Searching for a place to rejuvenate the soul and reconnect with nature? Where better than with a rod to hand in scenic, accessible Slovenia, says Marina Gibson. Photography by Fly Fishing Nation
The new Fly & Fish Trio adventure challenges anglers to catch three species from three rivers. Here, Marina Gibson relates how she got on and explains why fishing in Slovenia should be put on your bucket list immediately.
For more inspiration for your next fishing adventure, read fly-fishing in Patagonia: a Chilean adventure.
FISHING IN SLOVENIA
In September, I packed my bags and headed to Europe to participate in the first ever Fish & Fly Trio. Fish & Fly Trio is a new fishing adventure set in a diverse European landscape. This fishing challenge welcomes enthusiasts of all ages and abilities to participate in a unique three-day fishing excursion, including a three-night stay and a helicopter ride over one of the greenest of European countries: Slovenia. The objective of the challenge is to catch three species – grayling, brown trout and marble trout – from three pristine rivers.
Slovenia is a naturally diverse paradise consisting of snow-capped peaks, emerald waters, thick Alpine forests and interlocking, mountainous alpine tundra. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful regions of Europe and has some great fishing to boot. Although the rivers in the Soča valley are renowned for some of the best fishing, other parts of the country are well worth a few casts, too.
After just a few hours of travelling I touched down in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, where I met the owner of Green Adventures, Matjaž Kuzma, and the Fly Fishing Nation team who were documenting the trip. The following day we would kick off the challenge by fishing for grayling on the Kolpa river and stay in Novo Mesto for our first Slovenian culinary experience.
Grayling (Thymallus thymallus) are native to Slovenia, though unlike us the Slovenians refer to their grayling as males and not ‘The Lady of the Stream’. Their Latin name derives from their herb-like odour, which sometimes gets confused with a cucumber-like scent. They have a large dorsal fin that acts like a sail in the current and is used during courtship and spawning.
We were greeted by our guides, Bostjan and Sasa, who took us to our first fishing spot on the Kolpa river, a tributary of the Sava, which is 297km long and flows through north-west Croatia and south-east Slovenia. The Kolpa was a beautiful starting point with gin-clear water flowing over pale yellow stones.
Although we saw a large grayling we could not tempt him out of his pocket. However, by the end of the day I had caught a fair number of grayling, including one of 38cm, my best fish of the day. One thing that struck me was that both the grayling and brown trout were of a light, yellowish tone that matched the riverbed. Whilst it’s quite normal for brown trout to change their colours depending on their environment, I had not seen grayling camouflaging themselves like this before.
We drove to the Krka river to tick off the brown trout challenge. The river is another tributary of the Sava and is 94.6km long. Slovenia is known as one of Europe’s trout-fishing hotspots and many anglers would agree that there is nothing better than stalking a fish, no matter its size, in clear water like this with a soft action rod and a long leader with a dry fly on the end. This was my first time fishing a chalkstream outside of the UK. It turned out to be very similar to our home waters, looking like the perfect habitat for brown trout.
On arrival in the village of Krka we began our trout quest. Throughout the day we were using a mixture of dry flies, mainly Baetis patterns, small gnats and emergers, then nymphs and, when the sun began to set, we threw some streamers in search of a beast. Between the three of us we caught some lovely trout and I managed a brownie of 52cm, which took a traditional Slovenian ‘Sledge Hammer’ – or, at least, that’s what I’ve been calling it.
Next up was a bit of heli-fishing and my first flight in a helicopter, which was a little nerve-wracking. It proved to be a perfect covnenience, with the helicopter pad just a short walk from the Novo Mesto and we landed neatly at the doorstep of the Hotel Zlata Ribica. The journey was breathtaking, flying over the highest mountain in Slovenia, Triglav. We could see all the hikers on the top; they looked like tiny ants. We flew parallel to the Soča river, with its turquoise water glistening in the sunlight, watching kayakers meander down in procession. As we landed we were cheered by our guides, Gasper and Bostjan from Soca Fly, who welcomed us with gifts of flies in preparation for the final day of this inaugural Fish & Fly Trio experience.
The marble trout is a native fish of Slovenia and is known as ‘The Queen of the River’. Despite their size they are rather shy creatures, living like lizards amongst the boulders and shady overgrowth. Marble trout are an ambush predator, very similar in character and behaviour to the pike, and you’ll find them lurking in the back eddies and shallows, hunting as most apex predators do, able to eat fish up to 75% of their own body weight. Like many of the fish species in Slovenian rivers they adapt to the colour of their surroundings and can be virtually impossible to see. Often, it’s not until you’ve spooked one that you realise it was there, by which time it has shot off upriver, your chance gone.
The pressure was now on to catch one, the final species on the list and the hardest of them all. You could almost compare this challenge to a Macnab, the grayling being the brace of grouse, the brown trout being the stag and last, but not least – and most definitely the hardest – the marble trout, taking the place of the Atlantic salmon. We were lucky enough to be fishing the Idrijca, one of my favourite rivers and one that I have fished before with Soca Fly. At just 60km in length, it is a tributary of the Soča river and can prove quite a challenge as you climb and clamber over its steep banks and rocky terrain.
We began in a deep valley, where each boulder could potentially hold a metre-plus marble trout. I started to fish around each boulder with a weighted white streamer and immediately had some small ones show an interest. One touched my fly but when I lifted the rod nothing came of it. After many casts – my eyes scanning the water continually – I had a few more follows from bigger marbles and one gigantic rainbow. This was my favourite pool of the trip, albeit we didn’t hook into or land any fish. Our guide did say that it’s always a good sign if they are chasing the fly as it means they are eager to eat.
We continued up the river and fished another spot before lunch. As we crept up this stream I cast my streamer into each pocket of water in the hope of making
contact. It was now baking hot so we targeted mainly the fast-flowing, deep pools where the trout take refuge in the highly oxygenated water, waiting for the sun to drop behind the hills before resuming their hunt.
I had one explosive take from a 60cm-plus marble, which cavorted out of the river, twisting and turning before making an almighty splash as it hit the water, having missed my fly. Although I was heartbroken not to have connected I was still happy to have witnessed the trout’s acrobatic display.
The clock was ticking and we only had so much time remaining to catch the final species. After a wonderful riverside lunch of local meats, bread, cheese, fruit and cakes we were all fully recharged and ready for the late afternoon and evening session. Gasper, our Soca Fly Guide, took us to the last pool, where we crossed the river and started to wade along the edge to a 50-metre stretch. All we could see were fish sipping flies off the surface every few seconds. This gave us a terrific boost and all of a sudden each of us was fully focused on the task ahead. Using a few dry flies and a small white emerger pattern I was finally able to tempt a small marble of roughly 25cm. Mission accomplished, I could relax.
I’d made it onto the wall of fame but it wasn’t over just yet. I made a long cast to where I had seen a nice marble jump. I added a wiggle-mend to get a drag-free drift and out of nowhere a fish came up and sipped my fly as casually as you like. I lifted the rod and the fish was on.
The fight was amazing and when we saw that it was a marble trout we knew it had to be a fairly nice size. It was, a 44cm hybrid of a brown and marble trout, not that I minded one bit as I was so proud to have finally ticked all the boxes. Normally I don’t set myself such challenges when I fish but I really did enjoy this one, not knowing whether I would succeed or not.
This three-day trip passed fairly quickly but it wasn’t at all tiring and is the sort of adventure that would suit young, ambitious anglers, couples, families and anyone who is flying to Lublijana on their way to the Soča Valley for a week of fishing. So, why not add three more days onto your trip and test your fishing skills? With luck you could join me on the wall of fame.
For details about fishing in Slovenia with Green Adventure, call +386 69 907 937 or visit: green-adventure.eu