October 12, 2021
To us, a dream fly fishing day includes any day you can get out on the water. But if we can be picky, the perfect dream fly fishing day includes enjoying a day on the water with a breath of crisp cool air among breathtaking jagged mountain ranges with an unlimited amount of tugging on your fly line attached to a variety of oversized trout.
One of the best ways to experience this exact perfect dream day fly fishing scenario is by using the top-down fly fishing approach in Chilean Patagonia.
Brian O’Keefe, an avid angler and fly fishing legend, explains how to catch trout through his experience with the top-down fly fishing approach along with a snippet of enjoying an angling experience of a lifetime with Eleven Angling in Patagonia at Rio Palena Lodge.
Colorado anglers and guides use the term “Top Down” in the high country. The phrase “top-down,” means a fly fisher could start in an alpine setting: crystal clear, feet numbing, tumbling creeks with brookies and cutthroat trout, and beaver ponds. Then, another day, wade fish where these small creeks come together and form streams and where more bug life is seen, and the trout are larger. Continuing to move yet lower down the Rockies, hop in a drift boat and float a river like the Gunnison, where even larger trout have a steady diet of stoneflies, caddis, mayflies and more.
Although this concept was coined in the United States, it can be used in the Southern Hemisphere as well.\
Chilean Patagonia is a location that should be on every angler’s list. Particularly because in Chile, the Andes Mountains collect the winter snow that feeds the high-country creeks and starts the downhill flow of trout water, but unlike Colorado, in Chile you can fish very close to the ocean and there is a chance at several species of salmon.
Chilean headwater creeks will knock your eyes out visually. Jagged peaks and thick forest frame streams that are thirty feet wide, as clear as your favorite gin, and usually flow into a large, Bahama blue lake. The pristine Chilean ecosystems create some high-country creeks that will house big rainbows, browns and brook trout. How big is a big brook trout? Some would say that big starts at 18 inches and on my last fly fishing adventure at Rio Palena Lodge in Chile, I landed a chunky three pounder.
Lately, to catch these trout, I’ve been going with a large beetle, as in an inch long with black rubber legs for the ‘first cast’. In the Andes, some of these high mountain lakes are over ten miles long and may have several of these very productive tributary creeks.
The mouths of these creeks are collection areas for large lake rainbows, brookies and browns. It’s almost guaranteed that the first streamer tossed into this zone will get hammered.
At the beginning of the top-down approach anglers will experience the outlet river. The outlet river is large, generally. The flow can be either crystal clear or with a slight glacial green to it. It doesn’t matter because the trout do not care. This larger water is boatable. When I visit Rio Palena Lodge with Eleven Experience, we use jet boats, the hybrid ‘power drifter’, rafts and drift boats. These boats are launched at some rather primitive access points, sometimes with sheep or cattle watching, or just a narrow place to get from the road to the river. When finding a primitive spot to launch a boat fails, we fire up the helicopter and throw in a raft.
These larger, boatable rivers have more insect life, plus salmon fry and smolt, just like Alaska. When in doubt, throw a three-inch white streamer. Massive cliffs and a near vertical landscape make bank fishing impossible. Pounding the bank with streamers is probably the number one technique to move big browns. But watch for rising fish and hatches. If the stoneflies and mayflies are laying low, try that big beetle, you will thank me later.
If you’re looking to experience fly fishing in lakes, you’re in luck as it is quite common to have these bigger rivers go into yet another lake.
Progressing through the top-down approach, and still surrounded by mountains, anglers will enjoy lakes with scenery that makes fishing dry flies difficult, these lakes are lower in elevation, and many are famous for the giant dragonfly hatches.
Dragonflies are an important food source for trout, both the nymph and adults. If you have seen 22-inch, or larger, rainbows and browns launch two feet out of the water, trying to catch or knock down a dragonfly, you know what I mean. It is very exciting. With a big, dry, dragonfly pattern, quickly get your cast into the rings of a trout attack and give it a little twitch. Salmon smolt migrate through these lakes, also, so remember that white streamer.
At last, our high-country snow melt is on its way to the Southern Pacific Ocean. These rivers have lots of logs, log jams, boulders and resemble a classic steelhead river at times. One of my favorite days on this kind of water was in February with Eleven Angling, under blue skies and with no wind. We had been doing well on streamers, with browns averaging around 20 inches. Then, in a slick, shallow glide, noses started coming up. There was a prolific, blue wing olive mayfly hatch going on.
My buddy Marc, a fly shop owner in Santiago, asked me if I had any small dries and 6X. I did. After a couple hours of downstream presentations to rising rainbows, 14 to 19 inches, we motored back up to the put-in and soon, back in the lodge, Marc paid me back in Pisco Sours.
Are you ready to join Brian O’Keefe, and experience the top-down fly fishing approach in Chilean Patagonia for yourself? Eleven Angling is ready for you, and now accepting bookings for the upcoming season. Learn more on their website.
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