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VALLEY OF KINGS

April 18 2017

Twin Peakes Fly FIshing FOR CHILEAN KINGS

 

The Valley of Kings It all began one day when three amigos were crouching behind a 4×4, sheltering from the relentless wind of the Argentinian Steppe on the banks of the Rio Gallegos. Huddling around a maté, sharing the bitter nectar and relishing that brief moment the wind was not pounding your face like a ferocious demon.

 

We were fishing the fabled Rio Gallegos, a river we had crossed half of the world to come and cast our fly over. It was fishing well, and we had encountered some success of some splendid specimen sea trout. The high tides of the month were promised in 10 days time, and this would be the best time to really focus on these anadromous trout.

 

William had told many tales of a hidden valley nestled in a dramatic landscape of the Chilean Andes from a brief encounter two years ago. On this particular day he described it as fishing in a truly mesmerising landscape with mountains towering above and sparkling crystal water cascading below. He described fish as large as labradors that run with a fly harder than locomotives! Dozens of salmon leaping in the air and crashing into the water before you. “It’s a valley of Kings!”, he said, “where dreams can become reality!”. He showed us a picture of a 33lb Chinook Salmon he caught on the fly two years before and I asked “well what are we waiting for???”

With no more planning, we booked a bus to the Chilean border and packed the big double handed rods and large flies for what could well be the trip of a lifetime. Naturally last minute plans can always meet hurdles along the way. The bus would not take us across the border between Argentina and Chile, which was a 5 km crossing. Waders and fishing rods packed, we passed through the immigration and received our stamps to leave Argentina. Stranded in the no man’s land with only fly fishing on the mind, we marched the 5km to the entry gates to Chile. On entering Chilean immigration a local fisherman spotted we were fly fishermen and offered us a lift into Puerto Natales.

 

Puerto Natales was our destination, nestled in the southern Chilean Fiords, with ocean waves crashing onto the towns sea-front; beyond the small town is the spectacular backdrop of the famous Torres Del Paine National Park. It is a bustling tourist town as it is the gateway to the national park. We purchased a map and tried to figure out the logistics to get to the river. We purchased our fishing licences from the ‘Serna-pesca’ office and bought enough food to last 5 days. We took the option of a bus to get half way there and we opted for walking the rest of the way.

 

Sore backs, sweaty clothes and with a feeling of achievement we pitched the tents, had a quick bite to eat, geared up with waders and tackle and began hiking to the river. The backdrop was spectacular, turquoise green water racing between the long grassy banks, glaciers to the left and the ominous Torres always staring down at you. Will explained the critical presentation technique he learned on his last trip here, which we followed religiously. We had only been fishing for thirty minutes when we heard that familiar ‘fish on!’, I reeled in and marvelled at the way the rod was bent double right through to the cork with the Evotec reel screaming. The smile on Will’s face was priceless as he tried to fight the powerful fish.

 

After a heart wrenching 20 minutes the large chrome torpedo surfaced and we all broke into laughter as we watched him tail it. A hen, sparking silver, tail like a shovel and beautiful large fins stood proud. It was a king salmon of around 24 pounds, and possibly one of the prettiest fish I have seen. After a quick photo we released her into the glacial emerald green water where she came from.

Thirty minutes passed; occasionally thoughts would drift into my mind. Am I doing it right? Is it the right fly? Am I deep enough? All of which were cast aside immediately as the line stopped deep out in the stream. It didn’t start pulling away vigorously, it just stopped along with my heart beat for what felt like an eternity everything had stopped and I clamped up on the line and kept the rod down… Suddenly whatever creature had taken my fly realised and reacted with an almighty tug and proceeded to head back for sea, I lifted the rod cautiously and it dawned on me that I had just hooked my first King salmon.

 

The Classic 8-11 reel at full drag sang her beautiful song as I watched the running line and backing knot disappear through the rod rings. The sound of the reel notified the others as I chased it downstream. Racing through the deep water I followed trying to catch up with my line to no avail. 100m…150m… It kept on running; reel cranked to the max, rod bent to the cork there was nothing more I could give it. “You’ve got a big one there mate” whispered Will.

 

Filled with excitement and fear of loosing it we continued the dual, moments of stalemate where we were both too stubborn to give each other an inch. Eventually with side strain I managed to turn its head and gain momentum as it came through the water column. One of the locals came out with a large weigh net; I barked at Will; “That’s your department mate!”. Neither of us sure if it would fit in the net. The battle continued for almost thirty minutes and I was starting to gain my line back. Fighting to swing the rod over Will’s head using all the strength I could muster. Will offered the net to the fish, but soon realised it would not fit so discarded it and took hold of the almighty tail with both hands.

 

The creature was a breath taking sight, almost impossible to hold the wrist with one hand, without a doubt the largest salmon any of us had seen. The spotted dorsal fin was like a sail and the tail looking as big as a television, we were all beyond words and helplessly laughed continuously. We unhooked and weighed her , they were bouncing at about 22kg and she measured 47 1/2 inches. We settled for around 48lb, I was ecstatic still in shock and shaking.

We shared a maté and felt like kings on that first night in this wonderful valley. We fished on as the darkness began to swallow the valley, Will hooked another, we cheered as the reel screamed and it continued down, with an almighty jump the line went slack. Walking back towards the campsite at around 11:30 we were on top of the world, fishing amigos bouncing, laughing and cheering at the successful evening.

 

The fishing here is incredible. Huge King salmon jumping everywhere and they really will take the fly. We had a wonderful experience that first 5 days. We landed 7 King Salmon from 23lb to 48lb and we hooked an average five fish per day. We returned three weeks later with some fishing friends for another 6 days and had an absolute blast. We caught heaps of big Chinook and soon realised that although its public water, fishing it didn’t matter that locals were spinning because actually it seamed these fish actually preferred a slowly drifted fly as opposed to a spoon swimming quickly through the pool.

TACKLE

 

The tackle we used was crucial in targeting big fish in a large river like this. Each day we were hiking at least 10km back and forth to the fishing and using public transport to reach the river, travel rods were an absolute necessity. In our opinion double handed rods were advantageous to be able to achieve long casting distances when wading deeply and help line control.

 

We used the Loop Cross ST 10150, 9140, and the 8132. These are very powerful rods with a fast action and medium curve. We found the fast action nature of the rod very useful in the brutal weather that Patagonia can throw at you. The winds frequently reached 80kmph so even just positioning your anchor could prove to be difficult.

 

We used a range of fly lines to suit the water conditions. In many places we took preference to using a floating skagit, the 650grain for the 10150, 600grain for the 9140, and a 550 grain for the 8132. We used a range of sinking tips ranging from T14 to T20 in lengths from 10’ to 20’. The vast majority of fish we caught were on the T17-T18 15’ tip and skagit setup.

 

Some other pools required different strategies where there was lots of depth (up to 20’) and fast currents. In these pools we managed to catch fish on Loop GDC S5/6 & S6/7 and occasionally opting for a 850 grain Deepdiver fly line. It is very difficult to control the speed of the fly with full sinking lines but sometimes they were the only tool to present the fly properly.

 

Quality strong hooks are most definitely important and regulations in Chile only allow single hooks. We used Owner singles size 1/0 which we found very good. Although some did come back misshaped after a very hard battle we did not experience any that straightened.

TACTICS

 

Will spent 6 days fishing this river two years before and it took him a good amount of time to figure out these fish. Before he did not have sinking lines that were fast enough and was also learning how to catch these amazing fish. This time we had the correct tackle and Wills presentation techniques that proved successful on his last trip.

 

Our opinion…… We found it was extremely important to have the fly at depth prior to the swing across the channel, so casting a good long line was very important. Casting the line square or slightly up stream gave the sink tip time to sink; as soon as the line has drifted down stream and just begins to swing, we would put in a big upstream mend to slow down the speed of the fly line. The aim was to get a nice straight line in the channel where the fish were holding. Many drifts would require the mending and pulling in procedure many times depending on the flow.

 

We found that Kings often, will not turn on the fly like their Atlantic cousins. Instead they will just come up and mouth the fly very slowly. Due to this when you mend the fly line to gain greater depth and to reduce the speed of the fly, you must pull in the slack line so that you are completely in contact with the fly. If you don’t pull in the slack line you will miss many takes. The Kings have quite poor eyesight so it is important to fish large flashy flies and present them slowly. Stuart Foxhalls intruder patterns are absolutely deadly.

 

THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES…

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