Sight fishing to trout in gin-clear water is not what immediately springs to mind when thinking about second chances. A fluffed cast, the flash of the line, getting too close with too high a profile are all easy ways of spooking the fish. So sometimes, the second chance is the return match, where you get to attempt challenging waters again, and find out whether the prism of memory is accurate or distorting, and if your skills have improved or eroded. Happy is the fisherman, who on seeing the orange tail of the wild brown, can stay well back, kneel with the cows, and toss a Quigley’s Cripple on a #16 Partridge shrimp-buzzer hook to elicit that slow-slow rise and take, briefly capturing before release. It can be dry fly fishing at its most satisfying.
So it was, that after a hiatus of 4 years, I was fortunate enough to return to the streams and rivers of Upper Austria once again with Christof Menz. Christof is the principal of Pro-Guides, and has a deep knowledge of middle Europe and its fishing, and his home waters of the Alm and Laudach offer varied but challenging and engrossing fishing.
The Alm is fast flowing and a cold 11oC that reminds me some of the Radovna in Slovenia. A rock and gravel bottom with water clarity that starts looking golden-yellow and then turns blue-green when too deep to wade. The current pushes and turns your quads to jelly. The fish, wild-spawned browns and rainbows were either deep and susceptible to the sight-fished nymph placed precisely, which Christof does with grace and I achieve only by random frustration.
The summer weather was warm, up in the 30’s, and the mornings began with a flurry of feeding activity. Fish were taking food just in the surface film, with the sub-surface rise and porpoising back and tail telling all you needed to know. The fish were moving to the insects, so an adequately placed emerger readily did the trick. How nice that the Quigley, designed for Hot Creek in the Sierra Nevadas, and so easy to tie effectively, was easy to see, easy to fish, and the catching was brilliant. At times, perhaps even too easy. But then they stopped, and it was long wades of fish spotting and precise drifts, the most engrossing of all fishing exercises.
In the flats, above the little dam, the fish were working the drop offs, or the shallows under the trees, and stealthy, very long casts with downstream presentations were essential so as to stand any chance at all. Casts needed to be direct to the nose of the fish, and quick, and my slap-gat habit of staying too upstream of the nose was one that need a quick re-education. To Christof’s great credit, he did get me on to good fish with more than 60 feet of fly line out, and it was the most successful fishing on long casts I have ever had. These were halcyon days when my casting arm was exhausted, not from casting, but from playing good sized fish.
The Laudach is a small tributary of the Alm, but a very different ecosystem. It runs with low flows on a red sand and stone bed. This is a true small stream with a canopy of trees so that you operate in a tunnel. The insect life is rich, and the river is a prolific breeding stream, with an abundance of trout fry and parr in extremely good condition. Last time, the Laudach was very problematic. Being Roger the Shrubber, I spent all my time disentangling from the foliage. So this indeed was the test, and fortunately in Christof, I had a guide and teacher who could make a difference to this elderly duffer. By persuading me to keep my elbow stapled to my side, my wayward casts were minimized and the Laudach began to offer up its fish. And pretty jewels they were, turning and rising so slowly to the fly moving at a snail’s pace through the water. I could see the mouth open, then the take and the turn. A quick tightening of the line and a good bend was put in the little 3 weight. None of the fishing was necessarily that easy, and a good, proper day of fishing effort was its own reward.
The DDD in situ
I probed the surface of the same little plunge pool that rewarded four years ago with a sentimental favorite, the DDD. Tied in the original Klipspringer, thanks to delicate arrangements between Nienaber en Seun of Naboomspruit, and the good offices of Klootwyk en Kleynhans, of Kuruman ,Kakemas, Keimoes and Koekenaap, the memory of that brown trout, orange-red and in prime condition live in both memory and pixels.
Were there good fish that were beyond by skills? Absolutely. On one pool on the Alm, the fish was big and deep and eluding me. I surrendered, but Christof gave it one sublime cast, flicked the nymph out, and tightened when the fish moved and the mouth flashed. This was elegance and effectiveness at the highest level. I will likely never get there, but I can appreciate the artistry, and use the skills and limitations that I work with, to find the best solution to the fish that I can catch, and find my soul refreshed by this wonderful and engrossing sport, that we are so lucky to share.
Hugh Rosen is a Partridge Hooks Pro-Team member and Professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA in his spare time.