There’s no question that Patagonia is one of the premier freshwater fly fishing destinations in the world – a productive, one-of-a-kind region in South America that is home to dozens of lodges, experienced and professional guides, and more rivers, streams, and lakes that can possibly be fished in a lifetime. The options and choices are endless, which is why deciding on where, when, and how to fish Patagonia can at times be overwhelming. This is especially true when planning or researching a first-time trip to the region.
Here at Yellow Dog, we receive a steady stream of inquiries from anglers interested in fishing in South America, and usually, the conversation begins with, “Should I be looking at Argentina or Chile?” and “Can you tell me the differences between the two?”
The good news? There is no wrong answer; if you are fishing with a proven operation and a legitimate program you will likely have a great overall experience. There are a lot of options, however, and narrowing down the list to find the perfect location can be challenging if you’re trying to do it on your own.
A quick search on the web produces a long list of destinations scattered throughout Chile and Argentina: each claiming to be the best and all showing attractive photos of happy anglers lifting fat, trophy fish. With so many choices, how do you begin to cut through the noise, narrow down the list, and ultimately choose the lodge or fishing operation that fits with what you’re looking for?
As close as the two countries are, Chile may just win out when it comes to the overall diversity of species and fishing opportunities. With shots at sea-run browns, steelhead, Pacific and Atlantic salmon, resident browns, rainbows, and brook trout of all sizes, both novices and experienced anglers alike are accommodated by Chilean lodges and guides with a large variety of situations and scenarios.
While some insect hatches can be found throughout the season, it is worth noting that the hatch situation is much more prolific in neighboring Argentina. What Chile offers is the chance to throw the big stuff: mice, dragonflies, big streamers, giant beetles, and large foam surface attractors.
As far as species diversity, growing populations of “wild” steelhead, King salmon, and Atlantic salmon have recently given recognition to Chile among anglers as a legitimate destination to chase anadromous species.
Chilean Patagonia is largely made up of temperate rainforests, lengthy fjords, and narrow valleys that meet the towering Andes mountains along the eastern margin of this narrow, ribbon-like country. This rapid and severe decrease in elevation from the Andes to the coastal areas creates a wild and isolated landscape that is both rugged and largely untouched.
For years, many of Chile’s most productive rivers were extremely difficult to access without long hikes, a horseback adventure, or a helicopter ride. With the recent construction of new roads and bridges as well as an overall improvement in Chile’s infrastructure, access to incredible water has opened substantially.
The weather and scenery of Chilean Patagonia are most reminiscent of the rugged coastal zones of Oregon and Washington, where short, high-gradient rivers, regular precipitation, and cooler temperatures are the norm. Fly fishing towns such as Puerto Montt, Chaiten, La Junta, and Coyhaique are home to Yellow Dog’s favorite fishing operations in Chile, all of which serve as gateways to some of the best waters in the country.
Argentina is often described as “Montana 75 years ago,” largely due to the similar arid landscapes, an abundance of productive water, and overall fishing pressure and remains light. Where Argentina edges Chile is with rich river biomass and insect hatches that are heavier, more diverse, and seasonally longer than those of Chile.
This means that on most Argentine rivers, anglers can almost always “fish the hatch” and throw dries in addition to finding good action on streamers, nymphs, and large attractor patterns. The established fishing infrastructure in areas like San Martin de los Andes, Esquel, Junin, and Rio Pico makes this a great choice for dedicated dry fly fishermen as well as those new to trout fishing.
The vast, mountainous, and open landscapes of Argentina create a sharp contrast to the lush, rainforest environment found in many parts of Chile. Argentina sits in the rain shadow of the Andes on the eastern side of the towering mountain range, with dry, wide-open, and endless terrain that slowly tapers away from the elevations as the land extends east to the Atlantic.
Argentina boasts wonderful culture, friendly people, an abundance of excellent food (think giant steaks), amazing Malbecs, and fish that are wild, strong, and fast. Add-ons for golden dorado in the northern parts of the country, or sea-run brown trout in southern Tierra del Fuego can also be arranged, allowing anglers the opportunity to experience several areas and different kinds of fishing in the same trip.
Making the Final Decision
The bottom line is that wherever you choose to go to Patagonia, you’ll find great fishing, friendly people, unique culture, and beautiful scenery on both sides of the border. And for those who simply cannot decide, Yellow Dog CAN arrange packages that allow you to fish both countries on the same trip – something that is logistically easier than it sounds. The fishing seasons are similar on both sides of the border and typically run early-November through mid-April.
Despite the fact that Patagonia is a long way from home for visitors coming from North America, travel to either Argentina or Chile is fairly easy to navigate. There are, however, some notable travel logistics differences between the two countries that can play a role in overall trip planning.
For instance, in most cases, anglers heading to Chile can travel straight through to their final destination in Patagonia without the need to overnight in Santiago (Chile’s international hub) on either end of the trip. Travel to Argentina is a slightly more involved process that usually does require a hotel night in Buenos Aires before flying on to your final lodge destination. Since B.A. is such an amazing city, however, most anglers welcome the chance to visit and explore Argentina’s interesting and colorful capital.
The team at Yellow Dog has extensive experience throughout Patagonia, and we’ve worked hard to build solid relationships with the best fly fishing operations in both Argentina and Chile. Contact us today and let us give you details for each destination, as well as the best information on the season, hatches, water conditions recommended equipment, and travel logistics. Let’s get started.
Listen to these WAYPOINTS Podcasts:
- TRAVIS SMITH AND RANCE RATHIE – The Inside Info on Fly Fishing Patagonia (Part 1)
- TRAVIS SMITH AND RANCE RATHIE – The Inside Info on Fly Fishing in Patagonia (Part 2)