Like so many others, I had to get a taste of the fabled Austral Kings in Chilean Patagonia. Nestled in an impressive yet tranquil river valley which rivals Yosemite in grandeur, Austral Kings is a place that self-respecting King Salmon fishermen cannot ignore. I went to down in the midst of the King Salmon run to see what Fly Rod & Reel has dubbed the “Land of Giants”.
The Fishing Report
The 2017 and second season at Austal Kings is in full swing! After a slow start to the season due to high water levels, the river is level and the fishing have the adults behaving like 6 year olds on Christmas morning. And hey, on the off chance our guests did not catch a fish that day, professionally prepared delicacies of local flavors and an open bar are always guaranteed!
The season kicked off strong the first week of January. However, heavy and unusual rain starting on January 8th caused the river to rise 50% over regular water levels, resulting in difficult fishing conditions early on. Fish were entering the river but were very spread out throughout the bigger water. You could see fish rolling from the first week, however experienced anglers saw the most success landing fish in these difficult conditions. By January 16th, the rain stopped which helped the river return to a productive fishing level. By the last week of January, water was normal with fish rolling like Tina Turner and it was difficult to find a fisherman that had not caught a chrome bright King!
Fishing days have had two distinct parts and consisted of several types of fishing. Each day you can expect to fish from 7am-12pm, returning to the water to fish from 5pm-9pm, after lunch and a siesta. River conditions dictate how every day is fished, with a mix of wade fishing and boat fishing. Depending on the beat, anglers have been able to wade/swing for Kings or slow swing/strip the deeper pools from boats. Stripping deep pools from the boat has seen the most success this season while swinging flies from shore has been less productive. As everyone knows, sometimes King Salmon can hold in slow deep water where stripping the fly works well!
The nature of King Salmon fishing this season merits a need to limit expectations. 4-5 fish in one day is spectacular while none may sometimes happen. These big Kings can be frustrating and finicky, especially when you see em rolling in the same pool that you are fishing! We’ve encouraged all anglers to come well practiced on Spey casting and prepared to hit the water…hard.
However, each fish caught has been worth the wait and effort. Over 90% of Kings landed are Chrome fresh and fighting. When a Chinook bites at Austral Kings, you know. One angler had the line stripped away so fast that it caught on the reel knob and snapped the fish! There was no time to do anything else but lower his heart rate afterwards. If the take is clean though, you are in for a boxing match and all activity stops to land it! Depending on the run, the boat will try to find the nearest shore to stage the duel. All anglers I spoke with thus far said it took a minimum of 20 minutes to wrangle every fish, with the longest fight of around an hour with just a 30 lb. fish! Some Chinook even had the power to jump 1-2 meters through the air to shake the hook. Depending on the reaction, the fights seem to have two consequences on guests: they either need a nap afterwards or cannot sleep for days. Incredibly, the smallest king this season has been a whopping 25 lbs. while the largest clocked was 52 lbs.
Our favorite success story came from Paul this season. After getting blanked last year, Paul returned with a renewed determination to land these giants that had previously eluded him. It took him one day to commit last season to memory. His first fish on the first day of the week took him on a roundtrip adventure, 100 yards upriver and then another 100 yards down. Since Paul was running an impromptu marathon along the river bank, we all thought that he had hooked the great great granddaddy of all Kings. We understood quickly the true power of these fish when Paul’s King weighed in at 30 lbs (average). Fortunately, he didn’t stop with that fish and netted even more giants all over 30 lbs before the week was over! He was the top rod that week.
So what kind of gear does it take to fight the Muhammed Ali of the sea? Both single hand rods and spey rods with heavy sinking lines work well, however most anglers choose to fish Spey. Single hand 9 or 10 weight rods with nothing less than a 450 grain sinking line will suffice. For double handed, T17 and T20 lines in 15 ft. and 30 ft. lengths work well to get down to where the fish holds.
In regards to flies, be sure to bring both big flashy flies (intruders work well) sizes 2-4 for high water and smaller flies sizes 6-10 (comet variations, crazy charlie). We had several clients bring their bonefish collections to land Kings! Pink flies are the most commonly used, but we’ve seen colors black, blue, chartreuse and orange work as well.
How Faraway is Austral Kings?
Austral Kings is a truly remote fishery and can be accessed two ways from Puerto Montt, Chile: ground transfer+boat or air. If you choose ground, 6 hours of travel and 2 boat transfers gets you to the river. Each part of the journey is spectacular in itself, as you will be making your way along the Chilean coast where rugged Andean mountains rise suddenly out of the Pacific Ocean. Seals and dolphins may also join you on the boat transfer, as they easily find entertainment in the boat wake. The most impressive moment of my trip was stepping out of the boat onto the beaches of the river mouth, looking up the crystal clear waters towards the towering mountains of the river valley beyond. If a combination of ground and boat transfers is not your forte, a small Cessna 180 can be arranged to fly you into Austral King’s bay from Puerto Montt.
Accommodations and Cuisine
Austral Kings has two lodging types: AK Lodge and AK Camp. Located near the mouth of the river, AK lodge is a more traditional style fishing lodge with a common eating space and cozy sitting room. A veranda winds its way around the lodge offering impressive hilltop views of the valley upriver and of the bay into which the river empties! The sleeping rooms are housed separately and are a quick walk down the meadow from the main lodge, built in a rustic cabin fashion.
About 10 km upriver sits Austral Kings Camp. With a strong emphasis on glamping and not actually camping, AK camp offers anglers the opportunity to sleep in the great outdoors while enjoying all necessary creature comforts. Teepee style sleeping tents surround the much larger main tent where the sitting and dining area can be found (and full bar if that’s your style)!
When you are not fishing, you can expect gourmet meals! Since every fishing day includes a lunch break/siesta, all meals are served freshly prepared in the dining areas of the lodge and of the camp. Designed by professional chef Fabiana Trochine, each meal is the product of local flavors along with hours of preparation. You can expect your surroundings to have a strong influence on the menu, as fresh King Salmon, clams and mussels from the bay and wild blackberries are staples. Cordero (lamb), pork and steak make frequent appearances along with Italian pastas and risottos. With a strong influence from both Italy and Argentina, it is usually quite difficult to find a hungry angler at Austral Kings.
With the 2017 well underway, spots for the 2018 season are filling up quickly as the angling world catches on to the special place that is Austal Kings. Interested in exploring upcoming availability for Austral Kings? Drop us a line and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have!
– John Duchardt and the Faraway Fly Fishing Team