Fly Fishing Austria
by Günter Feuerstein
Austria is a quite small but lovely country in the heart of Europe. It is much better known for skiing than for fly fishing although some of the rivers definitely offer some of the best trout and grayling fishing in the world. Rivers like the Gmundner Traun, the Salza, the Mur (former world record brown trout – 16kg), the Steyr, the Isel or the Drau are well known and attract people from all over the world. But not only browns, rainbows, brookies and grayling are resident in these alpine streams, but also the danube salmon(hucho hucho) a relative of the siberian taimen (hucho taimen and hucho perri) lives there and the was only recently caught in the river Drau.
Excellent fly fishing
After the snow melt the Austrian rivers (except those with pond and release power plants) are often gin-clear for the rest of the season and provide excellent fly fishing. They open between March and May and the season usually closes in October with a few exceptions. Among the fly fishers there is a saying about Austrian waters: "If you want to fish for huge trout, go to Montana! If you want to catch them - go to Austria!"
In fact because of several reasons they are a bit easier to catch in Austria than in the States. The rivers are not as crowded (in some of them you get only 1-3 permissions a day) and they are usually fast flowing. This means that the trout have to eat more if they want to survive the strong winters. Only a few rivers are quite difficult to fish.
Problems with predator birds
During the last 20 year years the waters in Austria were badly harmed by cormorants and lately also by mergansers. Their population exploded from some ten thousand to meanwhile about 1,5 -2 billion birds. They nearly extinguished the graylings in many rivers in Austria, Germany and Switzerland as they discovered the rivers to be an excellent food supply during their stay in winter especially when the lakes freeze. I well remember a winter day at the river Drau when I was fishing for Danube salmon(Hucho hucho). A sudden splash-like noise in my back made me turn upstream. I nearly got shocked seeing about eighty cormorants on the water killing and swallowing "my" beloved graylings. After I scared them away there were dead graylings everywhere. Some of them were badly hurt and some seemed not to have been touched at all. They were laying in deeper holes reducing their life activities to a minimum to survive the winter. The sudden stress was just too much for them. Meanwhile the European Union has removed the cormorants from the list of totally protected birds. Thousands of these birds are shot every year in Europe and the grayling populations seem to recover again. But also the merganser population causes bigger and bigger problems.
The grayling is -because of its selectivity and size- still the most wanted fish of our fly fishers. A lot of them dream of a specimen grayling exceeding 20 inches. In some rivers they grow really big up to a size of 30 inches(!) with 20 inch fish being quite common. The real grayling giants of 3-4 kg of weight are never published in newspapers or angling magazines. These catches are kept as secrets because otherwise the leasing rates (most of these waters are leased from the Republic of Austria or some private owners for a certain period of time) of the waters would rise and the waters could even be lost after the next leasing period when others here about these grayling giants and therefore offer more for the beats. And the leasing rates are already high enough. This is the reason why fishing top waters in Austria is very expensive.
A daily license for one of the really good rivers is about USD 70-100.- with the most expensive ones exceeding USD 150.- per day. Some hotels have private waters and the fishing there can be excellent too, but is usually much cheaper. Most of these rivers are fished fly only in a more or less catch and release manner although catch and release is forbidden in many parts of Europe. The people are allowed to take fish but a lot of them just don`t.
Austria has got a lot of lakes, trout lakes in the mountains and cyprinid lakes in lower areas. There you have various possibilities to catch good pikes, carps, lake trout (salmo trutta f. lacustris), char (salvelinus alpinus) and coregons (fish quite similar to mountain whitefish but with much more acceptance and economical value for the fisheries). Fishing the lakes is quite cheap and there is usually no difficulty in getting permissions.
State license and fishing exam
In some parts of Austria a state license is required in addition to the fishing permit. For visitors who only want to fish for some days it is usually no problem to get licenses (except in Tyrol). For applying for an annual license a fishing exam (up to 30 hours theory in evening classes plus practical part) is required in some parts of Austria. In these countries fishing for visitors is only possible for a certain period of time (usually up to two weeks in a row).
The rivers in Austria are stocked with fry, yearlings but also with adult fish. In some of the rivers which suffer under cormorants in winter, especially where they are not allowed to be shot, large fish are stocked - large enough to make sure that cormorants can not eat them. So you should not be surprised when a real monster trout takes your fly.
In Austria a lot of bead heads are used because you have to get down when fishing fast rivers. All common patterns will catch fish, too. Dry fly fishing is not as successful as before, because there is a lot more pressure on the waters nowadays (kayaking, canoeing, canyoning, swimming, sun bathing,...) . So meanwhile a lot of people fish the nymph. Streamers can bring you good fish too. Especially Zonker patterns fish well in the evening and early in the morning.
Now please have a look at: Austrian Top Fly Fishing Waters