Exploring Chilean Patagonia Fall Season - Part II: The Upper Rio Futaleufú

In January 2015 my now Fiancé and I made our first trip to the stunning Rio Futaleufú and Lago Yelcho Valley located in the Los Lagos X Region of Patagonia, Chile.  We arrived in Chaitén, Chile via Puerto Montt, Chile by plane.  At that time landing on the gravel Carretera Austral highway we were met by our friend and owner of Matapiojo Anglers, Francisco.  On that trip the summer season was in full swing and we truly had an unforgettable experience trout fishing and exploring Patagonia with Matapiojo Anglers.  By the end of 2015 I was already planning with Francisco our next trip to fish in Southern Chile.  This time around we decided that it would be fun to explore some new areas as well as revisit some sections of water that we had fished in 2015. Really wanting to experience a different season in Patagonia we decided that a expedition in the Chilean Fall season was in store.  

On this trip we arrived in Chaitén, Chile at the end of March 2016, and the Fall weather was in full swing in the Los Lagos Region of Patagonia. Cool, damp mornings and sunny warm afternoons became the norm as our trip progressed.  As highlighted in Part I of this blog series we started the trip by exploring some Lagos Remotos in the area of Futaleufú Chile for the first few days. The fishing, surroundings and company of the Matapiojo Angler's team on the trip was once again absolutely great. We experienced some truly unique fishing opportunities and it had us excited about the next chapter of the trip. Following our return from the backcountry we planned on fishing on sections of the rivers and lakes I had experienced on my last expedition to this area.  

Chilean hospitality at its finest, with bright smiles and rich food at every turn!

Literally from the first moment that we arrived back to our vehicle from our expeditions to the remote lakes we were welcomed with open arms and the truly unforgetable Chilean hospitality. The Wife of Matapiojos Anglers head guide was waiting for us at our vehicle with a giant homemade lemon tart and some Coca-Cola to boost our tired souls. Working quickly off this superior sugar buzz we stowed our gear in the truck that had been packed in by two horses. Before taking off we chatted with Angel, one of the landowners and the wrangler that helped us gain access to the remote lakes. He told us about his family and the land that they have been raising cattle on for the many generations.   

The heart of the Andes Mountains run right through the Matapiojo Anglers operational zone.

By the time we arrived back in the small Andean border town of Futaleufú and got settled into our accommodations for the next two nights. By this time were ready for some cold drinks and hearty plate of food.  It just happened that the Chilean and Argentinian National soccer teams were playing. So we grabbed up a table at a restaurant and cheered on the team, while taking in truly giant plate of food mixed with few rounds of cerveza, vino, and pisco.  The Chilean team lost the match but we all still had big smiles on our face remembering the great experience we had over the last days and also thinking about the potential of the next few days.  

Your hungry are you?  Well fill yourself with this and tell me if you need more! How about that for some "bar food"?

The next morning we rose early, to a rich breakfast.  We left the town and headed for the Chilean / Argentine border located a few miles away.  The fall air was still cool, but the strong sun was coming over the mountains.  It was the start of favorable conditions for floating the upper Rio Futaleufú.

You don't have to choose between sweet or savory breakfast when it's all on the table! Here you see a typical Chilean desayuno to get your long day of fishing started off right!

Literally within view of the national border crossing complete with armed guards our guide Nestor pulled his rig off the road and into a gated pasture. I recalled from our previous trip that this was the location of the rustic boat launch.  As we unloaded the two pontoon boats off of the custom made triple boat trailer I admired the quality of Nestor's craftsmanship as he was the fabricator of this utilitarian rig.  We got wadered up and rigged our rods for the day.  By now it was a little after nine A.M. and the sun was warm and shining on our faces. I helped slide the rafts down to the river’s edge and once again was in awe of the clarity of the turquoise waters that we were about to embark on.

The Rio Futaleufú which name comes from the native Mapuche language meaning “Big River” starts high in the Andes Mountains sourced from glacier runoff on the Argentine side of Patagonia.  Downstream from its source the river is called the Rio Grande. From the natural glacier fed lakes at its source to just below the Matapiojo Lodge near the rivers inlet to Lago Yelcho the powerful river drops a staggering 5600 feet in elevation.  Shortly below its source the river is harnessed by the 390 foot high Amutui Quimey hydroelectric dam. This dam provides electricity and also consistent flows downstream as well as some flood protection, but as all dams to it also has other effects on the river, its habitat and the river users groups as well.  

Fishing to rising trout under a waterfall never gets old! 

The location where we launched that day is a few miles upstream from a long section of world class whitewater.  This wild section of the river is widely recognized to be some of the most challenging and technical rafting and paddling in the entire world. Upstream of this white water section the river flows wide and deep over large boulders for a few miles.  This section provides ideal habitat for trout and the all the aquatic insects that they love to eat.

Imagine the river child spawned from the union of the infamous North Umpqua and Madison Rivers, only a bit bigger and with 100 times less people fishing or floating, and that is what the Futa River embodies.  After floating this section of river a couple times over the last few years it has become very obvious how low the fishing pressure is on this water.  I can literally count on one hand the number of other river users I have seen in all combined floats outside of our group.  I am not just talking about fishermen, I am referring to people on the water in general, (Locals, Landowner, Boaters). Mind you that the only two individuals we saw on this particular float are fisheries enforcement officers tasked with protecting the resource.  This is services funded and managed by the Futaleufú River Guides Association that the Matapiojo Guides are highly involved with.  

I could drone on about how we lost ourselves in this river catching healthy brown and rainbow trout measuring over 22 inches and bringing to hand countless “dos kilo” fish but that would be nothing above par for this section of the river.  Instead I want to tell you about the diversity of the fishing and how this place is truly a destination for catching a real “trophy trout”.  I cut my teeth in the fly fishing industry, learning, working and guiding under the a handful of excellent anglers pioneering active streamer fishing and literally wrote the book on fly fishing for “trophy trout”.  Those experiences have definitely raised my expectations but also it has instilled in my angler brain the understanding of appreciation for an actual trophy trout fishery.  The Rio Futaleufú and Lago Yelcho absolutely fall into that category.  

Streamers or dries it all fun on the Futa, this classic big spotted brown came up to the surface and attached a large dry fly being stripped and twitch through a run!

As far as diversity of fishing experiences is not uncommon to catch quality fish actively fishing a streamer one minute then another fish twitching a huge dry fly across the surface the next minute.  Mind you it’s still fishing, and this is not fish farm.  But with some basic skills and the drive to continue fishing the pristine waters I will guarantee that you will experience an outstanding day of fishing on these waters.  The experiences are not only limited to floating from a boat as the upper Rio Futaleufú has wonderful wade fishing water where you can ply riffles, runs, channels and pool, with a dry fly until you have caught your fill.  

The Rio Futaleufú supports a wide range healthy trout in different sizes, this is one of the supporting reasons I give these waters a "Trophy Trout" designation.

A typical day floating the river with Matapiojo Anglers is topped off with a healthy and hearty riverside lunch of meats and vegetables typically cook over a fire on a traditional disco pan, and also fresh salads and desserts both made using locally sourced foods harvested off the lands surround the river. Lunch in Chile is often served later than North America and is taken around 2 or 3 pm, which can also be the perfect time for a siesta if desired.

Riverside lunch prepared on the disko! Yum Yum!

Following lunch we continued our float into as section of river that has move channels, here the insect activity increases as the daylight fades and the surface fishing with traditional caddis and ant patterns was robust to say the least.

The water of the upper Futa located above the heavy whitewater consist of some truly classic dry fly water, with many islands and big eddy's where pods of fish can be found feeding.

On this section of river I would suggest bringing a 6 or 7 weight rod rigged just for streamer fishing and another lighter 4 or 5 weight rod rigged for fishing dry flies. We rarely used leaders and tippet lighter than 3X and the trout really don’t seem to mind at all.

A typical day on this water while fishing with Matapiojo Anglers will have you leaving the lodge following breakfast and returning to the lodge after a full day’s float around 6 or 7 pm, with enough time to clean up and enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine before dinner is served.  Typically this section is fished only one time during your stay, due to the vast diversity of fishing locations in the Matapiojo Anglers operational zone.  If you love fishing Montana, Oregon or other Western North American locales in September then I highly recommend that you plan a trip to fish with Matapiojo Anglers in the South American fall months of March and April, as the conditions and similar diversity of fishing opportunities will closely match your western migration.  In the next post we will be discussing the lower miles of the Rio Futaleufú as well as the amazing fishery that is Lago Yelcho.  The Matapiojo Anglers lodge is located in the heart of these fantastic fisheries and all of that water is only a short boat ride away from your accommodations at the lodge.