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While on a five-week pleasure trip to Chile this past March, some friends and I had the great good fortune to spend nine days fishing the Cisnes River area near Coyhaique in southern Chile for gorgeously colored and very feisty wild brown trout. We stayed at Las Torres Lodge (*), which is under exclusive lease to a fellow named Larry Page, who spends half the year in Chile and the other half in New Hampshire. Page and Las Torres Lodge offer some extraordinary fishing opportunities, particularly for experienced, trophy-focused fly fishermen. The accommodations are comfortable and the atmosphere is truly relaxing. Moreover, the guides are great and the fishing can be superb.
Most of the fishing at Las Torres takes place about three miles north of the lodge on the Cisnes River, which cuts a spectacular swath through deep canyons and valley bottoms on its 80-mile trip through the Andes to the Pacific. In every direction the mountains rise quickly to 7,000 to 10,000 feet with some so close that only the first decidedly vertical 3,000 to 4,000 feet are visible. The Cisnes is 100 to 150 feet wide, and all the water I fished would rate with the best wet or dry fly water anywhere. Brief discolorations occur after major rain showers, but the water clears again after a few hours.
I landed brown trout in the 15 to 21-inch range, although this is the low end of the Cisnes size spectrum. A 26-incher is considered respectable by the staff at Las Torres, and I saw one brown in the 12 to 15-pound range casually cruising the shallows in bright sunshine. Just knowing your fly is constantly being exposed to really sizable fish provides a great incentive to stay at it even when conditions are tough.
A few chinook and coho salmon also run up the Cisnes starting in March. They are believed to be escapees from massive Chilean salmon farms located in sheltered areas along the Pacific coast. I managed to land a lively chinook of about 15 pounds that I had to chase down a long, frothing stretch of whitewater after the fish got annoyed by my fly.
Two basically unfished lakes located two miles south of the lodge provide phenomenal stillwater fishing exclusively for browns averaging two pounds and up. I caught nothing larger than four pounds, but one guest hooked a brute a few weeks before that simply cruised off into the middle of the lake and broke him off. When the weather is nice, the lake fish apparently average closer to five pounds, with many even larger.
Weather dictates which water will be fished each day. Although January and February are usually the most pleasant fishing months, they were blitzed by windy, rainy periods this year. Similarly, early March (corresponding to the northern hemisphere’s September), which normally features some wild fishing with grasshopper imitations, gave us only one sunny, calm day when the trout gobbled hoppers. The balance of the time the weather was at its variable worst with sunny, windy and rainy periods requiring us to frequently change flies and tactics as each day progressed. Even so, on only one particularly tempestuous day were we forced to return to the lodge soon after midday without having scored. The rest of the time we fished as hard as we wished from about 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.. I found that most of the four to 12 fish I caught each day were taken before 4 p.m.. One of the other guests, who was on his fourth trip to Las Torres, assured me that daily catches of 20 to 30 fish are routine when the weather cooperates.
Page runs a strictly catch-and-release operation. Spin tackle is tolerated, but the large majority of guests use flies. Successful patterns during March include a variety of minnow imitations, grasshoppers and other terrestrials. Fly choice is dictated by the weather and/or water temperature. At other times more "traditional" North American-type hatches require that you adjust accordingly. Unlike some other Chilean waters, the Cisnes contains no crab, or "pancora," and I suggest you ask for Page’s advice about fly patterns when booking your trip.
Page generally provides one guide for each two anglers, but since there were never more than three fishing guests during my trip, I was able to have my own guide each day. All the guides are rich in stream experience, but I spent most of my fishing time with Chuck Kraft, who is totally familiar with the water and is an excellent advisor and companion.
The lodge itself consists of two rustic buildings located in the center of a roomy "estancia," or ranch. The facility accommodates six rods, but with a small addition now underway, it could handle up to eight next season. The bedrooms are on the small side with two wide bunks each, although two rooms will have queen-size beds starting this coming season. The shared bathroom facilities are fully modern and have unlimited hot water. Electricity is available as needed, as Las Torres is equipped with both gasoline and hydroelectric generators. The home-cooked food was plentiful and generally excellent, although not of the gourmet variety. A whole barbecued lamb grilled over coals in a traditional South American indoor barbecue pit located in the guides’ quarters was a delectable change of pace.
A week at Las Torres typically begins with arrival in Coyhaique on a Saturday and transport to Las Torres. Travel to and from Las Torres requires flying to Santiago, Chile (via Lan Chile Airlines) and then south to Coyhaique where Page meets you and drives you about 80 rough miles north through the mountains to Las Torres. Fishing starts on Sunday and continues through Friday (six days) with transport back to Coyhaique on Saturday morning. Page charges $2,900 (US) per week per person, which might seem high, but the significant business risks and operating costs generated by the inflationary Chilean economy justify the rate. The price includes food (but not liquor), guides, transportation to and from Coyhaique, as well as excursions for non-anglers. The non-fishing members of our group had a fascinating and very enjoyable time on a tour through the Chilean lake district about 250 miles north of the lodge.
Las Torres is not cheap, but if you like a challenge, you’ll probably feel as I do after a visit here that you have to go back again and try one more time to hook one of those Cisnes submarines. If you insist on a luxury experience with lots of personal pampering, however, I suggest you stay closer to home. The Las Torres area is almost 100 miles from the nearest gas pump and is (gloriously) similar to Montana in about 1920 in terms of roads and social infrastructure. – Dick Hamilton.