When American anglers talk about top fly-fishing destinations, Italy doesn’t come up much. In fact, the “Old World” of mainland Europe gets very little representation in fly-fishing media, in general. Perhaps it’s because we’re all fascinated by what’s shiny and new.
However, Vito Rubino–owner of Italy on the Fly, an Orvis-endorsed outfitter that creates custom fly-fishing adventures through Bel Paese–has a remarkable story to tell about what his native country can offer traveling anglers. The diversity of landscapes, species, and fishing opportunities may surprise you. Italy offers legitimate shots at trophy trout, pike, sea bass, and more.
1. How did you get started in fly fishing? How long have you been guiding?
My journey in fishing started I was just six years old. I grew up in Rome, “The Eternal City,” and summertime holidays in the countryside meant freedom to me. My mother came from Casoli, a small rural village at the foot of the Majella Mountain (the “Mother” mountain) in the wilderness of the Apennienes in the Abruzzo Region in central-southern Italy, an area full of fishing streams and lakes. From my mother’s side, I am lucky enough to come from a humble family of farmers, so I was left free to roam everywhere, bare-hands digging into the cow manure for worms and catching rides from the adults of the family to go fishing.
I have always been hyperactive, questioning everything, curious about life, and flipping every rock to discover the universe lying beneath. And I must admit I haven’t changed much (although I am now more careful in flipping rocks). The first time I encountered fly fishing, I was ten. I managed to borrow an outfit and I can still remember, like in a movie, every single frame of the first brown trout I caught on a dry fly, a size 12 Elk Hair Caddis.
From the mid-1990s, I have focused on fly fishing, although I still do a bit of spinning, especially for big predators. I love all aspects of the sport–from traditional dry-fly style, to competition-style nymphing, to chasing predators (fresh and saltwater) with streamers, to the minimal Japanese Tenkara and backpacking up high in the mountains.
When I started, “fly-fishing guide” wasn’t a recognized job in Italy, so I undertook any kind of courses I could that focused on outdoor pursuits. I studied hiking and trekking, survival (sea, and mountain), first aid, and so on. Now I am proud to be a member of the Associazione Italiana Guide Professionali di Pesca (AIGUPP). I love guiding, and when a client catches the fish of a lifetime or brings home unforgettable memories, that’s when I really feel fully satisfied and that’s what gives me the energy to go on even in rough times, like the ones we are all experiencing nowadays.
2. What is your fishery like? (types of water, main target species, terrain, etc.)
Italy has got it all: mountains (Dolomites, Alps, and Apennines), lush green countryside, and more than 4,700 miles of coastline. You can fish high-mountain small streams, , wider rivers in the valleys, alpine and volcanic lakes, big lakes and reservoirs down in the countryside, salt water and huge saltwater lagoons that offer an incredible top-water fly fishing experience.
In the mountains, the main target is definetly trout. In the Dolomite Range, you can chase the native marble trout. There are plenty of native brown trout, including Mediterranean brown or “zebra” trout, with local strains in each valley, each river, and each region. We also have brook trout, introduced from the States decades ago, native arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), rainbow-trout (nowadays the vast majority wild), and native grayling.
Pike is another traditional target in Italy, especially the unique Italic pike (Esox Flaviae). Fly-fishing for pike is becoming more popular, and I love it, whether it’s topwater on Apennine mountain lakes or casting sinking lines from a boat in big lakes.
The Mediterranean sea bass is another stunning predator to chase on the fly here. Italy on the Fly has a unique location with exclusive fishing rights on a huge shallow lagoon (basically a big flat) in southern Tuscany, where anglers can experience savage topwater attacks by these powerful predators. We are also running what we love to call “The Roman Slam,” featuring a different fishing experience in the area (from 20 feet from the city centre to maximum two hours by car) each day. Start on a fully equipped bass boat at the mouth of the Tiber in Rome, where you can fish for mullet, seabass, and bluefish (when they are in). Then try for pike and asp on volcanic and mountain lakes, native brown trout in the countryside and much more. Each location is surrounded by archeological sites, ancient Roman ruins, and incredible historic and artistic places.
3. What is the Italian fly-fishing culture like? Is it different from American fly fishing?
As you may already know, the first description of an artificial fly was by the Roman historian Claudius Aelianus around 200 AD, describing a fly pattern used by Macedonian fishermen. It is also known that, during the first invasion of Britannia in the 43 AD, Romans fished for salmon on the Thames and Tyne with a “bait” called “Plumme,” which in Latin means “feather.”
All over Italy, there are local, traditional fly-fishing methods–such as “Valsesiana” (from Valsesia, a remote high mountain valley in Piedmont Region of northwestern Italy) and “Scuriazzo” (from the Abruzzo, Molise and Campania Region in central-southern Italy). Both methods used furled horse-hair line, gut tippet and a simple fly, similar to the traditional North Country Spiders. Both methods are very similar to the traditional Japanese Tenkara.
American and Italian cultures did cross and blend a lot, especially after the WWII. Also thanks to movies, TV series, Italo-American communities, and so on, our modern culture is very similar and so it is the “modern” Fly Fishing. Just to give you an example, I do not know a single Italian fly angler who did not watch “A River Runs Through It.”
4. What are some other experiences visitors to your region can enjoy?
This is Italy! Every single fishing destination includes breath-taking scenery, history, and traditions.
Delicious local food, premium and world renowned local wines, castles, museums, ancient villages, archeological sites, nature (mountain, countryside, sea), art, shopping, fashion–you name it!
Every fishing experience includes all of the above. Italy represents one of the best place in the world to fly fish, and it is also the best place to enjoy with a non-fishing partner.
5. What are your top 5 fly patterns for fishing in your region?
Very tough question! But if I had to narrow the choice of my flies down to an “all inclusive” magnificent 5, I’d say:
- Elk-Hair Caddis: That’s a classic. Even when trout are not rising, we call it “pesca in caccia” (literally hunting-fishing), which means to blind-fish by reading the water. In many situations fish will be looking up, so if you cast in the right spot, with the right presentation, with the right drift . . . fish on!
- Comparadun: When trout are rising, a “minimal” Comparadun pattern can be the winning choice for very selective fish.
- Pheasant Tail Nymph: another absolute classic, with thousands of variations. It can be use in high-sticking, French-nymphing, Czech nymphing on the dropper, as a dropper of a dry, and so on.
- Clouser Minnow: One of the best all-rounder streamer. Just varying the size, you can chase big marbles (and trout in general), sea bass, and believe it or not, mullet and many other predators.
- Popper (Classic, Cigarette or Crease): When I fish topwater, especially for sea bass (and for predators in general), it is one of the flies able to make my heart stop and then rumble. Few things are like a big fish cutting through the surface and smash your fly in a noisy splash!