ThereSHOULD be only one four o’clock in any normal day and of course that is 4pm.The only time I can accept 4am is if I’m going fishing! So when the 04:00 alarm sprang into life, instead of cursing it, I found myself with a big silly grin all over my face. I was getting picked up by Andy in half an hour and I was going back to Austria! GTFI!
Checking in with Lufthansa is a doddle and we were ‘flying’ (pardon the pun) right up to the point where we went through towards security. The queue was right back to practically the check-in desks! FFS! How the hell would I get my cheeky breakfast beer in before flying? Seemed like an eternity to get to the security scanners themselves and then Andy got stopped as he had set off the alarm. Several more minutes passed while the guard checked him over. It’s amazing how thirsty one can become in just a short period of time, but finally the guard decided Andy was not a terrorist and let us get to the bar.
Sorted! Even had time for a bacon butty and another Stella before tottering off to find the gate. Took off late and arrived bang on time – German efficiency in action. If only the hire car companies could get it right on the ground. The queue stretched back about as far as it did for the Manchester security gates. Eventually we were off and running in the hire car and heading for our destination just above Mayrhofen. I remember quite distinctly Andy telling me that he’d been to Austria five times and never seen a cloud. Last year’s weather had been incredible – scorchio – but for the last 30 miles or so it had been absolutely pissing down…
We missed the final turn off the main road and had to go quite a way before we could turn round. I saw ‘another’ river in the valley and it looked as if it was in proper spate. “Which one is that?” I asked. “That’s what we are fishing” Andy replied… Oh dear! Traditionally the first thing we do on arrival is to take the short walk to the bridge and check out the river – our so-called ‘Bridge Dangle’ – but we didn’t need to see it to know what it would look like. We could HEAR it from the hotel car park. It was absolutely raging!
These were the views up and downstream from the bridge. (Remember these as there will be comparison pics later). The water was opaque, several feet higher than the previous year, and really hammering through – more suited to white water rafting than some gentle dry fly fishing. I don’t know what Andy was thinking but I was firmly in the “Fuck me, we’ve no chance” department. We checked in and loaded the car with just the fishing gear. It was still raining. We had come here to fish and that’s what we were bloody well going to do. “Let’s check the confluence upstream” I suggested, “Maybe it’s just one of them that’s buggered”…
Erm… No. Here’s said confluence: both rivers buggered. It was clear now that we would have to go right to the very top of the system, almost to the Italian border, to have any chance of a fish on our first afternoon. It’s not a long drive, through a tunnel, up a hill, past a reservoir and carry on upward until you run out of road. Quick look off the bridge? Don’t mind if I do… Fearing the worst but hoping for the best we ran through the pissing rain for another bridge dangle and… it looked good! Yes it was really high and raging, but at least it was clear enough. We decided to give it a whirl.
We were considering trying our tenkara rods but the strong downstream wind made up our minds and we kicked off with short western outfits armed with a big sedge apiece at the business end. It became immediately apparent that there was NO fishable water in the middle of the stream and that we would have to look for the tiny pockets – such as they were – tight into the banks. Soaked to the skin and fishless after the first quarter of an hour I was ready to pack in and go for a beer, but then I had a slash at the dry fly and missed a trout. It was enough to focus my mind back onto fishing and told me at least some of them might be prepared to have a go. A few casts later and I caught my first trout of the trip. All five inches of it, with a size #12 sedge hanging out of its mouth. I told you these fish are hungry! Then Andy had one and we were off and running. Fish were not nearly so numerous as the previous year but at least we had a few each. My most interesting capture was this one which I sight-fished from a tiny back-eddy. It took ever so slowly and I’m sure must be a trout-eel hybrid. Have you ever seen anything so skinny?
As we walked back to the car after a couple of hours, the rain which had been falling incessantly through the afternoon seemed to intensify (if that were possible) and there were rivulets of flood water flowing everywhere – across and down the footpath, out of the stones and there were some serious cascades coming down off the high Alps. Check this one out…
There was an awful lot of water still to flow into the river, which was already high. What would it possibly look like in the morning? We decided it was best not to think about it and just have a meal and a beer or two at the hotel. Early nights all round given the daft time we’d had to be up…
The Friday morning sky didn’t look too bad at all – despite the forecast of more heavy rain – and we were up in high spirits for a bridge dangle before breakfast. This is the view up and downstream from the town bridge:
That’s more like it. The river was looking more like a river again and had fallen sharply. It had also cleared nicely and pockets were starting to appear everywhere. Nice one! We decided to go downstream to a new stretch (to me) and one that Andy had only ever fished once previously. There’s a bridge… naturally… and we had a quick look off it before kicking off. I knew the river was well down but check this out – it must have fallen three feet overnight!
With little wind and a nice wide bit of river we decided to put up the tenkara rods. I fished tenkara on the afternoon of our last visit and was really pleased with the presentation and stealth I could get with the method. Mine’s a 12′ 7:3 rod and Andy’s is a 13′ 6:4 so he had more reach, but I had more control with anything on the other end! Fish were in a feeding mood and no mistake. Perhaps they had been without their last few meals in that floodwater? Whatever the reason they were certainly ‘on it’ from the word go. By the time we’d covered the distance between the bridge and where I took this pic from, we’d had about 40 fish each!
There was no let up; they just kept coming and coming. We had fished for no more than an hour and the limiting factor to our catch rate was the time taken to clean, dry and treat the flies again. We had taken separate sides of the river so we each had fresh water and could have the craic as we fished up. On occasions a sexy looking pocket would appear mid-river and whoever was first to it would put the fly through. There simply weren’t any fish there. They were all hugging the edges still, despite the drop in the level. Maybe it takes them a while to recolonise the centre of the river? As we were debating this point we each noticed that the river was once again rising and colouring up. Bugger! Luckily there was the bridge for Andy to get back across to the car otherwise he’d have had no chance. It was a raging torrent again!
We went away upstream and found low and clear water again. Where had that flood come from? We were still within the main river so how was it low and clear here and flooded out below? But then we remembered the river is controlled and has two reservoirs on the system. It must have been a controlled release from one or the other reservoirs in response to all that rain. Perhaps they were nearing capacity? Anyway, whatever had caused the rise, had thankfully fucked off and we had a proper river to fish once more. The trouble was, there were no fish AT ALL. Not a one. Nowt, zilch, nada and zip. Well if it’s fallen away again, let’s get back downstream to another section and get a few more fish eh? Good call!
Clear once more and back to something like the correct level and we were back among the fish straight away. If anything, we had more in the afternoon than we had in the morning. All slightly different looking, all with slightly different markings.
Packing up at beer o’clock and we had one last bridge dangle for the day and were amazed at what we saw. It had rained virtually all day and yet the river had dropped again and another good way too. I took this pic because the big grey stone in the very foreground was UNDERWATER when we had arrived. Can I get a ‘wow’?
We went down into Mayrhofen that night for a pizza and it was still raining, but the spicy pizza and the cold beer went down a treat. There must be something about the mountain air (and to be fair, it’s rather strenuous fishing) because we were both knackered and hit the hay early once more.
Saturday dawned reasonably bright and the morning bridge dangle revealed this:
Looking GOOD baby!
We fished upstream from the town taking ‘sides’ where we could (and turns where we couldn’t), and swapping from the sides we’d fished the previous year which put me on the right hand bank looking upstream. It was amazing fishing. When we broke for lunch we had over 100 trout between us and I’d lost a monster brown. I had it on for quite a while and couldn’t get it anywhere near my hand or net. Andy offered to try to net it, but it slipped the hook. We put it at around 2.5 to 3lbs and it certainly by far and away the biggest I’ve seen there.
Obviously neither of these is anywhere near that size but I put them in
because they’re both pretty fish! And because I didn’t manage to get a pic of
the two pounder I did manage to land a little while later. Had it ready in the
net, iPhone poised… and it wriggled free before I got a shot off. Hay ho! It’s
not all about the pic and it was a cracking trout. You’ll just have to take my
word for it! At least here’s a shot of where the big guy lives!
And that last pic is just my shit attempt at an arty one! Both the black and white rocks were right next to each other in an otherwise uniform river bed of grey. I thought the contrast worthy of a pic and it’s my blog so there! Anyway, back to the story… The rain hadn’t been so bad during the day and had completely stopped by beer o’clock. Even the cascades coming down off the mountains looked less ‘full’ than the previous days and the forecast for Sunday was hot hot hot!
The (barking mad) folk embarking on the Steinbock Marsch would be partying and it would be rude not to join them for a bit of Oom Pah Pah action washed down with schnapps and more beer. But yet more rain had forced them all indoors and what had been a swinging party the previous year looked like this that evening:
Not exactly swinging is it? So we welched out early and went back to the hotel. I needed to tie a few more flies on bigger hooks. We were already using big flies, but I’d had an experimental go with an even bigger one earlier and it had produced the bigger trout… Rigged up the vice and tied a few of these on size #10 hooks. They looked the bollocks but would the trout agree?
We met a young Dutch lad Philippe on holiday with his girlfriend and it turned out he was fishing in the morning too. We had a bit of a chat and offered a few words of advice. I also gave him a few of the flies we’d been catching on. We wished him good night and tight lines for the next day…
Sunday morning dawned as per forecast and I pulled back the curtains to see this magnificent sight. GTFI! Where’s the suncream?
We started just below the infamous ‘brookie pool’ of the previous year and got straight into the fish despite the rather chilly start to the morning. Although the sun was shining from a cobalt blue sky, it doesn’t get to the bottom of the valley until late morning. I hadn’t even started fishing myself when Andy ran down the bank shouting excitedly, holding a fish in his net and wanting a photo. He’d only gone and bagged another brook trout. Bastard! There’s really not many of them in there and catching one is a real bonus…
As we approached brookie pool itself, Andy once again kindly let me in first, and once again I took a brownie first cast. His first cast produced…another brookie! BASTARD!!! (Only joking mate!) I took hundreds of photos but these few should give you a flavour of a superb morning’s sport.
We caught fish steadily all the way upstream despite the overhanging trees and somewhere well above the town in a nondescript pool I hooked something a little different to the small brownies we’d be having. This fish bent the poor tenkara rod into a ‘zero’ shape and jumped three feet in the air. Rainbow! Big rainbow! I threw the camera to Andy to see if he might get some action shots and then tore off down the river after the fish (which to be fair, was doing the same thing!) Time and again it went around rocks and over waterfalls into the pool below. There was obviously little chance of landing it… And yet, five pools below where I’d hooked it, I did finally manage to get my arm around the leader and bring the fish gently into the net. Here’s Andy’s action sequence of pics as it happened:
BOOM! That’s a special one! A fish like that and I had no inclination to carry on. Andy wanted to try my rod out so I let him have a go and just watched for a while. “Fuck it” he said after catching a few quick fish, “Let’s go for a beer”. I heard that!!! He later said that he’d really enjoyed the morning…but was suffering slightly from ‘Fish Envy’ LOL!
Cheers all! One happy lad here! (And one with a mild case of Fish Envy!) The afternoon session was also a blast with us on a new stretch (again, for me) and another sackful of fish. The revised larger sedge was doing really well as was something else… For most of the trip we had been using Gink as a floatant on the flies as they first went on the leader then Frogs Fanny as a desiccant to revive them after they’d taken a fish (wash, dry, refloat). But it was time consuming, especially when you consider it had to be done after just about every fish. Step forward Mr Cliffe and take a bow for your suggestion of trying Loon Payette Paste. I’ve used it for floating lines and leaders before, but never on flies for some reason. Well let me tell you it works a treat. It works FAR better than Gink IMHO and I think I’ll be converting to it from now on. Instead of only being able to catch one fish and then needing treatment, the Payette Pasted flies floated high for between 20 and 30 fish before requiring any attention. A revelation!
All the river looked like this:
And all day long, the sun did this:
Happy happy days! Another couple of hundred fish between us, a couple of brookies for Andy and my rainbow. We were seriously buzzin’ at dinner. Philippe was too. He had caught quite a few fish and was really pleased with his day. He was amazed at our catch though and wondered whether he could come with us the following morning as an observer. He also offered to be our chief photographer and bring his DSLR along. No worries pal. See you at breakfast!
Monday morning looked ok through the window and the forecast wasn’t bad. Philippe came down to breakfast in his waders he was that keen! We decided to fish from where he’d finished the previous day back up to town in the morning and then Andy and I would go solo for a short afternoon session. (Philippe has all the shots of the morning session and I will update the blog with them if and when he sends them through). It’s a prolific stretch we were fishing, but something wasn’t quite right. We were getting fish, but not very many . I couldn’t explain it at all and it was eagle-eyed Philippe who first spotted the otter tracks in the sand by the side of the river. Cheeky little fucker! Getting up before us and stealing or scaring our fish! Lol. No it’s ok, I don’t begrudge a wild otter its breakfast at all, and it wasn’t long before the tracks faded away and we started hitting a few more fish.
Andy gave P his first ever tenkara lesson and he took to it really quickly landing quite a few fish throughout the morning. Every now and then he’d cross the river and try either my rod or Andy’s and all the rest of the time he was snapping away. I’ve seen the pics and they are really good. Hope he manages to get them to me…
Not far below town I spotted a trout tight against a wall. It looked to be a decent fish and was active below the surface. Popped the sedge on his nose and up he came. And refused it! Steady on! Don’t you know who I think I am? Lol! So I popped it across him again, with the same result. He was interested but something wasn’t quite right. I changed the fly for another, exactly the same but unused, and one that I had Payette Paste’d the night before. Bingo! First cast with the ultra high-riding fly and he nailed it. The first jump told us all that it was another rainbow and another reasonable fish too, and while it never left the pool, it was a spectacular fight nonetheless!
There were three happy but tiring (well two of us were at least) fishermen who met up with P’s girlfriend for a cheeky lunchtime beer… They were going sightseeing that afternoon but Andy and I were going fishing! One final session in one of the many gorges. It was a bit of a trek but we got going about 1pm and decided to knock it on the head at 3pm.
I think (for those ‘friends’ and/or ‘followers’ on Facebook and Twitter) I said that I ran out of superlatives for the place. It is stunning and so is the fishing. We had a mad couple of hours scrambling up the gorge and catching a good number of fish. I had a third, smaller, rainbow just to ram home the rainbow advantage (mind you, Andy did me 2-0 on the brookies!) and as we approached the bridge where we’d parked the car a vicious downstream wind got up from absolutely nowhere. Now our lovely long tenkara rods were a serious hindrance and not the tools of stealthy drag free presentation we’d been enjoying for most of the time. Andy did really well to snare this lively one right at the death.
That last few minutes were seriously tough. I wondered whether I’d get ‘one last trout’ to finish on… In the bridge pool itself, I saw a fish just below the surface. It was on the fin and high in the water. That’s my last fish of the trip I thought, and here it is!
Then it was a blur of back to the hotel, shower, pack, eat a late lunch and away for the flight home. I always like to start and finish a fishing trip on a beer and Andy knows this only too well. Here’s the last beer of the trip and for those of you who managed to get to the end of yet another JT ‘War and Peace’ job, I thank you for your patience! I will probably be running some hosted/guided trips over there next summer so if you’re interested please let me know. Human beings only please and NCA as ever!