The home river, Rio Ñirehuao, has proven to be one of the finest hopper-fishing brown trout streams in Chile, with amazing numbers of surface-oriented fish. Testimony to its excellence are the large numbers of clients who return annually. Dave Whitlock, widely traveled author, angler and fly designer, himself a legend in fly fishing, wrote after a March trip that, “I’ve never seen a river so full of big browns that were so totally hooked or spoiled on hoppers as this place.” John Randolph, editor and publisher for Fly Fisherman magazine, states that the ranch’s home river, the Rio Ñirehuao, is, “arguably the best wild, resident brown-trout river in South America and perhaps the world.” High praise, indeed, from people who have experienced the finest fly fishing on the planet!
The Chilean government has designated the Ñirehuao as the first study-catch-and-release river in the country. It has been estimated that approximately 9,000 brown trout swim in each mile of the river, a mid-sized stream that is easily waded and very user-friendly. Expert casters often hook large numbers of trout each day, and when the “hopper grab” is on, even novice fly fishers can expect lots of strikes, with a trophy fish an everyday possibility. The lodge record is in excess of 14 pounds!
Anglers who have visited El Saltamontes in the past will attest to this remarkable fishing, but recently the program has improved even further. Spearheaded by innovative professional guides like Argentinean Leandro Troncoso and his intrepid crew of local and imported guides, the angling opportunities at El Saltamontes have blossomed. In addition to the home water, fly fishers now have the opportunity to ply pristine off-property waters, fisheries that, for the most part, get absolutely no outside pressure. Clients have reported fishing remote spring creeks full of feisty 12-16-inchers, rising eagerly to large dries.
For the angler wanting a challenge, the lodge has found locations that seasonally offer demanding, small dry fly opportunities for heavy-shouldered browns, as well. The lodge even has rafts and pontoon boats for day trips to local lakes and rivers. Finally, Jose Gorrono has reclaimed nearly two miles of a picture perfect little stream flowing through the ranch. Fishing the miniature, pristine pools and riffles throughout this past season produced encouraging numbers of 10-18 inch browns.
Fishing conditions range from easy to moderately demanding at El Saltamontes – though there truly are few scenarios that accomplished anglers would describe as difficult. The vast majority of the fishing is done with a floating line, with rods in the 4-wt to 6-wt range. Occasionally, a heavy rain may briefly cloud the water, making streamers as effective as dries, but most of the fishing here is done with surface flies, particularly large terrestrials. As in most of Patagonia, breezes range from light to strong — fortunately, the lodge has such a diverse fishing program, there is always someplace to go to avoid the heaviest winds.
THE ÑIREHUAO RIVER
The “Home Water,” much of this river flows through high desert grasslands, reminiscent of Yellowstone National Park. In addition to the many miles of 4-wheel drive accessible river that flows through the ranch, El Saltamontes also has the fishing rights to nearly all of the best off-property water, including some beautiful canyon stretches accessible only via raft. The Ñirehuao is a wonderfully fisherman-friendly stream, with open banks for easy back casting, and washed-gravel bottoms that make wading a pleasure. The fishing, season-long, is heavily oriented around large terrestrials, with hoppers and jumbo-sized beetles the standard fare. Average fish will run 12-18 inches, with specimens over 20 inches available. As a bonus, the lodge is located right on the river — very convenient for the hard core guests that want to put in an extra hour or two before sundown!
In addition to the main river, El Saltamontes has a number of outstanding small streams for the adventurous fly fisher — many of which offer nearly virgin fishing. One little waterway flows into a small lake, and when the stillwater warms up, the big browns ascend into the moving water to cool off a little. The water is very clear, so the fish are edgy, but are suckers for a well-placed beetle. This is visual fishing at its best. Another little freestone has miles of miniature riffles, runs and crystalline pools, full of aggressive 10-18 inch trout that absolutely annihilate hoppers. Yet another stream pours out of a lake and winds through a spectacular Andean setting. The fishing in this creek’s fast-moving flows is wonderful, though the scenery is so incredible that it is very hard to keep your eye on the fly!
Finally, there is the upper Ñirehuao itself. This smallish spring creek flows through the Chilean “Valley of the Moon” for miles, with each miniature meadow bank and riffle home to gorgeously-marked browns averaging 12 inches, with an occasional “surprise” fish in excess of 20 inches. While hoppers work as well here as downriver, there are more aquatic insects present, meaning more diverse hatches — mayfly emergences and spinner falls are common. Serious birdwatchers will love this area, as condors and other indigenous bird species are often observed here.
Falling under this broad category of “lagoons” are a large number of what can best be described as ponds, ranging in size from pools the dimension of a small automobile, up to small lakes of 1-2 acres. Some of these are actually ancient river oxbows, while others are spring fed. They are fascinating fisheries, and consistently hold browns of larger proportions than the average of the main river, often in the 18-20-inch range, with fish over 25 inches occasionally hooked. They seem to pop up at random over the landscape of the ranch — the knowledge of the guides is invaluable in locating them.
These stillwater additions to the program have been met with great enthusiasm from recent clients. One of the most unusual lakes is largely surrounded by what can best be described as “floating tundra,” essentially undercut banks of gargantuan proportions. Getting close enough to the water to fish involves hiking across areas of spongy terrain — safe, but quite bizarre! There are many other small lagunas in the immediate area, most of which are connected underground with the main lake, and are also loaded with fish. Another favorite, Lago El Saltamontes, is best described by guide Leandro Troncoso: “Lago Saltamontes is quite simply awesome. Any angler harboring a prejudice against stillwater fishing will change their point of view after this experience! Using the lodge’s pontoon boats we can cover most of the lake’s shoreline over the course of the day. From cliffs, logjams and weed beds, this lake offers a lot of great structure. Large browns are often found hugging the shorelines in unbelievably shallow water. The fish enjoy dragonflies, damselflies, grasshoppers, beetles, caddis, mayflies and midges on their daily menu — basically, anything will work, as long as it is big and ugly! The lake area is incredibly scenic and guests seem to very much enjoy the 45-minute ride through the native forest to get there.” There is even a beautiful, glass-walled little lakeside cabana on Lago El Saltamontes for fishing couples, or pairs of anglers that would like to wake up lakeside.