Trout anglers are ponderous—we’ve heard the stories about the “good old days,” when our home waters were still secret fishing spots and when fabled rivers like the Madison or the Roaring Fork were still “frontier” fisheries. Today, as we count the drift boats on the Green or the cars in the parking lot at Last Chance on the Henry’s Fork, it’s hard to imagine how things must have been “back then.”
Yes, it’s a hemisphere away, but Chilean Patagonia gives us the chance to travel back in time, when the fly fishing stories told in the pages of Field & Stream and Outdoor Life read like epic adventures on the fringes of civilization, and we yearned to be a part of them. Here, along the spine of the Andes in the far reaches of South America, the good old days are now, and the fishing is what it might have been like in those blustery tales of angling exploration. In fact, it might even be better.
Most anglers visiting Magic Waters Lodge in the famed Coyhaique region of Chile will find the fishing refreshingly unfamiliar — there’s no need for light tippets, minuscule nymphs or super-long leaders. Instead, big dry flies are the norm on the spring creeks and the freestoners of the region, and bulky streamers pull big trout from undercut banks and out from under complex river structure. And, you just might catch your trout of a lifetime.
Patagonia is a big place with a widely varying climate and water of every type imaginable. This means that anglers that finally make the pilgrimage to Patagonia are often faced with choices. Many fly fishers head to the arid pampas east of the divide to fish sprawling freestoners evocative of back-home rivers in places like Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, where bushy, foam terrestrial patterns and dry-dropper rigs are the name of the game. Anglers that love fishing big, articulated streamers will often opt for the rainforest-fed rivers that rush westward towards the Pacific from the Andes, in search of the aggressive, predatory trout that prowl their waters. Those that live for technical fishing, for targeting individual, rising trout with diminutive mayflies often travel south to some of the region's most remote areas, where spring creek fishing predominates.
But Magic Waters Lodge, unlike some Patagonian locales, is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too destination. Situated on the border of two valleys—the fertile, agrarian Simpson River Valley and the wild, jurassic flora-lined Paloma River Valley—the lodge offers easy access to a plethora of water types: expansive freestoners, emerald green rainforest rivers, fish-choked spring creeks, and alpine lakes where trout grow fat and happy feeding on dragon and damselflies—and where landing a 28-30" trout is a real possibility.
LODGING: Magic Waters Lodge sits in the heart of the Andes on the shores of a small, idyllic Patagonian lake. It has all the charm of a traditional fishing lodge, but with a unique Chilean appeal. A large and comfortable dining area and an airy great room open out onto a huge deck overlooking the lake. A nicely stocked bar sports a pool table and comfortable furniture. The lodge’s giant fireplace always seems to have a blaze burning, and there’s room to wander — the lodge even has a dedicated fly-tying station. Spacious and airy guest rooms — which share the same view of the lake and the mountains — are plush and homey. Comfortable beds are topped with luxurious down comforters; and each room features a large, modern bathroom with walk-in showers.
FOOD/DRINK: If you think you’re going to fish so hard that you might actually lose weight during a week at Magic Waters, think again. Appetizers such as from skewered shrimp, perfectly seasoned beef tartare, and piping hot empañadas start appearing from the kitchen just minutes after you arrive back at the lodge from a day on the water. Gourmet, chef-prepared meals are expertly presented. Unique Chilean wines ranging from cabernet sauvignon to malbec to carménére attend every meal, and the staff rarely lets a glass get empty. Meals run the gamut from regionally sourced seafood, like Chilean sea bass and salmon, to locally grown beef, chicken, and lamb. The lodge’s chef is an expert in local fare, and adept at preparing everything from soups to freshly baked breads. Breakfast each morning consists of homemade pastries, locally-sourced eggs and breakfast meats and, if you choose, lighter fare ranging from cereal to yogurt. Lunch on the water is equally tasty — the lodge’s chef usually prepares a hearty sandwich paired with hot soup or stew and some tasty snacks to get you through the day.
CONNECTIVITY Cell signals are spotty, but often available as you ride to and from your fishing destinations, and the lodge boasts recently upgraded, high-speed WiFi. Whether you need to send an email, send photos of your adventure to family and friends, or even check in at home with a FaceTime call, it won’t be a problem.
Most guests arrive to Magic Waters Lodge in early to mid-afternoon, leaving plenty of time for exploration before dinner. If you're absolutely dying to wet a line, a small, trout-filled lake, which provides beautiful vistas and sunset-watching right from the lodge's expansive deck and wood-fired hot tub, is mere steps away. And Lago Barroso, one of the famed lakes of the region and home to very large brown and rainbow trout, is a 2-minute walk from the lodge's front door. You can also take a short hike to Lago Atravesado, which offers impressive views of the snow-capped mountains that ring the lake. Or, you can explore the lodge itself, whether by taking up a game of pool in the lodge bar, or just hunkering down with a book in front of the roaring fire in the great room.
A menu of spring creeks is within easy reach of the lodge, some barely a stone's throw away. Visit a classic spring creek to cast for mayfly-sipping browns and rainbows. Or head to Rio Munoz, whose endless twist-and-turns through pastureland offer a conveyor belt of cutbanks and bend pools home to eager, oversized, grasshopper-eating trout. Brown trout don’t jump, you say? The stories you'll tell at dinner will convince your fishing buddies otherwise.
Leave the pavement behind as you make your way past 5 different alpine lakes on your way to Rio Paloma, which courses through one of the prettiest valleys in all of Patagonia. A substantial, glacier-fed, rainforest river lined with prehistoric fauna like the Giant rhubarb (known to Chileans as nalca), the Paloma is best fished by cataraft. With an outboard in tow, you'll float the best sections of the river, wind your way up tributaries, or possibly even zip your way down the Paloma to Lago Elizalde to cast dry flies to dragonfly-eating browns and rainbows.
Return to the Paloma valley to fish one of its most important tributaries, the Mogote. Reaching the river means leaving more than just the pavement behind. And that's a good thing—not only because it means the Mogote's silver-hued trout are rarely fished to, but because the 20-minute horseback ride (no experienced required) along the river and into the cliff-lined valley may just be the highlight of your day. Spend the day casting dry flies while the aromas of the day's other main attraction—the spit-roasted lamb asado the gauchos prepare streamside—try to lure you away from the river's eager trout.
Magic Waters isn’t just about fishing the rivers of Chilean Patagonia. The lakes of the Aysen region—one of which (Lago Barroso) is literally right out the side door of the lodge—are full of trophy trout. Each offers excellent sight-fishing for cruising trout, yet each is different in its own way. Lago Azul (Blue Lake) is deep and glacial blue, and is an iconic sightseeing destination as well as a stellar fishing experience. Others, like the affectionately named "Hero or Zero" Lake, are big fish lakes, with fewer trout, but better chances at really large fish. Still others, like Lago Elizalde, offer sight-fishing to trout that cruise the shallow “flats,” not unlike bonefish in the salt. A lot of fly fishers eschew lake fishing for trout. At Magic Waters, that’s a mistake. In fact, after one "Lake day," you just might find yourself asking for more.
If there's one river in Chilean Patagonia that most closely resembles what some of the most iconic Rocky Mountain freestoners—rivers like the Henry's Fork, Madison, Missouri, and Yellowstone—might have been like 100 years ago, it's the Simpson. Incredibly fertile, unlike the countless glacially-tinged rivers that course through nearby valleys, the Simpson has a high insect biomass predominated by mayflies and caddisflies. The lower river is most commonly floated and the upper Simpson, in its canyon reaches, offers excellent walk-and-wade opportunities.
There are more than a few serious anglers that think of the lesser-known Huemules as the best brown trout river in the Coyhaique region, though chances are they'd rather you kept that to yourself. Much like the Simpson, which the Huemules is an important tributary of, the Huemules is incredibly fertile. Large populations of mayflies, caddis, beetles, hoppers, and small baitfish offer a conveyor belt of food to the river's resident browns and rainbows. And, thanks to the river flowing mainly through private pastureland—which partnerships with local landowners allow Magic Waters Lodge guests access to—the Huemules is also know for its unpressured fish which rise to dry flies with zeal and attack baitfish patterns with abandon.
- Ground transportation Transfers from Balmaceda airport to the lodge
- Guided fishing Fully guided drift boat and walk-and-wade fishing
- Lodging First-class lodging at Magic Waters Lodge
- Meals Chef-prepared, Chilean classics
- Beverages Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are included
- Equipment Orvis loaner rods, reels, and lines
- Flies Want to leave your fly boxes at home? Go ahead.
- Licenses Licenses and permits for your trip are included
Guests traveling to Magic Waters lodge travel through Santiago, Chile (SCL) to Balmaceda, Chile (BBA). Anglers will be greeted by staff from Magic Waters Lodge in Balmaceda for a short (~35 minute) transfer to the lodge.