Do-it-yourself Fly Fishing in Patagonia on a Budget

Looking for information about fly fishing in Patagonia, I realised that most of the Google results are expensive lodges or intermediaries. Here’s how you do it by yourself!


Introduction

There is a reason that Google search results are dominated by dozens of fishing lodges and people trying to sell their tours: Fly fishing in Chile is a dream of many fly anglers and not without a reason! Chile is a magnificent country with diverse landscapes. Stretching over 4000 km from the desolate Atacama desert in Northern Chile down to Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), Chile offers a lot to explore. Due to the limited time of 1 week fishing after 3 weeks travelling, I decided to fish Northern Patagonia with my home base in Coyhaique. This town was recommended to me due to the variety of waters that are in driving distance. Furthermore, it offers all you need for many outdoor activities.

This post offers you advice for a do-it-yourself fly fishing trip in Patagonia on a budget.

Fly fishing in Patagonia offers stunning waters
Fly fishing in Patagonia offers stunning waters

Entering Chile with Fishing Gear – Biosecurity

You are allowed to bring used fishing gear, provided it is clean. Ensure you do not bring any soil and seeds into Chile which might travel under your boots. Although my fishing gear was not inspected during immigration in particular, it is important that every fisherman and woman cleans the equipment in order to not bring any pests.

Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile on a budget
Jungle Falls Patagonia

Where to get your fishing license?

The fishing license for recreational fishing in freshwater can be bought online here: http://pescarecreativa.sernapesca.cl/ or you ask in fishing store where they point you either to the next tourist office or they sell them.

Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile on a budget
Looks like Freedom

Best Time to Visit

Given that Chile is in the Southern hemisphere, the seasons are mirrored to the Northern hemisphere. Therefore the trout season runs generally speaking from the second Friday of November until the first Sunday of May. Apart from trout, there is also the possibility to fish for king and coho salmon. According to Twinpeakesflyfishing.com, the salmon season runs from December to February and the best time to visit is in January.

If you plan on fishing in the famous Torres del Paine National Park, I highly recommend you 2 things. First, organise your accommodation in the national park early, which means several months in advance. Given the reputation of the park it is extremely busy during their Summer. Secondly, stay one night in the Yellow Plum camping hostel. The owner Carlos was a park ranger before he settled as hostal owner and has extensive knowledge of the entire park with insider tips on where to fish and camp.

Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile on a budget: The weather is volatile
Fly fishing in Patagonia Chile on a budget: The weather is volatile

Weather

The weather is unpredictable in Patagonia. The only thing that is for sure is the wind. Therefore, it is absolutely mandatory to be able to cast in heavy winds. Otherwise you will not enjoy fly fishing in Patagonia.

Down jacket, thermal underwear and a reliable rain jacket is a must.

Due to these fast changes in weather you can easily experience freezing cold and get sun burnt on the very same day.

5 seasons within 1 day: Fly fishing in Patagonia

Preparations for your trip

Given that I did a do it yourself fishing trip in Patagonia, I had to rent a car. Although there is some public transport and hitchhiking is a common way to get around, it is not as convenient as an own car. Especially to go to more remote areas hitchhiking can be very daunting with lots of delays. Therefore, unless you have plenty of time, get 4 wheels and if you can afford it go with a 4 wheel-drive. I had some bad experiences with the Nissan Duster, which you can read here. Make sure that the Dollar sign is used for Chilean Pesos.

Tie some flies that are commonly used in Patagonia. I did not have any foam bugs which are crucial to fishing in Patagonia. The trout over there love big hoppers in the early afternoon. Just keep your eyes peeled when driving around and walking for any signs. Apart from foam hoppers I would definitely bring lot of tiny dry flies. For me, the Adams and Royal Wulff worked. Moreover, I heard that damselfly patterns are very successful too. Regarding nymphs and streamers I do not have accurate information because I almost never used them.

Buy a topographic map and mark all bridges across rivers. Those are your access points. Patagonia is not as pristine as it sounds. Almost every corner is private land and therefore you are not allowed to cross it. Hence, the only official point to access a river is next to bridges. As soon as you are down by the river you do not need to worry anymore because 15m on each side of the high-water mark of the river is public land.

Follow some Chilean Anglers on Instagram. You will gather valuable information on what works on the river. Moreover, I made the experience that Chilean people share their fishing spots more easily than Swiss anglers do.

Buy your license and laminate it at home.

Clean your fishing gear and stock up with leaders and tippet.

Fly fishing in Patagonia on a budget do it yourself
Amazing landscapes in Patagonia

Fishing Equipment for Fly Fishing in Chile

Focussing on trout fishing and only being able to carry 1 rod, I took my #6 Scott A4 with me. If I had more space in my backpack, I would have taken another #3 with me for the smaller creeks. However, for streamer fishing you might consider heavier rods or switch rods. The rivers around Coyhaique vary quite a bit in size. There are giant streams like the Rio Simpson and Rio Baker, medium-sized mountain rivers and smaller spring creeks running through meadows.

The 6 weight rod was a good choice to battle larger fish and cast in heavy winds, yet for smaller waters it was kind of oversized.

For more information on what to take with you as fly fishing  backpacker check out this list or this packing list.

Regarding the flies, I used mostly either tiny dry flies (#18) like Adams, Dun Olives and Royal Wulff’s or I need to go big with hoppers and damselfly imitations. Seldom I used nymphs and only with decent success.

If you want to fish for salmon check out this PDF about King Salmon – I have no experience with salmon fishing so far.

Fly fishing in Patagonia on a budget do it yourself
John the rainbow trout looking up

Summary about Fly Fishing in Patagonia on a budget

All in all, it is not that difficult to go fishing by yourself in Chile. Yet, it it extremely helpful if you are able to speak fluently Spanish in order to facilitate communication. But in the end, I even managed to survive one month without being able to speak Spanish.

Compared to a fly fishing lodge stay which costs about USD 6000.- I was able to enjoy one week fishing for as less as USD 1000.- whereas 700 bucks were for the car. The rest was food, some camping when I needed a shower, the net that I did not bring with me and the license.¨

If you have any question that I left open, do not hesitate to contact me in the comment section below.

Tight lines,

Tom

Fly fishing in Patagonia at its best
Fly fishing in Patagonia at its best

13 Responses

  1. Rainy ifish2

    Where did you camp, were you near any particular towns during your DIY fishing in Patagonia?

    • Tom

      Hi Rainy ifish2,
      I stayed in Coyhaique as my home base.
      Tight lines,
      Tom

  2. Rainy ifish2

    Where did you camp, were you near any particular towns during your DIY fishing in Patagonia? We are trying to plan a trip to fish and travel this region, but would only pay one day for a guide if it is really needed.

    • Tom

      Hi Rainy ifish2
      A friend of mine suggested Coyhaique as homebase for fly fishing in Chilean Patagonia, however, I would try to be flexible because I preferred the rivers up north with more dense vegetation. I camped at various places ranging from farm stays to private people I met along the way. Public land is scarce in chile – almost everywhere are fences. This annoyed me a lot but as soon as you can access a river (bridges) 15m on either side of the high water mark is public land. However, I suggest speaking with the land owners as far as possible to avoid any problems.
      A guide for a day is definitely a good choice. I did not have one, but missed out on a lot of opportunities until the very last day I met the right people. Therefore, you should definitely at the beginning consult a guide and get any information you can.
      I hope this helps and wish you safe travels,
      Tom

  3. Ed

    Which river did you fish on and where were the best spots to access?

    • Tom

      Hi Ed,
      I have only been fishing for a week in Chile, so I think the best spots are still to be found. Look on the map for bridges to access the river. The river I liked the most was the Rio Nireguao it runs in a beautiful valley.
      Best,
      Tom

  4. Dave

    Tom, I like to fly fish trout lakes with a float tube. Did you see any opportunity to do that.
    I’ve travelled to NZ & Tasmania with my tube & experienced success,

    • Tom

      Hi Dave,
      cool to hear from you. I am more into flowing water, so I have not fished any still water in Patagonia. However, during my research I came across several lakes where people have fished. So, I suppose there is also good fishing from floating tubes which allows you to reach remoter locations. Bear in mind that the Patagonia wind picks up quickly and is incredibly strong. I only came a cross a fishing boat floating down the Simpson river once.
      Hope this helps and tight lines,
      Tom

  5. Emanuel

    Hello,

    I am organizing a group of 4 people traveling to Puerto Natales in Jan-Feb 2021. We are looking to do some self guided fishing while we are there. We would like to know if it is possible to rent equipment locally in Puerto Natales that we could keep for the duration of our stay, 7 days. Our hope is to be able to get out of bed and fish in the morning, then fish again in the afternoon. We will have access to both cars and bikes during our stay. Is it possible to bike to locations where we cold reasonably find fish? We will be catch & release for the most part, only souvenirs will be photos, hopefully lots of them.

    We have traveled a great deal and are comfortable doing these types of activities on our own.

    Thanks for the tip on locating bridges for access to the rivers, great tip. Also finding a guide for the first day or two to learn the ropes and locations. Are local guides available in PN or do we need to hook up with the tour/adventure groups?

    Thanks for any info you can provide. Emanuel

    • Tom

      Hi Emanuel,
      Sounds like an amazing trip. Yet, I do not have any information on fishing gear rentals. I think your best bet is a fishing store or contact a guide. Perhaps after a few guided days, he/she is willing to lend you some gear. Given that I stayed around Coyhaique, I do not have any information on Puerto Natale, but it should be possible to bike somewhere to fish.
      If I were you, I would try to contact guides directly, in order to avoid any intermediaries. Look up fly fishing guides on facebook or ask a fishing store in Chile.
      I wish you a great trip and tight lines.
      Cheers,
      Tom

  6. Emanuel Emral

    Tom, thank you for your reply. The group has been trimmed to 2, and that makes organizing easier. I will use your suggestions and contact a local fishing store. I have also looked and contacted a few guides to receive their thoughts.

    One more thing, I read many stories on the amount of visitors to Patagonia, is that the case or are the numbers for PR purposes.

    Many thanks, Emanuel

    • Tom

      Hey Emanuel,
      sounds like an awesome trip!
      Clearly Patagonia sees a lot of visitors from December to February, because it is prime travel time. Photographers tend to be there later during fall when the leaves are more colourful. However, when fly fishing Patagonia, you are usually off-the-beaten path be it by bike or car. The only places I felt hassled by the sheer number of tourists was at popular spots at Torres del Paine and certain famous glaciers. But I have never had issues around Coyaique. Puerto Natales is a travel hub for many visitors to see famous sights though. Yet, most of them follow the usual travel route. I’m sure you find your solitude. Patagonia is huuuuge. Enjoy your trip and let me know how it went (tom@expeditom.com)
      Tight lines,
      Tom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.