by Zach lazzari
The first week of January delivered excellent weather and a great group of Project Healing Waters Veterans along with the sponsors that joined the group and financed the trip. It is rare in the world of destination fishing that we have opportunities to guide for a cause. I have worked short trips with Casting for Recovery and other non-profit groups in the past but bringing a group of wounded veterans to the exotic reaches of southern Chile was one of the more special experiences of my guide career.
Project Healing Waters is a non-profit group that teaches fly fishing to Veterans while providing a productive outlet for PTSD and injuries sustained during combat. They have people stationed in most regions of the United States and they organize groups for destination trips and retreats in the US and foreign countries.
We started the trip off with a nice brown and an 8-pound rainbow on Lago Yelcho. The clear skies provided impressive views of the mountains and glaciers. The lake, although not red hot, produced some excellent fish. We boated several fish just shy of the 10-pound mark and I witnessed a monster of a brown trout as it consumed a foam dragonfly pattern. Unfortunately, the hook-set never connected.
Certain sections of the lake have prolific dragonfly hatches but the fish are often difficult. Many will only target dragonflies in the air, making acrobatic displays above the surface. When you do find the perfect combination of fly pattern and presentation, the fishing is hard to beat. In one three hour window, two anglers boated 25 fish on dry flies with very few under the 18-inch mark.
The river also produced incredible fishing while targeting aggressive trout as they crashed baitfish in the mornings, mid-day selective spinnerfalls and evening caddis hatches so thick they formed dense clouds above the tree-tops. The water conditions are lower than normal but the hatches are much better than I remember from the previous year and the dry fly fishing is excellent.
Several of the large eddies are holding large pods of very visible trout. You can hold the boat a few feet back and watch as individual trout sip spinners and others work in groups to herd and consume small baitfish.
Many fish in the lake are also visible with one particular spot holding 50-100 fish that are working baitfish throughout the day. They are tough to target but it is rare and exciting to find large groups of trout feeding within inches of the surface in this manner. If the trout fishing continues at this rate, it will be a great season.
Zach is a freelance writer, photographer and fly fishing guide from Missoula, Montana. He spends his winters guiding in Patagonia and is a featured contributor to The Journal on FlyBox.