SAO Pages

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SAO in Austria; Fly Fishing the old country....

The fall steelhead season is fast upon us now and it won't be long until the action is frenetic and non-stop. The rivers will soon be lighting-up with breathtaking numbers of perhaps the greatest freshwater gamefish a fly rod has to look forward to, bringing with it the comraderie and excitement of another guiding season . This is perhaps my last moment of peace to reflect back on , what was for me , a "dream-season" of summer angling opportunities. Between June and September I had the chance to fish a number of special locations and with it some wonderful rivers. Most of my traveling and angling was done in North America but one very memorable trip took me far and wide and landed me in an astoundingly beautiful part of the world among some gorgeous old- world alpine rivers.

As some of our clients know, my "other" job is as a member of The Cleveland Orchestra. Part of fulfilling those responsibilities includes regular international touring that takes me to many different countries on diverse continents. Along with the rigorous concert schedule in the great halls of the world , comes some precious free time that a guy like me can use to chase the great fish of the world in their fabulous rivers.

This past August the show went on the road to Austria , Italy and Switzerland. In Austria we stayed for 2 weeks in Salzburg, a small town on the banks of the Salzach River nestled in the valleys of the Austrian Alps. Here I had the chance to meet and fish with Christoph Menz , guide and expert angler from Pro-Guides Flyfishing. ( Check them out at . ) Christoph is a true star of the sport and as good a caster as you will find anywhere in the world. His innovative and highly practical style of throwing line is extremely relevant and adaptive to todays modern equipment , making best use of the highly efficient and tremendously improved rods of our time. He and his partner Uwe Reider are both full time guides on the rivers of Austria , with a guiding season that runs daily from spring until mid-November. If any of you are ever in that beautiful area of the world, I can't say enough good things about these two.

Our first day out, Christoph picked me and a friend and orchestra colleague, Paul , up at our hotel in Salzburg early. We were quickly out of town and into some lovely bucolic scenery. As we rolled, the terrain become more and more hilly and we were soon surrounded by some impressive Alpen views. Peaks rose around us on all sides , and although this was the northern border of the Alps and not in the heart of the high peaks , it was nonetheless astonishing beauty, that was to me reminiscent of British Columbia or elsewhere in the northern Rockies.

We were soon tracking alongside a crystal clear spring creek called the Torrener Ache which was to be our sight for the day. As we surveyed the stream and readied ourselves for action it was quickly evident what a challenge we were facing. The river was as clear as a river could be, allowing for tremendous visibility. Despite this , the fish were still quite hard to spot having adapted their coloration amazingly well to fit the stream bed and the other hues of their environment. It was obvious that I would be having a much harder time spotting fish than they would, spotting me. Stealth and presentation would be at a premium today. As we watched, it was evident that fish were feeding in earnest and rises were not rare , in fact this water was clear enough to observe fish feeding subsurface. Our approach would be from downstream, casting our dry flies up and quartering across. Reach casts and careful attention to drag free drifts would be what it takes to present a fly that will fool these wary fish. As we began to get used to the stream , the fish began to come to hand ... browns , rainbows and even brookies. By the time we were done we each had a " Torrener Slam" , and although the fish weren't big, they were certainly beautiful, and absolutely wild.

As we broke for lunch, Christoph laid on us his passionate belief that no one should fish a whole day without proper sustenance .... that being defined as hearty food in copious amounts, accompanied by generous portions of what else .... beer , Austrian beer. He insisted. We agreed.We closed the day on a different stretch of river surrounded on all sides by huge rocky cliffs and distracted only by the occasional free-ranging cow sloshing across the water.

The Goiserer Traun is a much larger and faster flowing river. Far from the spring creek with its' crystal clarity , it runs greenish and a little silty ,especially with a bit of recent rainfall , as it was on the day we were there. It is a completely different sort of river with a different sort of quarry. Day two with Christoph and his friend Christian , was spent nymphing for grayling.

Christoph likes to use as little hardware as possible when he nymphs, and ties his beadheads with tungsten beads to give them some extra weight. Preferring not to add shot or weight to the line, he instead will use combination of a parachute or tuck cast to get nymphs down quicker and will then mend his line with a short downstream "J"-loop before his upstream mend , to keep the fly from riding too far ahead of the indicator. His mend is a simple and gentle raising of the rod, lifting the line off the water and allowing the current to make the mend , or just moving the rod upstream at a right angle to the drift. In this manner he avoids the sweeping and aggressive gesture that most people use when making a mend , something he feels is essential in these Austrian rivers for not spooking and disturbing very cagy fish . For the indicator he chooses a small yarn-style one , feeling that it is easier to cast with minimal impediment.We worked the river, paying particular attention to the heads of what were very subtle pools or areas where faster water began to slow and spread out. These spots on the seams turned out to be productive and soon I was into some very lovely and relentlessly hard-fighting grayling. I had never caught grayling before, and had associated them in north america with the very northern reaches of the continent. It was such a blast to fight and hold them , especially as substantial as these were. Ours were in the 18 inch range , and Christoph tells me that they can reach lengths well over 20 inches in the Goiserer.

As the morning wore on , it was soon time for another rib-sticking lunch complete with the local brew, this time from an Austrian countryside version of fast-food , a "wurst stand". Fresh brats , frankfurters , and other wursts served with sauerkraut and great beer, .... and none of it from a can! Eventually we made it back to the river .... and no one needed a wading staff to finish the day.It was a great and memorable time! Next year when I go back to Austria we will cross a border and fish Slovenia. But until then we at SAO will be looking forward to hosting Christoph and his partner Uwe here on Steelhead Alley this fall, as we return the favor and show off our own tremendous fishery.

And for all of us that don't need to travel internationally to fish here ... Get out the gear , tie up the flies .... time to get it on!
John Clouser
SAO steelhead guide

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