The coldwater rivers of Austria offer can’t-miss fishing for grayling and trout—as well as shots at much bigger quarry.
[by Aaron Jasper]
Fly fishing is my greatest passion, but the desire to travel Europe is not far behind. So when I had the chance to combine the two, I asked a former member of Fly Fishing Team USA, George Daniel, where I should go. He has fi shed in Europe more than most other American fly anglers, and he answered without hesitating, “Austria.”
Within a week of talking to George, I had finalized my itinerary from Newark, New Jersey, to Vienna. My friend Alex decided to go with me, and we researched rivers and streams, and made several excellent contacts with people who would point us in the right direction once we arrived. Based on our research, we expected great fishing for grayling, rainbow and brown trout, and huchen, also known as the Danube salmon and a close kin to taimen. But even our wildest expectations fell far short of reality.
From Vienna we traveled two hours southwest through the foothills of the Alps and wound up near the town of Göstling. At our lodge, the Aplenhotel Jagdhof Breitenthal, we spoke with the owner, Eva, about prospects for the following day. Considering the time we’d spent traveling, she suggested we fi sh the River Ybbs, which is between 30 and 50 feet wide with spectacular sections of pocket water that empty into placid pools. She said we’d have chances for grayling, trout, and huchen.
“…after more than 20 minutes, I practically dived in to retrieve the fish, which measured 46 inches.”
The following morning, we reached the banks of the Ybbs at 6:30 and were struck by the beauty and clarity of the river. We could see a great number of trout and grayling, but such transparent conditions usually mean that the fishing is fun but the catching is tough. The catching, however, was fantastic, and using European nymphing techniques, we regularly caught grayling, brown trout, and rainbow trout from 8 to 20 inches long. In fact, we caught so many fish that we decided to take an extended lunch and rest a little. And I’m glad I did, because of what transpired that afternoon.
After a long lunch and much-needed nap, we returned to the Ybbs, and I began drifting a CDC & Elk-Hair Caddis through riffled sections and hoped to catch grayling on the rise. I caught one grayling after another, and each was fun with my 3-weight rod.
Fishing upstream, I arrived at a plunge pool and got my first good look at huchen. Four giants finned in the current downstream of the pool, but I had no large streamers. Searching through my boxes, I settled on a Rubber Leg Stonefly Nymph. I attached it to the 5X fluorocarbon and made an up-and-across cast at a 45-degree angle. As the fly approached one of the huchen, I gave it a slight jigging action, and the fish took it. The fight was almost more than the 3-weight could bear, and after more than 20 minutes, I practically dived in to retrieve the fish, which measured 46 inches. Any huchen over 40 inches is considered large, and I took some pictures of the great fish and released it. I knew right then that the combination of a lot of fish plus an occasional large one would lead to a very memorable summer vacation.
A good night’s rest had Alex and me ready for another day of intense fishing. Eva suggested the Upper River Ybbs. She assured us that there would be even more fish, and I thought, How can there be more?
But at the very first pool, the trout were too numerous to count. The grayling were feeding above and below the surface. And over the next three hours, I think I caught every fi sh in the pool. I was fishing a combination of nymphs, dry flies, and a dry–dropper tandem. The fi sh were taking everything, and we were catching them in short succession.
At one point, I released a fi sh and then simply stood and took in my surroundings—the foothills of the Alps, the Alps in the distance, and a beautiful river loaded with eager fi sh. So this is what a fly fisherman’s paradise looks like?
Later in the day, I tied on a BlueWinged Olive, simply for the joy of catching fish on the surface. And I experienced the joy many times over. The fishing really didn’t slow down all day until rain and thunder chased me from the river.