right in an area you have no experience with?  Here is a semi-scientific way, based on USGS long-term hydrographs of estimating the best time.  A quick refresher on runoff and stream flow and also how a stream gauge works will help you with making your estimate.  

One of the things you will note when you look at a snow melt stream’s hydrograph is that at the start of summer you see the “peak flow” and late in the summer the stream
Understanding stream flow
flow reaches a rather consistent level, what hydrologists call the “base flow.”  Some place in between these two points is the best time to fish.  But when?

As you look at the hydrograph you will generally notice a point in time when the slope of the hydrograph makes a bit of a change.  A good way to find this is to draw a line, starting at the peak, along the points on the hydrograph. 

Runoff understanding for better fly fishing

The place where the individual data points veer away from your line is a very good estimate of when the major period of runoff is over!  Sometime around that date – plus or minus a about a week – is your prime fishing time.