The Channels of Lago Hess and Rio Manso
Every fly fisher has a favorite piece of water buried in their fishing memory; a corner that holds the warm details of an experience. Sometimes it’s a whole day spent in a place, other times it’s as little as a single cast. Whatever the scope of the memory, its often the individual frames that can seem so vivid when you recall them. For those of us who have decades of fly fishing behind us, there is a veritable catalog of highlights frozen in time and space.
Since Rio Manso Lodge opened in 2004, I have fished every season in the waters surrounding the lodge, and in other rivers and lakes throughout Patagonia. Nearly every water possesses a fond memory for me. Some are about observing friends and colleagues as they caught big fish, but many revolve around my own encounters.
Some of the best happened just a stone’s throw from the lodge in the Channels of the Rio Manso as it exits Lago Hess, and heads southward toward the big cascadas on its way to Lago Steffen and then to the Pacific Ocean to the west. The Channels are a unique section of the Manso, rightfully famous in the trout literature of Patagonia. It is here that the Manso changes character and for several hundred meters becomes a giant spring creek. Composed primarily of two main channels, the river nevertheless finds a way to spill its waters through the thick reed beads that fill this area of the river. When the water is high, it’s only fishable from a raft or boat, or perhaps from a float tube, although the current can make that challenging. Mayfly and caddis hatches abound in this area, and the prolific dragon fly hatch of December means that fish can be seen and heard feeding deep in the pockets of the reeds.
Guests have landed large brown, rainbow and indeed, brook trout from this stretch, with the proximity to the lodge requiring no special effort to return for an evening hot toddy should the occasion require it. Smooth currents and scarce structure force anglers to seek rising or feeding fish rather than just work the water. Spinners and emergers are effective, although little used elsewhere where fish gobble flies measured in inches, rather than hook size.
One of the largest fish I have ever hooked at Rio Manso took a stillborn dun during a PMD-like hatch in December one year. It was a normal evening and several nice rainbows up to 22 inches had already been caught. This next rise seemed no different and when the fish sipped, there was little indication of what was about to happen. Javier had spotted the rise near a small point of reeds, and I directed my cast to where the rings were still spreading along the bank. A confident slurp and I tweaked my wrist to set the hook. There was a brief moment of resistance, then a huge brown exploded from the water and fell back with a crash. As the line went slack, I was sure the 5x had broken, but no, the fish had simply come off. Javi and I looked at each other, “Wow”, was all I could say. The image of that golden brown in the air is stuck in my memory. And nearly every time I fish the Channels, I cast to that spot in search of something, or some trout, similar.
Then there was the time I had a terrible cold and rowed myself to the top of one of the channels where the water first eases in from Lago Hess. There was a big brown feeding, and I changed flies several times before…. Oh, I’ll have to tell you that story in front of the fireplace some evening.