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This past February, six of my friends and I traveled to Chile to visit Estancia de Los Rios (*), where we enjoyed fly fishing for brown trout in the Rio Cisnes. Owners Cristian and Marcelo Dufflocq built this lodge about three years ago on the grounds of a 350,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch in the town of Balmaceda, and it is beautifully situated directly on the shores of the Cisnes.
As is the case with other rivers in this part of Patagonian Chile, the Cisnes flows through a valley at about 2,000 feet above sea level. The climate here is very dry, much like Montana or western Colorado. The banks of the river are grassy and open, so there is rarely a problem with back casting, and the water is very clear. The bottom is composed of slick river stones measuring six to eight inches in diameter, some gravel, a little sand and only rare mud. It is mostly shallow and can usually be crossed with water no deeper than the knees, although I found the wading difficult in places because of the smooth, slick, irregular-sized stone bottom and occasional deep holes.
Because of the stone river bed and shallow water, the river temperature fluctuated during the week from a low of 48 degrees (F) to a high of 62 degrees, depending on the presence or absence of rain and sun. The low water temperature definitely put the fish down, and the rising water temperature brought them out, but they were easily spooked. On the coldest morning (light frost), the fishing was slow, and we were lucky to catch six or eight fish. When the water warmed up, all this changed and everyone caught 50 to 60 fish a day or more. The Cisnes has more fish per mile than any river I have ever seen or heard of. They are 100 percent brown trout; no rainbows at all.
For the most part, we were taken each day to a section of the river with two fishermen accompanied by one guide (sometimes two). We fished different water each day. The guides assigned the water, and generally, one person would fish 300 to 400 yards upstream, and then alternate walking above his partner. The guide alternated back and forth, offered advice, changed flies, discussed strategy, carried cameras and offered local flies when needed.
We mostly fished with dries, using large visible patterns such as Royal Wulffs, ‘Hoppers, Parachute Adams and a large salmonfly imitation called "Pancora" with a white, highly visible antron wing. I saw occasional flashes of small baitfish, but they were rare. In fact, the Dufflocqs told me there are essentially no other baitfish, such as sculpins or assorted minnows, due to the dense population of browns. However, I did catch a few fish on a white streamer. We also fished nymphs, particularly those with bead heads. The guides seemed to prefer Prince Nymphs in sizes 12 to 14, but all my nymphs seemed to work as long as they had a bead head, especially dark, soft hackles. There were some spectacular hatches, with the river coming alive with rising fish everywhere, mostly small, and were taken on a 14 Parachute Adams. One such hatch occurred at dusk and one at midmorning. Each lasted about an hour.
The largest fish I caught measured about 19 inches and was caught on a Dave’s Hopper. The largest fish caught by a member of our group was 23 inches on a soft hackle. However, I believe there are much larger fish in the deep holes. If I return, I plan to fish the deep holes with a sink tip line and a large streamer or sculpin at least part of each day. I also would like to see if the guides can be talked into fishing for large fish at night.
We spent one day fishing the Magdalena River, which is a smaller river running through a valley parallel to the Cisnes; getting there involved a two-hour drive over a rough road. The Magdalena is small, in places overgrown and difficult to fish, but it is quite beautiful. We caught only small trout there, mostly with caddis imitations, but the young son of the local "gaucho" spotted and snagged a 24-inch brown with a wire snare. Much of this system has never been fished at all by anybody. A horseback trip was offered and taken by one member of our group to explore and fish the inaccessible and previously unfished part of this system. Again, the fish were cooperative but small (eight to 12 inches).
On the days we fished the Cisnes, the daily schedule of the lodge began at 8 a.m. with breakfast at 8:30. We usually left at 9:30 for a 20 to 30-minute drive to the beat on the river assigned for that day, and would fish until 2 or 3 p.m. We could then return to the lodge for lunch and a mid-afternoon break, but the option of taking lunch to the river in a cooler was offered, and twice during the week, we ate lunch on the river and fished through the day. If we went back to the lodge, we would return at 3:30 or 4 p.m. to fish until dark. Dinner was served at about 10 p.m., and everyone was in bed by midnight.
The meals were outstanding. The chef, Ricardo, prepared wonderful steaks, the best seafood we have ever tasted and marvelous breads and desserts. A lamb was barbecued for our final dinner. The lodge itself is very new and built expressly for fly fishermen. It is constructed of cypress logs and stone, the wood having a faintly aromatic conifer odor. It has a central changing room with a tile floor, rod racks and a fireplace. One wing to the left has four large double rooms with twin beds, and each bedroom has a bathroom. The view from each room is out across the river valley to the mountains. The opposite wing has three more similar double bedrooms, a kitchen, a very large sitting and dining room, and a third room with comfortable chairs, a TV and a fly tying bench. A deck is located off the dining room. The lodge is centrally heated; its electricity comes from a diesel generator that is turned off after midnight and comes on at 7 a.m. There is no telephone, but they do have radio communication. The closest telephone is a three to four-hour hour drive away. The tap water comes from the river, so we drank bottled water, but the guides drank the river water, and so did I on one occasion without any ill effects. There does not seem to be any giardia.
The thing that impressed me the most about Estancia de Los Rios was the youthfulness and enthusiasm of the owners and the staff. The Dufflocqs are the sons of a well-known Chilean fly fishing guide, and have a strong and deep background of fishing knowledge. Both are in their 30’s. The other guides are younger, but experienced. One is a media major in college who carried his video camera on the river for three days. He then added some sequences of each of us fishing that week to a prepared video showing the lodge, birds, rivers, etc., which was available by departure time.
The second most impressive feature is the density of the trout population. This makes it quite easy to catch large numbers of fish and would be a great way for a beginning fly fisher to experience a lot of success, both with dries and nymphs. The downside is they have not yet concentrated on techniques to catch the larger trout that must be there.
The price of our trip was $3,400 plus $200 for the charter and $20 or so for a Chilean fishing license, plus tips. There were eight fishermen the week we were there. It looked like they could accommodate up to 12, but so far they have had a maximum of eight or nine. The ranch is so large and remote, and there are so many miles of river available, the pressure on the fish will be very light for a long, long time. Once they find the big fish, it will be perfect. My own trip to Estancia de Los Rios was booked by John Eustice and Associates (*). – William S. Stoney.
(Don Causey Note: We should point out that William S. Stoney has some reservations about the 45-minute charter flight that was necessary for him to arrive at Estancia de Los Rios. He says the Beechcraft Queenair he flew on appeared to be overloaded. Not being an expert on such matters, I can only point out that the pilot of this flight has sent us a fax comparing the maximum allowable takeoff weight of the Beechcraft Queenair with the weight of the Stoney flight. He says the plane was 530 pounds below maximum takeoff weight. We’ll be happy to make the pilot’s letter available free to any paid subscriber.)