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There’s a spot in Chilean Patagonia near the confluence of two rivers, one aquamarine-clear and the other the color of earthen tea, where Pancho Salas and his family call home. Both rivers are lined with large, fallen southern beech trees, carnage that stems from a conflagration in the early 1900s that burned more than 7 million acres. This land of mountains and rivers on the west side of the Andes receives 115 inches of annual rainfall. Unlike western U.S. rivers that rely on winter snowpack to deliver cold summer stream flows, these Patagonia rivers receive a steady amount of rain.

Pancho has a thick salt-and-pepper five o’clock shadow, and coarse dark hair flows from under his camouflage hat. We spent the day floating the Aysen River, launching streamers with sink tips to the banks and stripping them back with frenetic energy, often having success. Large rainbows and browns raced after our marabou-laden flies more like saltwater predators than freshwater trout. We also found 20-inch rising rainbows in foam lines near downed beech trees. Still January, it’s a bit early in the season for the monster cantaria beetles, but with a touch of cloud cover gracing us, the daytime caddis and mayfly activity has been strong enough to entice healthy rainbows and occasionally browns to the surface. 

No fancy patterns or light leaders. I fished size 14 or 12 Parachute Adams and 3X or stronger tippet, which these fish tested. There’s no doubt the trout here are stronger than the fish in my Idaho home waters.

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Fishing both sides of the Andes in one trip highlighted the region’s diversity

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