My non-fly fishing friends just don’t get it. Why do all the pictures on my Facebook page contain a fish? Haven’t I caught all the fish I need to catch? Why do I travel the world just to catch fish? And then they say, “You look so happy in that fish picture.” And, it’s true. There is no place I’m happier than on the water with rod in hand. Although I have some favorite rivers, I feel that tackling the unknown and fishing in new places with new friends has contributed to my growth and enjoyment. No experience captures this better than my three trips to Austria and Slovenia.
Anglers from Three Countries Meet
My adventures started in 2009 when International Women Fly Fisher (IWFF) member Kate Blubaugh organized a gathering near Klagenfurt, Austria. Barbara Klutinis, Kate, and I flew over from the United States, Christa Buchwald and Claudia Muller came from Germany, and Henriette Adam van Scheltema came from the Netherlands. Fortunately, all our European anglers spoke some English. We stayed in the village of St. Primus at Hotel-Pension Wutte, which is owned and managed by Milan Wutte Sr. Incidentally, Milan is also an excellent fishing guide who is very knowledgeable about the rivers of Austria and Slovenia. I found out later that we were the first women anglers to stay at the pension.
To get to our fishing locations, the crystal-clear River Kleine Drau Side Stream and the River Vellach, we traveled winding forest roads, past fields full of yellow flowers, with snow-capped mountains towering above us. Barbara and I spent one day guided by Milan Jr., who taught us about tight line nymphing. We focused on ticking our heavily weighted flies along the river bottom in a way that would entice a fish. Due to the incredible clarity of the water, we could observe the fish take (or reject) our flies beneath the surface. I was surprised that we didn’t see other anglers on the rivers and learned that in Austria, an outfitter buys a license for certain sections of a river, helping to evenly distribute anglers over fishable water.
Later in the week we traveled over the majestic, snowy Alps to fish in Slovenia. We focused on the River Sava Bohinka, a wide, turbulent river near Bled, Slovenia flowing 584 miles through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia. Throughout our trip, we caught beautiful rainbows, red-dotted browns, as well as elusive, silvery graylings. It was an incredible experience to connect with other women anglers and pursue a common passion in such a beautiful place. Upon leaving, Henriette translated some parting wisdom from Ingrid who worked at Hotel-Pension Wutte, “What was, is history; What will be, is a secret; What is, is a present.” That week left us with wonderful memories and hopes for the future, as well as a feeling that we had all taken part in something special.
Adventures in Borrowed Gear
"What was, is history; What will be, is a secret; What is, is a present.”
Parting wisdom from Ingrid
In 2014, I returned to Austria to join the Fly Fishing Ladies (the German Women fly fishing group) which included a familiar face in Christa, whom I knew well since she had fished with me in California after our 2009 gathering. I was sure that Christa and I would have no problem picking up where we left off. I also knew we would once again be staying at the familiar Hotel-Pension Wutte and fishing local rivers. What I didn’t know, or plan for, was my missing luggage – all my fishing gear and even a change of clothing ended up being lost for three days somewhere between Frankfurt, Germany and Klagenfurt, Austria. My arrival in the small village of St. Primus was on a Saturday night, and it turned out there were no stores open that evening or on Sunday. I arrived feeling tired and frustrated, not knowing how the next couple of days would play out. As I was checking in, two female anglers came through the door. I immediately recognized Sylvia Trautmann from Facebook. She recognized me as well and exclaimed “Rebecca, so nice to meet you,” opened her arms, and gave me a hug. What a way to make a forlorn angler feel at home in a foreign country. At breakfast the next morning, I found that their entire group had combined forces and managed to outfit me for the day, from my fly fishing gear to borrowed skivvies. I have everything I need to get me out on the river. The lesson here: don’t let setbacks determine the pace for the rest of your trip.
We once again fished the River Vellach, which originates at the foot of Mt. Obir and is surrounded by breathtaking landscape. It offers wonderful, tumbling riffles, as well as deeper pools, and it is a pleasure to wade this crystal-clear, aqua-colored water. Again, we were the only people on the river.
We caught beautiful rainbows and gorgeous brown trout in a wide variation of colors. I’m told the fish adapt their coloring to their environment. In many sections, the river is aqua blue tumbling over pale sand, giving an ocean-like appearance. In these areas, trout can be very pale in color, while more shaded darker stretches of the river produced more traditional dark brown trout and more vibrant rainbows.
We settled into a routine: an a la carte breakfast at 8 a.m., out on the water by 10, lunch from 2-4, back on the water until sundown, and then a light dinner at the Pension of “Brettljause”—a plate of ham, cheese, peppers, and bread. Our main meal was lunch, combining hearty Austrian food, such as wiener schnitzel, with beer, schnapps, and of course, luscious apple strudel. Part of the fun of traveling is trying the local food. Thankfully, we spent a lot of time hiking up and down the river banks to burn off calories. Later in the week there were lessons in fly tying and casting. As the trip wrapped up, I said good bye knowing that I had made new angling friends from the Fly Fishing Ladies of Germany.
More Time to Explore
In May of 2017, I made my third trip back. Newly retired, I extended my trip, traveling first to Christa’s home in Germany. Even after a six-hour delay at the airport, resulting in a midnight arrival, Christa met me with a smile and a hug. At her home, we celebrated with champagne and talked long into the morning hours, getting caught up on life. The next morning, we picked up our friend Antje and traveled the Autobahn for the seven-hour trip to Austria. Christa and Antje traded off driving as I tried to sleep in the back seat. It was a strange experience to groggily wake up in the back seat of a car going 90 miles per hour down an unknown freeway and hear people conversing in a language I didn’t understand. I felt very far from home.
We arrived at the now familiar Hotel-Pension Wutte. On Saturday, I fished on what I could now call familiar waters—the River Vellach. Meeting up with the other women, I felt the absence of my dear friend Henriette from the Netherlands, who fought a losing battle with cancer. Her absence was a reminder to take time to do the things you enjoy since no one knows what the future holds.
After one day fishing the River Vellach, the group opted to fish four days in Slovenia. We would be fishing two rivers – River Sava Bohinjka in the northeast corner of Slovenia and River Savinja near the town of Ljubno.
River Sava Bohinjka is a beautiful, emerald-green, crystal-clear Alpine river emerging from Lake Bohinjka. It is exceptionally rich in nutrients, which support the large population of native graylings. It also holds strong, hard-fighting browns and rainbows. In most areas, it is covered in thick bankside vegetation which prohibits casting from the shore. I was on my own much of the time and the focus was truly on enjoying the catch and release of my fish. Once again, being the only ones on the river provided a sense of serenity that I sometimes miss on my California rivers.
River Savinja runs through an artfully decorated flower park with a huge variety of gorgeous, colorful flowers, many of them arranged into animals. We were, once again, the only anglers there and I still can’t conceive of an arrangement like this back in the states. The river bottom is covered with marl and limestone gravel; and it contains rapids, pools, and quiet flows; holding browns, graylings, rainbows, and Huchen (Danube Salmon), some of trophy size.
On the first day fishing, I found a pool with several large fish, which I could see clearly as they jockey for position in the food lane. Although I was able to present an Adams with a good drift, I couldn’t entice any to take my fly. On day two, I returned to the same pool and hooked a wonderful steelhead-size rainbow. Although I played him cautiously, he broke my line after several jumps. Still – it was a thrill to go back and hook him, and I was happy with my efforts.
After our four days in Slovenia, we traveled back to Austria and rejoined our fellow Fly Fishing Ladies for one last day of fishing in Austria. On our last evening, we had a farewell dinner where we indulged in “Kaiserschmarrn”—a traditional Austrian dessert consisting of caramelized pancakes made with rum-soaked raisins, eggs, flour, sugar, and butter served hot with plum sauce. There were plenty of toasts all around.
The next morning, Christa, Antje, and I headed back to Dresden and once again I nodded off in the back seat while they took turns driving. I again woke to German conversation and laughter from the front seat. It somehow then seemed less strange; it sounded like the conversation of friends with a common fly fishing passion. As I drifted off to sleep again, I thought about how my love of fly fishing and travel had taken me to some beautiful places and allowed me to meet wonderful friends and experience nature in a way that feeds my soul.