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Fly Fishing Chile

by Ross Purnell, Editor   |  July 30th, 2015 0
Fly Fishing Chile

Guide Rafael Gonzalez has chased sea-run brown trout in Patagonia for more than 20 years. Gonzalez and FLY FISHERMAN editor Ross Purnell are hosting an exploratory trip to Navarino Island in January 2013 to hopefully find sea trout in the world’s southernmost trout streams.

“Navarino Island” is not a place name that commonly falls from the lips of fly fishers. Most of us have never heard of it. Navarino Island is part of Chile, a roadless, wilderness island  directly to the south of Tierra del Fuego.



Fly Fishing Chile

Tierra del Fuego is (on the other hand) famous amongst fly fishers for its giant sea-run browns. Its most notable destination—the Rio Grande—is likely the finest place in the world to pursue them. After guiding on the Rio Grande and other Chilean rivers for more than two decades, guide and outfitter Rafael Gonzalez studied maps and aerial photography of the wilderness island to the south. Undeveloped and uninhabitated, Navarino Island has five lakes and five major river systems feeding into the same ocean where non-native European brown trout took hold more than 50 years ago. Gonzalez wondered if the same trout that made their home in the south Atlantic, and spawned in the Rio Grande, could also have populated the rivers of Navarino Island?

In December 2010, in a coordinated exploratory effort with DAP airlines, Rafael and a group of three other anglers sampled two of the island’s rivers on two different days using helicopters to access the extremely remote rivers. What they found—in the early season at this extreme latitude—were signs of a possible sea-run brown trout fishery, and an unexpected resident trout fishery that blew their minds.

Fly Fishing Chile

Gonzalez and his group found voracious populations of resident brown and brook trout, and signs of a possible sea-trout fishery.

In two days the group of four landed 122 brook trout up to 4 or 5 pounds. How they got there is anyone’s guess, but brook trout have been stocked extensively throughout Chile and in Tierra del Fuego, and have caught hold in the form of wild populations all over the world.

They also caught more than 40 resident brown trout, with many Montana-size specimens of 20, 21, and 22 inches. More important they caught glimpses of much larger trout in the pools that were likely sea-run browns, and hooked large, powerful fish they never  landed. Gonzalez believes that the first exploratory trip was likely too early in the spring, and the few sea-runs they saw were just the first few fish of the season.

Rafael is planning an exploratory trip for more than a month later in the season—January 12-17, 2013—with the idea that if there are large runs of sea-run brown trout, this will be prime time to find the bulk of the run. I’ll be on that exploratory trip, with a group of six lucky anglers who hopefully will be the first to catch sea-sun brown trout on Navarino Island. The worst-case scenario is that we get brook trout fishing like Labrador, brown trout fishing like Montana in the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere.


Fly Fishing Chile

It’s not known how brook trout got into the rivers and streams of Navarino Island but there are brook trout in Tierra del Fuego, and only the Beagle Channel separates the two islands.

View map of Navarino Island.

As a geographical side note, Rafael believes Navarino Island holds the southernmost trout populations in the world at latitude 55º 04′ 59″ S Longitude: 067º 40′ 00″ O. This is farther south than the southern tip of New Zealand, Tasmania, or South Africa. In fact, Navarino Island is the closest landmass to the continent of Antarctica, literally “the end of the world” or at least the southern end.

Only two rivers have been fished and only at one location on each river. There are three new rivers that need to be explored, and miles of unfished water on the other two river systems. Rafael believes he only scratched the surface in 2010.

Since the rivers are accessible only by helicopter, the group of six will fly to and from the rivers every day. Accommodations will be at Lakutaia Lodge, a luxury ecotourism lodge that right now primarily caters to visitors to the nearby OMORA Ethnobotanical Park.

The trip is $3,990 USD for five nights accommodations and four days of heli-fishing in/out to likely different rivers every day. Just to put this in perspective, Lakutaia Lodge charges $3,990 for its 2-day eco-tourism trekking packages. In New Zealand just a helicopter ride to a remote river costs $1,700 per hour. The economical cost is based on the fact that we’ll be exploring the rivers, finding the trout, and laying the groundwork for a future destination that could some day be a household name among fly fishers.

To confirm your space for this exclusive trip for FLY FISHERMAN readers, please contact Ross Purnell at or call 717-695-8070.

Fly Fishing Chile

The exploratory group of Navarino Island fly fishers will stay at Lakutaia Lodge, and fly to the rivers each day by helicopter.


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