Exploring Chilean Patagonia Fall Season - Part III: The Lower Rio Futaleufú and Lago Yelcho

If you have the opportunity to fish Lago Yelcho when its glassy, stay late and keep casting!

Describing the full depth of the fisheries and experiences surrounding the Matapiojo Angler Lodge in a short essay is difficult.  So when I decided to feature this great place and operation in a blog post it quickly dawned on me that it would take more than one post to deliver this description as needed. So want to finish this three part series of Emergent Expeditions posts on Exploring Chilean Patagonia Fall Season with the third and final segment featuring the Lower Rio Futaleufú as well as the amazing fishery that is Lago Yelcho.

Lower Rio Futaleufú - 

These waters are located the closest to the Matapiojo Lodge and all accessible by motor boat or raft from the beach at the lodge property itself. Keep in mind that this area around the village of Puerto Ramirez, Chile where the Matapiojo Lodge is located has numerous smaller lakes, lagoons, river and creeks that all fish well.  All of these could be described here but I have chosen for the purpose of wrapping this up and providing you all with useful information for your travels to cover the main areas visited on a day to day basis for the Matapiojo Lodge. 

The Matapiojo Lodge is located on the banks of the Lower Rio Futaleufú; this location was strategically chosen by the owner and guide to allow the Matapiojo clients access to fish a wide variety of water types within in a short boat ride. Upstream from the Matapiojo Lodge less than one kilometer is located a series of multiple extremely large rapids that are impassable to motorboats moving upstream. The waters downstream from this world class whitewater rafting can be thought of as a mixed use section of the river. By mixed use I mean that occasionally while fishing in these water you will see wide eyed kayakers and white water rafters that are celebrating their completion of the world class whitewater located upstream before they take their boats out just below the rapids. At this place the rivers water gradually transition from heavy whitewater to class riffle, run and pool habitat types, with a handful of small and large islands mixed in covered in log jams creating ideal habitat for trout to live and feed. This area is fun to wade fish around the islands and gravel bars and ply the water in search pods of rising fish (Las Pumas) or fish the deep holes with nymphs and streamers. 

As you float downstream you will pass by the awesome black and grey cliffs that are located on the opposite bank immediately across the river from the Matapiojo Anglers Lodge. These cliffs rise from the river bank and drive strait into the sky over 1200 feet from the surface of the river. When you look at them from below while on the river it is easy to feel intimidated by the steepness and dramatic dark colors that the rocks possess and your mind drifts to thoughts of what creatures could survive at the top of this area. Then as your looking up, you spot a bird of prey that looks like a dark spec floating nearly out of eyesight. The spec swirls and glides down towards the top of the cliff, and it is now clear that this is massive Condor.  You try to take a photo of the bird with your expensive zoom lens camera and it still looks tiny as it glides silently thousands of feet above you spiraling down to its perch. Seeing the rare and exotic bird life every day is just one of the many reasons why this place is so special. The lodge owner Francisco casually tells me that the condors are nesting on this cliff, and I wonder to myself how many thousands of years that this has been true.

Below the lodge property the Rio Futaleufú gradually slows down and changes from a rocky bottom river to a wider and deeper river channel with less large rocks and much more large dead and living trees lining the river bank. In this 8 mile stretch of river before it dumps into the vast Lago Yelcho some of the best streamer fishing in the world can be found. The waters in this section move at a consistently lethargic pace allowing ample time to ply the surprisingly deep waters with a sink tip line and weighted streamers.  The center of the river channel in this zone is pretty featureless so most of your efforts will be concentrated on fishing the deep banks that run under the countless large willow trees and the matrix of downed large woody debris. 

When I guided a river in Montana and Michigan each log jam and great hole seemed unique and could be identified and remembered.  Yet every time I float this section of river and have my head down fishing the water in front of me, I am constantly blown away by the quality of water and habitat that I am presenting my streamer to on each cast. The infinite number of quality spots to cast to all seems to blur together due to the sheer number of stellar spots. Because of the depth of the water in this zone it is best to let your streamer and line sink, this technique is goes against the grain of my active streamer fishing style imprinted on my brain but after seeing my buddies in the boat getting success with a “10 count drop” I was quick to pick up the ways of the local experts. The guides position the boat a comfortable casting distance from the wood structure near the bank and you cast your fly in each little bay created by the labyrinth of large branches in the water.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10, strip, strip, strip…CHOMP. The immediate and powerful pull and head shakes get your heart racing and here the first 5 seconds are key in controlling the fish and keeping it out of the snags.  Get the fish on the reel and at that point you have a better idea of the size of the fish on the end of the line.  The excitement in the boat builds like gas being poured onto a fire and soon this powerful fish has pulled off dozen of feet of line and is racing downstream, then it shoots to the surface in a few spectacular jumps!  Your buddy asks what you have on, is it a Brown, a Rainbow or Brook Trout?  In this place with its clean water and quality habitat is never easy to tell until you have it near the net.  The fish is netted by the guide, high fives and fist pumps are involuntary and your heart is racing. 

The guide removes the hook and you get your first good look at this 20 plus inch fish!  The trout specimens in this zone are typically very clean and healthy from the abundance of food in the river bottoms and the sheer lack of fishing pressure, all these factors make this place a true trophy trout fishery. Take a photo if you like and then release this spunky fish to swim back to its holding water to fight another day. As you look up at your fishing partner with a giant smile don’t be surprised if they are already delivering a cast to the next spot as this water just continues to draw fishers in and beckons to be fished hard.

Lago Yelcho-

As you slowly float down the lower Futaleufú towards the mouth of the river where it dumps into the vast Lago Yelcho you will have a hard time focusing on the water as there are now scores of dramatic mountain peaks covered with snow surrounding you. As you get closer to the mouth of the lake you are blown away with the beauty of this place and you’re pretty sure you can count more glaciers in this one place that you can collective recall seeing in your entire life.  Patagonia is overwhelming full of places that have dramatic and scenic visits and Lago Yelcho is no different. To me the major attraction beyond its stunning beauty is that Lago Yelcho provides is the quality of the dry fly fishing.

The surface area of Lago Yelcho covers 116 square kilometers which converts to just about 45 square miles. The lake is over 20 miles long and takes over an hour to drive around it on the southern shore. The Carretera Austral is this road and it is the main route stretching south deep into Patagonia Chile. Only a couple of years ago this stretch of road was very rough and over the last three years there have been increasing efforts to provide additional accessibility to this area by paving the road.  It is anticipated that by the end of 2016 that the majority of this main road will be paved and improved creating a faster and more comfortable ride for Matapiojo Anglers clients during the transport from the Chaitén Airport to the lodge.  

There are countless locations to fish on Lago Yelcho and due to its surrounding mountains it can often be affected by winds and some waves.  Due to these weather factors typically the Matapiojo Anglers guides will fish with clients in the portions of the lake closest to the mouth of the Rio Futaleufú. 

To access the lake from the lodge it is only a quick 20 minute boat ride down the river and out into the lake. Once you’re on the lake the choices of habitat to fish are bountiful. There are pristine beaches and sandy islands that you can walk and wade, there are many rock shorelines with thousands of sunken trees and logs, and of course there are the classic reed coves and bays. These protected bays and lagoons are sometimes secluded from the main lake and the tall reeds can protect the lakes surface from the wind and wave action and providing amazing dry fly fishing. 

Matapiojo is Spanish for Dragonfly and Lago Yelcho is home to many species, colors and sizes of these Matapiojos. They fly over the water and are sometimes knocked down and buzz on the lake surface trying to escape the surface tension of the water.  This is when the attack of the trout occurs most often and because these trout are consistently eating these large aquatic insects and many other food sources under the surface the can grow very quickly and healthy. When the wind is calm and the sun is shining on your face I feel that this is one of the best place in the world to spend a day.

After a long winter in Chile the spring fishing season is emerging and we are already planning our next trip back to this part of Chile for December 2016! We plan to explore more new and emerging fisheries in the operational area and we are excited to incorporate these resources into future programs as Matapiojo Anglers grows in the coming years. If you interested in coming to Chile and fishing and relaxing at the Matapiojo Lodge in2016/2017 season please feel free to contact myself, Tim Norman, Owner of Emergent Expeditions travel service to discuss our promotional pricing and different options for this years packaged trips. I can be reached by phone at 503-201-5820 or by email at Tim@emergentexpeditions.com